Oct 262017
 

Dr. William W. Winnie Jr. (1928-1988) was an American geographer who lived in Ajijic with his wife – the archaeologist Dr. Betty Bell – in the early 1970s. Winnie published several papers relating to Guadalajara and western Mexico and also produced a map of Lake Chapala towns. The map, which was widely-distributed, was the earliest attempt to show the entire Lakeside area in a general purpose map for the public that I have so far come across. Winnie and Bell were also instrumental in founding the short-lived Ajijic museum of archaeology and the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de México, A.C. (The West Mexican Society for Advanced Study).

William Winnie Jr. Maps of Lake Chapala area, ca 1970

William Winnie Jr. Maps of Lake Chapala area, ca 1970

William W Winnie Jr., known simply as “Winnie” to his friends, was born in Pontiac, Michigan, on 27 January 1928. He moved to Alburquerque, New Mexico, at the age of 21 to undertake pre-medical studies but transferred to the University of Florida two years later to complete an undergraduate degree in geography. He remained in Florida to gain a masters in sociology and a doctorate in Latin American studies. His doctoral thesis (1956) was based on fieldwork in Mexico and entitled “The Lower Papaloapan Basin: Land and People”. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the country, its geography and its people.

Winnie subsequently published the results of his doctorate work as The Papaloapan Project: An Experiment in Tropical Development (1958) while working as a Social Science Analyst in the U.S. Census Bureau.

By 1960, he was back in Mexico, on the faculty of the University of Nuevo León. That year he published an interesting short article about the significance of Spanish surnames in the southwestern U.S. The following year he published an article about land tenure in the Papaloapan basin.

Winnie was a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Chile in 1963-4 and published an article in 1965 on “Communal Land Tenure in Chile”. He returned to the U.S. for the 1964-5 academic year as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he worked on a project sponsored by the Organization of American States and the Peace Corps. This was the basis for his 1967 book entitled Latin American development; theoretical, sectoral, and operational approaches.

This stimulated his interest in population migration, a topic that would continue to hold his attention for many years. His first formal publication related to migration, published in 1965, was about inter-state migration in Mexico.

Sponsored by the Fulbright Program, Winnie took up a position as visiting professor in the Economics faculty of the University of Guadalajara in 1970. This more or less marked the start of the university’s interest in social science research. Long term goals for research were established in 1971 with the creation of the university’s Centro de Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas (CISE).

Early work at CISE was financed almost entirely by external grants. Winnie was a pioneer in the demographic study of western Mexico and with fellow university researchers Jesús Arroyo Alejandre, Enrique Rojas Díaz and Luis Arturo Velázquez established a successful program of social science teaching and research at the U. de G.’s Economics Faculty. After completing their undergraduate degree, many of the students undertook further studies, some in Mexico and others abroad.

Winnie established close links to other important academic institutions, including the Colegio de México, the Colegio de Michoacán, the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The precise dates of their residence in Ajijic (at Calle Colón #36) are unclear, but Winnie and his wife Betty Bell made many significant contributions to village life.

Recognizing that street maps of the local villages were almost impossible to find, Winnie drew his own maps of the Lake Chapala area. With their very simple, single line streets, they are very different to the style of the graphic map-poster of Ajijic designed by Molly Heneghan, though both maps were first printed at about the same time.

William Winnie Jr. Map of Ajijic, ca 1970

William Winnie Jr. Map of Ajijic, ca 1970

In 1971, Winnie and his wife helped start an Ajijic Museum of Archaeology and founded the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico A.C. (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study). The museum was located on the highway, adjacent to where the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) was later built. Following a change of law pertaining to archaeological investigations, the museum was closed by Mexican authorities in about 1974, and the West Mexican Society for Advanced Study, whose prime purpose was to encourage the participation of foreign archaeologists in Mexican projects, closed shortly afterwards.

Shortly before the Society closed, and under its auspices, Winnie and Bell organized a visiting group of students in 1974. The weekly English language newspaper in Guadalajara reported that 25 students from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, were spending three weeks at Lake Chapala taking college-level classes for credit. The classes, coordinated by Winnie and his wife, were given by Angelo State faculty members Caroline Haley and Tony Dutton. They included Spanish-language classes connected to Mexican civilization and literature, and classes about the anthropology of pre-Columbian cultures in Western Mexico. The program was well received by local people, with the Chapala mayor hosting a special dinner to celebrate the first program of its kind in the area.

Winnie’s contributions to Ajijic life were not only connected to his academic interests. In 1974, he was on the committee responsible for planning the construction of the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) . Other members of the initial committee included Enid McDonald (the Canadian flying pioneer who spearheaded the local fund raising campaign), Hector Marquez, Manuel Pantoja, and Josephine Warren (mother of Chris Luhnow who founded the long-running Traveler’s Guide to Mexico).

According to his colleague Jesús Arroyo Alejandre, Winnie’s most productive period at the University of Guadalajara was between 1979 and 1982. His research during that period resulted in a landmark book about migration in western Mexico: La movilidad demográfica y su incidencia en una región de fuerte emigración: el caso del Occidente de México.

Winnie remained on the faculty of the University of Guadalajara until his death at the age of 59 on 17 January 1988. He was interred as a U.S. Veteran in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.W

William W. Winnie Jr. : Select Bibliography

  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1958. “The Papaloapan Project: An Experiment in Tropical Development”. Economic Geography, Vol. 34, #3, 1958.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1960. (May 1960). “The Spanish Surname Criterion for Identifying Hispanos in the Southwestern United States: A Preliminary Evaluation”, Social Forces, vol 38 #4, May 1960, pp. 363–366. Oxford University Press.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1961. “La tenencia de la tierra en la Cuenca del Bajo Papaloapan” in HUMANITAS: Anuario del Centro de Estudios Humanísticos. El Centro de Estudios Humanísticos de la Universidad de Nuevo León. 1961 #2, 601-616.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1965. “Communal Land Tenure in Chile”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1965), pp. 67-86.
  • William W. Winnie, Jr. 1965. Estimates of Interstate Migration in Mexico, 1950-1960: Data and Methods. (Reprinted from Antropologica no. 14, Caracas, June 1965). Latin American Center, University of California, Los Angeles. 22 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1967. Latin American development; theoretical, sectoral, and operational approaches. Latin American studies, vol 8. Los Angeles: Latin American Center, University of California. 255 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1982. “Variaciones regionales en la fecundidad y la migración en el Estado de Michoacán.” Relaciones (Colegio de Michoacán), vol III, no 10, pp 29-52.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1984. La movilidad demográfica y su influencia en una región de fuerte emigración. El caso del Occidente de México. Universidad de Guadalajara, Jal.
  • William W. Winnie Jr., John F. Stegner and Joseph P. Kopachevsky. 1970. Persons of Mexican descent in the United States. Fort Collins: Center for Latin American Studies, Colorado State University. 78 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. and Jesus Arroyo Alejandre (coords.) 1979. La migración en el estado de Jalisco y la zona metropolitana de Guadalajara. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, Facultad de Economía, Centro de Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas. 181 pp.

Sources:

  • Jesús Arroyo Alejandre. 1988. “William W. Winnie Brown, pionero de la investigación demográfica en el Occidente de México” (Obituary), Relaciones 34, primavera 1988, vol. IX, pp 145-147. Colegio de Michoacán.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 18 May 1974; 22 June 1974.
  • WorldCat. Winnie, William W. 1928-.

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 022017
 

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

Born on 8 July 1941, Sendis became interested in art at an early age and studied drawing with Juan Navarro and Ernesto Butterlin in 1958 and 1959. His father was a scientist and university lecturer who founded several important projects in the Guadalajara’s Hospital Civil and Sanatorio Guadalajara. His mother wanted Gustavo to pursue a conventional career but the young man, with the support of his father, chose otherwise, married young, and went to live in Europe.

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

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

His love of guitar music and painting took him to Spain, where he met (and studied with) Emilio Pujol (1886-1980), the preeminent Spanish classical guitarist and composer. On his return to Guadalajara, Sendis brought back a heartfelt open letter from Pujol, dated 1965, to “Mexican guitarists”, and began to exhibit his paintings and give public guitar recitals. In 1967 he gave a guitar recital and exhibited about 20 abstract works (painted during his time in Europe) at the Sociedad de Amigos de la Guitarra de Guadalajara on Calle Francia in Colonia Moderna. Sendis’s first formal exhibition was at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara in (1968).

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

During a second trip to Europe, he continued to exhibit his work and give guitar concerts. He had exhibitions in several European countries, including Spain, where he participated in the Ibiza Bienal (1971) and held a show in Málaga (1977) of paintings related to music, with titles like “Notes on the Flute”. In this same period he had several exhibitions in Italy, France, Switzerland and Portugal. Practically self-taught, he lived for many years in Ajijic prior to moving first to Taxco, Guerrero (where he gave a concert in the city’s Santa Prisca church) and then to Tepoztlán, Morelos, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 May 1989, while he was still in his 40s.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Sendis recorded one record, Tras la huella de Sendis, and throughout his life, Sendis entertained people with his sensitive guitar playing. For example in June 1972 he was performing nightly in Ajijic at the El Tejaban restaurant-gallery (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The following month, he had a month-long solo show at the gallery of paintings that had been shown previously in “Paris, Madrid, Lisbon and several other cities in Europe”.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In March 1974, he showed several paintings alongside works by his mother, Alicia Sendis, and Sheryl Stokes at  La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic. The inspiration for many of his paintings came from Jalisco scenes that he knew as a child. In fellow artist Tom Faloon’s words, Sendis “did some wonderful paintings, and pretty much lived in his own world.” In addition to conventional paintings on flat surfaces, Sendis is also known to have painted scenes on stoneware plates.

A selection of his works was exhibited at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada in July 1980, in a joint show with Zbigniew Olak and Aquatic Exotic.

In June 1984 Sendis exhibited at the Centro de Investigación y Difusión del Arte Exedra in Zapopan, Guadalajara (Paseo del Prado #387, Lomas del Valle).

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

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.

Sendis is included, deservedly, in Guillermo Ramírez Godoy’s book Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (“Four Centuries of Jaliscan Painting”).

When the Guadalajara newspaper El Informador reached its centenary in 2017, the paper’s director, Carlos Álvarez del Castillo, selected 100 pieces of art from the “Fundación J. Álvarez del Castillo” collection of horse-related paintings and sculptures to be displayed at the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. The exhibit, entitled “Equinos 100”, includes the very first painting acquired for the collection – a painting by Gustavo Sendis.

This is an updated version of a profile originally published on 26 February 2015.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram, Jan Dunlap and the late Tom Faloon for sharing with me their memories of Gustavo Sendis, and for the valuable additions and clarifications by Gustavo’s niece Isabel Cristina de Sendis (see comments section).

Sources:

  • Anon. 1979. “Madrona exposition centre – 1980 schedule of shows”. Staff Bulletin (Malaspina College, Nanaimo, B.C.), 21 December 1979 (Vol 1 #13).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 June 1972; 10 June 1972; 1 July 1972; 16 March 1974
  • Ramon Macias Mora. 2001. Las seis cuerdas de la guitarra (Editorial Conexión Gráfica).
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy. 2003. “La dualidad artística del pintor y guitarrista Gustavo Sendis”. El Informador (Guadalajara), 26 Oct 2003.
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy and Arturo Camacho Becerra. 1996. Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (Cámara Nacional de Comercio de Guadalajara).

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.

 

Sep 252017
 

Designer, craftsman and bon viveur Russell Seeley Bayly (1919-2013) lived in Jocotepec, at the western end of Lake Chapala, for close to forty years. He became a good personal friend, though I now regret not having recorded him as he reminisced about his life, loves and adventures.

Bayly was born in Los Angeles, Calfornia on 5 May 1919. He grew up in a privileged family, wealthy enough to have its own stables and horse trainer in addition to a butler, cook, housekeeper, maids, gardeners and a seamstress. Bayly’s father, Roy D. Bayly, was a successful financier and stock broker who had commissioned noted California architect Reginald Davis Johnson to build a Virginia-style home on nine acres of property in Flintridge, near Pasadena. Bayly Sr. was a co-founder of the Flintridge Riding Club and his children, including Russell, were all accomplished riders, winning ribbons and trophies for riding and jumping.

“Russ” Bayly was in the class of ’34 at Polytechnic School before attending Midland School. He graduated from this small boarding school near Los Olivos in 1938. Among his life-long friends was the artist-photographer John Frost, who also attended Midland. Not altogether coincidentally, Frost and his wife – the author Joan Van Every Frost – moved to Jocotepec shortly before Bayly did the same.

Bayly enlisted in the U.S. military on 7 January 1942, after two years of college at the University of Virginia, and giving his previous occupation as “fisherman, oysterman.” He served in the U.S. cavalry during the second world war but his wartime experiences left him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Russell Bayly relaxing at home with his neighbor Tad Davidson (Lady Mary Fleming), August 2008. Photo by Tony Burton.

Russell Bayly, aged 89, relaxing at home with his neighbor Tad Davidson (Lady Mary Fleming), August 2008. Photo by Tony Burton.

After the war, Bayly attended the highly regarded Chouinard Art Institute (Chouinard School of Art and Design) in Los Angeles. He married Joan Virginia Young  in 1947, and the couple had four children: Russell Warder (1948-2016), David Hostetter (1951) Brooks (1952), and daughter Neville (1954).

In the 1950s, while working as a painting contractor, Bayly found recognition as a designer, primarily of furniture. For example, his work was highlighted in a national exhibition of Californian design first held at the Pasadena Art Museum from 12 January to 23 February 1958. Over the years, Bayly filed for several patents relating to original furniture designs. These almost certainly included the “prototype chair in steel, teak and fabric”, shown in a photograph that appeared in California Design in 1965. A matching ottoman was also available.

In the mid-1960s, the well-known industrial designer Victor J. Papanek, who had been at design school with Bayly, offered him a position as associate professor of design at Purdue University. Bayly taught there for four years, ending in 1971.

Bayly and his wife, Bee, moved to Jocotepec in late 1971, and rented a house there while beginning construction of their own home. While the Guadalajara Reporter for 20 July 1974 reports that Russell and his wife Bee had just entertained friends to a farewell party, prior to Russell “returning to his college teaching position in California”, Russell was no longer teaching by that time, though he did return to Los Alamos, California, and subsequently Santa Barbara, to make a living. Bayly regularly returned to Jocotepec prior to becoming a full-time resident of the town in the 1980s.

During his years in Jocotepec, he designed and oversaw the construction of several homes in the town, including the modernist, open-plan, steel-beamed hexagonal building that was his home for the last thirty years of his life. Built on a small corner lot overlooking the town and lake, the design was based on a series of hexagons with full-height living areas, floor-to-ceiling glass windows onto an immaculate garden, and a mezzanine that afforded a panoramic view across the lake. It also had a fully-equipped workshop for working metal and wood. Bayly was a skilled craftsman and took particularly delight in crafting the most exquisite furniture and small boxes, often utilizing rare scraps of exotic woods that he had found abandoned in some lumber yard.

Bayly. Photo taken in Jocotepec, August 2007 by Tony Burton.

Chairs and table designed by Russell Bayly. Photo taken in Jocotepec, August 2007 by Tony Burton.

Bayly’s former home, at Hidalgo Nte. #150, was his crowning achievement in terms of architecture and design. He personally designed and built all the bespoke furniture and fittings throughout the home, achieving a simple elegance that would have been worthy of inclusion in Architectural Digest.

Bayly imported a vintage VW “Combi” van from California, converted it into a no-frills camper, and used it to travel all over Mexico. Every few years he would take a lengthy overseas trip: to Europe, Africa or Asia.

In later life, Bayly helped me run several lengthy ecotourist trips through western Mexico, trips that inevitably involved lots of dirt road driving (which he loved). He always kept a camping chair, bottle of white wine (suitably cooled) and a couple of glasses in his van. One of my abiding memories from the many trips we did together is of him carrying these items to the top of a little-known pyramid in Michoacán so that he could sit, relax and sip his wine while enjoying the scenery and brilliant sunset.

Bayly had worked in so many different jobs at some point in his lifetime (lumberjack, educator, tuna fisherman, steel mill) that he was able to entertain guests at dinner parties with a seamless, and seemingly endless, stream of stories, all told with good humor and great insight. Bayly was a conversationalist, raconteur and bon viveur second to none.

Even in his final years, as his daily siestas became longer, Bayly remained willing to ferry groups of paragliders into the hills near Jocotepec as they sought the best launch spots, secure in the knowledge that he would manage to find them again wherever they landed and drive them safely back to civilization.

Having done what he could to make the world a better place, Bayly died on 23 February 2013.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Brooks Bayly for kindly sharing memories and details of his father’s life.

Sources:

  • California Design 9 (1965)
  • Catalog of national exhibition first held at the Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, Calif., January 12-February 23, 1958. (Designers include: Russell S. Bayly Associates, Martin Borenstein, Robert E. Brown, Garry M. Carthew, Danny Ho Fong, William A. Kalpe, and Roger Kennedy.)
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 20 July 1974.
  • OakTree Times (magazine of the Polytechnic School Community), Spring/Summer 2014.

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 182017
 

Roland Vargo, the only Dutch actor to play in films alongside Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn, left Hollywood behind on retirement and settled in Chapala Haciendas, overlooking Lake Chapala.

Roland Vargo was his self-chosen stage name. He was born Jacob Frederik Vuerhard in Utrecht on 15 March 1908. He grew up on Java, returned to the Netherlands as a teenager and worked, among things, as an illustrator at Het Vaderland.

He then moved to Berlin, determined to try his luck with the blossoming film industry in Germany. His first film part seems to have been in Jugendtragödie (“Tragedy of Youth”, 1929).

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno’s best-known film role came in the German classic Der Blaue Engel (“The Blue Angel”, 1930), which starred German sensation Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. He also had a part in Der Mann, the seinen Mörder sucht (“The Man in Search of his Murderer”, 1931).

While in Berlin he was discovered by a talent scout of the Hollywood studio MGM and invited to travel to the U.S. to play the lead role in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Unfortunately his ship across the Atlantic was delayed and the part was given instead to Lew Ayres. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the two men became best friends.

In 1932 Varno married Elizabeth (“Betty”) Tyree. The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but later divorced.

While Varno was never an A-list Hollywood superstar, this dependable, handsome, character actor, just under six foot tall, who spoke several languages, found work on dozens of films in the 1930s and 1940s.

He also made two movies in the Netherlands, both released in 1934: Malle Gevallen and the successful soldier comedy Het meisje met de blauwe hoed (“The girl with the blue hat”).

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in "As You Desire Me" (1932)

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in “As You Desire Me” (1932)

His best known scene in Hollywood was a dance with Greta Garbo in As You Desire Me (1932). He also appeared with Katherine Hepburn in Quality Street (1937), and in Gunga Din (1939), Three Faces West (1940), Women in Bondage (1943), The Return of the Vampire (1943), My Name is Julia Ross (1945), Three’s a Crowd (1945), Flight to Nowhere (1946) and Scared to Death (1947).

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

During World War II, Varno worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and had parts (ranging from a spy to a freedom fighter) in propaganda films  including one entitled Hitler’s Children. He also added Japanese to the list of languages he spoke either fluently or semi-fluently.

After the war he played in radio and television series in the U.S., including Space Patrol (1950), The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951-1958) and 77 Sunset Strip. He also worked as a truck driver, carpenter, encyclopedia salesman and broker.

Varno made his last movie appearance in Istanbul (1957) but continued to do occasional TV work, among which was some on the set of the miniseries War and Remembrance (1988-9), based on the novel by Herman Wouk.

After his retirement in the early 1970s, Varno moved to Chapala, where he directed two plays for the English-language Lakeside Little Theater: The Bad Seed in November 1976 and Harvey in November 1979. The actors in The Bad Seed included Norma Miller, the 11-year-old daughter of photographer Bert Miller. Another photographer, Toni Beatty, a family friend of Varno from his time in California, visited him in Ajijic and stayed in the village for several months with her husband Larry Walsh in a casita owned by acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi.

Roland Varno died in Lancaster, California on 24 May 1996 at the age of 88.

Family links:

  • Varno’s sister, Anneke, was the Netherlands’ “Dear Abby” for many years.
  • Varno’s son, Martin Varno, wrote the script for Night of the Blood Beast (1958).
  • Varno’s daughter, Jill Taggart, is a sound engineer with numerous credits to her name.

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 use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 5:43 am  Tagged with:
Aug 172017
 

Michael Hargraves is a writer of screenplays, literary surveys, bibliographies and literary criticism. He was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala in the 1970s and 1980s, usually staying for two or three months at a time.

He is included in this on-going series of profiles because in 1992, he self-published a 48-page booklet entitled Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. The book was dedicated to Robert and Eileen Bassing. Hargraves included brief biographies of about forty different authors and artists who lived and worked at Lake Chapala. Most of the characters mentioned were active in the 1950s or 1960s.

The book has proved to be a valuable starting point for my own attempts to document the history of the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala. Curiously, however, I have failed to find out much about Michael Hargraves himself beyond what can be gleaned from his book about Lake Chapala.

According to the bio in the book, Michael Hargraves was born on 29 February 1952 at Jacksonville, Florida. His mother died when he was only eleven years old. He registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam conflict, attended the University of Florida, and graduated in 1974 with a B.S. in broadcast journalism/cinema.

The story behind Hargraves’ first visit to Mexico, believed to be the summer before he entered the University of Florida, involves a personal tragedy. As he tells it,

“My introduction to the South of the Border came about due to a busted, never-to-be-consummated marriage to a Japanese woman, whom I had met years earlier in San Francisco and reconnected with in Paris during a much needed sojourn. She did herself in after I caught her in the sack with her Japanese boss. I returned home to ponder my life, my future.”

On his return to the U.S., he was asked by a friend, the famed Scottish novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp (1934-2013), if he would fly down to Mexico, go to Tlaquepaque, and collect some handicrafts Sharp had purchased while visiting Mexico in 1970 for the soccer World Cup.

The lure of a round-trip ticket and expenses was sufficient to convince Hargraves to accept the offer. He stayed a few days in Guadalajara, but took an almost instant dislike to the city. After he had made arrangement to collect the handicrafts, he still had a few days to relax and explore. While viewing the Orozco murals in the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara, he met an American couple who extolled the virtues of Lake Chapala, so Hargraves took a bus down to Chapala and stayed there for a day or two. He enjoyed this initial visit and returned several times over the next decade, usually for two or three months at a time.

“The best thing about my times at Chapala has been the solitude. Naturally you can be with people there, with good options: all Americans, all Mexicans, or a combination of the two. However, my biggest pleasure comes from being anonymous. Over the years I have befriended all types. But not having lived there for a true extended period, say for a year or so, I can come and go as I please, do what I want, think what I will, see what I want. I don’t know if my love for Chapala would be the same if I felt like a “prisoner” there, like many of the retired Americans or the poverty-stricken Mexicans.”

Hargraves has written numerous books and screenplays and has catalogued several major collections of rare books and photographs.

His published works include: Henry Miller Bibliography with Discography (1980); Triple-Decker Kiosk (poetry) (1981); Harry Crews: A First Bibliography (1981); The Hamlet Additions: The Unpublishing of The Henry Miller-Michael Fraenkel Book of Correspondence called Hamiet (1981); Times, Things Change (poetry) (1983); Eight Obscure Literary Autographs (1983); Harry Crews: A Bibliography (revised edition) (1986); Robert Gover: A Descriptive Bibliography (1987); Henry Miller’s Hamiet Letters (1988).

Hargraves’ screenplays include Kiki of Montpamasse (with Frederick Kohner) (1977); Confusión (with Jacques Tati) (1978); The Man Who Thought He Was Groucho (based upon the novel Madder Music by Peter De Vries) (1980); Overkill [1982); Love in the Ruins (based upon the novel by Walker Percy) [1983); Murder City (based upon the novel by Oakley Hall) (1984); Coming Into Focus (1985); Restaurant: The Motion Picture (1992).

Hargraves also published some limited edition works, including Ishmaelite Scrolls by Benjamin Barry Hollander (1979); The Cagliostro Arcane by Jack Hirschman (1981); Bring Me the Head of Rona Barrett by Robert Gover (1981); A Chapter from Blind Tongues by Sterling Watson (1983); Tropico, the City Beautiful. Photographs by Edward Weston (Facsimile edition) (1986).

Source:

  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves). 48 pp.

As always, 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.

Aug 102017
 

Artist and writer Allyn Hunt has lived in the Lake Chapala area since the mid-1960s. Hunt was the owner and editor for many years of the weekly English-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. His weekly columns for the newspaper quickly became legendary. (Hunt’s wife, Beverly, also worked at the Guadalajara Reporter and later ran a real estate office and Bed and Breakfast in Ajijic.)

Hugh Allyn Hunt was born in Nebraska in 1931. His mother, Ann, was granted a divorce from her husband J. Carroll Hunt, the following year. Allyn Hunt grew up in Nebraska before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.

He studied advertising and journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, where he took a creative writing class under novelist and short story writer Willard Marsh. Marsh had known Ajijic since the early 1950s and later wrote a novel set in the village.

At USC, Hunt was associate editor of Wampus, the USC student humor magazine, and according to later bios he also became managing editor of the university newspaper, the Daily Trojan.

After graduating, Hunt worked as public relations representative for Southern Pacific Railroad, and edited its “house organ”, before becoming publicity director and assistant to director of advertising for KFWB radio in Los Angeles. Hunt also worked, at one time or another, as a stevedore, photographer’s model, riding instructor and technical writer in the space industry.

Living in Los Angeles gave Hunt the opportunity to explore Tijuana and the Baja California Peninsula. As he later described it, he became a frequent inhabitant of Tijuana’s bars and an aficionado of Baja California’s beaches and bullfights.

Hunt and his wife, Beverly, moved to Mexico in 1963, living first in Ajijic and then later in the mountainside house they built in Jocotepec. They would remain in Mexico, apart from two and a half years in New York from 1970 to 1972.

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

This portrait of Allyn and Beverly Hunt was painted by Winnie Godfrey who subsequently became one of America’s top floral painters.

In their New York interlude, Hunt wrote for the New York Herald and the New York Village Voice, and apparently also shared the writing, production and direction of a short film, released in 1972, which won a prize at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany and was shown on European television. (If anyone knows the title of this film, or any additional details about it, please get in touch!)

When the Hunts returned from New York, they decided to build a house in Nextipac, in Jocotepec. They moved into their house, “Las Graciadas”, towards the end of 1973. The following year, they agreed to purchase the Guadalajara Reporter. They became owners and editors of the weekly newspaper in 1975 and Hunt would be editor and publisher of the Guadalajara (Colony) Reporter for more than 20 years. Hunt’s numerous erudite columns on local art exhibitions have been exceedingly useful in my research into the history of the artistic community at Lake Chapala.

As a journalist, Hunt also contributed opinion columns to the Mexico City News for 15 years, and to Cox News Service and The Los Angeles Magazine.

As an artist, Hunt exhibited numerous times in group shows in Ajijic and in Guadalajara. For example, in April 1966, he participated in a show at the Posada Ajijic that also featured works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

The following year Hunt’s work was shown alongside works by several Guadalajara-based artists in a show that opened on 15 March 1967 at “Ruta 66”, a gallery at the traffic circle intersection of Niños Héroes and Avenida Chapultepec in Guadalajara.

In March-April 1968, Hunt’s “hard-edged paintings and two found object sculptures” were included in an exhibit at the Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes, A.C., at Marcos Castellanos #15 in Ajijic. (The gallery was administered at that time by Hudson and Mary Rose).

Later that year – in June 1968 – Hunt showed eight drawings in a collective exhibit, the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878) in Guadalajara. That show also included works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson, Eugenio Quesada and Tully Judson Petty.

The following year, two acrylics by Hunt were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara (at Tolsa #300). That show, which opened in June 1969, featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

The details of any one-person art shows of Hunt’s works in the U.S. or Mexico remain elusive. (Please get in touch if you can supply details of any other shows in which Allyn Hunt’s art was represented!)

In the early-1960s, Hunt was at least as keen to become an artist as a writer. Rex Oppenheimer later recalled in an article for Steel Notes Magazine that when he visited his father in Zapopan (on the outskirts of Guadalajara) in 1965,

“Among the first of my father’s friends that I met were Allen and his wife Beverly. Allen was an artist. He looked like a beatnik or incipient Hippie and had a very cool house out in Ajijic near Lake Chapala. After touring the house and taking in his artwork, we went up on the roof. I don’t remember the conversation, but there was a great view out over the lake, and I got totally smashed on Ponche made from fresh strawberries and 190 proof pure cane alcohol.”

Despite his early artistic endeavors, Hunt is much better known today as a writer of short stories. His “Acme Rooms and Sweet Marjorie Russell” was one of several stories accepted for publication in the prestigious literary journal Transatlantic Review. It appeared in the Spring 1966 issue and explores the topic of adolescent sexual awakening in small-town U.S.A. It won the Transatlantic’s Third Annual Short Story Contest and was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Many years later, Adam Watstein wrote, directed and produced an independent movie of the same name. The movie, based closely on the story and shot in New York, was released in 1994.

One curiosity about that Spring 1966 issue of Transatlantic Review is that it also contained a second story by Hunt, entitled “The Answer Obviously is No”, written under the pen name “B. E. Evans” (close to his wife’s maiden name of Beverly Jane Evans). The author’s notes claim that “B. E. Evans was born in the Mid-West and lived in Los Angeles for many years where he studied creative writing under Willard Marsh. He has lived in Mexico for the past year and a half. This is his first published story.”

Later stories by Hunt in the Transatlantic Review include “Ciji’s Gone” (Autumn 1968); “A Mole’s Coat” (Summer 1969), which is set at Lake Chapala and is about doing acid “jaunts”; “A Kind of Recovery” (Autumn-Winter 1970-71); “Goodnight, Goodbye, Thank You” (Spring-Summer 1972); and “Accident” (Spring 1973).

Hunt was in exceptionally illustrious company in having so many stories published in the Transatlantic Review since his work appeared alongside contributions from C. Day Lewis, Robert Graves, Alan Sillitoe, Malcolm Bradbury, V. S. Pritchett, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Ted Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, and his former teacher Willard Marsh.

Hunt also had short stories published in The Saturday Evening Post, Perspective and Coatl, a Spanish literary review.

At different times in his writing career, Hunt has been reported to be working on “a novel set in Mexico”, “a book of poems”, and to be “currently completing two novels, one of which is set in what he calls the “youth route” of Mexico-Lake Chapala, the Mexico City area, Veracruz, Oaxaca and the area north and south of Acapulco”, but it seems that none of these works was ever formally published.

Very few of Hunt’s original short stories can be found online, but one noteworthy exception is “Suspicious stranger visits a rural tacos al vapor stand“, a story that first appeared in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1995 and was reprinted, with the author’s permission, on Mexconnect.com in 2008.

Sources:

  • Broadcasting (The Business Weekly of Radio and Television), May 1961.
  • Daily Trojan (University of Southern California), Vol. 43, No. 117, 21 April 1952.
  • Martha Foley and David Burnett (eds). The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 2 April 1966; 12 March 1967; 27 April 1968; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 5 April 1975
  • The Lincoln Star (Nebraska). 15 August 1932.
  • Rex Maurice Oppenheimer. 2016. “Gunplay in Guadalajara“. Steel Notes Magazine.

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.

May 112017
 

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 and his wife were both born into families from Europe. Two of Norma’s grandparents were from Poland, one from Ukraine and one from Austria.

Bert Miller and child

Bert Miller setting up his tripod. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

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 Foust; 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.

Bert Miller (rt) with Sloane. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Bert Miller (rt) with Sloane. ca 1970. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

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.

Note and 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 more of Miller’s fine photographs the following day, and shared his personal knowledge of Miller and his family.

My sincere thanks to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for graciously providing valuable additional information about her father and the family’s time in Mexico. We hope to publish a photo essay of Miller’s photographs of Chapala in the near future.

[This is an updated version of a post first published in October 2016]

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.

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.

Apr 062017
 

Painter and batik artist Auguste Killat Foust (1915-2010), better known as Gustel Foust, had lived for twenty years in Mexico before moving to Ajijic, where she lived from 1978 to 1984. Previously she had resided fifteen years in Guadalajara (1963-78) and five years in San Miguel de Allende (1958-1963).

Gustel Foust. Artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. The artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Auguste Killat Myckinn (her birthname) was born in Nemonin, East Prussia, on 15 February 1915 and died 05 October 2010. Even as a child, she was exceptionally talented at sketching and painting. At the age of 17, she entered the Königsberg Kunstakademie (Königsberg Academy of Arts), where she studied art and landscape, under Alfred Partikel (1888-1945) and Fritz Burmann (1892-1945). Foust continued her art studies at Dresden Art School and the University of Berlin Art School.

From about 1940 to 1947, she was married to the meticulous Dr. Wilhelm Graber, an economist of German heritage, who liked everything “just so”, in striking contrast to his wife’s preference to “go with the flow”.

In 1950, a few years after the end of the second world war, Gustel remarried. Viva E. Foust, her second husband, was serving in the U.S. Navy, and the couple settled initially in South Carolina, where Gustel became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Gustel had two children – Marlene and Sabina – from her first marriage and three more children – Barbara, Curtis and Karen – were born in the U.S.

From 1955 to 1958, the Fousts lived between Newport, Rhode Island and South Carolina, with Gustel exhibiting and teaching art in both places. She joined the Provincetown Art Association. In addition to group shows, several of which were in New York, she displayed her paintings in three solo shows and was represented by Sandpiper Gallery in Westport.

After her husband’s retirement from the Navy, in 1958 the couple decided to move to Mexico. While teaching art at the Art Institute in San Miguel de Allende, Gustel found renewed inspiration for her own art in the vivid colors and color contrasts found everywhere in Mexico and in Mexican popular art. Her work sold well at exhibitions in the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende and attracted the attention of several Mexico City collectors who helped arrange for her to hold solo shows in the capital. These, too, proved very successful.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Five years later, the family moved to Guadalajara, where she continued to teach art and became a regular exhibitor in local galleries and further afield. For example, in 1964, she held a solo show of “batiks, portraits and watercolors” at the Castle Art gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Sadly, her husband passed away (in Guadalajara) that same year.

In September 1967, her work was in a group show of paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The following May, her “impressionist landscapes and portraits” were on show at the Tekare penthouse restaurant in Guadalajara. In October 1968 (when Mexico was hosting the Olympic Games), Foust had a show of original batiks at “Georg Originals”, a gallery in Guadalajara near the intersection of Avenida Chapultepec and Vallarta, and was simultaneously showing paintings and batiks at Villa del Lago hotel in Ajijic. Her next showing of paintings, at the Galeria Municipal de Arte y Cultura in Guadalajara was favorably reviewed in an illustrated half-page article by well-known local art critic J. Luis Meza-India.

She then had three oil paintings accepted into a major, juried group show of American Artists at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara in June 1969, and won third place for figurative painting. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

In 1972, part-way through her fifteen years living in Guadalajara, she spent some time in Houston, Texas. Her Houston studio was at 713 Snover, and she held a solo exhibit at the Hotel Fiesta in Houston from 19 to 23 May. The formal invitation for the exhibit featured two paintings: “La Playa en Puerto Vallarta” (Puerto Vallarta Beach) and “Escena del lago Chapala” (Lake Chapala Scene). According to the short artist biography published at the time, Foust had already held eight solo shows in Mexico, as well as one-person exhibits in Santa Cruz, California; Forth Worth, Texas; and New Braunsfels, Texas. (If anyone has details of these exhibits, please share!)

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Foust remained extremely active for many years in the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala art scene. A quick newspaper search turned up several exhibits in 1974-1976, including a joint show with her daughter Sabina in the Hilton Hotel in Guadalajara (January 1974), paintings and batiks at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery in Ajijic (February 1975), joint show with Sabina of batiks and paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala (July 1975) and a group show of Lake Chapala Artists at the ex-Convento del Carmen, Guadalajara (October 1976). Other participants in this last-named show included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Bert Miller; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; and Jim Marthai.

It is obvious that Foust was extremely familiar with the Lake Chapala area well before moving to live in Ajijic in 1978, and no surprise that soon after moving there, one of her street scenes of Ajijic (in the collection of local realtor Richard Tingen) was chosen for the annual, charity fundraising Amigos del Lago greeting card.

Gustel Foust.2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

The last major show in Guadalajara that Foust is known to have participated in was a group show held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in January 1980. This also included works by Daphne Aluta, Evelyne Boren, Taffy Branham, Paul Fontaine, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lokos, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Betty Warren and Digur Weber.

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, Foust exhibited several times in Acapulco, at the city’s Biennales held in a major hotel on the main beach. These shows were fund-raisers to benefit the children of Acapulco. Among the organizers was Ann Goldfarb, a friend of Foust’s. Foust’s son, Curtis, attended one of these shows and recalls that his mother’s paintings quickly sold out, snapped up by visitors from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

In 1984, Foust returned to the U.S., living first in San Diego, California, then (from 2002) in West Virginia and finally (from June 2009) in Petaluma, California, where she passed away, at the age of 95, on 5 October 2010.

Even after her return to live in the U.S., Foust retained some close links to Lake Chapala. In 1992, for example, Judy Eager was able to persuade her to exhibit (with her daughter Barbara) a selection of batiks, oils and watercolors at La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic.

As these illustrations show, Gustel Foust was an extremely talented artist, whether of landscapes, portraits or batiks. She was also a prolific artist, painting almost every day of her life, in a wide variety of styles and using many different media. At different times, she signed her work Gustel K. Foust, Gustel Foust, G. Foust, and sometimes simply G.F. On some occasions, the cross stroke of the “T” in Foust would be omitted or unclear.

Foust’s art can be found in many museum and private collections around the world, including the Centro de Arte Moderno (Museo Miguel Aldana) in Guadalajara and the East Prussian State Museum in Germany.

Private collectors holding examples of Foust’s art include Luis Garcia Jasso, who owned the now-defunct Galería Vertice in Guadalajara, and many prominent families originally from East Prussia.

All four of Foust’s daughters became painters, while her only son, Curtis, maintains an informative website dedicated to his mother’s art.

Illustrations and acknowledgment

All illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of Curtis Foust; my sincere thanks to him for generously sharing details of his mother’s life and work. To see more of her paintings and batiks, please visit the Gustel Foust website.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter : 18 May 1968; 12 Oct 1968; 26 Jan 1974
  • Gustel Foust (website) – http://www.gustelfoust.com
  • Informador 29 September 1967;  17 Nov 1968; 23 July 1975; 25 October 1976; 26 January 1980
  • J. Luis Meza-India. 1968. “Exposición de pintura: Gustel Foust.” Informador, 17 Nov 1968
  • Ojo del Lago, January 1992
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) 8 March 1964,15 March 1964 (p 25)

Plea for help

If you are able to provide more specific details (dates, gallery names) of Gustel Foust’s art exhibitions, especially those in Mexico, Germany and the U.S. please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Mar 132017
 

James F. Kelly was a writer and novelist who lived in Ajijic for more than twenty years from the early 1960s. More usually referred to as Jim Kelly, James Frederick Kelly was born in 1912 (in Ohio?) and educated at Staunton Military Academy, Swarthmore College and Columbia University School of Journalism. He also studied at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and at the US Maritime Diesel School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

During the second world war, he was a member of the Merchant Marine and remained in the US Naval Reserve after the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander by the time his service ended. Kelly’s naval career took him to ports-of-call ranging from New Zealand, New Guinea and the U.K. to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador; Peru and Chile.

kelly-james-insiderAfter the war, Kelly and his wife Gerda (a Danish-born model and circus performer) lived in Westport, where Kelly dedicated himself to writing while Gerda worked in the New York fashion industry. Kelly reviewed books regularly for The New York Times Book Review and The Saturday Review, wrote pieces for the New York Times Magazine and other publications and also undertook work, both creative and executive, for Compton and various other New York advertising agencies.

Kelly and Gerda, with their two children (Jill and James Jr.) moved to Ajijic at some point prior to October 1964. After moving to Mexico, he continued to write and to submit articles to U.S. publications. In October 1964, he took photographs of the piñatas at a party given for the 26th birthday of David Michael (son of Ajijic artist and boutique owner Gail Michael), “for an article he is doing for a New York publication.”

A few months later, “pretty, blond Jill Kelly”, is reported to have given a marionette show at La Quinta (Jocotepec’s best known hotel at the time), which “proved that talent runs in the family”.

In January 1966, Gerda and Jim Kelly purchased their own home in Ajijic: Casa Los Sueños (“House of Dreams”), the converted remnants of Ajijic’s former friary whose origins date back to the sixteenth century). They moved in to their new home, purchased from Ruth and Hunter Martin, the following month.

In the spring of 1966, the U.K. edition of Kelly’s novel On the Other Hand, Goodbye was published, and he was reported to be working on his next novel, which had a publisher’s deadline of August. (It is unclear which novel is being referred to here.)

In 1968 the couple founded and ran an Ajijic real estate venture, Servicios Unlimited. After eight months in temporary premises, the company moved into a building on Calle Independencia, opposite the Posada Ajijic, and next-door to Helen Kirtland’s looms (today, this is the store Mí México). In addition, Gerda Kelly worked as a columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter.

James Kelly continued to write the occasional piece for U.S. media into the 1970s, including an article about Dr Marcos Montaña Zavala and his wife Dra Soledad Ascensio de Montaña, who co-founded the Sanatorio de Santa Teresita, a health clinic in Jocotepec. This piece first appeared in Spanish in Selecciones (August 1970) and then in Reader’s Digest later that year.

James Kelly was the author of at least six novels: From A Hilltop (1941); The Insider (1958); On the Other Hand, Goodbye (1965); No Rest For The Dying (New York: Nordon Publications 1980); Music From Another Room (Dorchester Publishing, 1980) and Blind Passage (date unknown).

Music From Another Room is a murder mystery set in Michoacán, Mexico at the fictional hotel Hacienda de las Golondrinas. The characters and plot are eminently believable, testament to Kelly’s keen powers of observation and good knowledge of Mexico.

James Kelly passed away in December 1993; Gerda died five months later.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Jill Kelly Velasco for her help in compiling this profile of her father.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 October 1964; 7 January 1965; 9 September 1965; 20 January 1966; 26 February 1966; 2 April 1966; 29 July 1967;  21 June 1969; 8 August 1970; 20 April 1974; 6 September 1975;
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

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.

Jan 232017
 

Poet and children’s novelist Aileen Olsen and her second husband Arthur Melby first lived at Lake Chapala from 1970 to 1973 and then retired there in 1986, remaining there for the rest of their lives.

Aileen Bertha Olsen, also known as Aileen Olsen Molarsky and Aileen Olsen Melby, was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants to the U.S.. Born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on 24 October 1921, she attended Escanaba High School and won a full scholarship to the School of Arts and Architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

After graduating from university, Olsen moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, to work as a commercial artist. Her first job was with Women’s Wear Daily, after which she became art director for the book department of The Reader’s Digest.

She was still working for The Reader’s Digest at the time of her first marriage, to Osmond Molarsky in New York City, on 22 December 1951. The couple initially lived in New York City, at 5 West 65th St., before moving to Westport, Connecticut. They were avid sailors and enjoyed exploring the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean. The couple, who divorced in 1965, had no children.

[Osmond Molarsky (1909-2009) was the author of Navy film scripts, 16 children’s books and a former radio host at KNEW in San Francisco. When studying at Swarthmore College, his roommate was a young James Michener, the famous novelist. Indeed, Molarsky claimed to have given Michener his first paid writing job, rewriting scenes from The Merchant of Venice for Molarsky’s puppet shows.]

At some point following her divorce, Aileen Olsen Molarsky moved to San Francisco where she worked for the architectural division of the Pebble Beach Company, and met and married Arthur Melby. Arthur Melby (1917-2010) had been a forester in Montana who had worked in the FBI during the second world war, as an undercover intelligence officer, before establishing box factories in Guatemala and El Salvador. Prior to retiring to Ajijic in 1986, the Melbys lived in the Carmel Valley of California for about twenty years.

Using her maiden name, Aileen Olsen wrote several children’s books. They include:

  1. Bernadine and the Water Bucket (1966, illustrated by Nola Langner), the “delightful story of a girl living on a small, sunny island who sets out to fetch water alone for the first time”,
  2. Big Fish (1970, illustrated by Imero Gobbato), the tale of “a young Caribbean boy who is out fishing with his father when a storm hits. The boy is separated from his father, but with the help of a friendly dolphin, he makes it safely back to shore and earns the nickname “Big Fish”” and
  3. Mafie and the Persian Pink Petunias (1970, illustrated by Lilian Obligado), in which “a young Caribbean boy named Benjamin wins a hen, Mafie, but Mafie has a Hunger for Mrs Gallup’s prized Persian Pink Petunias which she is growing for the flower show.” The last-named book was heavily criticized in a Kirkus review as being “ineptly structured” and with a Caribbean setting that was “unattractively stereotyped.”

An example of Aileen Olsen’s work was also included in the anthology Golden Treasure: Catch A Spoonful, published by Scott, Foresman and Company in 1976.

[Note that while her obituary in the Guadalajara Reporter states that she also “collaborated with Harold Gilliam” on his book, The Natural World of San Francisco (1967), I have not yet found any confirmation elsewhere of this. Gilliam’s book does, however, have an important connection to Lake Chapala since the book’s photographer, Michael Ernest Bry (born in 1924), later lived and taught photography for several years in Jocotepec at the western end of the lake.]

Aileen and Arthur Melby first visited Ajijic in 1970 when they stayed in the village for three years. After retirement, they moved there in 1986 and remained there the rest of their lives. They were active in the local community and staunch supporters of the Lake Chapala Society: Arthur was its President from 1989 to 1992, and Aileen later donated her entire library to the Society.

In 1991, Aileen Olsen Melby, who was also an accomplished watercolor painter, wrote and published Song for Mexico, a 60-page book of poems with decorative illustrations by Jorge Encisco. Aileen Olsen Melby suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in later life and died on 12 August 2003, predeceasing her husband by seven years.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 22 Aug 2003: obituary for Aileen Olsen Melby
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 22 Jan 2010: obituary for Arthur Melby
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 15 November 2009
  • The Bridgeport Post, Bridgeport, Connecticut, 14 October 1965, p 59
  • The Escanaba Daily Press, Escanaba, Michigan, 29 March 1952, p2

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 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.

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 Foust; 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

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 6:48 am  Tagged with:
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 Foust; 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.

error: Content is protected !!