Jan 162017
 

Gabino Ortiz Villaseñor (1819-1885) was a 19th century poet, journalist, lawyer, politician and playwright born in the town of Jiquilpan, Michoacán, on the eastern shore of Lake Chapala prior to that area’s draining for farmland in 1906. Despite the fact that the commemorative plaque on his birthplace (image) gives his date of birth as 18 February 1819, biographers appear to agree that his actual birth date was one day later, on 19 February 1819. Note, too, that his first name is often spelled as Gavino, the letters v and b sharing an almost identical sound in Spanish.

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

Ortiz studied in Morelia where he became a lawyer in 1845. He then worked in that city as a lawyer until 1847, when he was elected to the Congress. He occupied various public positions over the years. In 1850 he became a Deputy in the State Congress. Affiliated to the Liberal party, he wrote the political paper El Espectro, which came out against the dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna (who served a total of eleven non-consecutive terms as President of Mexico) and later another liberal newspaper, El Sanscalote.

After the 1857 Reform Law was passed, Ortiz became the first head judge of the Civil Registry in Morelia. The following year, he wrote the official newspaper Bandera Roja; he was also a regular writer for the La Bandera de Ocampo newspaper.

Ortiz translated two ecclesiastical leaflets by Lefevre from French to Spanish, which were published in Morelia in 1859 and 1870 respectively. He also translated work by the Latin poet Horace.

Ortiz’s own poetic works (some of them satirical pieces or fables) were published in various newspapers, especially El Colibrí. A collection of his poems appeared in Morelia, with the simple title Versos, in 1873.

In addition, Ortiz wrote four dramatic works for the stage: La Redención del hombre (a biblical melodrama); Elvira ó la virtud y la pasión (a drama, set partly in Spain and partly in Mexico in the 17th century); and two comedies: Por dinero baila el perro (set in Morelia) and Mañana será otro día (set partly in Morelia and partly in Mexico City).

Despite his moderate success as a writer, Gabino Ortiz died in poverty in Morelia on 22 May 1885. His memory lives on in Jiquilpan because a local street and the town’s library are named in his honor.

The Biblioteca Pública Gabino Ortiz (Gabino Ortiz Public Library) occupies a former nineteenth century church on the town’s main street (Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas). The building is embellished with two impressive works of art. The beautiful main door, which has bronze sculptures of the heads of 22 of the most outstanding scientists and thinkers of the early twentieth century, was designed by Guillermo Ruiz.

Orozco mural;s inside Jiqulipan library

Orozco murals inside Gabino Ortiz Public Library, Jiqulipan

The murals inside the library are the work of famous Jalisco muralist José Clemente Orozco, considered one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism, alongside Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Orozco painted, literally single-handedly (having lost his left hand in a childhood accident) a series of sketchy black-and-white murals depicting political parties and revolutionary Mexico on either side of the former nave and an unusual and striking full-color mural known as “A Mexican Allegory” on the end wall. Painted in 1940, it is one of his last completed works. For more about this mural and the town of Jiquilpan, see chapter 6 of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury.

Sources:

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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.

Jan 052017
 

The renowned western artist John A. Bruce, best known for his portraiture, visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala, probably in the 1960s. His name was recalled by long-time Ajijic visitor Dr. Jim Vaughan when I interviewed him in 1990. Vaughan said that Bruce had drawn a sketch of him, but that it had required several sittings, because Bruce “liked his tequila”. It is unclear how long Bruce stayed in Ajijic or whether he visited more than once.

John Bruce. Self-portrait. Credit: John Bruce / website

John Bruce. Self-portrait. Credit: John Bruce / website

John A Bruce was born in Los Angeles, California, on 8 April 1931. He served in the U.S. Army from 1949 to 1952, including 18 months as an infantryman in Korea. Following military service, Bruce began a long career as a commercial artist in California. He worked as Art Director at the Field Service Department, North American Aviation in Downey from 1952 to 1957. He then worked as an illustrator at Aerojet General Corp., in Sacramento, for three years, before starting his own company, Cal Graphic Advertising in 1960. Cal Graphic lasted three years until 1963 when he became Art Director at Barnes/Chase Advertising, in Santa Ana, a position he held until 1967. Following Barnes/Chase, he became Vice President of Gil Franzen Art Studio, in Los Angeles (1967-1969) and then Art Director at the Independent Press Telegram, in Long Beach (1969-1973) before once again seeking his independence by becoming a free-lance artist working on Disney’s EPCOT project in Burbank.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

Bruce studied art at the Art Center School in Los Angeles and the Chouinard Art Institute, and gained a B.A. in Psychology (with a Minor in Art) from California State university in Los Angeles in 1965.

After the 1970s, Bruce focused more on his own art, as a partial list of his solo and group exhibitions confirms. His solo shows include Ghormley Gallery Los Angeles (1964); Les Li Art Gallery Los Angeles (1969); Upstairs Gallery in Long Beach (1971); and Christine’s of Santa Fe Gallery in Laguna Beach (1993). Invitational. Bruce’s group shows include: Laguna Beach Art Festival Laguna Beach, (1962-1965); Butler Institute of American Art Youngstown, Ohio (1970); Newport Invitational Art Show, Newport Beach (1975); Death Valley Art Show in Death Valley, California (1979-1982); American Indian & Cowboy Artist’s Show in San Dimas, California (1987-1995); El Prado Gallery Sedona, Arizona (1989); Prairie Fire Show Wichita, Kansas (1990-1992); Pepper Tree Art Show, Santa Inez, California (1991 to 1996);  San Bernardino Museum, California (1992); AICA (American Indian & Cowboy Artists) at the Autry Museum, Los Angeles (1996-1998); and Wind River Gallery in Aspen, Colorado (1997).

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

Bruce has won numerous awards for his art, including “Best of Show” at Vision 99 – Chicago Windy City Artists (1999), at American Indian & Cowboy Artists (1992; Autry Museum Masters of the American West (1996) and Festival of Western Arts, San Dimas (1996). Artworks by Bruce were adjudged “People’s Choice” at American Indian & Cowboy Artists (1988) and Art of the West Magazine (1992). At American Indian & Cowboy Artists, Bruce won Eagle Feather Awards in 1988 and 1989, and a Gold Medal for Oil Painting in 1992. At the Prairie Fire Art Show in Wichita, Kansas, he won Gold Medals for Drawing in 1990 and 1991 and for Oil Painting 1991. He also won a California International Artist of the Year award in 1975 and the John Grayback Award for Oil Painting at the American Artists Professional League (New York) in 1988. A number of lithographs by Bruce are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Bruce has resided in Mariposa, California for many years and continues to find reward in his art.

In a 2010 blog post, David Lemon, a fellow member of the American Indian & Cowboy Artists, and friend of Bruce, explains that Bruce suffered serious health set-backs following a fight against cancer and an incident in the V.A. hospital which damaged Bruce’s back and right shoulder. Bruce responded to Lemon’s comments saying that he was not yet able to paint “due to the limited range of motion of my arm” but that he had begun working in charcoal and that it “feels great! I can’t imagine what my life would be like without some art in it.”

Sources:

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Jan 022017
 

Victoriano Roa wrote a post-Independence statistical account of Jalisco which includes descriptions and data pertaining to Lake Chapala in 1821-1822.

Relatively little is known about Roa, a politician and writer. It is likely that he was a native of Jalisco, given that the surname is common there. He held various state government posts in the period immediately following Independence, and it was at the behest of the state government that he wrote his Estadística del Estado Libre de Jalisco (Statistics of the Free State of Jalisco).

After being turned down for the post of Secretary to the state Congress in 1830, he moved to Mexico City as director of the Banco de Avío, founded in 1830 to promote the development of the wool, cotton and silk industries. This marked the beginning of modern industrial development in Mexico. The Banco de Avío, founded by Lucas Alemán (Foreign Relations Secretary in one of Bustamante’s governments), is recognized as the main precursor of Mexico’s modern commercial banks. The bank was closed by presidential decree of Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1842.

By 1836, Roa was in charge of El Mosaico Mexicano, a journal covering the whole country in which several important articles relating to Lake Chapala were subsequently published, including the lengthy and fascinating piece by Henri Galeotti that forms the basis for this Geo-Mexico post.

Roa died in Mexico City sometime in the middle of the 19th century.

The details, provided by Roa, in his Estadística del Estado Libre de Jalisco, for Chapala – the “Third District” – which stretched from Jocotepec in the west to Poncitlán and Cuitzeo in the east, covered most places on the northern shore. Very few details were provided for places on the south shore.

Following Independence and this account by Roa, published in 1825, several further efforts were made in the 19th century by officials of the state of Jalisco to gather relevant information, primarily in order to better monitor the state’s development. These include studies by Manuel López Cotilla (1843), Longinus Banda (1873) and Mariano Bárcena (1888). While these statistical reports are not as much fun to read as conventional travel accounts, they are a veritable gold mine of useful information.

These short extracts come from the post-Independence statistical account by Victoriano Roa, describing the Chapala region in 1821-1822:

Water

In part of the area of this district is the large lake called Chapala, or sometimes the Mar Chapálico [Chapala Sea]… In its interior is a small island, called Mezcala, which served as an invincible fortress for the old patriots, and afterwards was converted into a prison for the convicts sentenced by the courts of Guadalajara. The Grande river, which will flow into the same lake of Chapala flows by the edge of Poncitlán. In the village of Chapala are several fresh water springs and their currents also end in the lake. There is another in Ixtlahuacán, whose water is sufficient to water the orchards; there are some in the Jocotepec area though not very abundant, and in the Huejotitán hacienda is a very noteworthy dam, because, with only the seasonal rains that it receives, it is sufficient for watering all the area sown in wheat and even for turning the mill. In Atotonilco el Bajo is another dam, whose water is taken from the Grande river, and used to water the fields sown by the village and those of the Atequiza hacienda.

Industry

The majority of the inhabitants are dedicated to agriculture, others to the weaving of ordinary lengths of wool and cotton, and some to the cultivation of the orchards and fishing in the rivers and the lake. This produces an abundance of the fish known as whitefish, catfish, sardines, bocudos, popocha [Algansea popoche, endemic] and charales [Chirostoma spp., also endemics], which results in a profitable trade for the villages found on its shores.

Livestock

Cattle and pigs, although not in abundance; horses, only on the haciendas. The population of the Third District consisted of 4925 married men, 4927 married women. 3062 single males of all ages, 3632 single females and 7 clergymen, making subtotals of 7994 males and 8559 females, for a total population of 16,553.

Note: For the full extract from Roa pertaining to Lake Chapala, see chapter 15 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Original source:

  • Victoriano Roa. 1825. Estadística del Estado Libre de Jalisco. (All translations by Tony Burton).

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

 

Dec 292016
 

Just who was Janet M. Cummings? I’ve managed to find out very little about this photographer despite the fact that she was one of the earliest female photographers to have several of her photographs published in National Geographic and she also had photos accepted by such august newspapers as the New York Times.

Janet M. Cummings. Water carriers at Lake Chapala. 1916. Credit: Janet M. Cummings / National Geographic.

Water carriers at Lake Chapala. 1916. Credit: Janet M. Cummings / National Geographic.

One of her National Geographic photos, published in July 1916, is entitled “Water sellers and their donkeys on the shores of Lake Chapala“. It appears to have been taken in Ocotlán (near the then-famed Ribera Castellanos hotel) and shows  people collecting water from the lake to sell. The photo has a long bridge in the background, hence the suggestion that it was taken near Ocotlán.

Janet M. Cummings stamped many of her photos with the address of her studio at 70, Fifth Avenue, New York City, and was most active as a photographer between 1915 and 1920.

She took an iconic image in 1915, published in the New York Times of the beach at Southampton in England, of “German prisoners captured in the recent British offensive in France”. The same newspaper also published photos taken by her captioned “Veterans of the London National Guard, Composed of Business Men Organized for Home Defense, Giving a Parade at Brighton, England’s Noted Seaside Resort” and “German Soldier Putting a Keener Edge on His Sword” (both published in the 25 April 1915 edition).

In 1916, besides photographing Lake Chapala, she took other photos in Mexico, including one of the Rio Grijalva in southern Mexico. In 1917, she was working in Australia, taking pictures of the state of Victoria and elsewhere. She is also known to have photographed Beirut and several other locations.

Sadly, beyond this, I have yet to learn more about the life and work of this early female photographer who brought Lake Chapala to the attention of the American public almost thirty years before the lake was visited by another pioneering female National  Geographic photographer, Dorothy Hosmer, who visited Ajijic in 1945.

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

Dec 262016
 

Enrique Carmen de Jesús Villaseñor y de La Parra was born on 14 July 1865 in Jiquilpan, Michoacán (at that time on the shores of Lake Chapala), in a house on a street named for another famous priest and poet born in the town: Diego José Abad. Villaseñor ‘s father, Toribio Villaseñor, was a rural property owner. Villaseñor was one of ten siblings. He studied in Jacona (near Zamora) and at about age 11, as was customary at that time for upper class families, was sent to Europe to study for the church at the Pontificio Colegio Pío Latino Americano in Rome, Italy. He studied there from 1876 to 1885.

After his ordination in the Jesuit order, he returned to his native Mexico and became a priest in Jiquilpan, singing his first Mass there in 1890. Shortly afterwards, he began to teach Science and Humanities in a seminary in Zamora.

Villaseñor wrote and  published many verses and poems about the region, but his most noteworthy early work is a translation from Latin to Spanish, published in 1896, of Diego José Abad’s Poema heroica. Villaseñor was a great admirer of Diego José Abad (1727-1779) and instrumental in convincing the town that the townsfolk erect a monument in Abad’s honor .

Villaseñor collaborated on La Libertad (1904) and La Bandera Católica (1909-1910). He was also a corresponding member of the Sociedad Michoacana de Geografía e Estadística (Michoacán Society for Geography and Statistics). His magnus opus was a monumental poem in verse about the divinity and humanity of Jesús entitled Teogenesia o el Nacimiento de Jesús, published in 1901 with engravings by the outstanding artist José Guadalupe Posada.

Villaseñor died in his native Jiquilpan on 28 October 1934. He was a great philanthropist throughout his life and on his death left all his land as the basis for a foundation to help the poor of the town.

Sources:

  • Martín Sánchez. 1995. Repertorio michoacano 1889-1926. El Colegio de Michoacán A.C.
  • Gabriela Inocencio. 2008. “Conmemoran natalicio de poeta jiquilpense”. El Sol de Zamora, 17 July 2008

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

Dec 222016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Dec 192016
 

Poet and writer Jim Levy lived for about a year in Ajijic from mid-1968 until May 1969. Many years later, he has started publishing some of his poems,  essays and stories.

Levy, whose father was a Freudian psychoanalyst, was born in Chicago in 1940 and raised in Los Angeles. As a child, he spent several summers in Taos, New Mexico, a town he would return to later in life.

Levy attended the Thacher School in Ojai, California, and studied two years at Pomona College before traveling through the Southwest and Mexico by (like the Beats) hitchhiking and riding freight trains. After a year in Europe, he started classes at the University of California at Berkeley. Levy graduated with a B.A. in English and History and a teaching certificate.

At Berkeley he met Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, a married woman with two children. The couple married in 1966. In 1968-69 they spent a year in Ajijic.

From Ajijic, Jim and Deirdre returned to the U.S. to live in Taos. In a memoir entitled “¿Paradise Lost?” published in Hakod in 2009, Levy recalls their arrival in Taos:

We — my wife Deirdre, her two children, and I — came to Taos in a VW van in May 1969 with a white rat named Fortunata smuggled in from Mexico rolled in a sleeping bag. We had been living for a year in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. The scene in Ajijic was crazy, but in a Mexican village there was only so much trouble you could get into. In Taos, we found more ways.”

They tried to live as close to the land as possible:

– Although Deirdre and I had BAs and teaching credentials from Berkeley, we didn’t mind living without indoor plumbing or a phone — in fact we thought it was glamorous. We used a two-seat outhouse and carried water in buckets from the Rio Hondo. Like our counterculture neighbors, we “returned” to the land — a purely hypothetical return because my family was Jewish from Los Angeles via Newark and Germany, and Deirdre’s was Catholic from New Jersey via Ireland. My father was a Freudian psychoanalyst and her father was middle management for Bendix Corporation.”

In Taos, Jim edited a local “hippie newspaper called The Fountain of Light” for a time, on which Phaedra Greenwood (who would later become his second wife) was the staff reporter.

Levy’s marriage with Deirdre Blomfield-Brown ended in 1971. Deirdre subsequently changed her name to Pema Chödrön and became a Tibetan Buddhist nun, whose teachings, such as When Things Fall Apart and The Wisdom of No Escape, have reached a very wide audience. She is the director of the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Also in 1971, Levy destroyed much of his previous writing, including several completed novels, because he did not deem them to good enough for publication. (He destroyed other works, on the same grounds, in 1985).

In 1972, Levy began living with Phaedra Greenwood and her son. Levy and Greenwood had a daughter two years later and married in 1977. In 1978 Levy embarked on a 35-year career directing non-profits, starting with the Harwood Foundation of the University of New Mexico.

Between his divorce from Phaedra Greenwood in 1994 and their eventual reconciliation in 2003, Levy lived and wrote in a variety of places, including Pátzcuaro and Oaxaca in Mexico, Montreal in Canada, Spain and California. Levy and Greenwood continue to make their home in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico.

Levy began publishing his writing and poetry at the age of 74. His published works include Corazón (and Merkle): A man, a dog, and another dog (2014), Cooler Than October Sunlight, selected poems 1959-2004 (2015); The Poems of Caius Herennius Felix (2015), an extraordinary work about the discovery and translation of an imaginary first century Roman Spanish poet; Joy To Come, Literary and Cultural Essays (2016); and The Fifth Season: A Journey Into Old Age (2016).

Acknowledgment:

  • My thanks to Jill Maldonado (daughter of Beverly Johnson, unofficial town photographer of Ajijic in the 1960s) for bringing Jim Levy and Deirdre Blomfield-Brown to my attention. Johnson herself will be profiled in a future post.

Source:

  • Jim Levy. 2009. ¿ PARADISE LOST ? in Hakod – “The Voice of the Taos Jewish Center”, Vol 8 #2, Winter 2009/5770.

Other Lake Chapala artists and authors associated with Berkeley

Several other Lake Chapala artists and authors have close associations with either U.C. Berkeley or the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley. They include the writers Ralph Leon Beals, Earle Birney, Witter Bynner, Willard “Spud” Johnson, Clement Woodward Meighan, Idella Purnell, and Al Young and the artists Tom Brudenell, Ray Cooper, Sylvia Fein, Gerald Collins Gleeson, Dorothy Goldner, Paul Hachten, John Langley Howard (1902-1999), Alfred Rogoway, Alice Jean Small, and Richard Yip.

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

Dec 152016
 

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

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

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

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

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 2:51 pm  Tagged with:
Dec 122016
 

In my on-going quest to document the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala, I occasionally come across individuals about whom very little is known. In most cases, diligent research eventually unearths a few savory tidbits, even if I sometimes still lack sufficient material to compile a formal biography.

zepeda-la-ondina-de-chapala

Salomón Zepeda is an exception. I have found absolutely nothing about this writer, beyond the fact that he is the author of La Ondina de Chapala (“The Water Nymph of Chapala”), a 149-page Spanish-language novel published in 1951 by Imprenta Ruíz in Mexico City. The cover art appears to be by “Magallón”.

I know there are a small number of copies in libraries in the U.S., including one in the “Southern Regional Library Facility” of the University of California Los Angeles. If you have a copy, or access to a copy, or know anything about this author, please get in touch!

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

Dec 082016
 

Alan Horton Crane, aka Alan Crane (a name also used by his artist son), was an American artist, illustrator and lithographer who spent most of his life in New England, but who visited Mexico several times in the 1940s and 1950s.

Crane was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1901 and died in 1969. (His son, Alan Crane, best known for his magical realism paintings, died in 2015.)

Crane senior studied at the Pratt Institute with Winold Weiss and with Richard Boleslawsky at the American Laboratory Theater. He also worked with  Boleslawsky and at various other theater venues.

Weiss later used Crane as the model for one of the heads depicted in his Union Terminal mosaic mural in Cincinnati, which commemorated the broadcasting pioneers of the city. For aesthetic reasons, Weiss felt he needed someone with wavy hair to replace the head (but not the body) of radio engineer Charlie Butler, who had straight, slicked-back hair. When the Union Terminal concourse was demolished in 1974, the mural was moved to Terminal 2 at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. When that building in turn was removed, the mural was relocated to the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Crane exhibited widely from about 1941 to 1956 and his art won numerous awards. He also undertook illustrations for books and magazines, and wrote and illustrated several books of his own, including Pepita Bonita (1942); Gloucester Joe (1943); and Nick and Nan in Yucatan (1945). In 1956, he illustrated Elizabeth Borton de Trevino’s book A Carpet of Flowers.

Crane was a member of numerous art groups, including the Salmagundi Club, Audubon Artists, Society of American Graphic Artists, Philadelphia Water Color Club, Guild of Boston Artists, Rockport Art Association and the North Shore Arts Association.

Crane’s work can be found in the collections of the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, Carnegie Institute, American Society of Arts and Letters, Brooklyn Museum, Pennsylvania State College and the Princeton Print Club.

It is unclear precisely what motivated Crane to first visit Mexico, but he visited the country several times, as witnessed by a succession of superb, finely detailed, lithographs (in editions of between 40 and 50) of Mexican scenes, including “Haunted Garden, Mexico” (1947); “Indian Laurels, Chapala” (1948); “Clouds and Spires, San Miguel Allende” (1949); “The Mirror, Camecuaro” (1952); “Shadows at Noon, Patzcuaro” (1952) and “Morning Catch, Puerto Vallarta” (1959).

Sources:

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

Dec 052016
 

The distinguished Black American poet, novelist and educator Al Young visited Lake Chapala sometime in the mid- to late-1960s. It was in Ajijic that he first met Black American artist Arthur Monroe, the beginning of a long artistic friendship.

Al Young subsequently published two works with a direct connection to the lake. “Moon Watching by Lake Chapala” is a prose poem first published in the Berkeley literary journal Aldebaran in 1968, and reprinted in The Song Turning Back Into Itself (1971). The poem was also chosen for the collection We speak as liberators: young Black poets; an anthology, compiled by Orde Coombs (1970).

In 1975, Young’s novel Who is Angelina? was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. It includes several scenes set at Lake Chapala, with passages relating to Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec. (We will consider this novel more closely in a separate post).

Chapala is also mentioned in a 2011 poem, “Elegy for a Live-Loving Friend” written in memory of Edith Eddy (1919-2011), which opens with the lines:

Light-years ago: Chapala afternoons,
a lake-like feel and smell, the way we met,
three children California-born, full moons,
the world not yet as gone as it would get.”

Albert James Young was born 31 May 1939 in Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. His father, Albert James, was a professional musician and, after the family moved to Detroit, an autoworker. Young’s childhood in the rural south gave way to adolescence in urban, industrial Detroit.

young-al-poet-laureate-california-emeritusYoung attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor from 1957-1960 and was co-editor of Generation, the campus literary magazine. In 1961 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and proceeded to have a variety of jobs (folksinger, laboratory aide, disk jockey, medical photographer, clerk typist, employment counselor) before eventually completing an honors degree in Spanish at University of California, Berkeley, in 1969. In 1963, Young married Arline Belck, a freelance artist; the couple’s son, Michael James, was born in 1971.

Young’s academic life has been grounded in California. In addition to holding a a variety of editorial positions, he taught creative writing classes at Stanford University, 1969-1976, and was a visiting writer-in-residence at the University of Washington, Seattle, 1981-1982. He has also taught at the University of California (at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Davis branches), at Bowling Green State University, Foothill College, the Colorado College, Rice University, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, and San José State University.

In the 1970s, Young worked as a screeenwriter, for Laser Films (New York) in 1972, Stigwood Corporation (London and New York) 1972, Verdon Productions (Hollywood) 1976, First Artists Ltd. (Burbank, California) 1976-77, and for Universal (Hollywood) 1979. His screenplays include Nigger (1972) and Sparkle (1972.)

Young has received numerous awards including National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1968, 1969, and 1974; a Guggenheim fellowship in 1974; two Pushcart prizes, two American Book Awards, a PEN-Library of Congress Award for Short Fiction and a Before Columbus Foundation award in 1982.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Young served as a cultural ambassador for the United States Information Agency, making trips on its behalf to South Asia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

Al Young’s novels include Snakes (1970); Who Is Angelina? (1975); Sitting Pretty (1976); Ask Me Now (1980); Seduction by Light (1988); and Straight No Chaser (1994). Among his short Stories are, “My Old Buddy Shakes, Alas, and Grandmama Claude,” published in Nexus (San Francisco), May-June 1965; and “The Question Man and Why I Dropped Out,” in Nexus, November-December 1965; “Chicken Hawk’s Dream,” in Stanford Short Stories 1968 (1968)

Poetry collections by Young, who was Poet Laureate of California 2005-2008, include Dancing (1969); The Song Turning Back into Itself (1971); Some Recent Fiction (1974); Geography of the Near Past (1976); The Blues Don’t Change: New and Selected Poems (1982); Heaven: Collected Poems 1958-1988 (1989); and Heaven: Collected Poems 1956-1990 (1992). His works have been translated into many languages, ranging from Spanish and Serbo-Croat to Urdu and Korean.

The distinguished poet and novelist has also published several “Musical Memoirs”, including Bodies and Soul (1981), Kinds of Blue (1984), Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (1987) and Drowning in the Sea of Love (1995).

In the words of William J. Harris in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Al Young’s art destroys “glib stereotypes of black Americans.” Harris adds that “His work illustrates the complexity and richness of contemporary Afro-American life through a cast of highly individualized black characters. Since he is a gifted stylist and a keen observer of the human comedy, he manages to be both a serious and an entertaining author.”

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

Dec 012016
 

Robert Clutton (1932-2016) lived in Ajijic from about 1959 to 1961. His time in Mexico introduced him to the pantheon of ancient Aztec and Maya gods which so strongly influenced much of his later art. He revisited Ajijic several times after this initial extended stay in the village.

“Bob” Clutton, “Roberto” to his Mexican friends, was born in Wales on 5 June 1932 and passed away in San Francisco earlier this year, on 15 August 2016 at the age of 84.

He left Wales in 1949. Six years later, in October 1955, he was one of numerous artists exhibiting in the The Artists’ Union of Baltimore annual show. By 1959 he was living and working in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Several of his paintings from this time can be seen on this Facebook page of the San Francisco Senior Center:

Former Ajijic gallery owner Katherine Goodridge Ingram remembers Bob Clutton as a lovely man, who was well-liked by everyone in the community. Clutton became increasingly fascinated by the “gods of ancient Mexico” and images of these gods became a frequent theme in his later paintings.

When he decided to leave Ajijic in 1961, he chose to move to San Francisco because that was where “all the interesting people he met in Mexico” were from. He continued to make his living as a professional artist in that city for more than fifty years.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic. (Image from San Francisco Senior Center page)

A newspaper feature in 1968, entitled “Art by the Foot” described how Clutton, “a bronzed, bearded, no-nonsense British artist” was making “made-to-measure bas-reliefs” in his Divisdaero Street studio. The bas-reliefs, “designed to be decorative indoors and architectural assets outdoors”, used Aztec symbols and colors, and relied on the interplay of sun and shade to emphasize the materials, relief and texture.

Clutton was still producing “formal paintings” which also showed the influence of Mexico, and was represented by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. A solo show of his oils and acrylics at that gallery in 1969 brought a wider audience for his work. Clutton also exhibited in Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where a show of his oil paintings opened at Galeria Uno (Morelos 561) in Puerto Vallarta on 23 March 1993.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli. (Vorpal Gallery)

In 1988, Clutton designed the poster for the 1988 Haight Ashbury Street Fair. He enjoyed social events, garden parties and dinners and surrounded himself with creative people, making for lively and entertaining discussions. In his final years, Clutton was active as an artist at the San Francisco Senior Center.

Sources:

  • Jane Clutton; personal communication, October 2016
  • San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, California Living, Week of March 31, 1968: “Art by the Foot” [copy supplied by Jane Clutton]
  • San Francisco Chronicle. 2016. Robert Clutton – obituary, San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7, 2016
  • Vorpal Galleries. Robert Clutton. 1969. San Francisco: Vorpal Galleries

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 Posted by at 5:58 am  Tagged with:
Nov 282016
 

Travel writer and novelist David Dodge lived in Ajijic for several  months in 1966. He had traveled throughout the country and subsequently published a popular motoring guide covering all of Mexico. The book, Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, was published by Macmillan in 1968, together with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games that were held in October of that year in Mexico City.

dodge-david-cover

The book was revised and reissued the following year (1969) as The Best of Mexico by Car: a Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border, from which these extracts are taken:

Except for the pescado blanco and pleasant scenery, there is no real reason to make the drive [from Guadalajara to Chapala] unless you have leisure for it and want to see how the other half lives. No tourist “musts” lie along the road to Chapala, and not much in the way of maybes. The lake’s north shore, like Cuernavaca, is simply an American retirement colony; sprawled out more, less expensive to live in and with fewer swimming pools, otherwise much the same.” . . .

“If you do make Lake Chapala an overnight side trip, taking the time to loiter along the way, a good place to spend a night is Chapala town. It’s the first community you come to on the lake shore, a pretty place remindful of Riva on Lake Garda, relatively un-Pepsi-Coked except for two enormous eye-popping billboards that challenge each other for maximum offensiveness to the eye as you come back to dock from what would otherwise be a very pleasant boat ride on the water. Chapala town is as popular with tapatíos, Guadalajarans, on weekend family outings as it is with semipermanent gringo residents enjoying a year-round climate even better than Guadalajara’s own, so best call ahead to make a reservation on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

The first motel you come to conspicuously by the side of the road where the road begins to wind down out of the hills toward the lake shore is both phoneless and unrecommendable. No problem here. Best place, a good one, to spend the night in Chapala town is the Hotel Nido, tel. 38, $7. It’s right on the (quiet) main stem a few steps from the lake. The Nido, essentially an American-plan hotel but not one liable to insist of American plan except possibly on weekends, serves one of the best inexpensive cubiertos in the whole countryside, with pescado blanco a specialty, and even better pescado blanco a la carta. Its chief rival in this specialized field is the Restaurant El Mirador, with a pleasant view overlooking the water. Incidentally, you may hear much of Chapala as a fishing resort. It isn’t one, for you. The lake does contain catfish, and a species of sunfish that can be taken by hook and line, with patience. The pez blanco, which becomes pescado blanco after it has been caught, is taken in nets, by professionals.

At Chapala town, Highway 35 becomes 94 and bears westward, right, along the lake shore, ann attractive drive. Two or three miles on, an almost exclusively gringo-built and gringo-occupied, brand-new retirement center, Chula Vista, offers the Motel Chula Vista, tel. 69 (Chapala), $12. This, cocktail bar and all, is as familiarly American as the rest of its community. It offers, besides the usual pool, a tennis court, golf privileges at a course next door and a coffeeshop serving hamburgers, pies, ice cream, sandwiches, all the familiar short orders. Many Americans would prefer Chula Vista to the Hotel Nido for these reasons.

Two or three miles beyond Chula Vista, 94 touches the fringes of Ajijic, a four-century old stone-and-adobe fishing village that is just beginning to suffer the onslaughts of Pepsi-Coke. Luck, relative isolation by bad roads until a few years ago and the determination of a fair-sized American colony to preserve its native Mexican ambiente have permitted the village to survive so far, much as San Miguel de Allende and Taxco have survived under the protection of Federal law and Guanajuato because of one man’s dictatorial determination. Ajijic has no motels, but a very attractive hotel on the lake shore, Posada Ajijic, tel. 25, $12. (The Monte Carlo, another good lakeshore stop-off on the road out of Chapala town, has still to open for business at this writing.) The Posada welcomes a drop-in trade for lunch or dinner at the family board, which serves a regular house cubierto. The only place in town serving a la carta meals (good) that are consistently acceptable by gringo standards is the Villa del Lago, no phone yet, write A.P. 81, Ajijic, Jal., $7, a nice small hotel in the middle of town one street west of the little central plaza. Other places on the lake or in the village offer mainly housekeeping accommodations.

Ten or eleven miles beyond Ajijic, 94 runs through Jocotepec, another fishing-village-turned-retirement-colony….

Source: Pages 137-138 of The Best of Mexico by Car: A Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border. (1969)

Related posts:

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Nov 242016
 

Dutch-born photographer Jacques Van Belle, who died in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2012 at the age of 88, took several black and white photographs of Ajijic used for postcards.

The postcard views, presumed to date from the mid-1960s, included at least two of the “Hotel Laguna” (Posada Ajijic) as well as one of the bee hives in Neill James’s residence, Quinta Tzintzuntzan (now part of the Lake Chapala Society complex), and one of Ajijic taken from the north side of the plaza.

van-belle-ajijic-pc

In addition to his photography, Van Belle was a real estate broker in Hawaii. Van Belle and his wife Helen Aro Van-Belle had a son, Jacques, Jr. and were definitely living there by July 1972.

Copyright registrations for 1973 show that Van Belle produced, and copyrighted, a pen and ink drawing entitled “With aloha from Jacque Van Belle’s Little Eurasia” (Little Eurasia was the name of his company in Hawaii], together with a matching envelope, and the “Royal Hawaiian Birthday Calendar”. The calendar had color photos by Van Belle on its six pages (two months to a page), with each page dedicated to a different member of Hawaiian royalty. The calendar also signposted famous births, deaths, and other significant events for Hawaii. Copies of this calendar still occasionally appear for sale online as collectibles.

Source:

  • Honolulu Star-Advertiser Obituaries: 30 March 2012.

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.

Nov 212016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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Nov 172016
 

Richard Smith Robbins (1863-1908) was a Chicago-based artist who painted Lake Chapala in 1898. According to a short piece in The Mexican Herald (12 December 1898): “Richard Robbins, the Chicago artist, who is at present in Guadalajara … has secured a number of sketches of the most picturesque points some of which he proposes to finish and exhibit in the States. One, a sunset on the lake, will be certain to attract attention.”

Given the date, it is tempting to suggest that Robbins possibly visited Chapala in 1898 in order to see for himself the Hotel Arzapalo, inaugurated earlier that year and the work of architect Guillermo de Alba, who had trained at the Chicago School of Architecture.

Richard Smith Robbins was born in Solon, Ohio, on 3 February 1863. In 1890, he applied for a passport to visit Europe for “two or three years”. The application states that his father was a native citizen of the U.S., and that Robbins was an artist, living in Brooklyn, New York, who was 5′ 53/4″ tall, with dark blue eyes, a small nose, and hair turning gray.

In Europe, he studied at the Académie Julian, in Paris, France, with three great French artists of that time: Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, and Henri Lucien Doucet.

On his return from Europe, Robbins lived several years in Chicago, where he was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club.

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

In 1895, he was on the Jury of Selection for Painting for the 13th Annual exhibition of the Palette Club at the Art Institute of Chicago. Six of his own paintings, priced between $50 and $100, were in the main exhibition: The Boat; Evening Star; Pine Lake Willows; Indiana; Blue and Silver; Winter Mist; Morning, Giverny, France.

In 1896, Robbins exhibited at the 13th Annual Exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis, held in May, and later that year was on the “Advisory Committee of Artists” for the Art Institute of Chicago’s Annual Exhibition of Water-Colors, Pastels and miniatures.

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

The following year, an art critic writing in The Chicago Tribune (24 March 1897) about The Third Annual Exhibition of the Arche Club, noted that although not a prize-winner, “Richard S Robbins has shown a delicate appreciation of light and color in “A Pleasing Tale”, an interior showing a young girl reading near a white-curtained window. Several good landscapes by the same artist are shown.”

Later in 1897, The Chicago Tribune (19 September 1897) reports that, “Richard S, Robbins has charge of an outdoor sketching class of pupils of the Art Academy. As long as the weather permits the class will go on expeditions to picturesque points in the vicinity of Chicago three days of each week.”

Among Robbins’s students in Chicago was the extraordinary Chicago landscape artist Guy Martin Chapel (1871-1957). Chapel lost his sight at age 62, and turned his talents to making braille greetings cards, using zinc sheets and a press made from an old clothes wringer. He was still a productive artist well into his 80s.

In 1898, Art Notes, Brush and Pencil noted that Robbins’ work is listed in a collection of about 150 pictures to be sold at auction in April by “a group of Chicago artists”. Robbins work was included in various exhibitions that same year, including the Chicago Art Exhibition; the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska (where Robbins exhibited a painting entitled A January Thaw; and the Louisville Art League.

Richard Smith Robbins died on 22 February 1908.

Sources:

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Nov 132016
 

A significant section of Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, first published in 1975, is set at Lake Chapala, where Young had spent some time in the mid- to late-1960s.

young-al-where-is-angelina-3The plot of Who is Angelina? is relatively simple. Angelina Green, an intelligent, 26-year-old, life-loving woman living in Berkeley, after the hippie phase, goes to Mexico to find herself. In Mexico City, she meets, and has an affair with, a tall, charismatic, enigmatic character named Watusi.

They then house-sit in Ajijic for a while (for friends of Watusi) before Angelina receives news that her father has been attacked in his home, in Detroit, and is hospitalized.

Angelina races north and is forced to reexamine old family ties and friendships. After her father recovers, Angelina returns to California, takes up transcendental meditation and finds a job at an “alternate” school. Unexpectedly, Watusi shows up, but their connection has inevitably and irrevocably changed.

The novel was generally well-received, though Roberta Palm, in a review for Black World (September 1975), writes that “Young is as alienated from his character [Angelina] as she is described to be from herself and her peers.” She thought that Angelina remained “an ambiguous shadow in the novel”, despite Young’s “perfect ear for dialogue” and the fact that his characters spoke “with realistic tone and in genuine cadence.”

Young’s writing shows that he is a keen observer of life in Mexico, with a good ear for Mexican Spanish. Leaving Mexico City, the couple travel to Guadalajara by overnight train and stay in the Hotel Francés for a day or two before taking a bus to Chapala, and then a taxi to Ajijic. As Watusi observes, this is a time when, “Bebop done played out. Beatniks done played out … Bomb shit done played out. Psychedelic shit done played out. Bullshit revolution done played out. Hippies done played out and, look here, I’ll tell you somethin–nigger shit done just about played out too!”

In passing, the novel offers some insights into what Ajijic and Chapala were like in the 1960s. As Watusi and Angelina arrive in town, “All the Mexican passengers who’d ooo’ed an ahhh’d at the sight of water as the bus wound around Lake Chapala a little ways back were now scrambling to line up for the grand central get-off. One Indian woman was carrying a live chicken under one arm.” (81)

Once in Ajijic, Angelina asks Watusi if there are many hippies in the village. “Use to”, comes the reply, “but the Mexican government done just about shut the door for good on that jive. They tolerate the native hippies cause all of em come from upper-class families that’s got a lotta power and pull, but long-haired freaks from Gringoland got to straighten up when they step cross that border cause these crazy people down here don’t be playin! It used to be a gang of em layin out round here in Chapala and Ajijic but… the local people got to where they couldnt put up with they shit no longer and teamed up with the law and run they doped-up boodies clean out the state.” (86-87)

The room in which the couple share a joint and make love has a “quaint hip poster left over from the Mexico City Olympics” which “rounded out the homey effect”. (91) This is a reference to one of the series of posters designed for the Olympics Committee by Austrian artist Georg Rauch, whose studio was in Jocotepec.

Among the many footloose characters that Angelina and Watusi encounter at Lake Chapala are two stereotypical foreigners: an elderly English couple writing travel articles for British and American magazines, and an American girl in her late 20s, a former New York junkie who married a Mexican traveling salesman and is writing her memoirs. Another character they meet is a middle-aged freelance photographer who works in Guadalajara but lives in Chapala. (97)

While Who is Angelina? may not be Al Young’s greatest ever novel, it is still an interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

Book details: Who is Angelina? First edition: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. First paperback edition: University of California Press, 1996.

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

  • Charles Embree: A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900)
  • D. H. Lawrence: The Plumed Serpent (1926)
  • Arthur Davison Ficke: “Mrs. Morton of Mexico” (1939)
  • Ramón Rubín: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza (1951)
  • Ross MacDonald: The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
  • Eileen Bassing: Where’s Annie? (1963)
  • Barbara Compton: “To The Isthmus” (1964)
  • Willard Marsh: Week with No Friday (1965)

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.

Nov 102016
 

The famous American writer, composer and translator Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was a frequent visitor to Mexico in the late 1930s and early 1940s prior to moving to live in Morocco in 1947. Bowles spent a few relaxing weeks in Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, in the first half of 1942.

Paul Bowles was born in New York on 30 December 1910 and displayed early talent for music and writing. After attending the University of Virginia, Bowles made several trips to Paris in the 1930s, and also visited French North Africa in 1931. During the late 1930s and most of the 1940s, Bowles was based in New York where he composed music (primarily for stage productions) while making frequent trips south to explore the sights and sounds of Mexico and elsewhere, trips which had a profound influence on his musical compositions.

Bowles’ interest in visiting Lake Chapala dates back to 1934, when he was considering accompanying Bruce Morrissette in traveling around Mexico. In March 1934, Bowles wrote to Morrissette that, “A while ago I made a list of what seemed to be the best places there: Campeche, Necaxa, Toluca, the baja part of Baja California, Mazatlán, Pátzcuaro, perhaps Lago Chapala, Morelia, which looks to be lovely, Tepatzlán, Cholula, Amecameca and Xochimilco …”

In 1937, Bowles met Jane Auer at a party. When they met again, accidentally, a few days later, Jane suggested to Bowles that he “take her to Mexico with him.” Auer and Bowles married 21 February 1938, and had a successful, if unconventional, marriage that lasted until her death in 1973.

[Jane Sydney Auer (1917-1973) was an American writer and playwright. Her novel, Two Serious Ladies, first published in 1943, may have been the catalyst that resulted in Bowles’ own novel-writing career. Jane Bowles suffered a stroke in 1957, from which she never fully recovered. She died in 1973 at a clinic in Spain.]

bowles-paul-autobiographyThey took a Greyhound bus to reach Mexico on their first trip together in 1937, with Bowles hiding 15,000 anti-Trotsky stickers in his luggage. In Mexico, he met the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and attended a concert at which Revueltas conducted his Homage to García Lorca. Bowles took a second trip to Mexico later in 1937 in order to live for a short time in Tehuantepec (on the recommendation of Miguel Covarrubias, whom he had met in New York), where he worked on an opera about a slave rebellion.

On 23 February 1938, two days after their marriage, Bowles and his wife attended the first performance of Bowles’ Mediodia (Mexican dances for 11 players) in New York. The couple then left on a honeymoon, “with 27 suitcases, two wardrobe trunks, a typewriter and a record player”, aboard a Japanese freighter, the SS Kanu Maru, on a trip that took them to Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Barbados and Paris, France. They returned to New York in September.

They visited Mexico again in 1939 and stayed in Acapulco and Taxco (where Jane first met Helvetia Perkins, who would later became her lover). On this trip, they met a still unknown Tennessee Williams, and a young man named Ned Rorem, then only a teenager, who went on to become a composer and diarist, and win a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

bowles-paul-on-musicSome idea of the exalted literary and musical circles in which Bowles and his wife moved can be gained from a list of their roommates in the rented house they occupied in 1941. The house, at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York, was rented by the novelist and editor George Davis, who occupied the ground floor. Paul and Jane Bowles lived on the second floor, together with the theater set designer Oliver Smith. Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and W. H. Auden shared the third floor, while Golo Mann lived in the attic. It was in this house that Bowles composed Pastorela, a Mexican Indian ballet commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein for American Ballet Caravan.

Early in 1942, when Bowles and his wife revisited Mexico, he was taken ill with jaundice and spent several weeks in a “British hospital in Mexico City” before going to Cuernavaca for convalescence. In Cuernavaca, Jane let him read and critique her manuscript of Two Serious Ladies, though it was greatly rewritten and edited prior to its publication the following year. Jane, accompanied by Helvetia Perkins, left for New York at the end of March, while Bowles remained in Mexico a few more weeks, staying at Casa Heuer, the small posada run by siblings Paul (Pablo) and Liesel Heuer in Ajijic.

In a letter to Virgil Thomson, Bowles wrote that, “As soon as she had gone I came to Chapala. Reasons for my not going with her were several.” During his stay in Ajijic, Bowles visited the house in Chapala where D.H. Lawrence had written the first draft of The Plumed Serpent in 1923; Bowles found it “depressing” and poorly ventilated, with the ambiance of a dead-end street. According to his autobiography, Bowles discovered a whole new world of “delightful” literature during his time in Ajijic. He started with García Lorca, then completed two novels by Bioy Cásares and the memoirs of Mario Alberti before turning his attention to Mexico’s early colonial times, and then to short stories by Jorge Luis Borges.

bowles-paul-and-janeBowles’ compositional creativity was in full flow during these years. In 1944, for example he composed the incidental music for the Broadway opening of Tennessee WilliamsThe Glass Menagerie. (The success of this work enabled Williams to spend the summer of 1945 at Lake Chapala).

In 1947, Bowles moved to Tangier, Morocco. His wife, Jane, followed a year later. Except for a series of winters spent in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and occasional trips elsewhere, Bowles lived the remaining 52 years of his life in Morocco. His fame was undiminished and a succession of famous writers and musicians made the pilgrimage to Morocco to visit him, including the most famous names of the Beat generation: Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg.

When Gregory Stephenson interviewed him in Morocco in 1979, he found that Bowles had mixed memories of Mexico:

“When I mention the Tarahumara, Bowles says that he once translated some Tarahumara myths for a surrealist magazine. He rummages in his bedroom and returns with a copy of View for May 1945, a special “Tropical Americana” number which he edited. There are black and white photographs, collages and translations, including sections of the Popul Vuh and the Chilam Balam, all done by Bowles. A myth titled “John Very Bad” has been rendered by him into English from the Tarahumara. There are also bizarre and gruesome news stories selected by Bowles from the Mexican press.

Bowles speaks of the extreme poverty and squalor he encountered in parts of Mexico when he visited that country in the 1930s. Mexico was a land of gloom and chaos, he says, but also poetry, mystery and great natural beauty. Places such as Acapulco and Tehuantepec were very pleasant in those days and living there was very cheap. Yet he was often very ill in Mexico, afflicted with diverse ailments.”

The astonishingly prolific writing and composing career of Paul Bowles was drawn to a close by his death in Morocco on 18 November 1999.

Bowles’ extensive musical output included Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet (1931); Horse Eats Hat, play (1936); Who Fights This Battle, play (1936); Doctor Faustus, play (1937); Yankee Clipper, ballet (1937); Music for a Farce (1938); Too Much Johnson, play (1938); Huapango – Cafe Sin Nombre – Huapango-El Sol, Latin American folk (1938); Twelfth Night, play (1940); Love Like Wildfire, play (1941); Pastorela, ballet (1941); South Pacific, play (1943); Sonata for Flute and Piano and Two Mexican Dances (1943); ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, play (1943);  The Glass Menagerie, play (1944); Jacobowsky and the Colonel, play (1944); Sentimental Colloquy, ballet (1944); Cyrano de Bergerac, play (1946); Concerto for Two Pianos (1947); Concerto for Two Pianos, Winds and Percussion (1948); Oedipus, play (1966); Black Star at the Point of Darkness (1992) and Salome, play (1993).

Novels by Bowles include The Sheltering Sky (1949); Let It Come Down (1952); The Spider’s House (1955); and Up Above the World (1966). His collections of short stories include A Little Stone (1950); The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950); A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard (1962); Things Gone & Things Still Here (1977); Collected Stories, 1939–1976 (1979); and A Thousand Days for Mokhtar (1989). Poetry works by Bowles include Two Poems (1933); Scenes (1968); The Thicket of Spring (1972); Next to Nothing: Collected Poems, 1926–1977 (1981); and No Eye Looked Out from Any Crevice (1997).

Sources:

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

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