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:
Sep 142017
 

Journalist-adventurer Don Hogan was one of the more extraordinary characters who lived in Ajijic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While there is no evidence he wrote anything of significance while living in the village, several people certainly later wrote about him, and not always in a very complimentary manner. Stories about Hogan’s life are commonplace but hard facts to substantiate many of them have proved frustratingly difficult to find. Inevitably, therefore, this brief profile of him begs as many questions as it answers.

Hogan arrived in Ajijic with his wife and two children in the late 1960s and lived in the village for about four or five years. In May 1971, he was one of the organizers, along with Beth Avary and Peter Huf, of a large group art show, Fiesta de Arte, held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic). None of the more than 30 artists [1] who took part in this show or the 500 or so viewers could have guessed that barely three months later Hogan’s life would end in tragedy.

Donald William Hogan was born in New York City to William Anthony and Marie (Joule) Hogan of Greenwich, Connecticut, on 20 September 1928.

Hogan married Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1932-1985) in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 November 1953. “Betsy” Hogan had graduated from Vassar College that year and was an active feminist. As a writer, producer, and broadcaster, she specialized in themes related to the status of women and women’s equity and later founded Betsy Hogan Associates which arranged equal employment opportunity seminars for public and private sector organizations.

Don and Betsy Hogan had at least one child, a daughter, born in about 1956. They later divorced and Don Hogan married Kulla Kuusk. Kuusk, apparently born in Estonia, graduated from Vassar in 1955 and (much later in life) was the vice provost of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Don and Kulla Hogan had two children: a daughter born in about 1960 and a son in about 1962.

Early in his career, Don Hogan worked as a journalist for The Boston Post before taking a job as assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. While at The Boston Post, Hogan, ever an adventurer, had uncovered a story about a living unknown soldier trapped in a hospital with amnesia, which became the basis for an NBC “Big Story” dramatization in 1956.

At the New York Herald Tribune, Hogan reported on a variety of significant events, including the arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1958 of someone “identified by the cognoscenti as a racketeer of international importance”: Meyer Lansky. [Coincidentally, the granddaughter of American artist John K. Peterson, who was living in Ajijic at the same time as Hogan and undoubtedly knew him quite well, later married Meyer Lansky’s grandson.]

Not long afterwards, Hogan and fellow journalist Peter Braestrup investigated New York’s clothing industry and were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for their “series exposing racketeering in the New York garment industry.”

Peter Huf recalls how Hogan told him that in pursuit of another story – about a society murder – he had arranged for a fireman’s ladder to be positioned so he could reach the cell window of a woman being held in police custody to get an exclusive interview with her about the crime.

Hogan’s family had links to sugar estates in pre-Castro Cuba, and his brother, Tony Hogan, was a sugar broker with offices at 120 Wall Street, New York.

In the later stages of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), Don Hogan therefore found himself ideally placed to write about events on the island and used his press credentials to gain access to Fidel Castro and the rebels fighting Batista. In 1957, Hogan spent 12 days living with the rebels, much of the time with Castro’s troops, and wrote about his experiences for the U.S. and foreign press. New York lawyer and investment banker Richard Coulson visited Hogan in Havana and later wrote that Hogan, “had covered Fidel’s campaign from the guerrilla skirmishes in the Sierra Maestre to victory in the streets of Havana.”

Once Castro’s government was in power in January 1959, Hogan accepted a job as the public relations manager for Cuba’s Sugar Stabilization Institute, working alongside its head, Alberto Fernández. A year later, Hogan’s position was abolished and he returned to New York.

During his time in Havana, Hogan had made contacts with an FBI informant and had also developed CIA connections. Joan Mellen, the author of “The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution” (2016) writes that Hogan was a CIA informant from mid-1960. The CIA were especially interested in the activities of Alberto Fernández, and encouraged Hogan to make regular reports on his activities, while later recognizing, according to one source quoted by Mellen, that Hogan was “somewhat unscrupulous and hazardous from a security standpoint.”

A year later, back in New York, Hogan was regarded by the CIA’s Bernard Reichhardt as an “undesirable hanger-on”. Mellen says that Reichhardt received a full biography of Hogan in May 1961 and “knew that Hogan had been “thrice married”, had been suspended from the New York Herald Tribune at the time it faced a strike and had taken on a job to write a history of Castro’s 26th of July Movement.”

By all accounts, Hogan completed his book, which, according to Peter Huf was anti-Castro, but was unable to find a willing publisher

After his Cuban adventures, Hogan does not appear to have remained in New York for very long. According to the various versions of his life he shared with acquaintances in Ajijic, he spent several years in South America, dividing his time between the sophisticated social elite in Buenos Aires (a city he loved) and trying to make a fortune from a lumber mill he owned in Peru (or possibly, recalls Peter Huf, a sawmill in Bolivia).

Hogan was still convinced his book about Cuba would one day make him rich but in the meantime appears to have lived on a modest monthly remittance ($700 according to Jerry Murray) from his father in the U.S. and borrowed additional funds to maintain his accustomed lifestyle, while hoping his luck would change. Kulla (usually known in Ajijic as “Kulale”, and thought to be Hawaiian) took a job with Helen Kirtland in her loom business to help make ends meet.

In his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic at this time, Henry Edwards describes “John Hamilton” (Hogan) as arriving in the village with his wife and their two youngsters having lost all his money in a logging venture in Peru expropriated by the government. Hamilton, over six feet tall with a “boxer’s frame”, had thick blonde hair and blue eyes. He “habitually wore a hunting jacket (tan with shell pockets), big leather lace-up boots, tan jungle pants and a leather belt.” He also regularly carried a gun and hunted in the mountains.

As family finances collapsed, Hogan became more desperate and decided to risk drug dealing. He borrowed money to buy a substantial stash of marijuana but had several guns pulled on him once he handed over his cash and never did get any weed. A few weeks later, after he had borrowed another $20,000, Hogan tried again, this time taking a weapon with him, prepared to use it to enforce the deal. This attempt went horribly wrong. No sooner did he reach for his gun than the drug dealers shot him dead. It was 21 August 1971.

This is the version of his death as recalled by several people who were in Ajijic at the time, who say he died “across the lake”, with some mentioning the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Jerry Murray, for example, has written that Hogan died in the state of Guerrero while trying to make a deal for “a strain of mota renowned as Acapulco gold.”

The true story may be less prosaic. According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter, Hogan had died “in his pick-up car near Tequila… Police said that he had apparently suffered a bullet wound in one arm but that was not the cause of death.”

Even after his death, controversy dogged Hogan. He was buried in the southern section of Ajijic cemetery. The grave was marked by a “five-feet-tall crucifix made of black marble” (Murray), paid for by his father. Unfortunately, the following year, a hotel developer’s bulldozer plowed a road through the area, desecrating many graves, including those of novelist Willard Marsh and journalist and adventurer Donald Hogan.

Note:

[1] The list of exhibitors who took part in the Fiesta de Art in 1971 reads like a Who’s Who of artists in Ajijic at the time. It includes 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; 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.

Acknowledgement

  • My sincere thanks to Peter Huf and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing their memories of Donald Hogan with me.

Sources:

  • Richard Coulson. 2014. A Corkscrew Life. iUniverse.
  • Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 18 October 1956, p 57.
  • Henry F. Edwards. 2008. Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Heinz-D Fischer and Erika J. Fischer, 2003. Complete Historical Handbook of the Pulitzer Prize System 1917-2000. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 22 May 1971; 28 August 1971
  • Harvard University Library. Papers of Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris Hogan, 1971-1976: A Finding Aid.
  • Don Hogan. 1958. “Watchdogs Call Lansky for Quiz on Apalachin”, New York Herald Tribune, 13 February 1958, p 17.
  • Don Hogan. 1957. “The Rebellion in Cuba”, Kingston Gleaner (Jamaica), 16 December 1957, p 12.
  • Don Hogan and Peter Braestrup. 1959. “Dress Union Shares in Blame for Rackets. New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1958, p 1.
  • Joan Mellen. 2016. The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Jerry Murray. 2002. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust“. -e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002.
  • Jerry Murray. 2008. “Slodge“. e*I*40 (Vol. 7 No. 5), October 2008.
  • Stephen Woodbridge. “Woodbridge Family Tree.”

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 112017
 

Photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh lived in Mexico for several years, starting with a three month stay in Ajijic in 1976.

Beatty and Walsh had originally planned to spend six months traveling through Mexico before heading further south to Peru, but they ended up staying in Mexico for nine years!

Toni Beatty was born in Los Angeles [***date?], raised in Spain, France and Austria, and educated at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

She and her husband arrived in Ajijic in early July 1976 to visit a family friend, the Hollywood actor Roland Varno, who had retired there. Varno introduced them to American photographer Sylvia Salmi (1909-1977) who had been living in the village for more than a decade and she rented them her “very charming casita. The casita had wonderful Talavera tile and the ceilings were lined with petates… the petates gave the house a wonderful grassy smell.”

By this time, Salmi was no longer processing her own photos, but she encouraged Beatty to use both her darkroom and all the chemicals and papers she needed. Salmi was the personal inspiration for Beatty to take black and white portrait photography seriously and acquire the technical skills to complement her natural eye for a good composition.

Beatty and her husband became firm friends with Katie Goodridge Ingram (whose family had first moved to Ajijic in the 1940s) and with writer and photographer Agustín Velarde and his wife, Betsy Oien. They also became close friends with Adolfo Riestra, arguably the most famous of all the Mexican painters and sculptors to have lived in Ajijic for any prolonged period of time. Riestra, born in Tepic, Nayarit, had his studio at Calle Constitución #32, formerly the home and studio of Peter Paul Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, from about 1971 to 1976.

It was during one of their regular visits to chat and gossip with Riestra in his studio that Beatty experienced something of an artistic revelation:

“At the time, Adolfo was working on these very organic, textural abstracts and there were several large paintings leaning up against the walls of the house. I recall the moment when I suddenly understood the joys of abstract art on a very visceral level, standing in the hallway and looking at one of those paintings. It changed the way I looked at things in that what now got my attention was the sensuous delight of running my eyes over the interplay of light on the textured walls of Mexico. I still shoot architectural abstracts all these years later and love that contemplative work.”

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio in Ajijic.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio in Ajijic.

A few weeks later, Adolfo and his partner Wendy left Ajijic to move closer to Mexico City, to Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos. Tepoztlán was already becoming known nationally as a center for artists of all kinds. When Beatty and her husband decided, in October 1976, to move on from Ajijic with the intention of driving to Oaxaca, they called in at Tepoztlán to visit their friends, fell in love with the place, and stayed.

Astonishingly, Beatty later discovered that she had been in Tepoztlán as an infant when her father was making a film about an agricultural experiment in Amecameca. Perhaps that is why the scenically-spectacular village felt like home when she returned in 1976? Beatty loved her time in Tepoztlán :

“That time was the beginning for me of a visual awakening like I’d never experienced before and also introduced me to a new pace that was living in Mexico. I had lived in Europe from 1955 to 1961, so was experienced with different cultures, but Mexico was very different and each day brought new discoveries.”

In 1981, Beatty and Walsh moved to Mexico City where Beatty worked on commercial illustrations for textbooks, annual reports, business brochures, theater work, and architecture.

Beatty recalls that there were some significant differences in developing your own photographs in Mexico, compared to what was then happening in the U.S.:

“Latin American photography at the time was very grainy and contrasty, which went perfectly with the often gritty subject matter. I could only buy grade 3 or 4 Agfa paper made in Brazil, very heavy duty stuff. Tri X was the film of choice and that was before I learned Ansel Adams zone system and began to appreciate and achieve good mid-tone separation. In later years, I brought in Ilford papers and films to use, and also had the great good luck to take a course with San Francisco based photographer Jack Welpott, who taught me the zone system.”

After Mexico, Beatty continued to expand her photography while working professionally as a librarian. (She was director of the Rio Rancho Public Libraries in New Mexico from 1986 to 2008).

Early in her photography career, she focused on environmental portraiture and nude studies. As she experimented with techniques, her work became less representational and far more abstract.

In recent years, Beatty has embraced digital photographic technology and many of her strongest images are digitally-enhanced photographs, often printed onto metal to emphasize their vivid colors and luminescence.

Her exceptional talent and skills are nowhere more clearly evident than in the series of albums related to funerary art that Beatty has produced in recent years.

  • More of Toni Beatty’s powerful images can be seen online at her personal webpage.

Beatty’s interest in funerary art was first awakened in 1977 when she and her husband were living in Tepoztlán, near Mexico City, and were invited to attend a picnic as part of the annual Day of the Dead celebrations in nearby Amecameca. In 2004, she became fascinated by depictions of angels in all their varied forms, a passion that gave her the excuse to travel to Austria, the Czech Republic, the U.K. and elsewhere.

Her work related to graveyards explores the meaning behind the different ways in which people react to and cope with death in Europe and the Americas, including the use of offerings to help in the afterlife. Her work is thought-provoking but not provocative. It bridges life and death. Interviewed for a local newspaper a few years ago, she stressed that, “The graveyard is where the two realities meet — the living and the veil of life”.

Beatty’s work has been included in numerous group exhibits, including one with four other local photographers at the Loma Colorado Main Library in Rio Rancho in March 2009. Her photographs are in two New Mexico galleries: the Gathering of Artists gallery in Bernalillo and El Arte de Placitas in Placitas.

Larry Walsh, her husband, is an author, poet and blogger, who was co-producer, while working at KNME-TV in Albuquerque, of “Surviving Columbus”, an account of the Pueblo Indians’ 450-year struggle to preserve their culture, land, and religion despite European contact.

Toni Beatty and Larry Walsh currently reside in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Toni Beatty for sharing via email her memories of her time in Mexico and for her permission to reproduce these examples of her work.

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.

 

Sep 072017
 

Adolfo Riestra, a superb sculptor and painter, lived and worked in Ajijic from about 1971 to 1976. For most of this time, he occupied the former home (Constitución #32) of German artist Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt. Riestra and his partner, Wendy Jones, had 2 young children at the time.

Riestra was born in Tepic, Nayarit in 1944. He died in Mexico City on 10 October 1989, just one day after a major exhibition of his work opened at Galeria OMR.

Riestra studied painting in Guadalajara under “Dwite” (Dwight?) Albisson from 1955 to 1956, and then took a law degree at the Universidad de Guanajuato (1962-66) where he also attended the Taller de Jesús Gallardo.

Adolfo Riestra. Bañistas.

Adolfo Riestra. Bañistas.

In November 1969 he held a solo show of 26 paintings at the Teatro Experimental de Jalisco in Guadalajara. The following year (1970) he worked with John Hamilton in the Potrero Hill Graphics Workshop in San Francisco, California.

In 1972, Riestra exhibited in a show with Adolfo Luis Cuevas. Riestra’s work was strongly influenced by political events and the 1968 Mexico City student massacre. Riestra’s paintings include two entitled “Retrato de Alan Bowers.”

Adolfo Riestra. 1972. Portrait of Alan Bowers.

Adolfo Riestra. 1972. Portrait of Alan Bowers. (Bonhams and Butterflields auction, 2006).

In April 1976 he held a one-person show at the Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer.

Photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh were good friends with Riestra in Ajijic and Beatty credits Riestra with opening her eyes to the possibilities offered by abstract art.

After about six years in Ajijic, Riestra and his family moved to the village of Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos in 1976. Riestra later lived in Mexico City and France.

After Ajijic, his work increasingly focused on modern interpretations of ancient sculptures. These works clearly show the strong influences of archaeological and folk art from several parts of Mexico including Metepec, Colima and his native Nayarit.

Adolfo Riestra. Self-portrait, 1973.

Adolfo Riestra. Self-portrait, 1973.

Riestra’s work was widely featured in group shows during his lifetime, including national exhibitions of painting and sculpture organized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (1977, 1979, 1980) and international exhibitions in Cuba, Belgium and the United States. Group shows after his death featuring his works include the Museo Regional de Nayarit in Tepic (1999); the Art Museum in Tucson, Arizona (2000); the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (2000, 2001); in Hannover, Germany (2000); Museo Universitario de Ciencia y Arte in Mexico City (2002); MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) (2003); and in the five artist show “Mexicanidad: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, Adolfo Riestra” held in Kunsthalle Würth, in Baden Württemberg, Germany, in 2012.

Adolfo Riestra. La cantante negra.

Adolfo Riestra. La cantante negra.

Solo shows of Riestra’s paintings, drawings and sculpture include several at Galería OMR (owned by Riestra’s brother) in Mexico City (1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 2004, 2009); as well as at the Galería Sloan Racotta (1982) and Galería Florencia Riestra (1989), both in Mexico City; Wenger Gallery in Los Angeles, California (1991); MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) (1998); Universidad de Guanajuato (2000); Universidad de las Américas in Puebla (2003); and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Emilia Ortiz, in Tepic, Nayarit (2011).

Riestra died in Mexico City on 10 October 1989 at the tragically young age of 45. Writing for a retrospective exhibition of Riesta’s works many years later, Dr. Edward Sullivan described Riestra’s untimely passing as robbing Mexico and indeed the world of a complex, multifaceted artist.

Works by Adolfo Riestra can be found in the collections of several major museums, including Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The state of Nayarit’s annual prize for contemporary sculpture is named in his honor.

Family connections

Adolfo Riestra’s daughter, Melissa Riestra, is a social activist in Mexico City. Adolfo’s first cousin, Nicolás Echeverria, is an award-winning musician and documentary film maker who has specialized in documenting indigenous peoples. His works include three films about the Huichol and Cora, as well as Cabeza de Vaca (1991), Vivir mata (2001), and Eco de la montaña (2014).

This is an updated version of a post originally published on 22 March 2012.

Acknowledgment

I am grateful to Alan Bowers, Toni Beatty, Paul Huf and the late Tom Faloon for sharing their personal memories of Adolfo Riestra with me.

Sources:

  • Cien45. 2017. 100 años. 45 artistas en Nayarit. Tepic: Fundación Álica de Nayarit, A.C.
  • Germaine Gómez Haro. 2008. “Adolfo Riestra: arcaísmo y modernidad“, La Jornada semanal, 13 de abril de 2008, núm. 684.
  • El Informador. Exposición pictórica. El Informador (Guadalajara) 8 November 1969, p1.
  • Edward J. Sullivan. 1998. Adolfo Riestra, Dibujante, pintor y escultor. Catalogue of 1998 exhibition at MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey). 156 pp.
  • Tomás Pérez González. 2014. “Las Aristas del Gesto” de Adolfo Riestra [many photos of Riestra’s work]
 Posted by at 9:17 am
Sep 042017
 

Near the start of his writing career, an impecunious Frank Herbert, the genius behind the epic science fiction novel Dune, lived in the town of Chapala for several months. It was September 1953 and Herbert was 32 years old and struggling to make a living as a writer.

Herbert would not have been in Chapala at all had he not met fantasy writer Jack Vance for the first time a year earlier. The two men were about the same age, but Vance was already a successful writer known for his science fiction “pulps” and was making decent money writing scripts for Captain Video, a popular TV show. Herbert was a reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, had not yet found much success as a writer, and was struggling to pay the family bills.

As the two men got to know each other they talked of joint writing projects and of the two families traveling together to Mexico in search of new experiences and stimulation for their work.

This joint trip to Mexico, endearingly told by Herbert’s elder son, Brian, in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, was the start of one of the greatest literary bromances related to Lake Chapala. Brian was only six years old at the time so much of what he writes is presumably based on notes written by his father and recollections shared by his mother, Beverly.

Vance and his wife Norma bought a new blue Jeep station wagon for the trip and the families shared driving, expenses and domestic tasks. After stopping briefly at a roadside monument marking the Tropic of Cancer, Norma accidentally left her purse on the car as they drove away. By the time they made a quick U-turn to recover the purse, which contained Jack’s favorite fountain pen (Vance was accustomed to writing long-hand whereas Herbert used a typewriter), it had been run over by another vehicle and the pen squashed.

A few days later they reached Chapala and rented a large house in the village. Brian Herbert describes the lake and surrounding farmland before writing that,

“A fishing and artists’ colony, Chapala was much favored by tourists, especially Americans. The town, while small, boasted one of the world’s great beer gardens – a large tavern by the lake that had outdoor seating under a shady, striped canvas roof. On hot days, my parents and the Vances could be found there, cooling themselves in the shade. Sunsets on the lake were spectacular.”

The “two-story adobe and white stucco house, which had been converted to a duplex” rental property was on the hillside a block from the lake. Strict silence was enforced during the mid-morning to mid-afternoon “writing hours”, so that both men could concentrate on developing plots and characters.

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance. (Jorgensen. 2014)

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance. (from Jorgensen, 2014)

While the writers did cooperate on some “joint ventures” while in Chapala, each of them also wrote short stories, hoping to sell some to magazines north of the border and thereby extend their stay in Mexico. Herbert was also working on a psychological thriller set in a submarine, serialized in Astounding magazine as “Under Pressure”, and later turned into the book The Dragon in the Sea (1956).

Herbert also completed a humorous short piece entitled “Life with Animalitos”, submitted to Reader’s Digest but never published.

After two months in Chapala, with funds running low, the Vances and Herberts decided to move to the larger, lower-cost city of Ciudad Guzmán in southern Jalisco. Shortly after arriving in the city, Herbert was invited to the home of a retired Mexican Army general. When sweet cookies were brought round, Herbert hungrily consumed two before discovering they were laced “with the most expensive North African hashish in the world” and experiencing hallucinations.

This was the initial experience that gave Herbert the idea for melange, the fictional spice found only on the planet Dune that was “the most important substance in the universe”. According to Herbert’s son, “Paul Atreides’s experiences with that drug [in the novel] mirror the author’s personal experiences.”

After about a month in Ciudad Guzmán, and almost out of funds, the group returned to the U.S. and then shared the Vances’ farmhouse in Kenwood, California, for several weeks.

Herbert eventually found his financial footing, in part by writing speeches for Republican senator Guy Cordon. In 1959 he began work on Dune (published as a hardback in 1965) which opened all kinds of literary doors and enabled him to achieve the success he had previously only dreamed about.

Dune, one of the most popular science fiction novels ever written, won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and was the first major ecological science fiction novel. The movie version of Dune in 1984, screenplay by David Lynch, was shot entirely in Mexico: at Churubusco Studios, Mexico City;  Samalayuca sand dunes in Chihuahua; and at Puerto Peñasco  and the nearby El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar in Sonora.

Many elements from Dune – including warring noble houses, “aura” spice and “moisture farming” – are evident in the later Star Wars movies. Herbert was the first to recognize this and formed, with a number of like-minded colleagues a lighthearted club called the “We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society”.

Herbert wrote more than twenty other novels, including The Green Brain (1966), The Santaroga Barrier (1968), Hellstrom’s Hive (1973), The Dosadi Experiment(1977) and The White Plague (1982).

Science fiction fans everywhere should be eternally grateful that Frank Herbert accompanied his friend Jack Vance to Chapala, and that he then ate those two cookies at the General’s house in Ciudad Guzmán.

Frank Patrick Herbert, Jr., was born on 8 October 1920 in Tacoma, Washington, and died on 11 February 1986 in Madison, Wisconsin.

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.

 

Aug 312017
 

Frederick Starr (1858-1933), born in Auburn, New York, was a distinguished American anthropologist who visited Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896.

Starr, whose primary scientific background was in geology, graduated from Lafayette College in 1882 and was appointed as a biology professor at Coe College.

In 1889, as his academic interests shifted towards ethnology and anthropology, he accepted a post at the American Museum of Natural History. A few years later he was asked to organize anthropological teaching at the University of Chicago. Starr was Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago from 1892 until 1923, a decade before his death in Tokyo, Japan, on August 14, 1933.

A passionate anthropologist, with a particular enthusiasm for fieldwork, his research on several continents led to such diverse works as The Truth about the Congo (1907), In Indian Mexico, A narrative of Travel and Labor (1908) and Japanese proverbs and pictures (1910).

Frederick Starr in 1909.

Frederick Starr in 1909.

In Indian Mexico has extensive descriptions of Lake Pátzcuaro, Uruapan, Zamora and many smaller villages. A contemporary reviewer described this book as: “the work of a keen observer, whose description of the picturesque customs of the Mexican Indians has a deeper significance than a mere collection of interesting details. Combining the qualities of the trained ethnologist with a rare sense of the picturesque, he has given us an altogether admirable book.” American novelist Charles Embree (who wrote a novel set at Lake Chapala) wrote an appendix to In Indian Mexico.

Prior to In Indian Mexico, it had been assumed that traditional methods of making paper from tree bark were extinct in Mexico. Starr, however, discovered that the ancient craft was still practiced (as it is even today) in the Otomi village of San Pablito in the state of Hidalgo.

Prior to Starr’s three-month visit to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896, he was quoted in The Salt Lake Herald as saying:

“I will first go to Guadalajara to study a submerged city in Lake Chapala, and “Mountain Idiots’ inhabiting the mountains nearby. This is a race of dwarfs which has been studied very little and my intention is to try to determine whether these people are racially small or have become so by disease. I will have the assistance of Archbishop Gillow, an authority on the dwarf races. In the interior of Guatemala the pigmies are said to live in caves and holes in the ground and speak languages not known to white men.”

This quote throws up various interesting sidebars. Rumors of a submerged city in Lake Chapala had been circulating for a while in the U.S., presumably mainly on the evidence of the large amount of pottery fragments recovered from the lake bed whenever the water level fell. Archbishop Gillow is a particularly interesting figure in Mexican history, whose story is told in chapter 22 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique.

"Dog" figurine (10 cm in length). Drawing by M.K. Seralian.

“Dog” figurine (10 cm in length) from Lake Chapala. (Drawing by M.K. Seralian)

Following his short visit to Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896. Starr’s research paper, The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico described (with illustrations by M. K. Seralian) ollitas and other pottery items found near Jocotepec at the western end of the lake. He collected and studied 261 individual specimens and considered several alternative possibilities before concluding that they are likely to be “offerings made
to the lake itself or some spirit resident there-in?”

Starr recognized that changes in lake level might be common and more than sufficient to explain why the pieces were now found at some distance from the current shoreline:

“So far as their presence in the lake is concerned it is possible that the lake’s level may have risen, covering an original place of deposit on the dry land. The spot is almost within sight of the active volcano of Colima, and changes of level, through volcanic or other igneous agency, in the waters of the lake are not improbable. The old schoolmaster at Chapala insists that the town of Chapala has long been slowly sinking, and that half of it has already been engulfed by the lake. He also claims that the god formerly worshipped at Chapala was a little god, a child god, and that the little vessels were offerings to him.”

In December 1895, mid-way through his visit, Starr attended a performance of the Pastores (Shepherds), a Passion Play in Chapala . Starr included a detailed description of this event in an article published the following year in The Journal of American Folklore. Starr considered it to be “probably entirely foreign”, compared to Tastoanes and Conquista festivities which combined Indian and imported elements. According to Starr:

“The play is fairly recent at Chapala. Only a few years ago a young fellow from the village saw it at some other town; he learned it by heart and trained his band of actors. This illustrates the way in which dramas travel – even in Mexico – from town to town.”

Fifty years later, another anthropologist, George Barker, was to witness (and later write about) another unique aspect of Chapala’s Christmas-time celebrations.

This profile is based on an extract from chapter of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Sources / References:

  • The Salt Lake Herald: 16 November 1895.
  • Starr Frederick. 1896. “Celebrations in Mexico.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 9 #34 (Jul-Sep 1896), pp 161-169.
  • Starr, Frederick. 1897. “The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico.” Department of Anthropology Bulletin II. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Starr, Frederick. 1908. In Indian Mexico: A Narrative of Travel and Labor. Front Cover · Frederick Starr. Forbes & Company.

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 282017
 

Sylvia Ester Salmi (1909-1977) was a prominent and highly respected American photographer. During the 1930s and 1940s, she took portraits of numerous great artists and intellectuals of the time, including Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and, in Mexico, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Leon Trotsky. In 1964, following the death of her second husband, Salmi moved to Ajijic and lived there until her own death in 1977.

Iconic photo of Frida Kahlo by Sylvia Salmi.

Iconic photo of Frida Kahlo by Sylvia Salmi.

Salmi was born on 5 November 1909 in Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts. She graduated from Washington Irving High School in New York in 1928 and shortly afterwards (3 April 1930) married Victor M. Kroetch. The couple made their home in New York City and had a daughter, Cassandra Eloise Salmi, in 1933. The marriage broke down, and Salmi and Kroetch were divorced the following year. Salmi then threw herself into her true passion – photography – and quickly gained a reputation as a fine portraitist.

Salmi’s second husband was Herbert Solow (1903-1964), a prominent New York journalist, editor and intellectual.

After his death in 1964, Salmi decided to live full-time in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. She became known as a notoriously parsimonious woman and one of the village’s real characters. Judy Eager, who with husband Morley ran the (Old) Posada Ajijic for many years, recalls that Salmi held weekly Sunday cocktail parties at which she was rumored to serve a punch comprised of “mixed leftover drinks from a prior party” and served hors d’oeuvres made of food scraps she had taken home from the Posada’s restaurant. Salmi’s parties were, by all accounts, pretty wild affairs, with Eager quoted as saying that, “She [Salmi] was known to take her clothes off after many drinks and loved to wear a cape which allowed her to flash whoever she wishes.”

Sylvia Salmi. Beverly Johnson and friends. 1974.

Sylvia Salmi. Beverly Johnson and friends (1974).

Salmi is remembered with affection by many Ajijic old-timers. Jim Dunlap, who frequently visited his mother and stepfather – Virginia and Arthur Ganung – in the village during the 1970s, remembers Salmi as a regular at their parties who would “sometimes come in her bathrobe.”

While Salmi did not pursue photography as diligently in Ajijic as she had done earlier in her life, she did, nevertheless, take part in several local exhibitions, and also helped with the Children’s Art Program (CAP) organized by the Lake Chapala Society. For example, in 1973, she arranged for the Mexican-American hospital in Guadalajara to purchase art from the CAP to decorate a patient’s room.

Beverly Johnson. Portrait of Sylvia Salmi, ca 1974. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly Johnson. Portrait of Sylvia Salmi, ca 1974. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

In November 1973 Salmi held an solo show of portrait photos at “La Galeria del Lago de Chapala” on the plaza in Ajijic. Salmi’s photos were also included in a large group show at La Galeria del Lago the following August, alongside works by many other local artists, including Luz Luna, Jerry Carr, Fernando Garcia, Robert Neathery, Jose Antonio Santibañez, Allen Foster, Vee Greno, Armando Galvez, Jean Caragonne, Arthur Ganung, Virigina Ganung, Gloria Marthai, Dionicio Morales, Antonio Lopez Vega, Priscilla Frazer, Eleanor Smart, Rowene Kirkpatrick, and the “children of Ajijic”.

Ad for Sylvia Salmi exhibit, 1976

Advert for Sylvia Salmi exhibit, 1976

The OM Gallery in Guadalajara (at the intersection of Lopez Cotilla and Chapultepec) featured some outstanding shows during its brief existence from 1975 to about 1978. Salmi was accorded the honor of a solo show there which opened on 25 October 1975 and ran for a month, and among those present at the opening was Guadalajara sculptor Alejandro Colunga.

In February 1976, Salmi’s photos were in a joint show at the newly-formed Wes Penn Gallery (16 de Septiembre #9, Ajijic) with fourteen oil paintings by Allen Wadsworth. (That gallery was owned by Jan Dunlap, and named for an ex-husband who had died. Following that joint show, the gallery’s next exhibit was a solo show of paintings by Synnove Pettersen.)

A second exhibit of Salmi’s work at the OM gallery in Guadalajara, a “review of portraits and pictures”, was mounted in June 1976.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, who ran a gallery in Ajijic for many years, remembers organizing works by Salmi for two shows, including one for Bellas Artes de Jalisco which was taken to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate the opening of a new museum. The fact that the venue had no windows, doors or security appears to have been a minor problem to the indomitable organizer: “We kept the art safe, got night guards, and somehow the show went up on the night assigned”.

Sylvia Salmi passed away in January 1977 at the age of 67.

Salmi’s home in Ajijic has many connections to other artists. In 1976, Salmi rented her small casita to photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh for several months. Later, the property became the home of Diane Murray (who had worked with Salmi and was also a photographer) and her daughter, Amanda, who is now pursuing her own career as an artist.

Not long before she died, Salmi had given all Herbert Solow’s personal papers to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Sources:

  • Alexandra Bateman and Nancy Bollenbach (compilers). 2011. Ajijic: 500 years of adventurers (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR)
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 November 1973; 21 February 1976
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram.”Lake Chapala Riviera”, in Mexico City News, 20 June 1976, p 13

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 242017
 

Bet Lamoureux was a writer and artist with close links to Los Angeles and to Desert Hot Springs in California. A short news item in the Palm Springs-based Desert Sun newspaper in 1951 says that Lamoureux was flying to Mexico City and Guadalajara in order to spend several months in Ajijic, where “Once settled in her Mexican paradise, she will write the book for which she has been gathering bright and humorous material for the past four years.”

Audrey Bernice (sometimes “Bettina”, usually known as “Bet”) Martin (her maiden name) was born in Riverside, California on 14 May 1909. She married Howard Lamoureux; the couple’s only son, Albert Howard Lamoureux, was born in 1939.

In the early 1940s, Howard Lamoureux was among the first to purchase lots when the new town of Desert Hot Springs was founded. According to a later newspaper report, Lamoureux “had enough faith In Desert Hot Springs to purchase the first two lots.” By 1949, Bet and Howard Lamoureux were hosts at Miracle Isle in Desert Hot Springs, but tragedy struck in April of that year when Howard became critically ill and passed away shortly afterwards.

In November of 1949, Bet is mentioned as being the owner of the Village Store but the family’s run of bad luck continued and she decided to sell the store the following year in order to spend more time with her son Albert who had fallen ill. During Bet’s ownership of the Village Store, it occasionally held art exhibits, including one in November 1949 of paintings by Marie Ropp, a “Grande Dame of Art” in California and the West.

As a writer, Bet Lamoureux had contributed a “very clever and refreshing column” about Desert Hot Springs to The Palm Springs News “for over two years”, coining the phrase “the friendly village on the sunny slope” as the most appropriate epithet for her home town.

In February 1951, now working on a book, Bet flew from California to Mexico intending to spend several months in Ajijic. Things did not work out quite as planned. While she had originally planned to return to the U.S. in June, she remained in Mexico a little longer and married John Addington in Mexico City on 11 August 1951. Addington was an electrician in Desert Hot Springs. The couple apparently met at the Writing Center of the Mexico City College.

Over the next few years, Bet Addington as she was now known, featured prominently in numerous arts and crafts fairs in Desert hot Springs, turning her hand to flower arrangements and opening, with her husband, a restaurant-gallery named Addington’s. The gallery held weekly shows during the winter season and the restaurant gained an enviable reputation for fine food. Details are sketchy but it appears that Bet Addington visited Mexico again in the summer of 1953.

In 1956, Bet Addington was instrumental in founding an artists’ group known as The Sand Witches. According to a local newspaper, the group was founded after Addington remarked that, “We are famous for our water and our wind. Let’s get in and feature our desert sand!” The sand paintings by members of the group were exhibited in clubs and art galleries all over California, sometimes as fund raisers for local charities. The other members of the group, active until at least 1960, included Dorothy Chester, Kay Farnum, Enola Hulbert, Betty Lukomski, Sally Sweet, Karen Thompson, Ginna Walker, Lillian Woods, Helen Young and Rae Taylor.

Grave marker for Bet Lamoureux. Photo courtesy of CRob (findagrave.com)

Grave marker for Bet Lamoureux. Photo courtesy of CRob (findagrave.com)

Bet Addington died in Orange County, California, on 29 March 1989. Sadly, we may never know whether or not this pioneering writer and artist of Desert Hot Springs ever completed the book she was working on when she visited Ajijic in 1951.

Sources:

  • Desert Sentinel (Desert Hot Springs, California): 10 February 1949, p4; 1 April 1949; 8 April 1949; 17 November 1949, p6; December 8, 1949, p6; 30 November 1950, p5; 14 December 1950, p9; 22 February 1951, p2; 23 August 1951, p1; 26 February 1953: p4; 16 April 1953, p1; 28 May 1953: p2; 13 August 1953, p5; 21 October 1954, p6; 20 November 1958, p 15.
  • Desert Sun: Number 30, 23 February 1951 p 8; Number 78, 19 May 1955; Number 234, 4 May 1967.
  • Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach), 17 April 1960, p 87.
  • Mexico City Collegian, 14 Jan 1954 – vol7 #6.

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 212017
 

Orley Allen Pendergraft was born in Arizona on 12 May 1918. He worked as a school teacher for many years and was ordained as a minister prior to deciding to dedicate himself to art.

Even before he completed college, Pendergraft had made several visits to Mexico, usually to Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco) on the Sea of Cortés. He painted in Mexico for the first time in 1940 and spent part of 1951 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. After 1959 he became a regular visitor to the town of Álamos in Sonora, establishing his permanent home there in the mid-1970s and living there for more than thirty years until his death on 22 November 2005.

His first one-person show was apparently in “the Guadalajara area”, but it is unclear whether this refers to a show in Tlaquepaque, for example, or to a location on Lake Chapala.

Pendergraft, “a native Arizonan of Cherokee and Anglo descent”, was born on his father’s dairy farm near Mesa and displayed artistic talent from a young age, winning an Arizona Republic art contest at the age of twelve. He also picked up street Spanish from the farm’s Mexican workers. He graduated from Phoenix Union High School and won an art scholarship to Carnegie Institute, but chose to remain in Arizona and, in 1938, entered the Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University) at Flagstaff.

His mother insisted that he postpone his intended career as an art teacher and instead study for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, so Pendergraft next attended a seminary in Arkansas from which he graduated with a Doctor of Divinity degree. He was ordained as an Episcopal minister on 21 December 1943 by Bishop Block of California in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

By 1949, Pendergraft had been assigned to, and was teaching in, the diocese of New Jersey. In March of that year, he married a French nurse, Eleanor Madeleine Langpoop. This was also the year when he joined the Graphic Sketch Club in Philadelphia and decided to renew his art education by enrolling in the Fleisher Memorial Art School in Philadelphia. At some point in his career, Pendergraft also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia) and at the Art Students League in New York, where he had worked as a free-lance commercial artist for Young and Rubicam Advertising. Pendergraft had also spent a year in Europe, mainly in Paris and Spain.

By 1951, Pendergraft and his wife were living in Mount Hermon, California. The Santa Cruz Sentinel for 28 September 1951 reports that one of Pendergraft’s landscape paintings – Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Mexico – has taken the “coveted silver bowl” at the county fair for gaining first place in the watercolors landscape class, and that one of his oil paintings – a still life – had also won a first place award.

Allen Pendergraft. Ajijic. 1951

Allen Pendergraft. “La Esquina del Carrisal – Ajijic”. 1951. Credit: Figureworks.

This Ajijic painting (above) dates from that time and is currently listed for sale at Figureworks, a gallery in Brooklyn, New York.

From 1953-63, Pendergraft exhibited exclusively with the Artists Guild of America, Inc., both in Carmel and in their traveling exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Pendergraft was also invited to participate in an exhibit entitled “Sixty Living Americans”, held in New York and Miami. Pendergraft’s agent was art patron Joanne Goldwater. [By coincidence, Joanna Goldman used to reside at least part-time in Ajijic, and her father – former U.S. senator Barry Goldwater – exhibited photos of American southwest landscapes at the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA) in January 1998.]

Sadly, in 1959, Eleanor contracted an antibiotic-resistant form of tuberculosis and died shortly afterwards. The church granted Pendergraft early retirement and a pension, giving him the freedom to focus on his art. For many years, he divided his time between studios in Sedona, Arizona, and Álamos, Sonora.

According to the post “Allen Pendergraft” in the Álamos Interviews series published on the Álamos History Association website,

“Immediately after his wife’s death, though, and in a state of depression, he went to Mexico intent on drinking himself to death. Fortunately for him, the drinking only made his sick! He was out of money at a hotel in Southern Mexico, so the owner gave him a job tending the cash register at the hotel bar. While at work he met the playwright Tennessee Williams, who was looking for a location for a play he intended to write. Allen took Williams to Puerto Vallarta, then a small, sleepy fishing village, and Williams proceeded to write “The Night of the Iguana,” putting Allen in the play as the alcoholic priest. Allen was not pleased with the characterization!”

This wonderful story may have some truth to it. Williams completed the play, based on his 1948 short story of the same name, in 1961, and the famous movie version, starring Richard Burton, was released in 1964, so the time frame is about right. However, the Wikipedia entry about the play claims that, “The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon was partly based on Williams’ cousin and close friend, the Reverend Sidney Lanier, the iconoclastic Rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church, New York.” It is of course perfectly possible that the character of the drunken defrocked priest is based on both men. [Note that Williams himself had spent the summer of 1945 in Chapala working on a play provisionally called The Poker Night,.]

Pendergraft’s religious training and art education came together in the mid-1950s. From 1956 to 1967, he worked, in association with his cousin Peter Carroll, on the liturgical arts commission in California, designing stained glass windows, murals and church furnishings in glass, mosaics and wrought iron for churches in many communities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Orinda, Sacramento, Portola Valley, Santa Clara, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Pasadena, Laguna Beach and San Diego.

In addition, Pendergraft was commissioned to paint the portraits of various senior ecclesiastical figures, including Bishop Banyard (whose portrait hangs in the cathedral in Trenton); Bishop Torres (whose portrait is in the cathedral of Ciudad Obregón, Mexico) and Bishop Block (San Francisco).

According to a newspaper piece in 1972, by which time he was becoming very well known as a painter of western landscapes, Pendergraft’s work was being exhibited “in La Posada and the Wesley Gallery in Sedona, Scottsdale’s Blue Flute and Saddleback Inn in Phoenix”.

Pendergraft was a member of the Artists Guild of America and his work won numerous awards in regional shows and fairs in California, as well as a first place in the New Jersey Summer Art Festival (Cape May). His oils and watercolors can be found in museums in New Jersey, Arizona and Massachusetts, and in private collections throughout the U.S.

Pendergraft wrote a family history entitled Pendergrass of Virginia and the Carolinas: 1669-1919, published in Sedona in 1977, and contributed the pen and ink drawings used to illustrate Ida Luisa Franklin’s Ghosts of Alamos, first published in 1973.

Pendergraft sold his Sedona house and moved full-time to Álamos in the mid-1970s. Most of Pendergraft’s paintings in Álamos were small enough to fit in a suitcase, and inexpensive enough ($25) to appeal to the tourists he met on the plaza. He did also paint some large canvasses, one of which is in the town’s Museo Costumbrista de Sonora.

When his failing eyesight brought an end to his painting career in the mid-1990s, Pendergraft was cared for by a local couple. After the husband’s death, and concerned about the financial future of his widow, Pendergraft married her not long before his own death in order that she could benefit from his social security, pensions and estate.

Sources:

  • Álamos History Association. Álamos Interviews: Allen Pendergraft. 21 June 2011.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona). 1939. “Valley Students Placed On Roll” in Arizona Republic, 10 January 1939, p 15; 14 June 1972, p 89.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. Santa Cruz Art League Statewide Art Exhibition Index, First through Twenty-seventh, 1928-1957. (Publications in California Art, No. 12).
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, (California), 28 September 1951, p 5; 7 October 1951.

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.

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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 142017
 

Clark Hulings, an acclaimed American realist painter, visited Mexico on numerous occasions. The precise timing of his visit or visits to Lake Chapala remains unclear, but in 1975 he completed the painting Chapala Fruit Vendor (below). He also painted several other works related to Lake Chapala and Ajijic. The dates of his visits are uncertain because, as his daughter Elizabeth explains:

“he didn’t always produce a painting of a particular place right after a visit. First of all, he concocted compositions in his studio with source material from different locations all the time. Second, he would revisit things, sometimes years later. AND, he most likely went through the Chapala area a few different times.”

Clark Hulings Chapala Fruit Vendor

Clark Hulings. Chapala Fruit Vendor. 1975. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

Hulings was born in Florida on 20 November 1922. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was still an infant and Clark and his sister, Susan, spent the next three years living with their maternal grandparents in New Jersey. In 1925, after their father moved to Valencia, Spain, and remarried, the youngsters joined him and his new wife, the daughter of the local British Consul.

The family relocated to the U.S. in 1928 and settled in Westfield, New Jersey. His father encouraged a love of paintings and Hulings took classes from the age of twelve with Sigismund Ivanowski, a Ukrainian-born portraitist and landscape painter. He also studied at the Art Students League of New York with George Grant Bridgman, the celebrated Canadian-American teacher of figure drawing.

Persuaded by his father to study for a “real” career as opposed to one in art, Hulings attended Haverford College, Pennsylvania, from where he graduated in 1944 with a degree in physics. His recurring ill health (lung issues stemming from infancy) prevented him from taking up a job offer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Instead, he began to make his living by painting portraits (especially of children) and landscapes. He had his first major one-person show (of landscapes) in 1945 at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Pancho-Ajijic donkey.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Pancho – Ajijic donkey. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

The following year, Hulings moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he had a solo show at the Louisiana Art Commission. This show established his credentials as a portrait painter. It was at about this time that Hulings also became seriously interested in design and illustration work and so he returned to the Art Students League in New York from 1948-1951 to take classes with Frank Reilly.

During the early 1950s Hulings became immersed in designing paperback book covers (examples can be seen here, here and here) and drawing magazine illustrations but never lost his love of travel and landscape painting.He also designed album covers including that for Percy Faith’s Viva: The Music of Mexico:

Clark Hulings. Design of Album cover.

Hulings spent four months in Europe in 1954 and returned in 1958 for a trip that lasted three years and took him as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as southern Egypt. In the course of this trip, he studied figure painting in Florence and abstract design in Düsseldorf.

On his return to New York in 1961, Hulings made his living from illustrations while continuing to work on his more serious easel paintings. His career took off when his work was accepted by the Grand Central Art Galleries, which accorded him one-person shows in 1965 and 1967.

Three typical cover illustrations by Clark Hulings

Three typical cover designs by Clark Hulings

Hulings married Mary Belfi in 1966 and their daughter, Elizabeth, was born two years later. In 1972, Hulings took his doctor’s advice and moved away from the pollution of New York and back to Santa Fe.

Hulings had made his first visit to Mexico in 1964, traversing the entire length of the country, with a stop in San Miguel de Allende to visit his artist friend Mort Künstler, and ending up in Guatemala. When he was living in Santa Fe, visiting Mexico was much simpler. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, Hulings made several more visits to Mexico, lasting up to a month at a time, eagerly searching out new places to paint. His daughter, Elizabeth, believes that these visits to Mexico provided her father with the confirmation and validation he sought as a self-styled “backdoor painter”, one who loved to depict the everyday scene, the down-to-earth view of the back door, rather than the more carefully-constructed “curb appeal” view of the front door.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Hot Springs (Mexican Women Washing).

Clark Hulings. Undated. Hot Springs (Mexican Women Washing). (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

Hulings’ realist art has won numerous competitive awards, including The Council of American Artists’ award at the Hudson Valley Art Association, a gold medal from the Allied Artists of America and the first ever Prix de West award at the National Academy of Western Art (NAWA) in Oklahoma City in 1973. He subsequently won several more gold and silver medals at NAWA shows, part of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Following a solo show in 1976 at the Cowboy Hall of Fame (associated with NAWA) in Oklahoma City, Hulings was presented with the Hall’s Trustees’ Gold Medal for his “distinguished contribution to American art”.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Sunlight on Lake Chapala. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Fund)

Clark Hulings. Undated. Sunlight on Lake Chapala. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

In 1978, Huling’s work was the subject of a comprehensive retrospective in Midland, Texas. His work was also shown at the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana (1981). Hulings held several one person shows, including Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bartfield Galleries in New York (2007); Morris & Whiteside Galleries in Hilton Head, South Carolina (2007); and Forbes Galleries, New York (2011).

Hulings’ keen eye for details, especially of people as they engaged in their daily activities, led him to produce powerful, realistic paintings of street and market scenes. In the course of his career, Hulings traveled numerous times to Mexico. Many of his Mexican paintings include a donkey or two, even though he was once told by a New York gallery owner that there was no market for paintings of Mexico or for paintings of donkeys!

Huling’s reputation is such that his works have been acquired by dozens of major museums and collectors and now command high prices when resold.

Clark Hulings died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 2 February 2011. The artist’s daughter, Elizabeth Hulings Diamond, maintains this highly informative website: Clark Hulings and his art. In his honor, the Clark Hulings Fund was established to help professional visual artists with business support, training, and targeted financial assistance.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Hulings Diamond, Director of the Clark Hulings Fund, for her help in writing this profile, and for permission to reproduce several of her father’s works.

Sources:

  • Clark Hulings. 2006. A Gallery of Paintings by Clark Hulings (2nd edition).  White Burro Pub, 2006.
  • Obituary of Clark Hulings.

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 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.

Aug 072017
 

At the request of a family member, we have removed our original profile of Marcella Crump (ca 1926-2017) and replaced it with this summary version. Crump was a photographer who was  active in Ajijic in the late 1950s and early 1960s and whose story is similar in some ways to that of Beverly Johnson who arrived slightly later.

Crump’s husband – Capt. David O. Crump, a B-47 pilot with the Air Force Strategic Air Command – was killed in January 1955 when two B-47s collided during refueling, leaving her to bring up their six young children. Marcella later took the family to Mexico and settled in Ajijic.

Crump initially rented Zara’s “beach house”, a small cottage positioned on the lakefront a couple of blocks west of the pier. This cottage had some very interesting renters over the years, including Lona Isoard, Mimi Fariña (the younger sister of singer Joan Baez), and Iona Kupiec, drama teacher and world traveler.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Painting of former Mallie Crump residence.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Painting of former Mallie Crump residence.

Later, the Crump family moved to a home (see painting above by Gustel Foust) near the church.

This photograph is of Raymond’s younger sister Hilda and other children, with the obligatory piñata, enjoying a posada, sponsored by the church, at the Escuela Marcos Castellanos (a Primary School for girls) in Ajijic.

Malle Crump. Hilda Crump striking piñata, ca 1960. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Hilda Crump striking piñata, ca 1960. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Raymond Crump remembers many of the people who were living in Ajijic during his childhood and adolescence, including Curtis Foust (son of Gustel Foust), Alice Bateman (eldest daughter of Laura and Jack Bateman), John Bruce, Eugene Quesada, and Alice Sendis and her two children: Gustavo and Milagro.

Ajijic has quite a long tradition of holding an annual globo (balloon) competition in which contestants vie to make a balloon that flies the furthest. Watching the event in about 1962 (below) were (left to right): Laura Bateman, Neill James, unknown, Alicia Sendis and Hilda Crump.

Malle Crump. Watching globos. From l to r: Laura Bateman, Neill James, unknown, Alice Sendis, Hilda Crump. ca 1962 {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Watching globos. From l to r: Laura Bateman, Neill James, unknown, Alicia Sendis, Hilda Crump. ca 1962 {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

The balloon made by the Bateman family dwarfed all others in this particular year, with the author-artist Jack Bateman proving his abilities in terms of design and construction.

Malle Crump. Bateman family's balloon dwarfs all others. ca 1962. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Bateman family’s balloon dwarfs all others. ca 1962. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

As one example of the many photographs that Marcella Crump took of the village of Ajijic, here is one of what was then Serna’s store, near the plaza, in the early 1960s.

Malle Crump. Serna's store, Ajijic. early 1960s. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Serna’s store, Ajijic. early 1960s. (reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Raymond Crump for graciously sharing information about his mother and the family’s life in Mexico.

Want to learn more? (Sources):

  • Lake Chapala Society Oral History Project: Marcella Crump.
  • The B-47 Stratojet Association. Webpage [29 July 2017].
  • Lake Charles American Press (Lake Charles, Louisiana). 1955. “Four Crewmen Still Missing after 2 Stratojets Collide”. Lake Charles American Press, 6 January 1955, p 1. [and succeeding days]

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 032017
 

American novelist Barbara Bickmore was born in Freeport, New York, on 10 June 1927 and died in Anacortes, Washington, on 23 February 2015 at the age of 87. She lived and wrote in Ajijic from 1990 to 1997 and often described these seven years in later interviews as the happiest years of her life.

Bickmore grew up in a middle class family in the New York City suburb of Freeport on Long Island. She wrote her first short story at seven and saw her first Broadway theater play a few years later, beginning a life-long love affair with both literature and theater. At thirteen years of age, while attending Freeport High School, she won second place for oratory for her presentation of “Selections from President Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address”.

She completed an undergraduate degree in drama and then married a fellow teacher, Frank Clapp. Her husband taught in Morris, the town where they lived, in upstate New York and Barbara began to teach English and French at the high school in the nearby town of Laurens. Five years later, in about 1955, Barbara gave up this job in order to stay home and start a family. Three children – Debra, Lisa and Mark – arrived in quick succession. By then the family was living in Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester, on the edge of Lake Ontario in upstate New York.

Barbara returned to teaching in about 1961, gaining a position teaching American literature and creative writing at Webster High School, a position she held for twelve years. During that time she also directed a musical “even though I have no musical ability whatsoever and can’t even carry a tune”.

After 16 years of marriage, Barbara and Frank Clapp divorced. Not long afterwards, in 1968, Barbara, who continued to live in Rochester, took a sabbatical from Thomas High School in Webster to do her masters degree at the State University of New York at Brockport. She turned down an offer to teach at that university because it paid less than her high school position.

Seeking a change of pace, Bickmore moved with her children to Eugene in Oregon in 1973 to teach writing at the University of Oregon and try her hand at farming. Whatever romantic notions the family had entertained about their life on the land quickly evaporated: “Here we went totally broke after our well dried up and coyotes ate the sheep and our cows proved sterile and even our rabbits didn’t breed.”

Three years later, forced to give up the farm, Bickmore opened a shop for knitting and crochet supplies. The family scraped by for several years but that venture also ended badly, mired in the economic downturn and banking crisis that led to many downtown stores in Eugene being boarded up.

Making things even more difficult for the family, Bickmore’s short-term teaching job at the University of Oregon was not renewed because she lacked a doctorate degree.

In 1985, Bickmore’s elder daughter, Debra, was working in China, teaching English to Chinese doctors at a university in Xian. Debra invited her mother to join her on a six-week trip, during which they got to know a South African couple who were both doctors. Bickmore was enthralled and, even before the trip ended, had started writing a novel about life in South Africa. (She would later write a novel set in China while living in Ajijic, Mexico!)

Back in Eugene, she completed her first novel and submitted it to an agent recommended by one of her former creative writing teachers. The agent was successful; the novel – East of the Sun – was published in 1988, and Bickmore never looked back. Within a few years, her financial future was secure and royalty payments were sufficient to allow her to live the rest of her life however and wherever she chose.

Shortly after the publication of her second novel – The Moon Below (1990), set partly in Australia – Bickmore visited Ajijic where she planned to stay for a couple of months to start writing her third novel: Distant Star (1993), set in China.

She liked the village so much she moved there in September 1990 and it became her home for the next seven years. These seven years were easily the most productive period of Bickmore’s writing career. During her time in Ajijijc, she completed Distant Star and four additional books: The Back of Beyond (1994), set in Australia; Homecoming (1995), set in the U.S. and reissued in 2012 as Oberon; Deep in the Heart (1996), set in Houston, Texas; and Beyond the Promise (1997), set in Oregon. Despite writing so many books while living in Ajijic, Bickmore never set any of her books in Mexico.Bickmore also wrote a sequel to East of the Sun, entitled West of the Moon (2003) and a book set in the U.K.: Stairway to the Stars (2007).

Interestingly, Bickmore found far more success with European publishers than with U.S. publishers. Her nine novels were translated into 16 languages and sold in 23 countries. Note that the titles used for translations often differed significantly from the original English language titles. Bickmore lamented the fact that U.S. publishers claimed many of her books were too long and lacked sufficient violence and action. Even so, at least two of her books made the New York Times bestseller lists.

In her later years events conspired to prevent Bickmore from completing her tenth novel. She lost her only son in a traffic accident in 2006, when a truck driver ran a red light, and, later that same year, was sidelined for months after breaking her arm.

Bickmore’s novels are light reading, aimed at a predominantly female audience. Their main characters are invariably women whose socially unconventional behavior enables them to overcome challenging situations while proving their humanity.

After she had become a successful novelist, Bickmore liked to tell interviewers that they were not interviewing her but Cinderella because from the time she had started to write she had lived a fairy tale existence. Ajijic’s very own Cinderella!

Sources:

  • Barbara Bickmore. Website.
  • Barbara Bickmore. 1992. “They Changed My Life”. Ojo del Lago (Chapala), July 1992.
  • The Nassau Daily Review-Star (Nassau County [Freeport], New York), 21 Feb 1941
  • Eugene Register-Guard. 2015. Barbara Bickmore Obituary. Eugene Register-Guard, 28 February 2015.

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

Jul 312017
 

Watercolorist, etcher and illustrator Elbridge Gerry Peirce Jr., more usually known simply as Gerry Peirce, was born in Jamestown, New York on 3 June 1900 and died in Tucson, Arizona, on 16 March 1969.

Peirce visited Ajijic in the mid-1940s, and may have been there more than once since he is known to have made several trips to Mexico. His visit to Ajijic, believed to be in 1945, was recorded by American author Neill James who had settled in the village a year or two previously: “Gary Pierce [sic], director of an art school in New Mexico, visited our village and executed many delicate water colors and engravings.” (Modern Mexico, October 1945). Despite the misspelling, and the fact that the art school that he directed was actually in Arizona, there is absolutely no doubt that James was writing about Gerry Peirce. Sadly, the whereabouts of his paintings and engravings of Ajijic remain a mystery.

Peirce graduated from the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) in 1925, and also studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City. He married his childhood sweetheart, Priscilla, and the couple moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, where Peirce began to execute etchings and engravings.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

After Canada, Peirce and his wife lived and worked in New Orleans. His time in New Orleans is particularly noteworthy because he was one of the co-organizers and charter members of the New Orleans Art League in December 1929. The other organizers were Harry Armstrong Nolan (1891-1929), Gideon Townsend Stanton (1885-1964), William Weeks Hall (1895-1958) and Henry Costello. By coincidence, Gideon Townsend Stanton also had close family links to Chapala: his maternal grandparents had a holiday home there for several years at the very end of the nineteenth century.

This early dry point, The Cat, is one of several dry points gifted by Peirce to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1934:

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Peirce and his wife lived in various places, including Florida, Cuba, Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where Peirce established a commercial art studio, producing cards for Cartier and Tiffany & Co. Later, the Peirces moved to Colorado and began to spend winters in Arizona, eventually making their home in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-1930s. Peirce opened an atelier (“The Print Room”) in Tucson in 1934 and continued to produce wonderful dry point engravings. He also turned his hand to books.

Writing as “Percival Stutters”, Peirce wrote and illustrated at least two children’s books: How Percival Caught the Tiger (1936) and How Percival Caught the Python (1937), both published by Holiday House. Peirce also drew the black and white illustrations for Plants of Sun and Sand: The Desert Growth of Arizona, which had short texts by Stanford Stevens and was published by The Print Room, Tucson, in 1939. The original edition of that particular book is highly distinctive since it had a plywood cover.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

At about this time, a sketching trip with Stevens turned out to have a momentous impact on Peirce’s subsequent art career. As Peirce later recalled:

One day I was looking at a scene Stan was doing and wondered why he had picked out that particular spot. Why paint that I asked? His reply, “Because it has such a beautiful color,” jolted me right out of everything I’d been doing for the past twelve years. I realized that I was no longer seeing a landscape with its colors, but in terms of the black and white of etchings. I saw that even my etchings were becoming flat no longer suggesting the color of things.”

Though he never stopped producing his exquisite engravings, after Peirce picked up a brush and watercolors, he never looked back. He soon gained recognition as one of the country’s leading watercolorists. He was also a fine teacher and his studio-classroom attracted students from all across the country. In 1947, the Tucson Watercolor Guild was organized to provide a permanent studio and classroom space for Peirce to continue his work. His teaching career was curtailed by a heart attach in 1967.

In later life, Peirce wrote two non-fiction works: Creative You (The Print Room, 1954) and Painting the southwest landscape in watercolor (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1961).

Peirce’s timeless portrayals of the Arizona desert and his tireless efforts to help others see the beauty he saw helped shape Tucson into the artistic center of Arizona.

From Arizona, Peirce made several sorties into Mexico. The wonderful collection of prints, published by The Print Room in 1969 as The drawings of Mexico, included images of San Miguel de Allende; Marfil and La Valenciana (both in Guanajuato); and of Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán). By this time, Peirce was no longer completing watercolors en plein air but was making quick pencil sketches or rapid watercolor impressions in the field to serve as memory aids for his final paintings done back in the studio.

A contemporary reviewer described the collection as “a portfolio of reproductions of pencil drawings made by Gerry Peirce in Mexico, a country he visits frequently and understands. This understanding and his affection for the country and its people are reflected in every sensitive line and shading of these outstanding drawings.”

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Peirce was a frequent exhibitor wherever he lived and a member of the Society of American Etchers, the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the California Print Makers. Note that the oft-repeated claim in contemporary newspaper accounts that Peirce had been awarded an honorary doctorate in art by “St. Andrews University College in London” can not be substantiated since there is no record of any institution of that name, though it is possible that Peirce was granted an honorary degree by St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Peirce’s work is in numerous museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard’s Fogg Museum; the Boston Museum of Fine Art; the Library of Congress; Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the J.P. Speed Memorial Museum (now Speed Art Museum) in Louisville, Kentucky; Denver Art Museum; Arizona Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art; the Mobile Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; University of Arizona Art Museum; and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

In 1980, more than a decade after Peirce’s death, a retrospective exhibition of his watercolors and etchings was held at the Kay Bonfoey Studio and Gallery in Tucson. Bonfoey, one of his former students, had purchased the adobe-and-redwood building that had formerly been Peirce’s studio and classroom space after his death to run her own gallery, and to continue the legacy of the Tucson Watercolor Guild. Interviewed at the time, Bonfoey said that Peirce was:

… a unique human being. He wasn’t just a teacher of art, he was a philosopher, a thinker. No two classes were ever the same, the explorations were always different, always … well, awesome. He constantly looked into the relationship between nature and art. Nature was the base for everything he saw in his paintings, in other people’s work, in life around him.”

A fitting tribute to one of America’s great twentieth-century watercolorists.

Sources:

  • Arizona Highways Magazine. 1945. “Gerry Peirce”. Volume 21, 1945.
  • Art Life magazine. “Biography of Gerry Peirce”. Art Life magazine.
  • Arnold Elliott. 1951. Tucson Festival of the Arts, Exhibition Catalogue, March 25-April 8, 1951.
  • Judith H. Bonner. 2011. “New Orleans Art League.” Article dated 23 May 2011 in Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities).
  • Peter H. Falk (ed). 1985. Who was who in American art, 1564-1975.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • John Peck. 1980. “Late artist Peirce comes home.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), 11 May 1980, p 75.
  • Peggy and Harold Samuels. 1985. Encyclopedia of Artists of The American West. Castle Books.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona). 15 October 1960, p 12; 1 September 1965, p 15; 13 August 1966, p 29; 17 March 1969, p 22 (obituary).
  • Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania), 11 December 1934, p 5; 11 March 1939, p 2; 1 August 1939, p 8; 16 March 1949, p 4.

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

Jul 272017
 

Dr. George Carpenter Barker (1912-1958) was an anthropologist, author, editor and translator.

What makes Barker a worthy inclusion in our series of mini-biographies of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala is his editing and translation of a performance of a nativity play or pastorela in the village churchyard that he saw on Christmas morning 1948.

Barker was visiting Chapala in the company of Hugh S. Lowther, Professor Emeritus of Classical Languages at Occidental College, Los Angeles, and his wife, María López de Lowther, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Emeritus, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The trio of academics witnessed the play which was performed outdoors, with no platform, stage or curtain and lasted about two and a half hours. The cast of about twenty performers, mostly teenage boys and girls, was “surrounded by a crowd of spectators, all but a handful of whom were Mexican people. Some of the men in the audience sat or stood on top of a high wall enclosing the churchyard, and small boys perched on branches of a tree overlooking the performers. Several women stood throughout the performance with infants strapped to their backs. To prevent the audience from pressing in too close upon the cast, the hermit periodically patrolled the circle with his flagelot poised to swat any overbold onlooker.”

The shepherds and shepherdesses “were beautifully dressed in flowing white robes and carried long staves or crooks brilliantly festooned with ribbons, bells, and paper flowers.”

Excluding short choral interludes, “the only break in the performance occurred when the bells in the church towers directly overhead pealed out the call to High Mass. The noise was so deafening that even the chorus could not be heard. To fill the gap, the hermit improvised a clever pantomime, alternately sopping his ears and shaking his fists at the bells, much to the delight of the audience.”

After the performance, Barker was able to obtain “the old copybook containing the long-hand Spanish text… from the play’s ensayador, or rehearser, Aristeo Flores, who also played the part of Lucifer in the production. Flores was a shopkeeper about forty-five years of age who lived in the neighboring village of El Salto. He told Mrs. Lowther and me that he had transcribed the text [in about 1914] when he was a schoolboy in the village of Ocotlán, Jalisco. He said he was aided by his schoolmaster and by old people in the village in writing down the lines of the play.”

Barker’s 167-page translation and analysis was published as The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).

This work was described in a review by Frank Goodwyn in Western Folklore (1954, p 220):

This is an unusually full and well-written version of the nativity play traditionally given on Christmas morning in Spanish-speaking countries…. Barker has made a close translation of the play and presented it in parallel text, thus making it intelligible to the English-speaking reader without losing the flavor of the original tongue. Barker concludes that “this version is more Mexican than Spanish”. “There is also a description of the play’s presentation on Christmas morning, 1948, at Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, from the manuscript which Barker subsequently obtained and reproduced.”

Publicity material accompanying the book’s release described it as, “containing the text of an old Mexican folk drama”… [that] “belongs to class of religious folk dramas introduced into Mexico in the sixteenth century. They were patterned after the Miracle Plays produced in western Europe during the Middle Ages”.

Barker’s account of the nativity play at Chapala is far from the earliest reference to the peculiarities of Christmas festivities in Chapala. For example, celebrated anthropologist Frederick Starr, who visited Chapala several times, described what he termed a “Passion Play”, the Pastores (Shepherds), that he had witnessed in December 1895. Starr considered the performance to be “probably entirely foreign” compared to Tastoanes and Conquista which combined Indian and imported elements. According to Starr, “The play is fairly recent at Chapala. Only a few years ago a young fellow from the village saw it at some other town; he learned it by heart and trained his band of actors. This illustrates the way in which dramas travel – even in Mexico – from town to town.”

In 1947, the year before Barker visited Chapala, Norman Pelham Wright had published Mexican Kaleidoscope, in which he argued that the words of what he called the Chapala Christmas dance were “sheer gibberish”:

“The traditional dances themselves are in most cases hopelessly corrupt. The formal Spanish blank verse which is orated at the Chapala Christmas dance, for instance, is sheer gibberish, which has been passed on verbally from one generation to another, and never entrusted to writing; in the dance, Malinche is confused with the Virgin Mary, Moctezuma with Pontius Pilate, and Hernán Cortés with Christ, in a weird jumble of ideas relating both to the Conquest and to the life of our Lord. There is no reason to suppose that the music has not suffered similarly.”

carpenter-george-c

It is tempting to speculate that perhaps Barker wanted to judge the authenticity of the play in Chapala for himself after reading Wright’s words which surely would have made any anthropologist interested in Mexican traditions curious to learn more.

Barker concluded from his detailed textual analysis that the pastorela he had seen and analyzed incorporated numerous elements from Europe and was among the least corrupt of the thirteen pastorelas previously recorded from Mexico or the southwestern part of the U.S. Even so, it was “largely of Mexican origin”, as evidenced by references in the play to such things as pulque, tacos, baúles de colaciones (Christmas sweetmeats), coyote, tepejuage, birria and panela.

Barker’s parents were California artist and art teacher George Barker (1882-1965) and his wife Olive Carpenter. George Carpenter Barker gained a degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and an MS degree in journalism from Columbia University, before completing his masters and doctorate degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

He received his PhD in 1947 and then worked as a research associate in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona from 1947 to 1948. From 1950, until his death, he was a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at UCLA.

At UCLA, his research focused on Mexican-American youths in the Los Angeles area, though he never lost his interests in folklore and the religious ceremonies of various Southwest Indian tribes, including the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico.

Barker was the author of a number of articles in scholarly journals, and of the short studies entitled Pachuco: An American-Spanish Argot and its Social Functions in Tucson, Arizona (Univ. of Arizona Social Science Bulletin (1950) and Social Functions of Language in a Mexican American Community (Univ. of Arizona Press, 1972).

He was a member of various professional societies in several fields, including the American Anthropological Association and the Asociación Española de Etnología y Folklore (Madrid).

The Papers of George C. Barker now reside in the Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries.

This is an update of a post first published on 27 July 2015.

Sources:

  • George C. Barker. 1953. The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).
  • M. S. Edmonson. 1954. Review of “The Shepherd’s Play of the Prodigal Son: A Folk Drama of Old Mexico”, American Anthropologist, Volume 56, Issue 5, 1954, p 924-5.
  • Frederick Starr. 1896. “Celebrations in Mexico” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 9 #34 (Jul-Sep 1896) pp 161-169.
  • University Bulletin: A Weekly Bulletin for the Staff of the University of California, Volume 2, University of California, 1954.
  • Norman Pelham Wright. 1947. Mexican Kaleidoscope (Heinemann).

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

Jul 242017
 

Architect Jean Taylor Strange moved to Chapala with her husband William Strange in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) and resided there for more than forty years.

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Besides the fact that she worked with her husband on researching his radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Jean Strange has a significant additional claim to fame since she was one of the first women in Canada to graduate with a degree in architecture.

A short profile of Jean Strange, who graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1948, is included in Joan Grierson’s For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. The profile includes some photographs of her work and quotes Jean Strange as saying that, “My architectural training has enriched my life immeasurably. I cannot claim that any of these years had been dull.”

Jean was educated in the U.K. and Switzerland and then enrolled in the architectural course at Brighton Art School and Technical College in 1937. Two years later, part way through her studies there, she visited Canada on what was meant to be a six week trip as a student member of the Overseas Education League. The second world war broke out while she was in Canada, preventing her from returning home. She enrolled at the University of Toronto and was placed in the second year of the program of the class of 1943.

In 1943, she had completed all formal studies but still lacked the one year of experience required to be awarded her degree.

Since the war was still ongoing, she joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, working in operations and base planning. This included a spell as assistant to Captain William Strange in the Directorate of Naval Information.

Discharged from the Naval Service after the war, she worked for the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in Ontario under architect Sam Gitterman, gaining the year’s experience required to complete her B. Arch degree in 1948. The following year she transferred within the CMHC to the publications section under Humphrey Carter.

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Carver, in his memoir, Compassionate Landscape, writes that “I was also very lucky that through this whole period Jean Strange worked for me, with her meticulous sweet patience for the small-scale problems of housing design and the page-by-page layout of the publications that issued from our office. I had first known Jean as an English school-girl and wartime-evacuee who came to the Toronto School of Architecture in 1939. Later, she joined the Navy, married Captain William Strange, historian and broadcaster, and now they live in Mexico.”

Jean Taylor married Captain William Strange in 1950. She continued to work for the CMHC until 1959 when her husband was working in Jamaica, training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. In Jamaica Jean was a volunteer researcher and her husband’s assistant.

In 1962, the Stranges took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas.

Jean Strange assisted her husband with the research and writing of further documentaries about Mexico for the CBC, including a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico, entitled “The Bold Ones” and one about Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota.

Jean Strange continued to live in Chapala after the death of her husband in 1983.

Sources:

  • Humphrey Carver. 1975. Compassionate Landscape. University of Toronto Press.
  • Joan Grierson. 2008. For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. Toronto: Dundurn.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6.
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.

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

Jul 202017
 

Novelist Oakley Hall was a professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, and directed its creative writing program.

Hall and his wife Barbara Edinger Hall, a photographer, lived at Lake Chapala for about six months in 1952, during which time, according to Michael Hargraves in A literary Survey of Lake Chapala, Hall was working on his third novel, Corpus of Joe Bailey, published by Viking in New York the following year. Hall visited Mexico several times over the years and more than one of his novels is set in Mexico.

Oakley Hall. Credit: website of Al Young.

Oakley Hall. Credit: website of Al Young.

Oakley Maxwell Hall was born on 1 July 1920 in La Jolla (near San Diego), and died in Nevada City, California, on 12 May 2008.

After his parents divorced, Hall lived with his mother in Honolulu, Hawaii, but later returned to California to complete his high school education at San Diego’s Hoover High School. Hall then attended the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating from Berkeley in 1943, he served in the Marines during the second world war.

He married Barbara Edinger in 1944. The couple moved to New York so that Hall could study writing at Columbia University but Hall left as soon as he sold his first novel, Murder City, which he claimed to have written in only two weeks. They then spent 18 months in Europe where Hall studied in England, Switzerland, and at the University of Paris, aided by the G.I. Bill. In 1950 he earned a Masters degree in Fine Arts (creative writing) from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Hargraves writes that Hall was at Lake Chapala for six months in 1952 and quotes him as saying that the British novelist Christopher Veiel was also living at Lake Chapala at that time. Little is known about Hall’s (or for that matter Veiel’s) time at Chapala beyond these scant details.

Hall’s distinguished teaching career included a spell at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop before he joined the University of California, Irvine, in 1968. In 1969 he co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a summer program linking published and unpublished writers. Hall and his wife divided their time each year between San Francisco and Squaw Valley.

Hall retired from UC Irvine in 1990. Through his teaching, Hall had a profound influence on California literature. His students included Michael Chabon, Richard Ford and Amy Tan. Amy Tan, in particular, credits Hall with having given her the necessary support to become a well-known writer: “Oakley was the reason that I found my confidence as a writer… the Halls are a remarkable family. They are deep-hearted and stalwart, generous and kind and giving.”

Oakley Hall’s two best-known works are Warlock (1958) and The Downhill Racers (1963). Warlock, a western tale set in the fictional 19th century town of Warlock, was a finalist for the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for a film of the same name, released in 1959. The Downhill Racers was the basis for the movie Downhill Racer (1969) starring Robert Redford.

Hall received numerous awards including lifetime achievement awards from the PEN Center USA and the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

California poet Al Young (who lived in Ajijic for several years in the 1960s and whose novel Who is Angelina? includes several scenes set at Lake Chapala) was a friend of Oakley Hall for more than thirty years. Following Hall’s death, Young was quoted as saying that, “Oakley Hall was a master storyteller who loved the West…. His novels and stories reflect the landscapes that he inhabited most of his life: the Pacific islands of his youth, the foothills and ski slopes of the Sierra and the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco.”

Early in his career, Hall wrote several mystery novels using the pen name Jason Manor: Too Dead to Run (1953); The Red Jaguar (1954); The Pawns of Fear (1955); The Tramplers (1956).

Hall’s nonfiction books included The Art and Craft of Novel Writing (1994); Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West (with Jack Schaefer, 1987); and How Fiction Works (2000). He also had short stories published in numerous magazines, including Playboy, Tri-Quarterly, The Hawaii Review, and The Antioch Review.

Hall’s major works of fiction included Murder City (1949); So Many Doors (1950); Corpus of Joe Bailey (1953); Mardios Beach (1955); Warlock (1958); The Downhill Racers (1963); The Pleasure Garden (1966); A Game for Eagles (1970); Report from Beau Harbor (1971); The Adelita (1975); The Bad Lands (1978); The Children of the Sun (1983); The Coming of the Kid (1985); Apaches (1986); Separations (1997), about the discovery of the Colorado River; Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades (1998); Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings (2001); Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks (2003); Ambrose Bierce and the Trey of Pearls (2004); Ambrose Bierce and the Ace of Shoots (2005); and Love and War in California (2007).

Several of these books have links to Mexico. These include his Ambrose Bierce series of mysteries which had the legendary San Francisco newsman and satirist Ambrose Bierce as main protagonist. Bierce (author of The Devil’s Dictionary) had significant ties to Mexico. In December 1913, when he was in his seventies, Bierce disappeared in Mexico in mysterious circumstances. After allegedly joining Pancho Villa’s army as an observer, he was never seen again.

In his review of The Adelita (1975), blogger Steven Zoraster writes that:

“The narrator in this novel is Michael MacBean Palacio, son of an American father and a Mexican mother… a child of privilege, graduate of Andover, graduate of Harvard, and leader of a band of guerrilla cavalry during the war to overthrow the Mexican dictator Huerta. He is also the lover of Adelita, the woman of the title, the living symbol of the revolution, whose name is also that of the Mexican soldier’s wife in a famous and very real ballad of the Mexican Revolution.”
. . .
“Oakley Hall is unparalleled in the portrayal of the American frontier, where the law is distance and tenuous. Here it is up to the protagonists to establish their own law. To establish it with great difficulty and often with bloodshed, and always with uncertainty about the cost that must be paid. In “The Adelita” the necessity of establishing the rule of law is extended to an entire country, Mexico, a country Mr. Hall seems to have understood very well.”
. . .
“In 1968, witnessed by MacBean, the Mexican government, in which his son has an important role, orders the pre-Olympic massacre of protesting students at Tlatelolco in Mexico City. And thus MacBean is drawn back into the unfinished struggle for some sort of justice or righteousness or legality in Mexico.”

In Children of the Sun, Hall spins a story based on “The famous journey of Cabeza de Vaca through northern Mexico (1535-36), and its treasure-seeking aftermath–in an intelligently fictionalized version that turns the story into a morality play involving greed, religion, racism, and ambition.” (Kirkus Review). [That story is part of chapter 11 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique]

After these two books on Mexico – The Adelita and Children of the Sun – Hall had begun a third book, provisionally entitled Independencial, an historical novel set during Mexico’s 1810-1821 War of Independence. In an interview late in life Hall recalled that his publishers had not displayed any enthusiasm for further books relating to Mexico since, “Books about Mexico don’t make enough money.”

Sadly, some things clearly haven’t changed!

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.

Jul 172017
 

Painter, sculptor and print-maker James Steg, who was Professor of Art at Newcomb College, Tulane University, in New Orleans for more than forty years, worked in Ajijic during the summer of 1958.

James Louis Steg (“Jim”) was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1922 and died in New Orleans in 2001. He gained his M.A. degree in Fine Arts degree from the State University of Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army during the second world war and was in a camouflage unit during the D-Day landings.

James Steg. The Picninc Scene. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg. “The Picnic Scene”. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg was art professor at Newcomb College for 43 years. Among his students in an etching class was Frances Swigart, who later became his wife.

Throughout his career, Steg was constantly exploring new printmaking techniques and he developed many innovative methods such as altering Xeerox prints with paint and chemicals. According to Doug MacCash, art critic for The Times-Picayune, age did nothing to diminish Steg’s boundless creativity or artistic output.

Steg spent the summer of 1958 in Ajijic, as evidenced by this brief entry in The Times-Picayune drawing readers’ attention to the opening of his latest art show in New Orleans:

“James Steg recently sold an etching “Bird of Prey” to the New York Public Library collection. This is the 23rd public institution to have purchased one of the artist’s works. Steg is back at the Newcomb art school after a summer stay in Ajijic.”

By lucky coincidence, one of his rare works from this time came up for auction in 2015. The etching, a studio print from the estate of artist and educator George C. Wolfe of New Orleans, is titled “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”.

James Steg. "The Goat Herder (Mexico)". Etching. 1958.

James Steg. “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”. Etching. 1958.

In addition to participating in dozens of group shows, Steg held many solo exhibitions. In New Orleans, these included shows at the IH Gallery at International House, the H. Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University, World’s Fair Expo ’84, and at Marguerite Oestreicher Fine Arts Gallery. He also had one-person shows in New York (the Weyhe Gallery; Associated American Artists), Philadelphia (Philadelphia Art Alliance), Dalls (Dallas Museum of Art; Cushing Gallery), Columbus (Ohio State University), Coral Gables (University of South Florida) and Oxford (University of Mississippi). His only recorded international solo show was at the USIA Exhibition in Ankara, Turkey.

James Steg. The work of five men. Etching. Undated.

James Steg. “The work of five men”. Etching. Undated.

A retrospective exhibition of his work, entitled “Thirty Years of J. L. Steg: 1948-78”, was held at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1978.

Among the many awards he received for his art were the Charles Lea Prize from Philadelphia Print Club, and an award from Lugano, Switzerland. Steg was named a Printmaker Emeritus by the Southern Graphic Arts Council.Steg’s works can be found in the permanent collections of numerous venerable institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum in New York, Dallas Museum of Art. Minnesota Museum of American Art and the Seattle Museum, as well as in 30 university collections and many private collections in the New Orleans area. Overseas, pieces by Steg are in the Museum of Modem Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem.

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.

Jul 132017
 

Captain H. E. William (“Bill”) Strange OBE was Director of Naval Information in the Canadian Navy before “retiring” to Mexico with his wife, Jean, in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) . He then proceeded to research, write and produce several radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

Strange was born in Corazal, British Honduras (now Guyana) in 1902. His father was the then District Commissioner. He attended a boarding school in the U.K. from the age of seven. When the first world war broke out, Strange became a cadet in the Royal Navy, and undertook training at Osborne and Dartmouth. Following his discharge in 1918, due to a vision problem, he moved to Trinidad, where his parents were then living and worked in that country’s oil fields. After Trinidad, he took teaching positions in England and Egypt.

Strange emigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1929. During the next decade he worked in a variety of jobs related to sales, advertising, writing and public relations but found most success in writing radio scripts and plays. Among his weekly productions were “Who’s Who in Music”; “Let’s Disagree”; and “Echoes from History”. In 1935 he published a novel, Sunset in Ebony, based on his experiences in Trinidad.

When the second world war began in 1939, Strange used his skills to focus on radio programs designed to assist the allied cause. After producing about 20 half-hour shows in a series for CBD titled “They Shall Not Pass”, he started a long-running series named “Carry on Canada”. In 1941 he visited England as a CBC war correspondent “to look at the blitz”, collecting material for another book (below) and for several radio specials, one of which became the first Canadian program to win the top award at Ohio State University’s Institute of Education by Radio. Royalties from the book all went to the Navy League of Canada.

Strange joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1942 as an information officer. He served as Director of Naval Information from late 1945 until his retirement in February 1959. Much of his time with the RCN was spent making radio broadcasts.

After the second world war ended, Strange established the RCN’s first peace-time public information organization. During his time with the RCN Strange produced dozens of radio plays, booklets and articles as well as several books, in addition to documentary series, including a tri-service show called “Comrades in Arms”. In 1948 he founded The Crowsnest, the magazine of the Directorate of Naval Information.

William Strange wrote several books related to Canada and the second world war, including Canada, the Pacific and War (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1937); Into the blitz; a British journey (Toronto: Macmillan, 1941); The Royal Canadian Navy, 1942-1943 (Canadian Print and Lithographing Co, 1943); and Ships Mean Security (Toronto: The Navy League of Canada, 1945).

For his many and varied services, Captain Strange was awarded the OBE in January 1946.

Captain William Strange married Jean Taylor in 1950. In his memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power, Peter C. Newman pays tribute to Captain William Strange for having been an outstanding mentor to him in the early 1950s. Newman also refers to Strange’s wife, Jean, “his wonderful architect wife”.

From 1959 to 1961, the Stranges were in Jamaica where Bill was writing and training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1962, the couple took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya civilization for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas, from where they began to explore the rest of Mexico, working on new projects for the CBC. A brief note in the 30 April 1964 edition of the Guadalajara Reporter informs us that “Capt. and Mrs William Strange have returned from a trip to Mexico City, Tlaxcala, Cholula and other spots. He’s doing research for a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto.”

From a lengthier piece in the same newspaper the following year (18 November 1965) we learn that the Stranges have returned to Chapala Haciendas after spending the summer settling affairs in Canada. Captain Strange’s 90-minute radio documentary about Hernan Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, “The Bold Ones”, was being broadcast by the CBC national network. Strange had already completed a new project, the story of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, which the CBC had agreed to produce and broadcast.

In 1966, Strange entered an “experimental film” entitled “Dimensions” into a contest held as part of Guadalajara’s annual Fiestas de Octubre celebration. The film won “Capitán William Sprange” (sic) a silver sombrero.

It was in 1966 when Strange was appointed to the first board of directors of the newly-formed Anglo-Mexican Institute (IAM) in Guadalajara. Less than a year later, he became president of the IAM’s governing council and he was still actively involved in IAM affairs when it celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 1976.

Captain William Strange, OBE, CD, RCN, died in Chapala in 1983.

Sources

  • Anon. “Founder of The Crowsnest Retires.” The Crowsnest, March 1959.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6;
  • Informador 11 Sep 1966; 28 Oct 1966; 3 July 1967; 11 Sept 1976
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.
  • William Strange. 1941. Into the blitz; a British journey. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Captain William Strange Papers (Director of Naval Information): Speeches and Related Materials in National Defence Headquarters Directorate of History and Heritage.

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.

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