Jan 122017
 

Fredric Orval Alseth, also known as Fred Alseth, Fred O. Alseth and Fritz Alseth, was an illustrator who resided at Lake Chapala in the late 1980s. His father was Orval Alseth (1901-1972).

Fred Alseth was born in Billings, Montana, on 26 February 1924 and died at the age of 82 on 29 November 2006 in Meadow Vista, Placer, California. The family moved to Menomonie in Wisconsin in about 1940. Interviewed by Tod Jonson for El Ojo del Lago, Alseth recalled that his high school teachers thought he had no talent whatsoever. However, he majored in art at college and gained a degree in elementary education.

When the U.S. entered the second world war, Alseth served as an engineer, but did not enjoy the experience. After the war, Alseth, of Swiss ancestry, married and lived in Oakland, California, for several years in the early 1950s. (Alseth had at least two marriages, both of which ended in divorce. His first marriage, to Donna M Leishman, ended in September 1974 (with the divorce granted at Placer in California), and his second marriage, to Nancy J Alseth ended in divorce on 24 April 1980 in Shasta, California.)

Alseth loved Berkeley (Oakland) and became a successful commercial illustrator during almost two decades of living in the San Francisco Bay area.

In 1958 Alseth drew the cover illustration for the April 1958 edition of Palm Springs Villager captioned “Salute to Texas! 22nd Annual Desert Circus.” Apologizing to the magazine’s readers for the relatively unsophisticated cover art, the editor explained that “Because of a close publishing date, the drawing was done in a rush overnight assignment.”

The following year, Alseth illustrated California Wonder World (1959) by Katherine Peter, published by the California State Department of Education. Changing genres, Alseth also illustrated Virginia Zoros Barth’s book There Is an Art to Breathing: A Training Course in Conscious Rhythmic Breathing, first published by Llewellyn, Los Angeles in 1960 and reissued in 2011.

In 1963, Alseth teamed up with Milton Rich and his wife Mikell to illustrate and publish (as Fritz ‘n Rich Publishers) two books related to Mormonism: A New Look at Mormonism, by John W. Rich, and The Book of Mormon on trial, by Jack West.

Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s Alseth worked primarily as a children’s book illustrator. The works he illustrated include Two Nations – United States and Canada: Faces and Places of the New World (1965) by Robert K. Buell and Irene Tamony, and Operation Phoenix (1968) by Irene Tamony. He also illustrated at least three books in the “Learning to Read while Reading to Learn” series published initially by Century Communications: Chilling Escape (1968), Deadline for Tim (1968) and The Farmer and the Skunk (1973). Alseth went on to illustrate several books in the “Tiger Cub Reader” series written by Robert A. McCracken & Marlene J. McCracken: This is the House that Bjorn Built (1973), What Can You See? (1976), Should you ever? (1976) and The Little Boy And The Balloon Man (1976).

Fred Alseth. Illustrated book cover, 1963.

Fred Alseth. Illustrated book cover, 1963.

Alseth undertook missionary work on behalf of the Mormon church in Australia, Guatemala and Hawaii (1980) before returning to the mainland to live in Lodi, San Joaquin, California, in 1981. Back in California, he worked on a TV show about California artifacts called “Gold Rush Days”. He also allowed himself to be filmed drawing caricatures of VIPs. Alseth’s cheery pen and ink drawings were used to illustrate a series of anti-evolution textbooks entitled “Evolution Encyclopedia”, produced in California in about 1990.

Fritz (Fred) Alseth. Hotel Nido, Chapala (May 1988). Credit: Ojo del Lago, September 1988

Fritz (Fred) Alseth. Hotel Nido, Chapala (May 1988). Credit: Ojo del Lago, September 1988

In the late-1980s, he moved to Lake Chapala, Mexico, where he created and sold “lively fun posters” of Ajijic, Chapala and Jocotepec. This pen and ink drawing of Hotel Nido appeared in El Ojo del Lago in September 1988.

Reference:

  • Tod Jonson. 1988. “Portrait of the Artist: Fritz Alseth”, Ojo del Lago, September 1988, Vol V, #1.

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.

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.

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 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 HufEunice Hunt; 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 HufEunice Hunt; 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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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, 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.

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.

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:

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.

Mar 312016
 

Portraitist De Nyse Wortman Turner Pinkerton (aka De Nyse Turner) was born in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on 3 December 1917 and died in Naples, Florida, on 3 April 2010, at the age of 92.

De Nyse Turner. Still life (1951). Image courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

De Nyse Turner. Still life (1951). Image courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Pinkerton resided and worked at Lake Chapala, for at least part of each year, for more than thirty years, from 1970 to 2004.

She grew up in Utica, New York, and studied at the Utica Country Day School, Smith and Hollins Colleges, and The Art Student’s League in New York City.

Her maiden name was Wortman, and she had two marriages, the first to Lee Turner and the second to Edward C. Pinkerton.

She was an active supporter of several environmental organizations including the Friends of the Animals, the Nature Conservancy Marine Program, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Foundation.

Pinkerton was a prolific painter and during her lifetime completed more than 7000 portraits in pastel and oil.

Her work has been exhibited at The Peale Museum; The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Concoran Gallery, and The National Galleries in Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

De Nyse Turner. Portrait (1951). Image courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

De Nyse Turner. Portrait (1951). Image courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

During her time in Chapala, she was one of a group of artists showing in an exhibition in May 1985 at Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30 on the Guadalajara-Chapala highway) entitled “Pintores de la Ribera” (Painters of Lakeside). This group show also included works by Laura Goeglein, Carla W. Manger, Jo Kreig, Donald Demerest, B.R. Kline, Hubert Harmon, Daphne Aluta, Eugenia Bolduc, Emily Meeker, Eleanor Smart, Jean Caragonne, Tiu Pessa, Sydney Moehlman and Xavier Pérez.

The striking portrait of Neill James that hangs in the Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic is by Pinkerton.

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.

Mar 102016
 

Gerald Collins Gleeson (1915-1986) was an American artist, primarily known for his superb watercolors. He is known to have painted several watercolors in the Lake Chapala area in 1981, including a street scene titled “Chapala, Mexico” and a picture of the former Railway Station in Chapala (the historic building that is now the Gonzalez Gallo Cultural Center).

Gerald Collins Gleeson: Chapala Railway Station (1981)

Gerald Collins Gleeson: Chapala Railway Station (1981)

Gleason was born in Providence, Rhode Island and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1930s. After serving in the second world war, he studied art with Jerry Farnsworth in Truro, Massachusetts, before spending a year in Mexico, studying at Mexico City College. He then returned to the U.S., where he settled in Berkeley, California, and studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

Typically, his watercolors portray street and harbor scenes. While painting and exhibiting regularly in the Bay area, San Francisco, he also gave painting and drawing classes.

Gleason was a member of the Allied Artists of America. Examples of his work can be seen in many museum collections, including the Oakland Museum and the San Diego Museum in California; Attleboro Arts Museum in Maryland; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; the Salmagundi Club in New York and Tampa Museum, Florida.

His solo shows in California included exhibitions at Gallery 12  (San Francisco), Lucien Labauldt Gallery (San Francisco), Contemporary Arts (Berkeley), Alta Bates Hospital (Berkeley), Humanist House (San Francisco), University of California Medical Center  (San Francisco), and Paramount Studios (Los Angeles). He also held solo shows at the Harbor Gallery in Rhode Island and the Brown Thomas Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.

Sources:

  • Gerald Collins Gleeson. 1990. “Gerald Collins Gleeson, California watercolorist”. (Montgomery Gallery)
  • Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. 2003. California Watercolors 1850-1970: An Illustrated History & Biographical Dictionary (Hillcrest Press).

Other watercolorists who painted Lake Chapala:

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.

 Posted by at 6:36 am  Tagged with:
Aug 312015
 

In a previous post, we looked at the life of distinguished Canadian playwright George Ryga, who spent part of the 1980s living and writing at his “cottage” on Lake Chapala. Many family and friends visited Ryga’s winter getaway in San Antonio Tlayacapan. This post introduces some of those visitors to Ryga’s Mexican home who are well-known writers and personalities in their own right.

First up is George Ryga’s daughter Tanya (a drama teacher) who visited Lake Chapala, with her husband Larry Reece. Reece, a musician and artist, was drama professor at Red Deer College, where his colleagues included Brian Paisley, who also visited the Ryga home in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Paisley was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is well known in Western Canada for his numerous contributions to the development of Canadian theatre, most notably as the founder in 1982 of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival (EIFF), the first Fringe festival in North America. In the Lake Chapala area, Paisley spent some time with Phyllis and Georg Rauch, and was so impressed by an early version of Georg Rauch’s war-time memoirs that he arranged to have them turned into a play, which received its world premiere at the EIFF. The memoirs were reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, as Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army.

Ken Smedley was a long-time friend of George Ryga. Ken and his wife Dorian Smedley-Kohl (photo) stayed at “the cottage” in 1978 and then lived at Lake Chapala, mainly in Ajijic, for the following eleven years, until 1989.

Credit: image

Image: Cover art of Smedley’s “Arrest That Naked Image”

Ken Smedley is an actor, director and dramatist who grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia. Smedley has presented one-man shows such as “Three of a Certain Kind” at Fringe festivals in Edmonton and Vancouver (both in 1986) and was a founding member of the Western Canada Theatre Company, now a professional theatre. He has directed plays at the Phoenix Theatre in the U.K. and several radio plays for CBC.

During their time in Mexico, Smedley directed several productions at Lake Chapala, including plays by  Joanna Glass, Jack Heifner, David Marnet and Harold Pinter. Perhaps the single most noteworthy production was Smedley’s dinner-theater offering, in 1979 at the (Old) Posada Ajijic, of Portrait of a Lady, a Tribute to Margaret Laurence. This work, based on George Ryga’s seminal adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s classic novel The Stone Angel, featured Dorian Kohl’s acclaimed portrayal of heroine Hagar Shipley, a role Kohl has reprised numerous times since, in theaters across British Columbia.

Smedley was later appointed director of the George Ryga Centre, a cultural venue occupying Ryga’s former home in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada. Due to funding problems, the center was forced to close in 2013.

Dorian Smedley-Kohl (also known as Dorian Kohl, Dorianne Kohl) is a Canadian model, actress and artist. Dorian was a fashion model in Toronto, New York, Paris and London for more than a decade, before becoming a regular on the “Wayne & Shuster Hour” on television. She has also appeared in the CBC TV series “The Party Game”, “The Actioneer” and many other works. Her stage performances include roles at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre, in “The King and I” and in “Pal Joey”.

In 1988, Ken and Dorian Smedley were instrumental in mounting the first (and only) Ajijic Fringe Theatre – “El Fringe” – which included performances by Dorian in “Circle of the Indian Year”, and by Ken in “Ringside Date with the Angel”, alongside various other events.

smedley-kohl-diego

Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl

The couple’s son Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl was born in Ajijic and spent the first ten years of his life in Mexico. Diego later became a member of “El Mariachi (Los Dorados)”, a Canadian mariachi band that had the honor of playing at the the prestigious International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara a few years ago.

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 6:39 am
Aug 242015
 

The Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga (1932-1987), who also wrote poems and song lyrics, lived and wrote during part of the 1980s in the village of San Antonio Tlayacapan, mid-way between Chapala and Ajijic.

George+RygaRyga was born in the tiny Ukrainian community of Deep Creek, Alberta, on 27 July 1932. He died in Summerland, British Columbia, on 18 November 18, 1987.

Ryga left school after grade six and worked in several jobs, including as a radio copywriter, prior to winning a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts. In 1955, he traveled to Europe to attend the World Assembly for Peace in Helsinki, and undertake some work for the BBC.

Shortly after returning to Canada in 1956, he published his first collection of poems, Song of My Hands (1956). In 1961, Ryga’s first play, Indian, was performed on television. He achieved national exposure in 1967 with his play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, about a young native woman who leaves her home for the big city but then finds she loses any sense of belonging. It was warmly received by critics and still considered to be one of the most important English-language plays by any Canadian playwright. It has been widely performed, and in 1971 was turned into a ballet by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Other plays by Ryga include Captives of the Faceless Drummer (1971); Sunrise on Sarah (1972); Portrait of Angelica (1973); Ploughmen of the Glacier (1977); In the Shadow of the Vulture (1985); Paracelsus (1986); Summerland (1992).

For more details about Ryga’s life and work, try James F. Hoffman’s The ecstasy of resistance: a biography of George Ryga (Toronto: ECW Press, 1995).

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.

Aug 172015
 

Dated 1981, these Georg Rauch designs for a children’s playground demonstrate the versatility of this amazing artist.

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981. Click image to enlarge.

Georg’s widow, Phyllis Rauch, has kindly shared the following recollections related to Georg’s interest in playgrounds, and to these designs in particular:

“Georg designed a number of large playground pieces for a famous park in Vienna. When he arrived in the United States he was still fascinated by the topic and we visited playgrounds wherever we went – especially in New York.

When we moved to Mexico, Georg designed a very large and amazing playground for the town of El Molino, near Jocotepec. At the time there wasn’t even a church there, only a bell. The completed playground, utilizing all things that are freely available and could be replaced, was inaugurated by the then Governor of Jalisco’s first lady.

Sadly the only thing we didn’t take into consideration was upkeep, a fund for replacing tires, ropes etc., and over the years it basically disappeared. But I’m sure there are people in their late 40s and 50s who remember it well and enjoyed playing there.

Georg’s first and only stipulation was that a bathroom first be built and installed.

Sometimes when returning from Guadalajara, I think I can see it still there, among the many homes that have since been built.”

When Georg Rauch later learned that the Lakeside School for the Deaf (now the School for Special Children) in Jocotepec planned to build new play equipment, he gave the designs to Gwen Chan, the school’s director from 1985 to 1994. Some of Rauch’s designs were subsequently incorporated into the deaf school’s play equipment.

Related posts:

Jul 302015
 

John Macarthur (“Jack”) Bateman was a painter, author and architect who was born on 9 October 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on 15 March 1999. Bateman moved to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and three young children in 1952; the couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene.

The Batemans were living in New York City prior to moving to Mexico. They responded to an advert in The New York Times which offered a home in Ajijic, together with five servants and a boat, for the princely sum of 150 dollars a month.

Jack Bateman studied architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), prior to be called up for military service in January 1942. He served in the U.S. Navy from 21 January 1942 to 22 September 1945 at various Naval Air Stations, including a spell in North Africa flying submarine-hunting dirigibles. After the war, he completed his studies and then set up an industrial design studio in New York to produce, among other things, molded architectural elements made of plaster.

According to a blog post by Jack’s son-in-law Tom Vanderzyl, this led to Bateman having an unexpectedly significant impact on the work of the great German-born abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann who was living on the floor below:

…the painter/architect John MacArthur Bateman had a studio just above Hans Hoffmann (sic). In his studio, John poured large heavy 55-gallon drums of plaster into molds for architectural elements. It seems one day a plaster mold broke and sent 55 gallons of plaster pouring across his wooden plank floor that was also the ceiling of the studio under him, and the plaster dripped through the ceiling of the studio below. At the time, Hans had all of his paintings out looking them over for his upcoming show. Hans shouted upstairs in German for it to stop and that he needed help covering his work from the dripping plaster. Bateman along with his klutz brother-in-law, who had dropped the mold in the first place, came down to help. They used blankets and canvas in an attempt to cover the paintings, but it was too late. The plaster was setting up and the damage was done. Bateman put the best spin on it by telling Hans that his paintings needed that texture made by the pressed fabric and wet plaster and that the new tactile surface was in many ways more interesting. Now, he only needed to paint over the white plaster to get a far more interesting surface. Hans Hoffmann’s show was a success, and he would pop up to borrow plaster from time to time and talk with Bateman about materials.

bateman-book-coverFor the first few years in Mexico, Jack Bateman commuted back and forth to New York, spending about one week a month in the U.S. At home in Mexico, he spent time on his art and began to write. He authored five books including Loch Ness Conspiracy (New York: R. Speller & Sons, 1987), as well as a play, Caldo Michi, first performed in Ajijic in early 1999.

When the Lakeside Little Theater needed a new home in the mid-1980s, Bateman was a strong supporter of a plan to build a purpose-built facility on land donated by Ricardo O’Rourke, and acted as architect. The theater opened in 1987 and became the permanent home of Mexico’s most active English-language theater.

At various times sailor, artist, pilot, architect, writer and marketing consultant, whatever he turned his mind to, Jack Bateman made many unique contributions to the world.

For her part, Laura Bateman was a patron of the local arts scene in Ajijic, opening the village’s first purpose-built gallery, Rincón del Arte, at Hidalgo #41, Ajijic in about 1962. (For a couple of years prior to that, she had arranged shows in her own home). Rincón del Arte, which ran for many years, had monthly shows, featuring dozens and dozens of artists.For example, Whitford Carter exhibited at Rincón del Arte in both February 1967 and August 1968, while Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt held a joint exhibit there in December 1967 .

Jack and Laura Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice M. Bateman, studied in Guadalajara, London (U.K.), New York and Italy before becoming a successful professional artist-sculptor based in Forth Worth, Texas.

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.

Jul 232015
 

Professional photographer Jack Weatherington, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 12 October 1933, moved to Ajijic in 1988 and resided there, continuing to take magnificent photographs, until his death in Guadalajara on 20 Feb 2008.

Soon after relocating to Ajijic, he became fascinated with Mexican masks, “especially the hauntingly beautiful, and sometimes simply haunting centuries-old masks native to the indigenous peoples of Mexico.” (Mexconnect.com).

Jack Weatherington: Burro carrying firewood, Ajijic. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

Jack Weatherington: Burro carrying firewood, Ajijic. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

Weatherington is quoted as saying, “I know the power of the mask. When I am preparing to photograph them, often it is as though the person who created it is there with me. Sometimes, for the briefest of moments, the veil of time lifts and I can see and feel the power of the centuries old moment of its creation. It is this power. This passion. Indeed, the majesty, I have tried to capture in my photographs.”

Jack Weatherington: Huichol mask. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

Jack Weatherington: Huichol mask. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

On leaving high school in the U.S., Weatherington joined the U.S. Navy, and served as a medical corpsman. After his military service, he worked as a professional photographer most of his career.

During his twenty years in Ajijic, he was an active member of the Ajijic Society of the Arts, and his photographs, especially those of floral and woodland scenes, regularly won awards in local shows. He also took exquisite portraits of some of the Lake Chapala region’s most famous residents, including the travel writer-entrepreneur Neil James. (James bequeathed her property, including its extensive gardens, to the Lake Chapala Society).

Weatherington also held a solo show of his photographs at the Mio Cardio Gallery in the Chapalita district of Guadalajara.

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.

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

Jul 092015
 

Phyllis (Porter) Rauch, born 28 October 1938, is an American artist, writer and translator who has lived in Jocotepec for more than thirty years. Her husband was the internationally-acclaimed artist Georg Rauch (1924-2006). The couple lived in Guadalajara from 1967 to 1970, before moving to Laguna Beach, California for six years. They returned to Mexico in 1976 and established their permanent home in Jocotepec.

Phyllis Rauch grew up in Ohio and received her bachelor’s degree in English at Bowling Green State University and her master’s degree in library science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She studied German at the Goethe Institute in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and then worked at German libraries, including the Internationale Kinderbibliothek in Munich and the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek in Berlin. She met Georg Rauch in Vienna in 1965 and they were married in Ohio, September of the following year. Phyllis’ own highly-entertaining account of this love story was published on MexConnect in 2006 as “Not your usual wedding – a Valentine’s Day story.

rauch Phyllis-pablito

Phyllis Rauch: Pablito.

As a writer, Phyllis has written non-fiction and poetry, mainly for English-language magazines, newspapers and websites. She has also worked as a Spanish-English translator. During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Phyllis was a trilingual guide (English, Spanish, German) for the cultural events associated with the 1968 Olympics that were held in Guadalajara. She enjoyed very much squiring around the city the likes of the Berlin Opera and Duke Ellington’s band. Phyllis has never forgotten that after his last concert he kissed her on the cheek and said, “Shuugar.”

Her best-known translation is that of her husband’s wartime memoirs, which were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, in hardback and audio versions, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army.

Somewhat late in life, and encouraged by her husband, Phyllis began to paint. Her charming, somewhat naif paintings of rural scenes and Mexican life have received deserved acclaim for their universal appeal.

The Rauchs opened their home and studios, on a one-acre property overlooking Lake Chapala on the outskirts of Jocotepec, as the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas in the 1990s. Phyllis continues to welcome visitors there today, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.

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.

Apr 022015
 

Georg Rauch was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 14 February 1924, and lived thirty years in Jocotepec, on the mountainside overlooking Lake Chapala, prior to his death on 3 November 2006.

Rauch had an adventurous early life. His memoirs (translated from their original German by his wife, Phyllis), described his wartime experiences. They were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. The memoirs are based on 80 letters sent home from the Russian trenches telling how Rauch, despite being officially classified as one-quarter Jewish, was drafted into Hitler’s army at age 19 in 1943 and sent to the Russian front. He was captured and spent 18 months in a Russian POW camp, where he contracted bone tuberculosis. After the war, Rauch spent two years recovering in Stolzalpe, an alpine sanatorium.

Rauch studied architecture for two years and life drawing with Professor Bőckl at the Akademie der bildenden Kűnste in Vienna, and was encouraged by his mother to pursue a career as an artist. He was awarded travel scholarships by the Austrian government. He exhibited and became a member of the prestigious artists’ association, Wiener Secession, and soon was showing his paintings in Vienna, Paris, London, Germany and Scandinavia.

rauch-georg-in-studio5

In 1996 Rauch married his soul mate Phyllis Porter in Ohio. The couple, who had met in Vienna, lived briefly in New York before returning to Vienna in the winter of 1966/67, because Georg had been commissioned to produce the main sculpture for the Austrian Pavilion at the upcoming Montreal World Expo (1967).

In summer 1967, the Rauchs, together with fellow artists Fritz Riedl and his girlfriend (later wife) Eva, spent two months driving through Mexico, as far south as Tehuantepec. On their return trip north, the group stopped off in Guadalajara to visit the Austrian consul. The consul, an architect, purchased several watercolors completed during the trip, as well as 4 or 5 oil paintings that Rauch had with him. In the fall of 1967, the Rauchs returned to Guadalajara when the consul commissioned a sculpture for a shopping center being built in the city. The Rauchs remained in Guadalajara until 1970.

rauch-georg-red trees-s

In 1968, Rauch was invited to do a series of posters for the Guadalajara Committee of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Mexico City had commissioned its own Olympics posters, but Rauch was responsible for all the posters produced in Guadalajara). One of these Olympics posters is mentioned in Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, during a description of a living room in Ajijic. Another Rauch poster (not of the Olympics) would later feature in the movie 10 (1979) starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, shot on location at the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo. And yet another Rauch poster was once shown in an episode of the TV series Ironside.

It was during their stay in Guadalajara, that Rauch first met artist and photographer John Frost, who had a studio in Jocotepec and would later introduce Rauch to some of the finer points of silk-screening.

rauch-georg-Dream House-s

The Rauchs spent most of the next six years (1970-1976) in Laguna Beach, California, where Phyllis headed the San Clemente Public Library and Georg participated in the city’s famous Pageant of the Masters. Georg made several yearly visits to Puerto Vallarta, where his work was regularly shown in Galeria Lepe, the resort town’s only art gallery at the time. (This is where Rauch drew portraits of both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as Liz’s son Christopher Wilding.)

In 1974, the Rauchs purchased property in Jocotepec and began to build their future home and studio. They moved into their (as-yet unfinished) home, designed by Georg, in October 1976. Rauch had finally found a place he could call home, and he would remain here for thirty years, painting a succession of expressionist oils, watercolors and silk screens, as well as building several extraordinary kinetic sculptures. Rauch was a prolific artist (completing more than 2000 oils in his lifetime), driven to paint, and to paint “only that which he needed and wanted to express.”

His clown-faced self-portraits bored deep into his soul. The influence of Lake Chapala was clear in many of his haunting and sensuous Mexican landscapes. On the other hand, his watercolors revealed his particularly keen sense of observation and his delicate touch. (Of course, I’m biased because I chose a Georg Rauch watercolor of Ajijic as the cover art for my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, first published by Editorial Agata in 1993).

Georg Rauch was a consummate professional artist, one who was sufficiently successful throughout his career to live by his art alone. In conversation, he would sometimes interject a truly outrageous statement, but his wry sense of humor masked a considerable political perspicuity and an intense desire to interrogate the world around him.

In the 1980s, Georg and Phyllis Rauch expanded their home and opened the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas, where Phyllis continues to welcome visitors, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.

Georg Rauch’s work can be found in the collections of many major international museums. His numerous exhibitions include:

  • 1952 Konzerthaus in Vienna (first solo exhibition); and the Kűnstlerclub, Vienna.
  • 1953 to 1968 : London; París; Stuttgart; Vienna; Dusseldorf.
  • 1968 New York (Gallery York)
  • 1968, 1970 Galería Lepe, Puerto Vallarta
  • 1973 Toronto; Los Angeles
  • 1975 Guadalajara: Galería Pere Tanguy
  • 1977 Ajijic (Galeria del Lago)
  • 1979 Mexico D.F. (Alianza Francesa)
  • 1980, 1989 Puerto Vallarta (Galeria Uno)
  • 1982 Tucson, Arizona (Davis Gallery); Acapulco Convention Center
  • 1983 Guanajuato (University of Guanajuato)
  • 1984 Mexico City (Galeria Ultra)
  • 1986 Aarau, Switzerland
  • 1987 San Miguel de Allende
  • 1988 Guadalajara (major retrospective at Instituto Cultural Cabañas)
  • 1990 Munich (2)
  • 2000 Guadalajara (Ex-Convento del Carmen)
  • ???? Guadalajara (Galería Vertice) year-long traveling show, called Austrian Artists in Mexico, including works by Rauch, Fritz Riedl, Ginny Riedl and others.
  • 2007 Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)
  • 2014-2015 Guadalajara (Palacio del Gobierno del Estado); Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)

For more images of works by Georg Rauch, see Georg Rauch: Artist in Mexico gallery.

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.

Mar 302015
 

John Elbert Upton was born on 10 September 1917 and died aged 88, in Monterey, California, on 9 October 2005. He was a multi-talented individual who earned his living as a translator and teacher. Upton lived in Ajijic for over a decade, from 1949 to 1959, and then returned to live in the village several times (for varying lengths of time) in the 1960s through to the early 1990s.

Upton’s circle of friends in the Lake Chapala area included fellow translator Lysander Kemp, who lived in Jocotepec, and poet and literary figure Witter Bynner, who had a home in Chapala.

Upton majored in music and Spanish at college, becoming an extremely proficient classical guitarist. In 1966, he gained a Masters in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Madrid in Spain.

John Upton, 1957. Photo credit: Leonard McCombe, Life Magazine

John Upton, 1957. Photo credit: Leonard McCombe, Life Magazine

During his early days living in Ajijic, in the 1950s, Upton wrote several colorful pieces about the area for the San Francisco Chronicle, but made his living not by writing but as a teacher to the children of expatriate families. These students included a young Katharine Goodridge Ingram, who went on to run a very successful art gallery in the village. She has particularly fond memories of Upton: “He was my tutor when I was a young girl. Truly a Renaissance man: played guitar, bass fiddle, brought solar-heated water to his Ajijic house, accompanied his wife as she sang hot old cabaret oldies, built a telescope, etc.”

This photo by Leonard McCombe shows a youthful and sartorially-elegant John Upton setting up a telescope in his garden in Ajijic. It appeared in the 23 December 1957 Life Magazine article, “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.”

Upton wrote a short piece, “Maya Today” (a linguistic study of the Mayan language Yucateco in Yucatán), published in the December 1962 issue of The Modern Language Journal, but was far better known as a Spanish-English translator. Upton’s fine translations introduced generations of English-speaking readers to the extraordinary diversity and creativity of Spanish-language literature.

Besides translations of poems by the likes of Pablo Neruda and Miguel de Unamuno, his published translations include:

  • Cumboto, by Ramón Díaz Sánchez (University of Texas Press, 1969);
  • Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia (“San José de Gracía, Mexican Village in Transition”), by Luis González (University of Texas, Austin, 1974).
  • Jarano, by Ramón Beteta (University of Texas, Austin:, 1975);
  • In the Magic Land of Peyote, (Texas Pan American Series) by Fernando Benitez (University of Texas, Austin, 1975);
  • Polifemo, a narrative poem by Luis De Góngora (The Fireweed Press, 1977)
  • La feria (“The Fair”), by Juan José Arreola (University of Texas, Austin, 1977). This work is chock-full of local idioms, curses, etc., and, as Upton says in his translator’s note, “There are passages in “The Fair” that can confound even a well-informed Mexican”.

In the early 1990s, he worked as staff translator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for Latin American Art magazine. Selections of Upton’s translations were included in the book Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, with an Introduction by Octavio Paz (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990), and he translated some essays and catalog entries for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (1992). In 2004 he was a finalist in the Barnstone Translators’ Competition.

John Upton may have been only one of the many extraordinarily gifted individuals who have shaped the long artistic and literary history of Lake Chapala, but he will long be remembered for the supreme quality of his translations, whether of poems, literature or non-fiction.

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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.

Feb 262015
 

The distinguished painter and musician Gustavo Sendis divided much of his time between Guadalajara, where he was born in 1941, and his family’s second home in Ajijic.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

He became interested in art at an early age and, in 1958 and 1959, studied drawing with Jorge Navarro and Ernesto Butterlin. His love of guitar music and painting took him to Spain for a time. On his return to Guadalajara, he exhibited paintings and gave guitar recitals. During a second trip to Europe, he continued to exhibit his work and give concerts. The inspiration for many of his paintings (which include scenes hand-painted onto stoneware plates) came from Jalisco locations, such as Ajijic and Lake Chapala, that he first knew as a child.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Sendis’ first formal exhibition was at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara in 1968. He also exhibited in several European countries, including Italy, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain, where he participated in the Ibiza Biennial in 1971. His work was included in a joint show at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., in July 1980, with works by Zbigniew Olak and Aquatic Exotic.

Credit: Ramon Macias Mota, Las Seis Cuerda de la Guitarra (Google e-book)

Photo from Ramon Macias Mota, Las Seis Cuerda de la Guitarra (Google e-book)

Sendis lived for many years in Ajijic prior to his untimely death there from a heart attack, while still in his forties, in 1989. Fellow artist Tom Faloon extolled the quality of Sendis’ work, saying that he “did some wonderful paintings, and pretty much lived in his own world.”

In 2010, a major “Winter Collective” exhibition in Guadalajara at Galería Vértice included a Sendis painting, alongside originals by such renowned artists as Rufino Tamayo, Gustavo Aceves, José Clemente Orozco, Rafael Coronel, Gunther Gerzso, Leonora Carrington and Juan Soriano. Sendis’s work was also included in a similar exhibition the following year, alongside works by Georg Rauch, Jose Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo.

Note: Galería Vértice catalogs were at http://www.verticegaleria.com/esp/antes_exp.asp?cve_exp=82

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 222014
 

Joan Van Every was born 28 Feb 1929 in Los Angeles, California, and died at age 83 in Santa Barbara, California, on 6 June 2012. She was survived by her husband John Frost, son John Frost and 3 grandchildren. Her father, Dale Van Every, was a famous writer and screenwriter most active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Joan was educated at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Berkeley. She served as a librarian after the second world war on US military bases in France and Germany, and was later the Head Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library for several years.

Joan Van Every (then 35) married artist and photographer John Frost (41) on 26 September 1964 in San Bernadino, California. In 1966, the couple relocated to Mexico, living for a short time in Uruapan in Michoacán, before establishing their permanent home and John’s photographic studio in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala. John maintained his commercial photography studio (specializing in aerial photographs) in their home for more than 40 years.Prior to finding their home in the village, the couple spent 6 weeks at the historic La Quinta inn in Jocotepec. The La Quinta  had been an inn ever since 1824. Sadly, the building was wantonly destroyed in the 1990s.

frost-joan-ca-2008Joan was an indefatigable supporter of numerous charitable organizations at Lakeside, including the pioneering Centro de Salud in Jocotepec, the Lakeside School for the Deaf. For many years, she helped coordinate medical consultations and surgeries for Chapala-area children via the Shriners organization. Joan  was also the co-founder in 1993 of Amigos de Salud (which later became the Programa Pro Niños Incapacitados del Lago), and was a co-founder of the Lakeside region’s major annual fund-raising event: the Ajijic Chili Cook-off.

I have read that Joan wrote two art books for children, but have failed to find any proof of this. However, she certainly did write six novels, several set in Mexico, and all using her married name of “Joan Van Every Frost”.

frost-joan-van-every-coversHer first novel, This Fiery Promise (Leisure Books, 1978), dedicated to Tam, is a historical romance set at the start of the Mexican Revolution. It tells the fiery adventures of a horse-loving American girl who marries a rich, much older Mexican hacienda-owner. Their lives become entangled in the Revolution, and she eventually flees by joining a circus. The novel covers lots of territory from Santa Barbara (California) to Nayarit, Guadalajara, Colima and the port of Manzanillo.

Lisa (New York: Leisure Books, 1979) is dedicated “For John, with all my love”. This historical romance set in 1880s Britain unravels the complex relationships of a dysfunctional family, in the midst of scenes involving horses, fires, medical doctors, and class differences.

Her third novel includes scenes set in Guadalajara and at Lake Chapala. A Masque of Chameleons (Fawcett 1981) looks at the adventures and misadventures befalling a troupe of traveling actors in mid-nineteenth century Mexico. The theater troupe withstands lots of internal intrigue and external pressures as it tours Mexico, from Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City and Cuernavaca to Morelia, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara and Lake Chapala. This novel displays a sound background knowledge of Mexican history and is engagingly written.

This is how Frost first describes the troupe’s arrival at Lake Chapala: “They finally came to a large body of water that stretched as far as they could see to the west, like an inland sea the color of a silver coin. Across the lake were green, brush-covered mountains, ancient dead volcanoes that had thrust themselves up when the world was still young to form this pocket cradling the endless lake.” ( p 228)

In Kings of the Sea (Fawcett, 1982), the publisher’s blurb claims that Gideon Hand is determined to endure all hardships as he struggles to forge a shipbuilding dynasty and to possess the woman he loves but cannot marry. Genius and passion hold sway in this sweeping saga of a shipbuilding dynasty.

Frost’s fifth novel, Portrait in Black (Fawcett 1985) has a Santa Barbara portrait painter Crystal Perry as its main protagonist. Perry not only paints portraits of Santa Barbara’s upper crust, but also paints horses, and she is quickly dragged into a web of extortion and murder.

Silvershine (Fawcett 1987) is set in Mexico, and looks at the drugs scene in the glittering Los Dorados hotel in Manzanillo, where swimwear designer Blaise Cory has opened a new boutique. A minor part of the action is set in Oaxaca (at Mitla). This is a tale of smuggling, money and corruption. The Los Dorados hotel is clearly based on Manzanillo’s famed Las Hadas hotel complex.

All of Joan Van Every Frost’s novels are well-crafted, and enjoyable light reading. They have long been out-of-print, but copies are readily available via used books sites such as http://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 use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 182014
 

Margaret Van Gurp, a well known artist from eastern Canada, was born in Delft, Netherlands, 6 December 1926. She moved to Canada in 1953.

She visited her daughter Susan Van Gurp in Jocotepec for 3 weeks in 1983. Susan Van Gurp was teaching at the Lakeside School for the Deaf, now the Centro De Atencion Multiple Gallaudet (“Gallaudet Special Education Center”) from 1982-1984.

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

During Margaret Van Gurp’s visit, she produced a series of pen and ink drawings of the students at the school, as well as other people in the town. Van Gurp also painted several charming watercolors of life in the town.

Van Gurp’s early art education (1945-1947) was under Gillis van Oosten in Delft, Netherlands. She also took courses at the College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, studied portrait sculpture in clay under Allison McNeil, and (1980) studied portraiture under David Leffel and Robert Philipp at the Art Students League of New York in the U.S. Her art has been widely shown in Eastern Canada.

Margaret Van Gurp has also illustrated books, such as Acadian Awakenings, and sculpted and painted mannequin heads for Parks Canada exhibits at several locations, including Castle Hill, Newfoundland; Citadel Hill Museum, Halifax; Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

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