Feb 232017
 

Free-spirited Beverly Johnson (1933-1976), who was Ajijic’s unofficial photographer in the early 1970s, first moved to the village in 1961. She is one of the many people who helped make Ajijic tick in the old days who are really difficult to categorize.

In 1961, she extricated herself from a disastrous relationship in the U.S., shortly after the birth of her fifth child, and fled south, aiming to get her family as far away as possible from her former partner. Headed for South America, her car broke down in Guadalajara. Unable to afford the repairs, Beverly, an up-and-coming singer, asked the mechanic where she could find temporary work and was directed towards Ajijic where, the mechanic said, there was a sufficient concentration of Americans and Canadians who might appreciate her music and pay to hear her sing.

Photo of Beverly Johnson by Helen Goodridge. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Photo of Beverly Johnson in Ajijic by Helen Goodridge. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Once they had settled in Ajijic, plans to venture any further south were soon forgotten. Apart from occasional visits to the coast and periodic short trips to the border to renew her tourist papers, Beverly spent the remainder of her life in Ajijic. The tenuous roots that she initially put down in Ajijic grew steadily over the years and her children have maintained ties to the village that endure to this day.

It was while living in Ajijic that Beverly became a passionate photographer and a key figure in the artistic community despite never exhibiting and rarely commercializing her work.

This means that she does not meet my rule-of-thumb criterion that profiled individuals must have gained some recognition for their art beyond the immediate environs of the lake. But rules are made to be broken (a sentiment that epitomized Beverly’s entire life) and Beverly certainly brings something different and quite special to our story of how the artistic and literary community at Lake Chapala developed.

Beverly Johnson. The Bread Girl. ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz.

Beverly Johnson. The Bread Girl. ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz.

Beverly’s corpus of photographic work is now divided between her children and friends. Despite the fact that her photos were never exhibited, she became the unofficial “photographer of record” for people and events in Ajijic during the latter part of her time in the village.

Some of her photos did make it overseas. Most of her own photos were taken in black and white and developed in her own darkroom, but she also took the color photos used for international promotion by the owners of the Danza del Sol Hotel shortly after it was built. (The hotel’s architect, George Heneghan, and his wife, Molly, lived in Ajijic in the early 1970s.)

Beverly Estelle Johnson (née Hampson) was born in Grants Pass Oregon on 15 September 1933. She was living in Medford, Oregon, in 1961, when, lacking support from her family, she fled her husband (who was preparing to have her committed to an asylum) and drove south with her five young children (Tamara, Jill, Eric, Chris and Rachel), all under nine years of age.

They stayed a short time in Los Angeles, where Beverly hoped to make a living from her singing and guitar-playing. She recorded a promotional 45 there, but this was not an era when a single mother with five young children could find a music promoter prepared to back them. Among the other singers seeking stardom at the time was a young Joan Baez. Some years later, Beverly made a point of introducing herself to Joan Baez when she recognized her at the Beer Garden bar in Chapala.

From Los Angeles, Beverly decided to head for South America, but her car problems led her to Ajijic. Beverly soon became a fixture in the village – one of the completely unconventional characters that added spice and excitement to everyday life. As her daughter Jill recalls, “She was amazing and crazy and life with her was a roller coaster ride.” Beverly used her many creative talents – as “singer, poet, writer, chef, painter, photographer and mixed media like papier maché and rice paper balsa wood mobiles” to eke out a living for herself and her children.

Beverly Johnson and family. Reproduced by kind permission of Rachel Lyn Johnson.

Beverly Johnson and family, Ajijic beach. 1962. Photo by Saturnino ____. Reproduced by kind permission of Rachel Lyn Johnson.

When an offshoot of Timothy Leary’s group, led by Thad Ashby, arrived in Ajijic (from Zihuatanejo) in 1963-64, Beverly signed up to be a test subject (and later a monitor for tests) in the LSD “studies” conducted by Ashby’s group with the help of the University of Guadalajara Medical School. (Leary himself is said to have visited Ajijic, probably in the summer of 1964 or 1965).

At about this time, Beverly began a lengthy relationship with a local contractor, Antonio (“Tony”) Pérez, which resulted in two more daughters (Sara and Miriam) to feed.

Beverly’s oldest daughter, Tamara, later wrote an extraordinarily revealing autobiographical short story entitled, “The Beach: My Self in the Mirror” based on a family trip to Barra de Navidad in 1964, a month after Sara’s birth. Tamara writes that the visit lasted several months and describes how the family was so poor and had so little food to eat that their mother eased their hunger pains with tiny amounts of LSD. In Tamara’s words, “‘Turning on’ has been a monthly event in my life for a couple of years”. (The younger children recall only the “occasional” use). The story has a happy ending: fortune intervenes when a fisherman lands a large fish which they cook and share.

The family visited Barra de Navidad several times, often at a moment’s notice when immigration officials arrived in Ajijic to carry out a sweep of the village for undocumented foreigners.

At one point while living in Ajijic, Beverly got into trouble with the local authorities over the upkeep of her house. Ever-resourceful, she quickly found a solution that satisfied her need for individuality. In fact, her second-eldest daughter, Jill, thinks that her mother’s response helped create the colorful village we see today:

“Miss Beverly [as she was known around town] was the first person in Ajijic to paint her house in more than two different colors. The bullies at El Municipio told her she had to paint her house or they would fine her $200.00 pesos. That being a week of groceries back then, she decided to enlist her artist friends and went around collecting any extra paint they had. Then she put us to work on that front wall: at least twenty different colors, simple long colorful stripes all the way down the wall. Those bullies were so mad at her and she simply claimed that they did not specify how to paint but just to paint. We had the very first colorful house in Ajijic and, as you can see, now that it started a trend, the whole town is painted in colors.”

In the latter part of 1969, Beverly made a trip to California to renew her tourist papers. She returned with two new loves – photography and Michael Heinichen – and promptly set up a darkroom in Ajijic where Heinichen could teach her all about photography. Her love for Heinichen did not last long (he fell in love with Laura Katzman and moved to Jocotepec) but her love for photography lasted for the rest of her life.

Beverly Johnson. The Old Lady. Ajijic, ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly Johnson. The Old Lady. Ajijic, ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly soon became Ajijic’s unofficial village photographer, called upon for personal portraits, wedding photos, landscape shots, first communions, baptisms and even for portraits of the recently deceased for their families to remember them by.

Some of Beverly’s photographs have been published previously. Beverly’s children kindly provided the photos for my article featuring Beverly’s photos on Mexconnect – A Tour of Ajijic, Chapala, Mexico, in about 1970. The photos (together with one taken by Janis Carter) were chosen and captioned by Tamara. As second daughter, Jill, rightly says, Beverly’s black and white portraits of Ajijic families are “timeless and most precious”.

Beverly was not only  photographer but also engaged in several other forms of art. For example, in the 1970s she designed the posters for the weekly menu at the El Tejaban restaurant, in exchange for a free meal each week for her family. Beverly’s hand-painted, creative and colorful posters with expert calligraphy would be veritable collector’s items if they still existed.

Beverly was one determined lady, in line with her personal motto of “Bring it on baby”. Peter Huf who lived for many years in Ajijic with his wife and their two young sons has fond memories of Beverly as being a generous, intellectual, egotistical, hippie: “one of the real characters”.

Artist and author Henry F Edwards agrees. In The Sweet Bird of Youth (2008), his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic in the 1970s, he describes his first impressions on meeting “Sue Scobie” (Beverly Johnson):

“She was a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her hair, cut short, was very curly; she was quite fair but with a minor blemish or two on her face. I immediately noticed that her teeth were slightly tobacco stained and immediately judged the cause from the cigarette in her hand at the moment. She had on some very ordinary house dress and a pair of Mexican sandals. She was very friendly and invited us in in a rather offhand, distracted way.”

Several former Ajijic residents I have interviewed have expressed their gratitude to Beverly for providing nursing care. Perhaps the most heart-warming story is that told by painter and muralist Tom Brudenell who contracted hepatitis while living in Jocotepec in the late 1960s. When Beverly learned that he was sick, she made it her mission to drive from Ajijic to Jocotepec daily for several weeks until he recovered.

Sadly, Beverly was unable to overcome her own extended illness, which necessitated liberal doses of tequila to dull the pain, and which culminated in a fatal heart attack on 27 December 1976. She was just 43 years of age, a tragically short life for such a caring, compassionate and creative individual.

To compound the family tragedy, Tony Pérez, father of the two youngest girls, died exactly one month later on 27 January 1977. Jill, the de facto head of the family given that her older sister Tamara was living in the U.S., made the difficult decision to leave Mexico and take her three younger sisters to stay with friends in California. They left on 1 March, only able to take with them whatever they could carry. After a bus to Guadalajara, train to Tijuana, taxi across the border and a Greyhound bus to Santa Barbara, they were able to start their lives anew in the U.S.

The family has never forgotten Ajijic. Rebeca Prieto, one of Beverly’s grandchildren, interviewed several members of the family in 2016 to compile a very interesting 28-minute Youtube video, Mi Familia, in which they reminisced about life in Ajijic and their journey north.

Is it too much to hope that one day an exhibition of Beverly Johnson’s photographs can be arranged in Ajijic to celebrate her important contributions to village life in the 1970s?

Acknowledgments:

My thanks to Tamara Janúz, Jill Maldonado and Rachel Lyn Johnson, as well as to Marsha Sorensen, Tom Brudenell, Don Shaw and Peter Huf, for sharing their memories of Beverly’s time in Mexico, and to Zasharah Araujo for drawing my attention to Rebeca Prieto’s video.

Sources:

  • Henry F Edwards. 2008. The Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 1977. “Beverly Johnson, 43, Dies in Ajijic.” Obituary in Guadalajara Reporter, 15 January 1977.
  • Tamara Johnson. 1997. “The Beach: My Self in the Mirror”, in Writing from Within: A Guide to Creativity and Life Story Writing, by Bernard Selling (Hunter House, 1997)
  • Jerry Kamstra. 1974. Weed: Adventures of a Dope Smuggler. Harper & Row, New York.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Feb 162017
 

Eunice and Peter Huf are artists who met in Mexico in the 1960s and lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala for several years, before relocating to Europe with their two sons in the early 1970s.

Eunice Eileen (Hunt) Huf, born 27 February 1933 in Alberta, Canada, can trace her family’s roots back to Switzerland and Germany. Her mother migrated to Canada from Bessarabia in Eastern Europe. Her father was born in Alberta.

Eunice studied painting for two years in Edmonton, specializing in portraiture. She married young and worked for a couple of years before continuing her art studies at the Vancouver Art School (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) where she also honed her skills in photography. She then worked as a freelance artist in Canada and Arizona before deciding to visit Mexico to regroup following the break-down of her first marriage which ended in divorce.

Eunice Huf at Lake Chapala, ca 1968. Photo by Peter Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Eunice Huf at Lake Chapala, ca 1968. Photo by Peter Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Her visit to Mexico was life-changing. After relaxing and painting for a few weeks in the small tropical town of San Blas on the Pacific Coast, Eunice went to a Sunday night Lion’s Club dance where she met a tall, handsome, German artist, Peter Paul Huf. It was January 1965 and the start of a life-long romance. Forty years later, the Huf’s elder son, Paul “Pablo” Huf, retold the story of this romance in an enthralling art display in Mexico City.

After meeting at the dance, Eunice and Peter spent the next six months together, first in San Blas and then in Oaxaca and Zihuatanejo (Guerrero). It was in San Blas where they first met Jack Rutherford and his family with their vintage school bus, the start of a long friendship. Rutherford had dug the sand away from the walls of an abandoned building in order to display and sell his paintings. In February 1965, Eunice and Peter Huf exhibited together in a group art show on the walls of the then-ruined, roofless, customs house (partially restored since as a cultural center).

After visiting Zihuatanejo, Eunice returned to Vancouver in June 1965, while Peter returned to Europe. They eventually reunited in Amsterdam later that year and traveled to Spain and Morocco from where Eunice continued on to South Africa for a short visit.

By January 1967 they were back together (this time for good!) and aboard a ship bound for Mexico. After landing in Veracruz, they returned first to San Blas (where they displayed paintings in an Easter exhibition in the former customs house) and then to Ajijic, which the Rutherfords had suggested was a good place to live, paint and sell year-round.

Peter and Eunice Huf married soon after arriving in Ajijic and lived in the village from May 1967 until June 1972. They have two sons: Paul “Pablo” Huf, born in 1967, and Kristof Huf, born in 1971.

Eunice Hunt: Scarecrow Bride. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Hunt: Scarecrow Bride. 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

For almost all her time in Mexico (even after her marriage to Paul Huf), Eunice exhibited as Eunice Hunt, only changing her artistic name to Eunice Huf at about the time the couple left Mexico in 1972 to move first to Andalucia, Spain (1972-1974) and then to Bavaria, Germany.

Both Peter and Eunice Huf regularly exhibited their work in Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Ajijic. They also sold artworks from their own studios in Ajijic, located first in a building on Calle Galeana and then at their home on Calle Constitución #30 near the Posada Ajijic hotel. (This building, incidentally, was later occupied by artists Adolfo Riestra and Alan Bowers).

Eunice Huf supplemented the family income by giving private art classes to many people, including former Hollywood producer Sherman Harris, the then manager of the Posada Ajijic. Eunice kept an iguana, that she had borrowed to paint, under her bed, and had a little iguana, too.

Peter and Eunice were founder members of a small collective of artists, known as Grupo 68, that exhibited regularly at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara and elsewhere from 1967 to 1971. Grupo 68 initially had 5 members: Peter Huf, Eunice Huf, Jack Rutherford, John K. Peterson and (Don) Shaw (who was known only by his surname). Tom Brudenell was also listed as part of the group for some shows. Jack Rutherford dropped out of the group after a few months, but the remaining four stayed together until 1971.

The exhibitions at the Camino Real hotel began at the invitation of Ray Alvorado, a singer who was the public relations manager of the hotel. Members of Grupo 68 began to exhibit regularly, every Sunday afternoon, in the hotel grounds. Later, they also exhibited inside the hotel at its Thursday evening fiesta.

The Hufs’ first joint show in Ajijic was at Laura Bateman’s gallery, Rincón del Arte, which opened on 15 December 1967, when their firstborn son was barely two months old.

1968 was an especially busy year for the Hufs. They were involved in numerous exhibitions, beginning with one at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January. Other artists at this show included Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John Peterson, Shaw, Rodolfo Lozano, and Gail Michael. The Ajijic artists in this group, together with Gail Michael, Jules and Abby Rubenstein, and Jack and Doris Rutherford, began to exhibit at El Palomar every Friday.

In May 1968 the Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) opened a collective fine crafts show. Eunice and Peter Huf presented “miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels” which were popular with tourists, alongside wall-hangings, jewelry and sculptures by Ben Crabbe, Beverly Hunt, Gail Michael, Mary and Hudson Rose, Joe Rowe and Joe Vines.

The next month (June 1968), the Hufs were back in Guadalajara, exhibiting in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show (prints, drawings, wood cuts) at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. This show also featured works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten , Allyn Hunt, John K. Peterson, Tully Petty, Gene Quesada and Don Shaw. Reviewing the show, Allyn Hunt admired Eunice Hunt’s “Moon Trap”, saying it “has a lyrical, fantasy-like quality”.

Eunice Hunt: Still llife. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Hunt: Still llife. 1969. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

The “re-opening” of Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery in Ajijic (at Calle Hidalgo #41) in September was accompanied by a group show of 8 painters-Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, Donald Shaw and Coffeen Suhl – and a sculptor: Joe Wedgwood.

At the end of October Eunice Huf held her first solo show in Mexico, showing 40 paintings at the Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara (located at * de Julio #878). The show was one of the numerous art exhibitions in the city comprising the Cultural Program of the International Arts Festival for the XIX Mexico City Olympics. (Her show preceded a solo show of works by Georg Rauch also under the patronage of Señora Holt and the Olympics.)

At the same time as Huf’s solo show, Grupo 68 (listed as Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson and Shaw) shared the Galería del Bosque (Calle de la Noche #2677) in Guadalajara with José María de Servín. This event was also part of the Olympics Cultural Program.

Towards the end of 1968, the Hufs co-founded a co-operative gallery “La Galería” in Ajijic, located on Calle Zaragoza at its intersection with Juarez, one block west of El Tejaban. On Friday 13 December 1968, the month-long group show for the “re-opening” of La Galería in Ajijic was entitled “Life is Art”. It consisted of works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons (now Cynthia Luria), and Joe Wedgwood. Art lovers attending gallery openings at this time were often served a tequila-enriched pomegranate ponche alongside snacks such as peanuts.

Somehow, in this crowded year, the Hufs also managed to fit in an exhibition at Redwood City Gallery in California.

In February 1969, Eunice and Peter Huf joined with (Don) Shaw to exhibit at the 10th floor penthouse Tekare Restaurant at Calle 16 de Sept. #157, in Guadalajara. This location has fame as the first place where jazz was played in Guadalajara. Later that year, Eunice Huf had a showing at the co-operative La Galería in Ajijic.

“Grupo 68” (Eunice and Peter Huf, Don Shaw and John K Peterson) held a showing of works at The Instituto Aragon (Hidalgo #1302) in Guadalajara in June 1969.

7-7-7 show (Hunt, Huf, Shaw), 1969

Three of these artists (the Hufs and Shaw) held another show shortly afterwards in Guadalajara at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728). That gallery was owned by Jose Maria de Servin and the show was entitled 7-7-7. It featured seven works by each artist with the promotional material featuring a pose by the three artists emulating the Olympic scoring system.

The following year (1970), an Easter Art Show which opened at the restaurant-hotel Posada Ajijic on 28 March featured works by Eunice and Peter Huf, John Frost, John K. Peterson, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie (Maddox) Sherratt.

In June 1970, Eunice Huf’s work was included in a group showing at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other Lakeside artists with works in this show included Peter Huf, Daphne Aluta, Mario Aluta, John Frost, Lesley Maddox and Bruce Sherratt .

In May 1971, both Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt were among those exhibiting at a Fiesta de Arte in Ajijic, held at a private home. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

A review of the Hufs’ “Farewell Show” at El Tejaban restaurant in Ajijic in May 1972 congratulated them on their contribution to the local art scene, saying that their “steady flow of exceptional paintings has been a bright force in the art community of Jalisco for the past six years.”

Eunice Huf. Red with clouds. Date?. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Huf. Red with clouds. 1994. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Shortly before leaving Mexico, the Hufs illustrated a short 32-page booklet entitled Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80, published in Guadalajara by Boutique d’Artes Graficas in 1972. The poems in the booklet were written by Ira N. Nottonson, who was also living in Ajijic at the time. The illustrations in the book are Mexican naif in style, whereas their own art tended to be far more abstract or surrealist.

Eunice and Peter Huf left Mexico in the summer of 1972 with every intention of returning, but never did, despite making plans in early 1976 for shipping their recent works from Germany to Ajijic for a show at Jan Dunlop’s Wes Penn Gallery. According to organizers, the artists wanted to return to Ajijic permanently. It appears that this show never actually took place, owing to complications of logistics and customs regulations.

On moving to Europe, the Hufs lived near Nerja, in Andalucia, southern Spain, for a time, before settling in 1974 near Peter’s hometown of Kaufbeuren in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. The couple now have studios in the house where he was born in Kaufbeuren. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years, with both artists winning many awards along the way.

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from "Taking time out".

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from “Taking time out”.

Eunice Huf’s lengthy artistic career has continued unabated. The long list of exhibitions in which her work has featured includes: University Exhibit, Edmonton (1962); City Gallery Vancouver (1963); Downtown Gallery, Tucson, Arizona (1964); Stellenbush, South Africa (1966); Galeria Aduana, San Blas, Mexico (1966); Rincon del Arte, Ajijic (1967); Galeria 8 de Julio, Guadalajara (1968); Redwood City Gallery, California (1968); La Galeria, Ajijic (1969); Tekare, Guadalajara (1969); El Instituto Aragon, Guadalajara (1970); El Tejon [? Tejabán ?], Ajijic (1971); El Rastro, Marbella, Spain (1972); followed by many other exhibitions in Spain and across Germany. Huf was represented by Munich-based Galeria Hartmann in International Art Fairs in Cologne and Basle.

Both Eunice and Peter Huf were regulars until 2013 at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975.

Unlike her husband’s works which are usually painted in acrylics, Eunice Huf prefers oils and line drawings. She has produced several somewhat whimsical, exquisite, little books featuring her deceptively simple line drawings, but also does larger works, including paintings described by one reviewer as shaped by the open expanses of her native Canadian prairies.

Acknowledgment:

I am very grateful to Eunice and Peter Huf for their warm hospitality during a visit to their home and studio in October 2014 which has led to a lasting friendship. Their archive of photos and press clippings from their time in Mexico proved invaluable, as did their encouragement and their memories of people and events of the time.

Sources:

  • Ira N. Nottonson. 1972. Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80. (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Graficas. 1972. 32pp, short poems illustrated with 16 paintings by Eunice and Peter Huf.
  • Guadalajara Reporter : 9 Dec 1967; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 15 June 1968; 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 20 Nov 1971; 20 May 1972; 28 Feb 1976
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 5 Jun 1970

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Feb 092017
 

Eunice and Peter Huf are artists who met in Mexico in the 1960s and lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala for several years, before relocating to Europe with their two sons in the early 1970s.

Peter Huf was born 2 May 1940 in Kaufbeuren in southern Germany. A self-taught artist, he began to paint in 1960, while living in Paris. He lived in Paris from 1958 to 1963, and also spent time in Malaga (Spain), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Stockholm (Sweden) before crossing the Atlantic in 1964 to live in New York.

Huf then traveled to San Blas on Mexico’s west coast, where he first met his future wife, the Canadian artist Eunice Hunt. The couple met at a Lions Club dance on a Sunday evening in January 1965, and spent the next six months together in San Blas, Oaxaca and Zihuatanejo (Guerrero).

Peter Paul Huf. Ajijic, ca 1970. Photo by Eunice Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Peter Paul Huf. Ajijic, ca 1970. Photo by Eunice Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

It was in San Blas where they first met Jack Rutherford and his family with their vintage school bus, the start of a long friendship. Rutherford had dug the sand away from the walls of an abandoned building in order to display and sell his paintings. In February 1965, Eunice and Peter Huf exhibited together in a group art show on the walls of the then-ruined, roofless, customs house (partially restored since as a cultural center).

After Zihuatanejo, the couple separated for several months but eventually reunited in Amsterdam later that year and visited Spain and Morocco. By January 1967 they were aboard a ship bound for Mexico. After landing in Veracruz, they returned first to San Blas (where they displayed paintings in an Easter exhibition in the former customs house) and then to Ajijic, which the Rutherfords had suggested was a good place to live, paint and sell year-round.

Peter Huf married Eunice Hunt soon after arriving in Ajijic and they lived in the village from May 1967 until June 1972. They have two sons: Paul “Pablo” Huf, born in 1967, and Kristof Huf, born in 1971.

Peter Huf. Untitled. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Peter Huf. From the “Mundo mono” series. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Both Peter and Eunice Huf regularly exhibited their work in Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Ajijic. They also sold artworks from their own studios in Ajijic, located first in a building on Calle Galeana and then at their home on Calle Constitución #30 near the Posada Ajijic hotel. (This building, incidentally, was later occupied by artists Adolfo Riestra and Alan Bowers).

Peter and Eunice founded a small collective of artists, known as Grupo 68, that exhibited regularly at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara and elsewhere from 1967 to 1971. Grupo 68 initially had 5 members: Peter Huf, Eunice Huf, Jack Rutherford, John K. Peterson and (Don) Shaw (who was known only by his surname). Tom Brudenell was also listed as part of the group for some shows. Jack Rutherford dropped out of the group after a few months, but the remaining four stayed together until 1971.

The exhibitions at the Camino Real hotel began at the invitation of Ray Alvorado, a singer who was the public relations manager of the hotel. The members of Grupo 68 began to exhibit regularly, every Sunday afternoon, in the hotel grounds. Later, they also exhibited inside the hotel at its Thursday evening fiesta.

Peter Huf. Totem. 1969.

Peter Huf: Totem. 1969. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The Hufs’ first joint show in Ajijic was at Laura Bateman’s gallery, Rincón del Arte, which opened on 15 December 1967, when their firstborn son was barely two months old.

1968 was an especially busy year for the Hufs. They were involved in numerous exhibitions, beginning with one at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January. Other artists at this show included Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John Peterson, Shaw, Rodolfo Lozano, and Gail Michael. The Ajijic artists in this group, together with Gail Michael, Jules and Abby Rubenstein, and Jack and Doris Rutherford, began to exhibit at El Palomar every Friday.

In May 1968 the Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) opened a collective fine crafts show. Eunice and Peter Huf presented “miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels” which were popular with tourists, alongside wall-hangings, jewelry and sculptures by Ben Crabbe, Beverly Hunt, Gail Michael, Mary and Hudson Rose, Joe Rowe and Joe Vines.

Untitled. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Peter Paul Huf. “Dejeuner sur l’herbe”. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

The next month (June 1968), the Hufs were back in Guadalajara, exhibiting in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show (prints, drawings, wood cuts) at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. This show also featured works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten , Allyn Hunt, John K. Peterson, Tully Petty, Gene Quesada and Don Shaw.

A few months before his passing last year, sculptor Don Shaw, who lived in Jocotepec for many years and was a close friend of the Hufs, shared with me the story of how he had helped ensure that Peter Huf would never try to return to Ajijic in the dark after a night’s drinking or partying in Jocotepec. Shaw had made an arrangement with the local police that if they ever found Peter Huf drunk on the street, they would lock him up, no questions asked, overnight and contact Shaw the following morning to bail him out. At US$20 a time, this might not have been the cheapest hotel in town but at least it put a safe roof over his friend’s head. Shaw’s story reminded me that Huf himself had told me about how he had once been a film extra in the making of The Great Escape, filmed near Munich, playing one of a group of prison guards who were becoming drunk. The director agreed that some genuine drinks would make their behavior more lifelike but hadn’t counted on the number of re-takes then required to get his footage. After all their hard work, the extras were disappointed to discover that this scene never survived the final cut.

The “re-opening” of Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery in Ajijic (at Calle Hidalgo #41) in September was accompanied by a group show of 8 painters-Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, Donald Shaw and Coffeen Suhl – and a sculptor: Joe Wedgwood.

In October 1968, Grupo 68 (listed as Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson and Shaw) shared the Galería del Bosque (Calle de la Noche #2677) in Guadalajara with José María de Servín. This event was one of the numerous art exhibitions in the city comprising the Cultural Program of the International Arts Festival for the XIX Mexico City Olympics.

Peter Huf. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Peter Huf. “Ferne Welten”. 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The following month, Peter Huf was helping plan a prospective show at Rincón del Arte intended to showcase work “purchased from Ajijic artists over the past 20 years”. It is unclear whether or not this show ever actually took place.

Towards the end of 1968, the Hufs co-founded a co-operative gallery “La Galería” in Ajijic, located on Calle Zaragoza at its intersection with Juarez, one block west of El Tejaban. On Friday 13 December 1968, the month-long group show for the “re-opening” of La Galería in Ajijic was entitled “Life is Art”. It consisted of works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons (now Cynthia Luria), Joe Wedgwood. Art lovers attending gallery openings at this time were often served a tequila-enriched pomegranate ponche alongside snacks such as peanuts.

Somehow, in this crowded year, the Hufs also managed to fit in an exhibition at Redwood City Gallery in California.

In February 1969, Eunice and Peter Huf joined with (Don) Shaw to exhibit at the 10th floor penthouse Tekare Restaurant at Calle 16 de Sept. #157, in Guadalajara. This location has fame as the first place where jazz was played in Guadalajara.

At the end of the month, Peter Huf had a solo show entitled “El Mundo Mono” (Monkey World) at La Galeria in Ajijic.

“Grupo 68” (Eunice and Peter Huf, Don Shaw and John K Peterson) held a showing of works at The Instituto Aragon (Hidalgo #1302) in Guadalajara in June 1969. Three of these artists (the Hufs and Shaw) held another show shortly afterwards in Guadalajara at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728). That gallery was owned by Jose Maria de Servin and the show was entitled 7-7-7. It featured seven works by each artist with the promotional material featuring a pose by the three artists emulating the Olympic scoring system.

The following year (1970), an Easter Art Show which opened at the restaurant-hotel Posada Ajijic on 28 March featured works by Eunice and Peter Huf, John Frost, John K. Peterson, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie (Maddox) Sherratt.

In May 1970, Peter Huf was afforded the honor of a one-person show, Pinturas de la Mente, at the Instituto Aleman (Goethe Institut) in Guadalajara.

The following month, both Peter and Eunice Huf were included in a group showing at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other Lakeside artists with works in this show included Daphne Aluta, Mario Aluta, John Frost, Lesley Maddox and Bruce Sherratt.

In May 1971, both Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt were among those exhibiting at a Fiesta de Arte in Ajijic, held at a private home. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

A review of the Hufs’ “Farewell Show” at El Tejaban restaurant in Ajijic in May 1972 congratulated them for their contribution to the local art scene, saying that their “steady flow of exceptional paintings has been a bright force in the art community of Jalisco for the past six years.”

Shortly before leaving Mexico, the Hufs illustrated a short 32-page booklet entitled Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80, published in Guadalajara by Boutique d’Artes Graficas in 1972. The poems in the booklet were written by Ira N. Nottonson, who was also living in Ajijic at the time. The illustrations in the book are Mexican naif in style, whereas their own art tended to be far more abstract or surrealist.

Peter Huf: Birds.

Peter Huf: Birds. 1967. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Eunice and Peter Huf left Mexico in the summer of 1972 with every intention of returning, but never did, despite making plans in early 1976 for shipping their recent works from Germany to Ajijic for a show at Jan Dunlop’s Wes Penn Gallery. According to organizers, the artists wanted to return to Ajijic permanently. It appears that this show never actually took place, owing to complications of logistics and customs regulations.

On moving to Europe, the Hufs lived near Nerja, in Andalucia, southern Spain, from 1972 to 1974, where they renewed their friendship with Jack Rutherford. While in Spain, Peter contracted typhoid (from a visit to Morocco) and was rushed from their isolated residence in the hills to the hospital in Torremolinos by former Ajijic resident Geoffrey Goodridge (the flamenco guitarist “Azul”) and his Dutch wife in their VW minivan.

In 1974, they returned to Peter’s hometown of Kaufbeuren in the Allgäu region of southern Germany and now have joint studios in the house where he was born. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years. Peter Huf’s art has won many awards along the way, including the colleagues’ prize of the Professional Association of Visual Artists (Berufsverband Bildender Kunstler).

Peter Paul Huf’s major solo shows include Augsburg, Germany (1966); La Galeria, Ajijic (1969); Instituto Aleman (Goethe Institut), Guadalajara (1970); Kunstwerkstatt und Galerie Pich, Munich (1980); and Haus de Kunst, Kunstsalon, Munich (1981).

Both Peter and Eunice Huf were regulars at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975. In 1994, Peter Huf founded The Art Tent at this market. The Art Tent, which Huf oversaw until 2014, gives some twenty artists – “painters, sculptors, object artists, and conceptual artists” an “opportunity to escape from the tightness of their booth and to display bigger works”, and has become a big attraction.

Mexican influences are still very apparent in Peter Huf’s work, even today. His paintings often incorporate geometric patterns and are mainly done using acrylics. To quote the artist, “My concept is my life and surrealism is part of it.”

Acknowledgment:

I am very grateful to Eunice and Peter Huf for their warm hospitality during a visit to their home and studio in October 2014 which has led to a lasting friendship. Their archive of photos and press clippings from their time in Mexico proved invaluable, as did their encouragement and their memories of people and events of the time.

Sources:

  • Ira N. Nottonson. 1972. Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80. (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Graficas. 1972. 32pp, short poems illustrated with 16 paintings by Eunice and Peter Huf.
  • Guadalajara Reporter : 9 Dec 1967; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 15 June 1968; 9 Nov 1968; 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 20 Nov 1971; 20 May 1972; 28 Feb 1976
  • El Informador (Guadalajara) : 5 Jun 1970

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Jan 262017
 

Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen were an artistic couple who had a long connection to Mexico. The certainly visited Mexico prior to 1938, and first visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala in 1950. They became regular visitors to Lake Chapala from then until the 1970s. The work of both artists was included in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

The couple grew up in the small city of Benton Harbor in Michigan, which has a street named after Eugene Nowlen’s paternal grandfather, A. R. Nowlen.

Eugene Pratt Nowlen (aka Gene Nowlen) was born on 4 November 1899 and became an architect, completing his education at the school of architecture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lillian Marjorie Poundstone, who usually went by her middle name, was born on 31 March 1901. An accomplished pianist, she studied at the University of Michigan (class of 1924) and became a music and dance teacher. While still in high school she won second place in a state local history competition. Her essay, along with other winning essays, was published in 1917 in “Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17”.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie’s musical accomplishments also started at an early age. She receives Regular mentions in the local press as a pianist. In November 1925, for instance, a short piece in Central Normal Life said that she played the “Blue Danube” waltz by Strauss and “To a Toy Soldier” by Clarence Warner with “great technical skill and fine interpretative ability.” It is clear from these and other references that both Marjorie and Eugene were in the social elite of Benton Harbor.

On 11 February 1928 they were united in marriage, a marriage that was to last until Gene’s death in 1977.

In their first years of marriage, Eugene Nolen practiced as an architect in his native city (remodeling the building occupied by the Peoples Savings Association and designing new homes), while Marjorie gave piano and dance lessons at their home at #758, Pearl Street.

The couple had two children: Barbara Jean (possibly Barbara Gene) and Richard, usually referred to in press reports as “Dick”. The children performed Mexican dances at local shows, and in more than one report, it was stated that “their parents have visited [Mexico] and bought authentic costumes”. At age 7, another report describes “Barbara Gene Nowlen taking several bows after her dance in a gorgeous costume brought back from Mexico by her parents”. The family’s love for Mexico was evident. For instance, following another concert, Marjorie Nowlen was going to show “Mexican motion pictures”.

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown.

A lengthy newspaper piece in 1942 reports that “Mrs Marjorie Nowlen” was working as a Red Cross nurse in Berrien County and had organized dozens of home nursing classes.

In 1943 the family left Benton Harbor and relocated to California, to Pasadena and Laguna Beach, where Eugene worked in real estate. The circumstances that led them to visit Ajijic in 1950 are unclear but, by the early 1950s, Eugene had retired in order to paint full-time. The couple promptly set off on an 18-month-long trip around the world, allowing plenty of painting time along the way.

On their return, Eugene Nowlen’s watercolors were shown at the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, in an exhibit, held in 1955, which also featured oils by Carl Schmidt of San Bernardino. The press report for this event says that Nowlen had won an award at the annual Madonna festival in Los Angeles for a watercolor entitled “Mexican Mother.” According to the Laguna Beach Art Association, Nowlen had several solo exhibits during his artistic career.

As an artist, Gene Nowlen developed his techniques by studying with several well-known artists, including Sueo Serisawa, Paul Darrow, Hans Burkhardt, and Leonard Edmondson.

In 1960, Nowlen’s “Market Day” was exhibited at a showing at a private home in Los Angeles, alongside works by many other artists, including one who also had close ties to Lake Chapala. One of the other paintings in the show as Priscilla Frazer’s “Mosaic Gate”. Frazer had a home in Chapala Haciendas for many years and her work will be subject of a future post.

The Nowlens were active in the Laguna Beach Art Association through the 1960s. For instance, in 1968, they co-organized a December art bazaar. According to a Los Angeles Times article in 1970, during Marjorie Nowlen’s chairmanship of the Exhibitions Committee at the Laguna Art Museum, she brought in experienced judges and the membership more than doubled from 300 to 640. The article describes her as “a soft spoken leader” and says that this “gracious, girlish grandmother with a gentle sense of humor” is “a doer.”

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972.

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie Nowlen exhibited at the Many Media Mini Show, Redlands Art Association, in 1970.

A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) included works by both Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen. (Other artists represented in this small volume include Luis Avalos, Antonio Cárdenas, Marian Carpenter, Jerry K. Carr, Tom Faloon, Priscilla Frazer, John Frost, Arthur L. Ganung, Virginia Ganung, Lona Isoard, Antonio López Vega, Luz Luna, Robert Neathery, José Olmedo, Hudson M. Rose, Mary Rose, Eleanor Smart and Jack Williams.)

Marjorie Nowlen also showed a work which received an honorable mention, in La Mirada’s Fiesta de Artes in Long Beach, California, in May 1974.

Gene Nowlen died on 27 September 1977 at the age of 77; Marjorie Nowlen passed away on 1 April 1998, at the age of 97.

Note:

While the 1940 US Census suggests that the Nowlens’ son, Richard, was born in about 1932, elsewhere it seems that he was actually born in 1929 and is the same Richard Nowlen who was murdered along with a female friend in the Mojave Desert, California in 1959, while on the run from Chino men’s prison.

Sources:

  • Central Normal Life, 25 November 1925, p1.
  • A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Jan 1964, 7.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California: 29 May 1955, p 51; 10 April 1960, p 57; 1 December 1968, p 149; 12 May 1974, p60.
  • Independent, Long Beach, California, 11 September 1959, p5.
  • Lael Morgan. 1970. “Art Exhibition Chairman Brings Changes to Laguna”, in Los Angeles Times (16 October 1970), E2.
  • Mirror News, Los Angeles, Monday, September 14, 1959 page 12.
  • The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan: 2 August 1917 p 2; 21 December 1923, p17; 28 July 1925, p4; 1 January 1938, p41; 22 June 1938, p 3; 11 May 1939, p3; 13 May 1939, p3; 23 June 1939, p 4; 16 March 1940, p4; 30 April 1940, p4; 31 December 1941, p120; 3 December 1952, Page 4; 23 May 1953, p 4.
  • The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, 22 September 1959, p2.
  • Michigan Ensign, Volume 25, UM Libraries, 1921.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. 2015. Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972. (Dustin Publications: Publications in California Art No. 11).
  • Cornelia M Richardson; Marjorie Poundstone; Edward Morris Brigham, jr.; Russell Holmes; Michigan Historical Commission.. 2017. Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17. (Lansing, Mich.: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co.).
  • San Bernardino County Sun, October 4, 1970, page 36.
  • The Tustin News, Tustin, California, 14 November 1963, p14.

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Jan 192017
 

Allen Wadsworth, born in about 1939, had at least two exhibitions in Ajijic in the 1970s and honed his carpentry and painting skills in the village prior to embarking on a long and distinguished career in Hollywood as a set painter and scenic artist for major movies and TV shows.

Wadsworth and his wife Diane are natives of Minnesota and grew up in the Montevideo area of that state. He was always good at art but only decided to pursue his talents in that field after a stint in the U.S. Navy. He spent time in the 1960s and early 1970s studying and painting, including spells in both England and Mexico. A 2014 newspaper piece says that Wadsworth also “enjoyed a stint as the general manager of an art gallery in the smokestack on the Queen Mary.”

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

While his precise dates in Ajijic remain unclear, Wadsworth held two exhibitions in the village. The earlier show was held at the gallery-restaurant known as El Tejabán (at Zaragoza #1), then run by Jan Dunlop. That show opened on 20 May 1973 and featured acrylics and oils. The newspaper account described Wadsworth as a watercolorist who had studied at several art schools in the U.S. and exhibited in many galleries.

Three years later, Jan Dunlop had a new gallery in Ajijic, at 16 de Septiembre #9, the Wes Penn Gallery, named for her former artist husband. The exhibit that opened on 21 February 1976 was a two-person show, combining photos by Sylvia Salmi with 14 of Wadsworth’s oil paintings. (It was followed by a solo show of works by Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen.)

A newspaper interview in 2014 quotes Wadsworth as saying, in relation to Mexico, that “I taught in an art gallery and made frames and after I got back from Mexico a friend hooked me up with the studios as a scenic artist.”

From Ajijic, Wadsworth was apparently thrown into the deep end as a set painter with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. His first project was the 1976 film, A Star is Born, which won Barbra Streisand an Academy Award for Best Original Song. After that, Wadsworth worked on The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, and released later that year. Working in the era before CGI (computer-generated imagery), all special effects had to be achieved through craftsmanship and skilled painting.

Wadsworth worked on numerous other major movies including Arthur (1981), Protocol (1984), The Goonies (1985), Dick Tracy (1990), Hook (1991), Casper (1995), Eraser (1996), Men in Black (1997), Viva Rock Vegas (2000), Scary Movie (2000), Dragonfly (2002), Hidalgo (2004). He also worked on several well-known TV shows including Roots mini-series (1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), Hotel (1983-1988), Falcon Crest (1981-1990).

Of all these projects, Wadsworth’s favorite Hook (1991), the cast of which featured such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. In addition to painting the Lost Boys’ treehouse in Neverland, Wadsworth painted the sky and clouds on the nursery walls and the huge, menacing crocodile that falls on Captain Hook in the movie’s final scene.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboki magazine.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboji magazine.

Away from his work on movies (for which he rented accommodation, as and when needed, in Los Angeles) Wadsworth and his wife, Diane, lived with their children in the northern California town of Alturas. Between movies, Wadsworth continued to paint, with occasional gallery shows to sell paintings in northern California, Idaho, Nevada and Washington.

After painting sets and scenery for 25 years, Wadsworth retired with his wife Diane to Iowa where he has a studio at Spirit Lake. Paintings spanning 45 years of work were exhibited in his solo show of 21 watercolors and 51 oils, “Paintings by Allen Wadsworth,” at The Pearson Lakes Art Center in Iowa which ran for two months from 17 July 2014.

Sources:

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Jan 092017
 

Regina Alma (deCormier) Shekerjian and her husband, photographer Haig Shekerjian, spent several months living in Ajijic over the winter of 1950-51, and returned frequently thereafter, including numerous times in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Regina deCormier Shekerjian (1923-2000) was a well-known poet, author, translator and illustrator of children’s books.

She was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on 22 December 1923 and died on 21 April 2000 at the age of 76. DeCormier was the daughter of Robert DeCormier, a public school teacher born in Maine, and his Swedish-born wife, Selma.

After graduating from Poughkeepsie High School, where she was an active member of the Dramatic Club, Regina studied art at Skidmore College and then began classes at the University of New Mexico. In 1944, she married U.S. Navy Seaman Second Class Haig W. Shekerjian in Pensacola, Florida, where he was then stationed. Shekerjian had studied at the Eastman School of Photography in Rochester, New York, and had been a fellow student at the University of New Mexico, before joining the Navy in November 1943.

After Haig Shekerjian left the Navy in 1945, the couple, and their two sons (Tor and Jean-René) lived for many years in New Paltz, New York, where Haig was Art Director of the Media Services Center at the State University College.

Regina Shekerjian published under various names, including Regina Tor, Regina deCormier (or Decormier) and Regina Shekerjian.

As Regina Tor, she co-wrote, with Eleanor Roosevelt, Growing Toward Peace (Random House, 1960). This book, translated into 15 languages, was written for the United Nations and describes the various programs offered by that organization, with many attractive illustrations, presumed to be the work of Regina.

Regina Shekerjian had written to Eleanor Roosevelt several years earlier, in 1953, sending her a copy of her recently-published first book (Getting to know Korea) and seeking help with getting funding to travel to Germany to research her next book in the series. In a diary entry, Roosevelt includes quotes from Shekerjian’s letter to her:

“A letter addressed to me that accompanied the book interested me very much because I discovered that the author, Regina (Tor) Shekerjian, is a very near neighbor. She lives in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., a nice, quiet little village about 10 miles from Poughkeepsie.
She told me that this book was her first and she hoped it was just the beginning of a series. The next would be on Germany . . .  She is still looking for some way to get there so that this second volume can be written.
She introduces herself by saying: “You don’t remember me, but I had lunch with you one summer day. I was 21 that year and I was running for alderman on the Democratic ticket in the city of Poughkeepsie. I was the first woman ever to have run for that office. I was also the youngest, I guess.”
“Of course, that was eight summers ago and I was only one of about seven young Democrats, but I remember well that day. There were hot dogs and tiny, perfectly shaped red tomatoes and salad, and ice cream and you speaking about peace and the future of the world, and the part young people must play—the responsibility which belonged to each of us not only to preserve this great country but to help make it even greater.” [Eleanor Rooseveldt, 19 April 1953]

Regina first visited Ajijic when her husband took a sabbatical break over the winter of 1950-51 and they spent several months living in the village. Regina wrote an article in 1952 entitled “You can Afford a Mexican Summer” for Design in which she extolled the virtues of Ajijic as an ideal location for an inexpensive art-themed summer break.

Regina Shekerjian wrote at least six books for young readers: Getting to know Korea (1953); Getting to know Puerto Rico (1955); Getting to know Canada (1956); Getting to know the Philippines (1958); Getting to know Greece (1959) and Discovering Israel (1960), which won a National Jewish Book award.

Shekerjian illustrated several books, including River winding (1970); 19 Masks for the Naked Poet (1971); The Chinese Story Teller (1973); and Menus For All Occasions (1974).

Together, Regina and Haig Shekerjian illustrated several books, most of them written by Nancy Willard and aimed at young readers. They included The Adventures of Tom Thumb (1950); Life in the Middle Ages (1966); The boy, the rat, and the butterfly (1971); King Midas and the Golden Touch (1973); Play it in Spanish : Spanish games and folk songs for children (1973); The merry history of a Christmas pie : with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974); All on a May morning (1975); How Many Donkeys? A Turkish Folk Tale (1971); and The well-mannered balloon (1976).

The Shekerjians also co-wrote, with close relative Robert deCormier, A Book of Christmas Carols (1963); and A Book of Ballads, Songs and Snatches (1965).

Turning to poetry, Regina deCormier had poems published in numerous journals, including American Poetry Review, American Voice, ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, The G. W. Review, Kalliope, Kansas Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, Nimrod, Poetry East, and Salmagundi.

A collection of deCormier’s poems, entitled Hoofbeats on the Door: Poems, was published in 1993 by Helicon Nine Editions of Kansas City, Missouri. Several of the poems in this strong collection have obvious connections to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. 

Several of the poems in this strong collection have obvious connections to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. The longest and most complex is “From the Bellringer’s Wife’s Journal”, a rich, powerful, three-part poem set in Ajijic.

By the lake, bent over a wheelbarrow of water,
a woman guts a large salmon-gold carp,
gives a friend a recipe
for curing the bite of a scorpion,
and one for the heart that breaks.

The poem also includes  references to Calle Ocampo and, across the lake, the mountain named García.

The poem entitled “Testimony” describes the near-death experience of “Guillermo”.

“Rain” is a delightful tribute to one of Ajijic’s most famous residents ever, a legendary former ballet star who lived in Ajijic for decades prior to her passing in 1989:

[We] huddle over the photographs
of Zara, La Rusa,
the legendary one,
the dancer from the Ballet Russe
who came to this village
longer ago than anyone can remember,
the one who went everywhere
on horseback, the one
who still believes horses are spirits
from another realm…

“Lupe”, the title of another poem in the collection, turns out to be the daughter of the village baker, “Tito”:

Tito shoves the long-handled wood paddle
into the adobe over, lifts out
five perfectly round loaves of bread, round
as his wife’s breasts…
. . .
By five, all the loaves are ready,
heaped in wide shallow baskets, lifted
to the heads of their two youngest sons
who trot them off to the store.”

Her poems were chosen for at least two anthologies: “Snow”, “Grandmother” and “The Left Eye of Odin” were included in Two Worlds Walking (New Rivers Press, 1994) and “At the Cafe Saint Jacques” appeared in Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry, edited by Marilyn Sewell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). 

Michael Eager, the owner of La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic, remembers Regina as a very quiet person, who rarely talked much. He recalls her as being slender and pretty, with dark hair, and usually dressed casually, often in hand-embroidered blouses. Like her husband, Regina loved the local people, music and traditions.

Sources:

  • Regina Shekerjian. 1952. “You can Afford a Mexican Summer: Complete Details on how to Stretch your Dollars During an Art Trek South of the Border”, in Design, Volume 53, Issue 8, pp 182-197.
  • Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York, 19 February 1944, p5.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt. 1953. Diary entry dated 18 April 1953.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 4 July 2016.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Dec 222016
 

Orville Charles Goldner (1906-1985) was an art director, puppeteer and special-effects artist who visited Ajijic with his wife Dorothy Goldner in the early 1970s.

Goldner was born in Toledo, Ohio, on 18 May 1906 and died on 28 February 1985. He studied at the Toledo Museum School of Design in his native town before moving to Oakland, California, to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley (now California College of the Arts). Here, he met Dorothy (“Dot”) Thompson Goldner (1906-2005); the couple married in October 1925 and had two children.

Soon after their marriage, the young couple moved to Hollywood. In the late-1920s, they were members of a traveling Shakespeare Theater Group and peripatetic marionette show (1926-1930). Goldner’s long and varied career in the movie business began in 1927 when he worked at Kinex Studio in Hollywood as a technical director, designer, and creator of animated films and special effects.

In the early 1930s, Goldner worked for RKO Studios on such films as The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and King Kong (1933). Orville Goldner later co-authored (with George E. Turner) The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind A Film Classic (1975).

In the late 1930s, Goldner and his wife made many educational films for the state of California. One of his lasting legacies is an astonishingly powerful collection of photographs of migrant farm workers in California and their children. He spent the first few months of 1940 documenting families on behalf of the California Department of Education and later also photographed Hupa Indian students and their lifestyles on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Humboldt County. See Picturing California’s Migrant Children: Orville Goldner’s Photographic Trek of 1940 for more details.

In 1935, Goldner had worked as an art director at the California-Pacific International Expo and he was given a similar role at the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940.

A series of four short, silent, color movies taken at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco (1939/40), by Orville Goldner, can be viewed online via this web page. The movies comprise the “Dorothy Goldner Collection“, now housed in the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive.

From our perspective, the most interesting by far is that relating to the “Art in Action” exhibition which includes footage showing Diego Rivera painting the Pan American Unity Mural at that event. It also portrays several other artists demonstrating their techniques in sculpture, mosaics, printing, doll making, weaving, pottery and axe carving. The Mexican pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition is shown in the film entitled “Pavilions, parades & soap box derby at Golden Gate Exposition“.

Other artists associated with both Lake Chapala and the Golden Gate International Exposition include John Langley Howard (1902-1999), Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988), Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008), Ann Sonia Medalie (1896-1991), Max Pollak (1886-1970) and Charles Frederick Surendorf (1906-1979)..

When the U.S. entered the second world war, Goldner joined the U.S. Navy, where he headed the U.S. Navy’s Training Films and Motion Picture branch from 1942 to 1946. His work in this position won him a Commendation Ribbon from the Secretary of the Navy, as well as the award of the Order of the British Empire from the U.K. government for his work with the British Armed Forces.

After the second world war, the Goldners went to Europe and lived for several years in France before returning to San Francisco. For the remainder of his career, Goldner focused on the production of documentary films and visual material for educational purposes. He was Director of Production (1946-49) and later an overseas film producer (1949-52) for Curriculum Films in New York.

Goldner then directed the Audio-Visual Center at San Francisco State University from 1954 to 1960, before returning to commercial film making as Director of Audio-Visual Services for the Panorama colorslide program at Columbia Record Club. Panorama series included “Guided Tours of the World,” “Adventures in Nature and Science” and “Guided Tours of the World’s Great Museums.”

Orville Goldner worked with his wife on numerous documentary film strips including A Colorslide Tour of Mexico Land of Sun and Laughter South of the Border (1961). This publication, with 32 color slides and a 33 1/3rpm record narrated by Cesar Romero, was edited by Darlene Geis and published by Columbia Record Club, New York in 1961.

The Goldners also made Doña Rosa: Potter of Coyotepec, a 10-minute color film released in 1959, which shows Doña Rosa de Nieto, from San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca making a pot (olla) and firing her creations in an underground kiln.

From 1967 to 1971, Goldner was a professor of Mass Communications and Director of the Audio-Visual Center at Chico State College.

In 1968, Orville and Dorothy Goldner formed the film production company Visual Americana. Their best-known collaboration from this time was on the award-winning ethnographic film Three Stone Blades, for which Ira Latour was cinematographer and Valerie L. Smith was anthropology consultant. The film was awarded a bronze medal at the New York Film Festival. It recreates a folktale of the Inupiat (Eskimo) people of Point Hope, Alaska, the farthest northwest village in North America, about the fate of a widow and her children in the Arctic. The Port Hope area has now been abandoned because of flooding by melting ice.

[Ira Latour, a student of legendary photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, was, coincidentally, also at the Golden Gate International Exposition. He had been commissioned by the National Railways of Mexico to paint an 18-foot mural for the Mexican Pavilion at the 1939–1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in the Bay Area.]

It was very shortly after completing Three Stone Blades that the Goldners visited Chapala:
“Goldner, head of Visual Americana, is visiting friends here prior to putting the finishing touches on his latest film, a study of an Eskimo legend filmed in Alaska. After  preparing the film for distribution, Goldner and his wife, Dorothy, will go to Chapala, Mexico, for an extended stay.” (Amarillo Globe-Times, 12 November 1970).

Sources:

  • Documents relating to Orville Goldner’s career can be found in two university archives. Parks Library at Iowa State University houses a collection of his papers from 1926-1982 while California State University, Chico, has materials relating to the period between 1935 and 1957 (mainly related to his photographic study of migrant farm workers in California and their children).
  • Amarillo Globe-Times, Amarillo, Texas, 12 November 1970, p 43

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 152016
 

Dorothy Goldner (1906-2005) and her husband Orville Goldner (1906-1985) spent some time in Ajijic in the early 1970s, as evidenced by Dorothy’s participation in the large group show “Fiesta of Art” held on 15 May 1971 at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic).

Other artists at that show included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

Dorothy (“Dot”) Thompson Goldner was born in Seattle, Washington, on 10 March 1906. After graduating from Modesto Senior High School in California, she studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley (now California College of the Arts) where she met fellow artist Orville Goldner. The couple married in October 1925 and moved to Hollywood shortly afterwards. In the late-1920s, they were members of a traveling Shakespeare Theater Group and a peripatetic marionette show, before Orville became actively involved in the film industry in the 1930s. (We will profile Orville’s artistic career in a later post).

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

After the second world war, the Goldners went to Europe. The family lived in France for several years before returning to San Francisco. They moved to Chico in 1966 when Orville was appointed as director of Audiovisual Education and Mass Communications at Chico State College.

Dorothy Goldner partnered her husband to form the film production company Visual Americana (1968 to 1971) which made various documentary film strips as well as the award-winning ethnographic film Three Stone Blades, about the Inupiat (Eskimo) people of Point Hope, Alaska, the farthest northwest village in North America, and an area now abandoned because of flooding by melting ice.

While the details of the Goldners’ time in Ajijic are unclear, Dorothy was clearly an accomplished artist. She was a member of the National Organization of Women Artists and had held solo shows at the Berkeley League of Fine Arts (1927), the San Francisco Art Association (1938), the Springville Museum in Utah (1974) and Chico State University (1982). She also illustrated Ripples along Chico Creek, an account of early Chico published in 1992 by the Butte County Branch of the National League of American Pen Women.

Orville Goldner died in 1985 and Dorothy passed away at the age of 99 on 15 August 2005.

Sources:

  • Chico Enterprise-Record. 2005. Obituary of Dorothy Goldner. Chico Enterprise-Record, 18 August 2005.
  • Orville Goldner & George E. Turner. 1975. The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind A Film Classic. South Brunswick, NJ: A.S. Barnes/Tantivy Press.
  • Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm  Tagged with:
Nov 212016
 

Barbara Strong used her maiden name of Barbara Nolen professionally, as an author and editor of children’s books. Strong was born on 19 December 1902 and died at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on 13 December 2002, less than a week shy of her 100th birthday.

She and her husband David Strong lived in Morris, Connecticut, and in Washington D.C. (where they lived in “an old, antique-furnished eight-room house” in American University Park), but also kept a weekend home in West Virginia. In their retirement years, they regularly wintered at Lake Chapala, where Barbara became especially active in supporting the Niños y Jovenes children’s home in San Juan Cosalá.

Barbara Strong graduated from Smith College in 1924, studied at Columbia School of Journalism in the summer of 1924, and received her MA from Stanford University in California in 1925.

She first met her husband, David Fales Strong, at the Grand Canyon in 1924, when they were both on their way to do graduate work at Stanford. They married on 14 June 1927 in Vienna, Austria, and had a year-long honeymoon traveling around Europe. The couple had two children: Stephen Lewis Strong and Deborah Louisa Strong MacKnight. David Fales Strong (1899-1987) was the author of Austria (October 1918-March 1919): Transition from empire to republic, published by Columbia University Press in 1939.

Barbara Strong had a long and successful career in children’s publishing. From 1925 to 1944, she was an editor of children’s books for Macmillan, Century Publishers and several other publishers. In total, she edited more than 500 books ranging from fiction to biography and animal stories and was a regular contributor of book reviews to the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Washington Star and several other papers.

nolen-barbara-portraitBetween 1935 and 1954, she was the Editor of Story Parade, a children’s magazine with a circulation of more than 60,000. Interviewed by a local journalist in 1951, Strong said that she reviewed about 300 new books a year and read between 100 and 200 manuscripts a month looking for stories that would hold real interest to children. She noted that, “Today’s kids just eat up books on science and biography, books that a generation ago they just wouldn’t be interested in” before suggesting that, “Maybe it’s because we live more completely in the whole world and our children are exposed to more and varied interests.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, Strong was a consultant to the CBS Radio program, “The American School of the Air”. She taught workshops in Children’s Literature at George Washington University and the American University in Washington D.C., and gave seminars on “Writing for Children” for teachers from overseas. Strong co-founded the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. and was actively involved in lobbying for special legislation to be passed creating school libraries for Washington D.C. schools.

After retirement, Barbara traveled frequently to Mexico and became an early member of the Asociación de Amigos de Ninos y Jovenes, which provided local support for a children’s home in San Juan Cosalá. Strong established a U.S. and Canadian fund-raising group called Friends of Ninos y Jovenes to help the home.

Barbara Strong’s first trip to Lake Chapala seems to have been in about 1971. The Guadalajara Reporter for 6 March 1971 reported that “Mr and Mrs David Strong, who write juvenile books” were visiting Chapala while undertaking research for a Mexican anthology, before continuing on to Guanajuato and Mexico City. This anthology was Mexico is people : land of three cultures (1973), for which Concha Romero James wrote the introduction. James, also an author, was head of the division of cultural relations of the Pan-American Union (later the Organization of American States) and responsible for the formation of its visual arts program.

The book was generally well received by reviewers. For example the Kirkus Review observed that the editor had produced a lively anthology, choosing “primary over secondary sources whenever possible” and including “many pleasant surprises” such as Octavio Paz celebrating the “Art of the Fiesta”, D. H. Lawrence‘s description of an “Indian Market”, and Michael Scully on the Little League “Wonder Kids of Monterrey.” The reviewer concluded that this was “a varied, often sparkling collection — though somewhat lacking in the common touch.”

In addition to her book about Mexico, Strong compiled or edited numerous books, including Children of America (1939); The Brave and Free (1942); Merry Hearts and Bold (1942); Fun and Frolic (1947); Luck And Pluck (1950); Do and Dare (1951); What Next? Adventure and Surprise (1957); Spies, spies, spies (1965); Africa is people : firsthand accounts from contemporary Africa (1967); Ethiopia (1971); Africa Is Thunder and Wonder: Contemporary Voices from African Literature (1972); Voices of Africa (Fontana modern novels, 1974); The Morris Academy – Pioneer in Co-education (1976).

Documents and papers relating to the life and work of Barbara Nolen Strong reside in the Special Collections of the University of Oregon (Barbara Nolen papers, 1937-1974) and in the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.

Sources:

  • Anon. 2002. “Barbara Nolen Strong, 99, W. Yarmouth resident, editor, consultant, library advocate.” Cape Cod Times. 20 December, 2002.
  • Jane Eads. 1951. “Young Readers Lean to Books on Science”. Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), 12 November 1951, p 16:
  • The Evening Sun. 1951. The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania). 18 October 1951, p 18
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Oct 242016
 

Hazel Emma Wilson, a prolific author of children’s books, visited Lake Chapala in 1971, “doing research for a Mexican book”. At that point in her career she had already written 19 books. Unfortunately, it remains maddeningly unclear whether or not any book based on her Mexican research was ever published!

Wilson (née Hutchins) was born in Portland, Maine, on 8 April 1897 (some sources claim 1898). She earned her AB from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, in 1919 and a B.S. in Library Science from Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1920. She worked as a librarian in various educational institutions: Portland High School, Maine; Kirksville State Teacher’s College, Missouri; Bradford Academy, Massachusetts; the American Library in Paris, France (1926-1928); and was supervisor of school libraries in Denver, Colorado.

wilson-hazel-coverShe married Dr. Jerome William Wilson (1884-1963) and settled in Washington D.C. in 1930. Their son, Jerome Linwood Wilson, was born in 1931. He went on to become a member of the New York State Senate (from 1963 to 1966) and the Political Editor of the TV station WCBS-TV.

Hazel Wilson is best known for her series of stories about Herbert, a 10-year-old whose antics were based on the real-life experiences of her son and his friends.

Wilson was also a lecturer at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. (1956-1957) and taught at one time at Georgetown University. For some years, she wrote monthly reviews for the now defunct Washington Evening Star newspaper. She was a founder of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington and a member of the American Newspaper Women’s Club and Women in Communication.

Wilson’s books include The Red Dory (1939)-her first book for children; The Owen Boys (1947); Island Summer (1949); Herbert (1950); Thad Owen (1950); The Story of Lafayette (1952); The Story of Mad Anthony Wayne (1953); More Fun with Herbert (1954); His Indian Brother (1955); The Little Marquise: Madame Lafayette (1957); Tall Ships (1958); Jerry’s Charge Account (1960); Herbert’s Homework (1960); Herbert Again (1962); The Seine River of Paris (1962); The Last Queen of Hawaii: Liliuokalani (1963); The Years Between: Washington at Home at Mount Vernon, 1783-1789 (1969); Herbert’s Stilts (1972); and Herbert’s Space Trip (1973).

Among other honors, Wilson won the Ohioan Award for Island Summer (1949); the Boys’ Clubs of America Junior Book Award for Thad Owen (1950); the Edison Award for His Indian Brother (1955); and the 1955 New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Honor Award for Herbert.

Hazel Wilson died in Bethesda, Maryland, on 20 August 1992.

Sources:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Sep 152016
 

Artist William (“Bill”) Gentes (1917-2000), who specialized in lithographs and linocuts, lived and worked at Lake Chapala for thirty years.

William George Gentes was born in Brooklyn, New York on 21 June 1917 and died in Chapala on 26 July 2000. Gentes graduated from Hobart College in 1938 and then studied at the Art Students League of New York. He later gained masters degrees from New York State University and from the University of Guanajuato.

Williaml Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

William Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

He worked for a time as editor of the Suffolk-Nassau Labor News, and began a lengthy career as a sign painter and an art teacher. With time, he became a sensitive and accomplished printmaker (lithographer) who found in Mexico and its working people the perfect subjects through which to express his exceptionally warm and affectionate outlook.

Gentes first visited Mexico in the summer of 1966 when he drove overland with his wife Adele and their two children (Gaye and Bill Jr.) from New York to Mérida and back. In 1968, the artist took a sabbatical year. The family lived in San Miguel de Allende and Gentes studied at the Instituto San Miguel.

In 1970, at the age of 55, Gentes retired after thirty years teaching in New York and two months after he had been injured while cycling to work. The family moved to Mexico the following year and settled in Colonia Seattle, Guadalajara, where the children went to local schools, while Gentes devoted himself to his art, taking regular trips to unlikely places on the extensive network of local buses to sketch and find inspiration for his drawings, paintings, woodblocks and (later) linoprints.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

Gentes’ links to Lake Chapala started at this time. From about 1974, the family spent most summers in San Pedro Soyutlán on the south side of the lake.

In 1979, with both children now studying in the U.S., Gentes and his wife sold the family home in Guadalajara and moved to Lake Chapala. They lived near the former railway station in Chapala for about four years, then moved to a house overlooking Ajijic and later to Calle Manglar in Las Redes. With each move, Gentes acquired bigger and better presses, allowing him to make larger print runs without sacrificing quality, and enabling him to employ up to eight colors in his work.

Gentes’ genre art was regularly included in group exhibits in Ajijic. His solo shows included an exhibit in February 1989 at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. In the 1990s, Gentes was one of the founder members of the group of Ajijic artists who helped launch the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA).

His impish sense of humor is evident in many of his linocuts, but Gentes also had an intensely serious side and used his art to engage with social and political injustices. Some of his strongest works feature characters he had encountered while traveling around western Mexico. It is always worthwhile to look carefully at the wording on a Gentes linocut. The one below translates literally to “The old woman who dances raises lots of dust”, meaning that people who do age-inappropriate things can make themselves look ridiculous.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Each of the Gentes family homes in Mexico had a sauna, and it is no coincidence that many of Gentes’ prints depict nudes having a sauna. Having been excused military service during the second world war on account of his poor eyesight, the artist quickly put younger, attractive sauna guests to his home at Lake Chapala at ease by declaring he was so blind he couldn’t see anything. His Mexican-themed parties for fellow artists and art lovers were well-attended and legendary. Generous and fun-loving, Gentes lived life to the full. His son, Bill Jr, recalls that his father was especially delighted when he realized that his years enjoying retirement had exceeded the length of time he had worked in New York.

The 1980s was Gentes’ most prolific period as a printmaker. In 1992, the loss of his wife of 27 years was a severe blow, but Gentes eventually overcame his grief by producing a series of prints depicting his loneliness before restarting his long series of humorous prints. His local solo shows at Lake Chapala included one at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Gentes was especially generous to many fellow artists, not only in terms of encouragement, but also in conducting workshops and allowing them to use his printing presses. When painter Pat Apt first arrived in Ajijic in 1992, Gentes invited her to share his studio at Calle Independencia #5. Apt worked alongside him for six years and the two remained close friends thereafter.

Apt’s abiding impression of Gentes is how he refused to let his deteriorating eyesight prevent him from completing some of his finest work, work that was more colorful than earlier, with bolder, thicker lines. As his sight failed, Gentes relied on his extraordinary spatial memory to painstakingly draw pictures, one square inch at a time, despite being unable to see virtually anything of the piece he was creating.

Gentes’ work is in private collections all over the world. His children inherited more than 700 original artworks and several thousand lithographs. Several linocuts by Gentes were used as illustrations in Don Adams’s book, Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide (Trafford, 2003).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Bill Gentes Jr. for information about his parents’ life in Mexico and his father’s career, and to Pat Apt.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 122016
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the somewhat adventurous life of actress, playwright and novelist George Rae Marsh (Williams), aka Georgia Cogswell (1925-1997), who lived for many years in Ajijic in the 1950s and 1960s with her first husband, the accomplished novelist Willard Marsh. Two years after her husband’s death in 1970, George Rae married the science fiction writer Theodore R. Cogswell.

marsh-george-as-georgia-cogswell-obsessionAs Georgia Cogswell, she published the mass market paperback novel Golden Obsession. (Zebra Books, 1979). While the book is not set at Lake Chapala, it is a mystery story completely set in Mexico and involving a wide cast of characters, some more disreputable than others. The author makes good use of her inside knowledge and experience of the country, its people, customs and beliefs.

The back cover blurb sets the scene:

It’s strictly illegal to take ancient artifacts out of a country, especially in Mexico. Archaeologist Brad Bradley knew and respected that law – only he got killed. It happened right after he notified the museum of the priceless pre-Columbian gold mask he uncovered at the Witches’ Mountain dig – but the mask was never found.

The authorities told his beautiful young wife Hally that it was an accident; that he was brutally attacked by a jaguar. She saw his mangled body and the jagged ripped flesh, yet somehow, she was not convinced. So she decided to stay in Mexico and decode Brad’s maps and notes to find out the truth about his death and discoveries.

Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea. Was it a coincidence that she met a charming, attractive man who knew woo much about her late husband’s work? Was it unusual that her house was ransacked and Brad’s files completely searched? Hally knew only one thing: Brad had dug up more than a buried treasure – he had unleashed a corrupt and greedy murderer who was consumed by a raging GOLDEN OBSESSION.

This is not a prize-winning book, but is still a good read to while away a rainy day. It is not very easy to find, but used copies occasionally appear on sites such as abebooks.com.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Sep 052016
 

In this brief departure from our on-going series about artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala we introduce a family that had a special musical connection to the Lake Chapala Auditorium (Auditorio de la Ribera) in La Floresta, Ajijic, which had its first gala concert scheduled for forty years ago this month.

Lake Chapala Auditorium. Photo credit: Aislander

Lake Chapala Auditorium. Photo credit: Aislander@ytube.com

The Lake Chapala Auditorium Building Committee was established in May 1974. Various music and theater groups existed at Lake Chapala and they were always struggling to find suitable venues for productions, so the decision to aim for a purpose-built auditorium can not have been a hard one to make.

The foreign community at Lakeside joined forces with Mexican community leaders to gain the financial support of the state government and raise funds for the project.

Among those serving on the initial building committee, according to the Guadalajara Reporter of 18 May 1974, were Enid McDonald (the Canadian flying pioneer who spearheaded the local fund raising campaign), Hector Marquez, Manuel Pantoja, Josephine Warren (mother of Chris Luhnow who founded the long-running Traveler’s Guide to Mexico) and Dr William Winnie. The construction of the 500-seat auditorium was managed by the state Public Works department.

After the committee had seen the initial plans, it suggested modifying them slightly to expand the proposed foyer to make it suitable for displaying art exhibits. Final plans were approved by the state government in September 1974 and construction started almost immediately. A ground-breaking ceremony was held on 24 September 1974, with building works expected to last eight months.

For a variety of reasons, it actually took somewhat longer and the formal opening of the auditorium was held on 25 September 1976. The final costs, according to an article by Joan Frost in the Guadalajara Reporter, came in at $328,000 (dollars). The state of Jalisco gave $250,000, with additional funding split between the municipality of Chapala, which donated the land and $8,000, and local fund raising which contributed $40,000, including the cost of installing air-conditioning.

According to the Lake Chapala Review (July 2011), the auditorium was formally opened on 25 September 1976 with a piano concert by Manuel Delaflor from Mexico City. Delaflor had just played at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Delaflor is one of Mexico’s most accomplished pianists. He studied music in Mexico City with Antonio Gomezanda and Juan Valle. Delaflor won first prize in the Bernard Flavigny Piano Contest, was a semifinalist in the Van Cliburn, and a finalist in the piano section of the Montreal International Musical Competition, Canada. He has been a soloist with orchestras in Mexico, Guatemala, Canada, Russia and Romania. In addition to performing across Mexico, Delaflor has given solo recitals in the U.S., Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Germany, Austria, Italy, Romania, Poland and the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union.

However, Dale Palfrey, writing in the Guadalajara Reporter (22 September 2016), reports that this piano concert was cancelled at the last minute when it was discovered that the smooth walls of the new auditorium “made for abysmal acoustics. A garden party was held in its place. It took another year and a half to correct the sound problem and other flaws.” Palfrey goes on to say that the genuine inaugural concert was finally held on 15 March 1978, and featured soprano Lucille Sabella with the Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra and the Jalisco Philharmonic Chorus.

Delaflor’s impressive ability is highlighted in this 8-minute YouTube video:

This brings us neatly back to the musical family that had a special connection with the auditorium. The Baldwin grand piano that was to have been played by Manuel Delaflor at Auditorio de la Ribera had been donated to the auditorium the year before by Hilary Campbell, in memory of her sister Elsa.

Hilary Campbell, together with her two sisters, Elsa and Amy, and brother Alan, had lived in Chapala from the early 1950s. We take a longer look at this family’s own story in our next post.

Those early supporters, together with many others who have contributed to the facility’s maintenance and renovations over the years, can be justly proud of their efforts. The Lake Chapala Auditorium is either already 40 years old or soon will be, an enduring tribute to a fine spirit of co-operation between local residents, foreign visitors and municipal and state officials.

Want to help?

If you would like to contribute to the on-going campaign by registered non-profit Pro Auditorio (whose only purpose is to raise funds to improve the Ajijic Auditorium) please visit their Indiegogo page.

This second YouTube video featuring Manuel Delaflor playing in the Music Festival in Zitácuaro, Michoacán, in 2012. Enjoy!

Related posts:

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 Posted by at 5:26 am
Sep 012016
 

Bertram (“Bert”) Miller was a supremely talented amateur photographer who retired to Chapala and spent several years documenting the town and its inhabitants in the 1970s and 1980s. After his passing, a significant number of his photographs were donated by his youngest daughter, Norma, to the Chapala archives. The archives, open to the public, are currently housed next to the town hall (presidencia municipal).

Prior to his time in Chapala, Miller had been a prominent New York pediatrician: Dr. Bertram W. Miller of 33-20, 16th Street, Flushing, New York. Most, if not all, of his photographs of Chapala have this address stamped on their reverse side.

Miller, born in New York on 27 September 1915, was a graduate of Columbia University and gained his M.D. at New York University in 1939. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1967 and loved what he saw. In 1969, he retired from his medical practice, after 22 years, and moved to Chapala with his wife, Gertrude (“Gerry”), and their then 4-year-old daughter Norma.

Miller was a passionate photographer, whose excellent eye for a striking image was complemented by exceptional technical skills in both black and white and color photography. He spent years researching and developing a unique method (the Miller Method) of making high quality color prints, which he patented in 1977. It allowed him to tweak the settings of each of the three sensitive layers in color film to achieve neutral colors, so that the grey, for example, exactly matched the grey on a standard reference card.

Writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, Joe Weston described Miller as a perfectionist, who studied things “because they are there”, whether they involved calculus, designing electronic equipment, photography or color development. At the time of Weston’s article, the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara was exhibiting 70 of Miller’s photographs. Weston quotes Miller as saying that he planned to photograph much of Mexico, its people and its way of life “before it disappears in industrialization”.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos. date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos (ca 1975). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

In addition to conventional views (above) and portraits, Miller also experimented in more artistic photography (below).

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work; date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work (New York, 1967). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Miller’s photographs were exhibited on various occasions, including the large group show, “Fiesta del Arte” held at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33) in Ajijic in May 1971. Other artists in that exhibition included: Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

In October 1976, Miller’s photographs were in a group exhibition in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen, organized by the Jalisco State government and entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” (Art and Handicrafts of the shores of Lake Chapala”. On that occasion, other artists who participated included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Gustel Faust; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; Jim Marthai.

Miller and his wife were close friends of photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost; of artist Harry Mintz and his wife Rosabelle; and of architect-designer Russell Bayly.

Miller’s daughter, Norma, in the short biography that accompanies her gift of his photographs to the Chapala archive, writes of her father that “With great artistic sensitivity and enormous humanity, Dr Miller captured images that he turned into prints in his darkroom that showed the profound and authentic faces and landscapes of Mexico. The photos in this exhibit portray Chapala and its people with honesty and love.” Indeed they do. Miller’s photographs are a unique record of bygone Chapala, and one which deserves to be valued and preserved for future generations.

Bert Miller passed away on 16 October 2005, three weeks after his 90th birthday.

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Ricardo Santana for introducing me to Miller’s work, and to Chapala archivist Rogelio Ochoa Corona who, by a happy coincidence, showed me many more of Miller’s fine photographs the following day, and shared his personal knowledge of the photographer and his family. Thank you, too, to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for providing valuable additional information about her father and the family’s time in Mexico.

Sources:

  • Norma Louise Miller Watnick. “Biography of Dr. B.W. Miller” (unpublished document in the Chapala town archive).
  • Joe Weston. Lakeside Look. Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1972.

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Aug 252016
 

Eleanor Smart (1909-1993) was an American artist who lived with her husband Douglas in Chula Vista, Lake Chapala, from the late 1960s until shortly before her death. The couple had visited the Lake Chapala area several times before purchasing the “Radke house” (Calle del Redondo #122, in Chula Vista) in 1968. She worked in a variety of media (oil, acrylic, watercolor and collage and was a regular exhibitor during her time in Mexico.

Eleanor Smart. Women with Green Hair. ca 1971.

Eleanor Smart. Women with Green Hair. ca 1971. (Cover of Ajijic Cookbook)

An example of Smart’s work, “Women with Green Hair” was used as the cover illustration for the locally-produced A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Gráficas, 1972).

Smart’s maiden name was Eleanor Frances Storm. She was born on 6 June 1909 in Michigan, either in Washtenaw County (listed as her place of birth in the 1910 U.S. Census) or Grosse Pointe (quoted in later articles), where she lived most of her life. She died on 9 February 1993 in St. Clair Shores, Macomb, Michigan.

Smart graduated from Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan, in 1927 and entered Sullin’s College, an all-girls Methodist junior college in Bristol, Virginia.

In 1929, the 20-year-old Eleanor Storm married Douglas Levering Smart, a 26-year-old electrical engineer with the Ford Motor Company. The couple married on 25 June 1929 at North Woodward Congregational church in Wayne County, Michigan, and subsequently had two sons: Addison (born 1931) and Richard “Dick” Levering (1932-1994).

Though the precise timing is inclear, Smart trained at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (under Sarkis Sarkisian, Walter Midener and Guy Palazzola) and at the University of Michigan, studying under Robert Brackman and Dong Kingman. She also studied, at one time or another, with Emil Weddige, Gerome Kamrowski, Hughie Lee-Smith and Kraig Kiedrowski, as well as with José Gutiérrez of Mexico City in 1951. Smart’s travels included trips to Japan, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, France, Turkey and Greece.

Smart was a member of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors and the Grosse Pointe Artists Association. Her works can be found in many private and corporate collections including that of Monsanto Chemical Company and Detroit Bank and Trust. Smart was a regular exhibitor in the Michigan Artists Annual, the Michigan State Fair, and numerous other regional exhibitions.

These exhibitions included the annual meeting of the Grosse Pointe Artists’ Association in 1949 and again in 1957. Smart’s work was featured in numerous group shows, including the Galleries Raymond Duncan, in Paris, France (1959), the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors in Grosse Pointe (1962), Les Galleries de Kenee, Grosse Pointe (1963), the  Grosse Pointe Garden Center and Library (1966) and the Grosse Pointe Artists’ Association (1967).

By 1967, Smart had held eight one-woman shows in all, including one at the Ligoa Duncan Galleries in New York in 1959.

Smart continued painting after moving to Mexico and was one of the numerous artists invited to exhibit at the “Fiesta of Art” held in May 1971 at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham, alongside Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Smart’s work was shown in a group show at the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara in January 1980, which also featured works by Paul Fontaine; Daphne Aluta; Georg Rauch; Betty Warren; Richard Lapa; Stefan Lokos; Evelyne Boren; Digur Weber; Gustel Faust; Taffy Branham.

In 1988, one of Smart’s paintings was chosen for the “Help Save Lake Chapala” exhibit which was shown in Mexico City. Other artists in that show included Daphne Aluta, Nancy Bollembach, Luisa Julian, Conrado Contreras, Rick Ledwon, Georg Rauch, Enrique Velázquez and Laura Goeglin.

Sources:

  • Anon. 1986. Portrait of the Artist: Eleanor Smart, in El Ojo del Lago, Oct 1986, Vol III, No 1.
  • Detroit Free Press, 9 April 1949, p 11;  5 May 1957, p 38
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 14 December 1968
  • Informador, 26 January 1980

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 Posted by at 6:48 am  Tagged with:
Jul 282016
 

We know disappointingly little about the life and work of artist Emanuel(e) Mario Aluta. Aluta moved to Ajijic with his second wife Daphne Greer Aluta (born 1919) in the late 1960s. It is unclear whether or not Mario remained in Ajijic after 1974 when Daphne married Colin MacDougall in a small ceremony at the home of Sherm and Adele Harris, the then managers of the Posada Ajijic.

Mario Aluta. Untitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Mario Aluta. Untitled. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Mario Aluta’s artwork, described in a review by Hannah Tompkins as a “series of male figures … vigorously painted with strong emphasis on planal design”, was included in a 1970 exhibition at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. The show opened on 6 June 1970 and featured a long list of Lakeside and Guadalajara artists. Among the other Lakeside artists in the show were Daphne Aluta, Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, John Frost, Bruce Sherratt and Lesley Maddox.

Both Mario and Daphne Aluta also showed work in the “Fiesta de Arte” in May 1971 at the home of Frances and Ned Windham at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33 in Ajijic. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Emanuel(e) Mario Aluta was born in Constantinople, Turkey, on 3 January 1904, but (also?) had Italian citizenship. He died in California on 22 September 1985.

I know nothing about Aluta’s early life, education or art training, but believe his first wife was Charlotte Maria Richter, who was born in Vienna, Austria, in about 1911. The couple seem to have first entered the U.S. in about 1936. In November 1937, they are recorded as crossing the border from Mexico back into the U.S.. The following year (1938) they applied to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Their application was finally approved in August 1943.

At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, the couple was living in Los Angeles. According to the census entry, they had been living in Nice, France, five years earlier in 1935.

Mario Aluta was 56 years of age when he married 41-year-old Daphne Greer in Clark County, Nevada on 25 May 1960.

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 Posted by at 5:49 am  Tagged with:
Jul 142016
 

During a month-long trip to Chapala with his wife in June 1975 to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, Walden Swank painted a prize-winning picture of the lake. The painting, which won best-of-show and a purchase award in a show entitled Two Flags Festival of the Arts in Douglas, Arizona, now hangs in a museum south of the border in Agua Prieta. Swank later did a second painting of the lake, shown here, as a gift for his wife.

Walden Swank. Lake Chapala. 24 x 48". 1975

Walden Swank. Lake Chapala. 24 x 48″. 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Walden Swank was born in Kansas on 2 June 1933, but the family moved to Colorado when he was in his teens. Swank attended Littleton High School in Colorado and then served in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1955. While in the Navy,  he designed the insignia for Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron Eleven. This proved to be the start of a long career in design and fine art.

After leaving the service, Swank studied Graphic Design and Illustration at the Colorado Institute of Art, from where he graduated in 1956. His first regular job was at The American Greeting Card Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Swank then worked for a series of advertising agencies and graphic design firms, before forming his own company, Design Studios, Inc., in 1964.

In 1988 he began a career in fine art after additional training at the Art Student’s League of Denver. He retired completely from commercial art and design in 1995.

His work has been in numerous group and solo exhibitions across the U.S., and won numerous awards. His shows include University of New Mexico; Two Flags Festival of the Arts; Lake Worth 47th Anniversary; Taos Connections Art Gallery; Poudre Valley Art League’s 29th Annual Art Exhibition; La Ventana Art Gallery; Colorado State Fair; The 10th Annual Pikes Peak Watercolor Society Exhibition; The Heartland Exhibition, Merriam, Kansas; Westbank Art Gallery, Austin, Texas; Marks & Marks Art Gallery, Denver, Colorado; Taos National Exhibition of American Watercolor VIII; Taos Art Museum at the Fechin House; and Bold Expressions, Northern California Arts, Inc., Sacramento Fine Arts Center.

His work has been published in Southwest Art magazine and is in several corporate collections including Johns Manville and The Motorola Corporation.

Walden Swank sells his work via his Waldens Fine Art store on ebay.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Walden Swank for permission to reproduce his painting of Lake Chapala, and for information contained in an exchange of emails in May 2012.

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 Posted by at 8:23 am  Tagged with:
Jul 072016
 

Photographer Michael Heinichen (born ca 1944) is best known for his portrait of Dave Sheridan, used on the cover of the first issue (June/July 1972)] of The Rip Off Review of Western Culture, published in the summer of 1972. The Rip Off Review of Western Culture was a short-lived underground comics magazine from San Francisco that featured the work of many noteworthy underground artists and writers.

Cover of "The Rip Off Review of Western Culture", Vol 1 #1 (June/July 1972). Photo by Michael Heinichen

Cover of The Rip Off Review of Western Culture, Vol 1 #1 (June/July 1972). Photo by Michael Heinichen

Heinichen lived in Mexico for some time – certainly more than he originally intended. His link to Ajijic is via Beverly Johnson who was already living there. In 1969, Johnson returned to California to renew her tourist papers, and met and fell in love with Heinichen. Early in 1970, they returned to Ajijic where Heinichen taught Johnson photography and darkroom techniques.

Some of his work was included in the “Fiesta de Arte” in May 1971 at the home of Frances and Ned Windham at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33 in Ajijic. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

By summer 1972, Heinichen had amassed a significant body of work from his travels around Mexico and had also separated from Johnson and moved to Jocotepec to live with his new girlfriend, Laura Katzman.

In September 1972, Allyn Hunt, writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, reviewed a month-long, two-man show at El Tejabán in Ajijic of work by Heinichen and young Mexican artist Adolfo Riestra. Hunt clearly liked the “sharp, many-toned photographs of Michael Heinichen featuring Mexican beach- and mountain-scapes.” Heinichen had taken his camera all over Mexico, “seizing those images one always hopes for but seldom gets…. The delicate range of greys in these pictures is proof of Heinichen’s discerning eye and technical nimbleness.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 23 September 1972)

The following year, it seems that Heinichen and Katzman visited Columbia. On their return to Mexico City, they were arrested at Mexico City international airport and charged with possession of a kilo of cocaine between them. They were each sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.

Heinichen was one of 68 American and 7 Canadian prisoners at the American wing of Lecumberri men’s prison who held a 13-day hunger strike in 1974, which drew press attention. Described at the time as aged 30 and “a photographer from Kingsville, Texas”, Heinichen argued in the press that the couple had been coerced into making statements and had not been allowed to contact the U.S. embassy. He said that the couple were planning to get married, but that judicial authorities kept stalling the process. [The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C. – Aug 7, 1974]

It is unclear exactly what became of Michael Heinichen and Laura Katzman, though a record exists of a divorce, in May 1984 in San Francisco, between a Michael Heinichen and his wife Laura.

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Jun 232016
 

Artist Daphne Aluta moved to Ajijic with her then husband Mario Aluta in the late 1960s, and lived there for about twenty years. In September 1985, she was the first female artist to ever have her work featured in the Chapala area monthly El Ojo del Lago; all previous art profiles had highlighted male artists.

Daphne Aluta. Portrait. Courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Daphne Aluta. Portrait. Date unknown. Courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

In Ajijic in 1974, Daphne Aluta married Colin MacDougall in a small ceremony at the home of Sherm and Adele Harris, who were then managing the Posada Ajijic. Despite this remarriage, Aluta continued to sign her artwork Daphne Aluta.

Born Daphne Greer on 24 June 1919 in Detroit, Michigan, she attended Cranbrook School for Girls and then the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit. She married and moved to Santa Barbara, where the first of her four children was born.

Her marriage to Turkish painter and architect Mario Aluta, who was 15 years her senior, is recorded as taking place in 1960.

Daphne Aluta. Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Daphne Aluta. Ajijic. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

During her time in Ajijic, in addition to her painting and sculpture, Aluta designed and built several homes in the village.

As an artist, her group exhibitions in Mexico included the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara (1970); the “Fiesta de Arte” held at a private home in Ajijic (15 May 1971); the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara (1980); the Club Campestre La Hacienda (1985) on the main Guadalajara-Chapala highway; and the “Help Save Lake Chapala” exhibit in Mexico City (1988).

Other artists showing in these group exhibits included Mario Aluta, Beth Avary, Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Frost, Bruce Sherratt, William Hartung, Antonio Cardenas, Tom Faloon, John Frost; Lona Isoard, Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael, Bert Miller; Robert Neathery, John Peterson, Eleanor Smart, Shaw, Hudson Rose, Agustín Velarde, Georg Rauch; Betty Warren; Gustel Faust; Laura Goeglein; Carla Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Eleanor Smart; Hubert Harmon; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Jean Caragonne; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; Xavier Pérez, Nancy Bollembach, Luisa Julian, Conrado Contreras, Rick Ledwon and Enrique Velazquez.

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Jun 092016
 

Photographer and illustrator Haig Witwer Shekerjian was born 3 November 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, and finally laid his camera to rest at the age of 79 on 21 August 2002 in Schenectady, New York. He and his wife, Regina, were regular visitors to Ajijic from 1950 on, and spent several months each year in the village during the 1970s and 1980s.

Haig’s parents were Haig Rupen Shekerjian, a rug salesman originally from Constantinople, Turkey, who became an art lecturer at the Art Institute in Chicago, and Frances Louise Witwer, a concert pianist from Chicago. His cousins included Brigadier General Haig W. Shekerjian.

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig attended Oak Park and River Forest Township High School in Oak Park, Illinois. His interest in photography started at an early age and, as a teenager, he was an avid member of the school’s Camera Club. After high school, he studied at the Eastman School of Photography in Rochester, New York, and at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. A 1943 yearbook entry shows that he was not only handsome, but also an accomplished actor, and member of the University Dramatic Club.

On leaving university, Haig joined the U.S. Navy in November 1943. In early 1944, before leaving to serve for the remainder of the second world war in the Pacific, Haig married Regina deCormier, his lifelong love.

Working as a Navy photographer, Haig Shekerjian was in the first landing party at the Battle of Iwo Jima (1945), saw action elsewhere, and photographed the Japanese surrender. He was the recipient of several military decorations. Haig’s return to the U.S. was noted in a poignant local newspaper entry in December 1945 which stated that Haig, “was one of 11,382 High Point Navy veterans returning from Guam on the U.S.S. Cowpens.”

Regina DeCormier Shekerjian (1923-2000) was a well-known author, translator and illustrator of children’s books. The couple, and their two sons (Tor and Jean-René), lived for many years in New Paltz, New York, where Haig was Art Director of the Media Services Center at the State University College for over 30 years, until the age of 75.

Taking a sabbatical break over the winter of 1950-51, Haig and Regina spent several months living in Ajijic. (Regina later published an article about why Ajijic was an excellent choice for anyone seeking an inexpensive art-related summer). They returned several times until the late 1970s and early 1980s, often staying a few months.

shekerjian-haig-photo-ca-1970-2

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig was apparently never very interested in the commercial aspects of photography, though his work appeared in many books, publications and literacy works, and his work was rarely exhibited or sold, though he gave away a few photographs as treasured gifts. His peers recognized the quality of his photographs and in 1977, one of his photos was included in the inaugural exhibition of the Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock, New York.

Together with Regina, Haig Shekerjian illustrated several books, most of them written by Nancy Willard and aimed at young readers. They included The Adventures of Tom Thumb (1950); Life in the Middle Ages (1966); The boy, the rat, and the butterfly (1971); King Midas and the Golden Touch (1973); Play it in Spanish : Spanish games and folk songs for children (1973); The merry history of a Christmas pie : with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974); All on a May morning (1975); How Many Donkeys? A Turkish Folk Tale (1971); and The well-mannered balloon (1976).

The Shekerjians also co-wrote, with close relative Robert deCormier, A Book of Christmas Carols (1963); and A Book of Ballads, Songs and Snatches (1965).

Michael Eager, owner of La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic, remembers the couple well: “Haig had short gray hair with a goatee and was rarely without his Greek sailor’s cap. Both he and Regina dressed casually, Haig with jeans, checkered shirt, and somewhat “beatnik” looking. He was never without his camera.” Both Haig and Regina loved the local people, music and traditions.

The dining room of La Nueva Posada in Ajijic has a permanent exhibition of Haig’s evocative photographs of what the Lake Chapala area was like years ago—clear evidence, if any were needed, of the couple’s immense enthusiasm for the area and its people.

Sources:

  • Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York: 19 February 1944, p5;  23 August 2002, p 4B.

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

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