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.

Jul 102017
 

In Dust on my Heart (1946) Neill James relates several stories about “David Nixon, a New Orleans artist, and his wife June”, who were apparently seriously considering buying property at Lake Chapala until they were informed about various acts of violence that had been perpetrated there. The Nixons never did buy property in Ajijic and we know very little about their time at Lake Chapala, but David Nixon was a multi-talented musician and artist who deserves to be better-known.

David Sinclair Nixon was born 3 January 1904 in Bessemer, Alabama, and died in his long-time home of New Orleans in February 1973. His surname at birth was Burbage but became Nixon when his mother remarried.

Details of his early musical and artistic education remain a mystery though Nixon was apparently a former violin scholarship student of the Birmingham Music Club in Alabama.

nixon-nudes-dancing

David Sinclair Nixon: Nudes dancing

After Nixon married June Prudhomme (a wealthy Louisiana widow and 14 years his senior who had been living in New York City), the couple established their home in Paris where Nixon developed his interest in modern art and continued his concert career. Travel records show that the couple crossed the Atlantic several times in the 1930s between Europe and the U.S.

Nixon studied the violin in Europe for more than a decade, taking classes in Paris, Rome and Berlin, and gave concerts in five countries. Among his teachers was the renowned Czech violinist Otakar Ševčík (1852–1934).

A February 1933 newspaper piece records that the Nixons, “of Paris, France” had been touring America over the previous winter and were currently staying in the St. Charles hotel in New Orleans.

In Europe, the Nixons became good friends with the poet and critic Ezra Pound and his long-time companion, the concert violinist and musicologist Olga Rudge. In the late 1930s, Pound supported Olga’s efforts as she and David Nixon sought to revive interest in the music of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Rudge had studied many of Vivaldi’s original scores in Turin in 1936 in preparation for a series of concerts featuring some of Vivaldi’s lesser-known works. Nixon was also very familiar with many of the pieces. Following Nixon’s performance at a concert in homage to Antonio Vivaldi in Venice in October 1937, Pound wrote that “Nixon [is] trying hard to play well-beautiful tone, no technique, no solfège, and no bluff-the same state she [Olga Rudge] wuz in 15 years ago, but don’t know if he has her toughness.” [quoted in Conover]

With Pound’s help, Rudge and Nixon attempted to organize a Vivaldi Society in Venice. Though that venture proved unsuccessful, Rudge subsequently co-founded the Center for Vivaldi Studies at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and edited a catalog of more than 300 of Vivaldi’s manuscripts that was published by the Accademia just before the start of the second world war.

By that time the Nixons were already safely back in New Orleans. A 1938 newspaper piece confirms that, following “a tour of Europe” and recognizing that war was inevitable, the Nixons had left France to live full-time in New Orleans. In September 1938, they acquired two properties in the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) – 529 Madison Street and 532-534 Dumaine Street – which shared a common boundary and would serve as their home, studio space and exhibition and performance venue.

The Nixons quickly became respected members of the city’s artistic-literary circle. Among their near neighbors was Lyle Saxon, a noteworthy local writer who was also a reporter on the staff of The Times-Picayune.

Nixon’s wide-ranging artistic talents had enabled him to become an accomplished puppeteer. His comical puppet shows for children, put on in a converted warehouse next to his home, became legendary. Nixon designed and created the puppets and the sets, wrote the stories and dialogue and manipulated the puppets, but the star of the show was often his cat, Selassie, who, suitably “costumed and combed”, would make a grand appearance, perform acrobatics and steal the show.

As a painter, Nixon became known for his colorful, often abstract works, and one of his oil paintings was awarded first prize at the 1943 New Orleans Spring Fiesta. In the 1940s Nixon opened the Little Gallery on Royal Street to showcase not only his own work but also that of many other artists. He later opened the David S. Nixon Art Foundation and Gallery on the Madison Street property belonging to his wife.

nixon-david-maypole-1954

David Sinclair Nixon: Maypole. 1954.

The Nixons’ visit to Ajijic came towards the end of the second world war and is described by Neill James in both her article for Modern Mexico (October 1945) and in Dust on my Heart (1946). The article includes a photograph captioned, “Neill James gave a party to show paintings made in Ajijic by David Nixon, fellow southerner from New Orleans”. Sadly, apart from this, little is known about David Nixon’s time in Ajijic.

In 1946, Nixon was invited to give a violin concert in support of the restoration of New Harmony, the historic Indiana town where Welsh industrialist Robert Owen tried to establish a Utopian community in the 1820s. Jane Blaffer Owen, wife of Robert Owen’s great-great-grandson, was the driving force behind the revitalization of New Harmony. In New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir, she writes that:

“I invited David Nixon, a violinist from New Orleans, to share his considerable talents with the community. I rented Murphy Auditorium for a concert on Thursday, June 20, 1946, when children would be out of school and around the time when out family would customarily transfer from Houston to New Harmony. David, a recovering alcoholic, was addicted to sweets, particularly chocolate ice cream sodas, and could be found each morning at our local Ramsey pharmacy, which, in the 1940s and ’50s, was the town’s social center, its ice cream parlor and its dispensary. In the evenings he would play his violin on the streets of New Harmony for whoever wished to listen. His audience kept increasing.”

Despite Nixon going against the wishes of his host and playing only Bach and other eighteenth century music, the concert was a huge success.

During the latter decades of his life, Nixon seems to have become more focused on his painting. In January 1947 he was in a two-person show with Ukranian immigrant artist Ben-Zion at the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans. A reviewer in the Times-Picayune wrote that Nixon’s style was the more primitive and that the artist “paints because it pleases him and his work is entertaining with gay color and instinctive spotting.”

In 1948, the Nixons returned to Paris to live. Almost immediately, David started “The Chamber Music Society in Paris”. A short interview with Nixon appeared in the 11 February 1949 issue of Le Guide du Concert which featured his portrait on its cover.

In addition, according to Irma Sompayrac Willard in her profile of Nixon for The Times Picayune in August 1949, the musician-artist had:

discovered a charming medieval village in Provence which the mayor promptly gave to him on his promise to restore the roofs. He’ll do it, too, just as he restored that Madison st. house with its lovely patio. Now he’s busy forming committees, getting estimates, and lining up first residents for his ancient French village. He talks of summer music festivals there, of puppet shows and exhibitions and maybe the possibility of getting New Orleans to adopt this unbelievably beautiful little town with its apple blossom and hilltop church.”

Just how much of this plan became reality is unknown!

nixon-david-show-flierBy the late 1950s, the Nixons were back in the U.S., where they lived for a time in Carmel, California. When asked about his one-man show of paintings at the Carmel Craft Studios in May 1957, Nixon said that the gallery was similar to the Arts and Crafts Gallery in New Orleans and added that his next major show was due to open in September at the Leveaugh Gallery in San Francisco. He and his wife planned to return to New Orleans in 1959 and would reopen their Madison Street art gallery. The Nixons did indeed return and reopened the gallery on premises that had been rented since 1951 by the Gallery Circle theater.

The building the theater moved to was destroyed by fire the following year. Theater organizers approached Nixon to see if he would allow them to rent their former home again but Nixon declined, saying that he and his wife were definitely home from Europe for good.

June Nixon passed away in about 1963. That same year David Nixon held another one-person show, at 542 Chartres in the French Quarter. A review of the show maintained that “to really appreciate it you need a certain elfish sense of humor”, and that it helped “to have ears that are tuned in to the pipes of Pan” since Nixon’s elongated nymphs “gambol, pipe and play through the paintings.”

During his lifetime Nixon exhibited his art in four countries – the U.S., Mexico, France and Italy – with noteworthy showings in Paris, Mexico City, Rome, and at the Galeria Neuf in New York. A major posthumous retrospective of Nixon’s work, “David Sinclair Nixon (1904-1973): A retrospective of one artist’s work” was held at Byrdie’s Gallery in New Orleans in October 2010.

Note:

  • The original version of this post was published on 17 September 2015.

Sources:

  • Anniston Star. 1943. “David Nixon Honored at New Orleans Fiesta.” Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama), 30 May 1943, p 6.
  • Anne Conover. 2008. Olga Rudge & Ezra Pound. Yale University Press.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Neill James. 1946. Dust on my Heart.
  • Jane Blaffer Owen. 2015. New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir. Indiana University Press.
  • Olga A. Rudge. 1939. Vivaldi, note e documenti sulla vita e sulle opere. Siena: Academia Musicale Chigiana.
  • Irma Sompayrac Willard. 1949. “French Quarter to French Capital”, Times-Picayune 14 August 1949, p 154.
  • Times-Picayune – 26 Feb 1933, p 23; 9 October 1938, p 67; 6 January 1947, p 14; 19 May 1957, p 37; 22 November 1959, p 57; 4 August 1963, p 53.

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

 Posted by at 6:23 am  Tagged with:
Jul 062017
 

Wow! Lake Chapala connected to Abraham Lincoln? Well, yes, albeit in a somewhat tenuous, roundabout way that I will now attempt to explain.

The key character in this story is Rixford Joseph Lincoln, who was born into a prominent New Orleans family on 22 August 1872. His father, Lemuel L. Lincoln, had been a Major in the confederate forces before becoming the commercial and financial editor of the city’s leading daily, the Times-Democrat. Rixford’s mother died when he was young and he was raised by an aunt, Suzette Helluin. The family was not directly related by blood to Abraham Lincoln but, as we shall see, it is possible to link Rixford Lincoln to the famous U.S. president and one part of the link also involves Lake Chapala.

Frontispiece, Rixford Lincoln's Poems and Short Stories (1900)

Frontispiece, Rixford Lincoln’s Poems and Short Stories (1900)

Rixford gained both a B.A. and M.A. from the Jesuit college in New Orleans and worked as an assistant to his father before completing his studies in law at Tulane University, from which he graduated in 1899.

He started to write poetry at an early age and his family’s newspaper connections undoubtedly helped bring his work to a significant audience. Indeed, Rixford was considered the poet laureate of the Louisiana Historical Society and wrote (and read) poems to commemorate important events, such as the opening of the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1911 (“Long will this art museum stand in pride / While throngs will daily pour into its door / The Muses to live and speak out from the paint / And spread her mystic light from dome to floor”) and at the dedication of the oak grove in the Audubon Park in New Orleans in 1919, a memorial to 62 local men who gave their lives during the first world war.

Rixford Lincoln was the author of several books including Poems and short stories (1900); Prose Poems (ca 1906); Historical New Orleans (in verse) (ca 1911); War Poems, Indian Legends, and a Wreath of Childhood Verses (1916); Verses to a Child (1922) as well as numerous newspaper articles and several other undated pamphlets of poetry.

Lincoln was obviously familiar with Lake Chapala (though how and when is unknown) since among his many poems is this one about the lake, published in 1908:

LAKE CHAPALA

O “Lagua Incognitus,” Thon gem so fair,
Encircled in the mountains’ horseshoe green,
Whose lovely waters bask ‘neath tropic sun,
Or lash the beach with breakers’ battling spleen.

Sweet Mexic lake, beloved Indian spot,
Where forests spread upon the mountain side,
Whose emerald peaks, of softest hue divine,
Reflect themselves in thee, with silent pride.

How fair thy waters roll upon the shore,
With music tender, breathing from the deep;
Where sail the vessels, tossing on thy breast,
And balmy breezes woo the spirit sleep.

Enchanted highland lake, beloved so well,
How grand when cloud and mountain flood with light,
With colors mingling tints of sky and sea,
When sol is sinking on the heart of night.

Bewildering sight, which dazzles mem’ry yet,
O’erreaching haciendas, fields and plain;
Alluring air of Mexico’s soft sea,
Let me of all they glories dream again.

– – –

In 1928, after working as an attorney and newspaper man in New Orleans for some thirty years, Rixford Lincoln accepted a position teaching English and French at the boarding school attached to Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City, Colorado.

Though the motives behind his later movements are unclear, by 1935 Rixford Lincoln was living in St Bernard, Cullman, Alabama, and, by the time of the U.S. Census in 1940, in Pasco, Florida. He died in Illinois on 22 October 1962 at the age of 90.

And the connection to Abraham Lincoln? Well, there are two distinct links. The first is that Rixford Lincoln also wrote a poem entitled “Abraham Lincoln”, published in the Cullman Democrat (Alabama) in 1936. That poem (quoted in Schwartz, 2011) ends with the plea made by so many in the run-up to the second world war:

Would that you could rule us today
When wracked the world in woe
Oh, guide us from afar, we pray
Wisdom on us bestow.

And the second connection? Rixford Lincoln, the poet and son of Major Lemuel L. Lincoln, was an usher at the colorful wedding in New Orleans of Laure Jaubert and John Virgil Dugan, who had previously worked for the son of Abraham Lincoln….

Sources:

  • Daily Picayune, 23 May 1899, 11
  • Ned Hémard. 2015. “New Orleans Nostalgia: Lincoln Law and Loving Laure”, in journal of the New Orleans Bar Association.
  • Rixford J. Lincoln. 1900. Poems and short stories. (New Orleans: Dalton Williams)
  • Rixford J. Lincoln. 1908. “Lake Chapala” (poem), The Daily Picayune (New Orleans), 15 March 1908, 36.
  • Rixford J. Lincoln. 1936. “Abraham Lincoln” (poem), Cullman Democrat, 13 February 1936, 21.
  • The Register. 1928. “Holy Cross Abbey Notes” in The Register, the Rapid Fire Catholic Newspaper (Denver, Colorado), 2 September 1928, 3.
  • Barry Schwartz. 2011. “Abraham Lincoln in the Mind of the South: Assassination to Reconciliation”, pp 169-203 of The Living Lincoln (edited by Thomas A. Horrocks, Harold Holzer, Frank J. Williams), Southern Illinois University Press.

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 032017
 

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth, also known after her second marriage as Frieda Mathilda Das, was an accomplished painter, writer, and illustrator, who is perhaps best remembered today for having painted one of the earliest portraits of Mahatma Gandhi.

Hauswirth visited Mexico from August 1944 to early in 1946. While it is unclear if this was her only visit, she definitely visited Ajijic on this trip: Neill James, in her account of Ajijic in 1945, described Hauswirth as “a naturalist from India”.

Actually, Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth was Swiss, but with very strong Indian connections. Hauswirth was born in Switzerland on 8 February 1886 and studied at the Universities of Bern and Zurich for two years before moving to California in about 1905 to attend Stanford University, from which she graduated with an A.B. in English in 1910.

Immediately after graduating she married a fellow Stanford student, Arthur Lee Munger, who later became a doctor. Their unconventional marriage ceremony on 7 August 1910 was held at the Temple Square in Palo Alto. The couple were “in street attire and unattended.” The ritual, “quite unlike that of any other church, in that it minimizes the religious and accentuates the philosophic and social side of marriage”, omitted any suggestion of “the inferiority and submission on the part of the bride”. Each “placed a ring on the fourth finger of the other in token of marriage, repeating the nuptial vows in unison”.

Hauswirth’s liberated approach to matters of the heart became apparent soon after marriage when she became infatuated with an Indian professor (and with India and its complex politics). A short-lived affair brought her marriage to an end and she and Munger divorced in 1916.

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Illustration from Meine indische Ehe (1933)

While studying at Stanford, Hauswirth had become friends with a high-caste Indian student named Sarangadhar Das. Das had studied in Japan, funded by a wealthy patron in India, but turned his back on his patron (and his family) to continue his agricultural engineering studies at the University of California in Berkeley. After he graduated, he worked for several years in a sugar mill in Hawaii. Das and Hauswirth, who had now immersed herself in Indian literature and managed to get several articles published in the Modern Review of Calcutta, had always remained close friends. Hauswirth longed to visit and teach in India but wartime travel restrictions prevented her from realizing this plan. Das had proposed to Hauswirth several times over the years before she agreed to visit him in Hawaii, where they married in 1917.

The marriage made their migration status very complicated. Hauswirth lost her previously-acquired American citizenship even as Das was petitioning the court for his own naturalization. The legal situation was complex. The United States District Attorney opposed the petition “on the ground that the petitioner, being, a Hindu, is not eligible to ‘naturalization under Revised Statutes, section 2169, which limits naturalization to “free white persons” and those of African nativity and descent”, but local Hawaii Second Circuit Judge Edings eventually ruled that Das did indeed have the right to become a U.S. citizen.

Even the couple’s honeymoon was sensationally eventful: they were called as witnesses during the famous Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial in San Francisco where two men were killed in the courtroom.

Frieda and Das then lived in California for a short time, where Frieda took classes with Gottardo Piazzoni (1872–1945) at the California School of Fine Art (now San Francisco Art Institute) in San Francisco.

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

In 1920, following the death of Das’s father, the couple sailed for Calcutta, India, where Das tried to start a sugar factory in Orissa. The prejudices that were rife in the India of that time made life extremely difficult for Frieda. For instance, she was never able to meet her mother-in-law since if she had done so, the elder Mrs. Das would have “lost caste” and would have been reviled by friends and family alike. It also quickly became obvious to Frieda that her presence prevented potential investors from lending her husband the money needed to finance his sugar project. Not surprisingly, Frieda, a staunch feminist, found this situation intolerable and the couple agreed to live apart.

Sarangadhar Das went on to become a nationalist revolutionary who served in the Constituent Assembly of India that was responsible for framing the country’s independent constitution that took effect in 1950. He remained in politics until his death seven years later. A later account of his life and contribution to the Indian independence process, by Jatin Kumar Nayak, credits Hauswirth with having been instrumental in persuading Das that he should “return to India and make use of his expertise to improve the lot of his impoverished fellow Indians.”

Frieda left India and returned to Switzerland to paint and write. She studied art in Paris and divided her time over the next decade between Europe and California, with occasional trips to India. Frieda’s book about her experiences in India, A Marriage to India, was published by Vanguard Press, New York, in 1930. It is a detailed, heartfelt account of her relationship with Das and the difficulties they encountered as an inter-racial couple in India in the 1920s. The book’s frontispiece is Hauswirth’s own 1927 sketch of Gandhi, who was a friend of her husband’s family.

In early 1938, she moved to California for six years. She sought to restore her American citizenship and announced that she was prepared to divorce Das if necessary in order to expedite the process.

In 1944, after building a cabin-studio at 11, El Portal Court in Berkeley, she decided to visit Mexico. The visit lasted from August 1944 to early 1946. As described by Hal Johnson, writing several years later about Hauswirth for the Berkeley Daily Gazette:

Then came the urge to paint in Mexico and to gather material there for a travel book. In August, 1944, she motored south of the border with “Lennie”, a cross between a German police dog and an Airedale, as her sole companion.

Mexican roads were like driving over washboard through which spikes stuck up. Tires were scarce in Mexico then as they were in the United States, but Frieda Hauswirth and her dog, “Lennie”, finally reached Ajijic Lake.

She made her headquarters in Chapala and did in oil some delightful paintings. Followed a sojourn in Mexico City and then a trip to Oaxaca, where she painted from the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, the most intelligent of Mexican Indians. She spent Christmas, 1945, in Monterrey, Mexico.”

There is an as-yet-unconfirmed report of an oil painting, labeled “Ajijic” on the back, by Hauswirth of a Mexican couple at a market which presumably dates back to this time.

Hauswirth flew back to Europe early in 1946 to live in Switzerland and study Italian. She revisited India in 1950, but eventually resettled in Berkeley, California, early in 1951. A contemporary newspaper account describes how she did not have wall space to hang “several of her earlier oil paintings which won prizes in Paris art shows. They are carefully packed away along with her more modern canvases painted in Mexico.”

Hauswirth became well known for the frescoes and portraits she painted. Her major art exhibits included shows at the Salon des Beaux Arts, Grand Salon, Paris (1926); in London; at the San Francisco Art Association (1920, 1925); in Boston; at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City (June 1931); and in Mysore, India.

Frieda Hauswirth wrote and illustrated several books including A Marriage to India (1930); Gandhi: a portrait from life (1931); Purdah, the Status of Indian Women (1932); Leap-Home and Gentlebrawn, A Tale of the Hanuman Monkeys (1932); Into the Sun (1933); Die Lotusbraut (1938); Allmutter Kaveri (1939).

This progressive woman, who had led and enjoyed an extraordinary life, died in Davis, California, in March 1974 at the age of 88.

Sources:

  • Russell Holmes Fletcher. 1943. Who’s who in California, Vol. I (1942-1943).
  • Frieda Hauswirth (Mrs Sarangadhar Das). 1930. A Marriage to India. New York: The Vanguard Press.
  • Edan Milton Hughes. 1986. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Hal Johnson. “So We’re Told”. Berkeley Daily Gazette, 29 October 1951, p 9
  • Maui News. “Judge Edings Grants Citizenship to Das”. Maui News, 4 January 1918, p1.
  • Jatin Kumar Nayak. 2011. “Orissa Whispers – Unsung Hero: Sarangadhar Das is one of the makers of modern Orissa“. The Telegraph, India, 7 March 2011.
  • Oakland Tribune. “Berkeley Woman Balked, by Caste System of India”. Oakland Tribune (California), 30 March 30, p 13.
  • The Plattsmouth Journal. “Murray Department: Former Plattsmouth Young Man married at Palo Alto, California“. The Plattsmouth Journal (Nebraska), 25 August 1910, p 6.
  • The Stanford Daily. “Former Stanfordite To Divorce Hindu”. The Stanford Daily. Volume 93, Issue 26, 31 March 1938, p 1.

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

Jun 292017
 

Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year. In honor of Canada Day, here is a list of those Canadian artists and authors who have connections to Lake Chapala and who have already been profiled on this blog. Enjoy!

Henry Sandham (1842-1910), a well-known Canadian illustrator of the time, illustrated Charles Embree‘s historical novel, A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900), the earliest English-language novel set at Lake Chapala. Embree, who published several novels and numerous short stories, was a genuine Mexicophile if ever there was one, but died in his early thirties.

Canadian artist Clarence Ainslie Loomis painted Ajijic in the early 1990s. I would love to learn more about this elusive character whose paintings are very distinctive.

Loomis was following in the footsteps, so to speak, of Canadian artist Eunice Hunt and her husband Paul Huf who spent many years working in Ajijic in the 1960s and 1970s. The couple married in Ajijic and their two sons were both born in Mexico. The family subsequently moved to Paul’s native Germany to continue their artistic careers.

In the 1950s, a young Canadian woman, Dorothy Whelan, became the partner of artist and photographer Ernest Alexander (1921-1974) who ran the  Scorpion Club in Ajijic. “Alex” led an extraordinary life but things spiraled out of control after the couple left Ajijic and moved to San Francisco.

Several Canadian poets have been inspired by Lake Chapala. For example, Earle Birney visited Ajijic in the 1950s and Canadian performance poet Canadian performance poet Leanne Averbach visited the lake many years later. Al Purdy first visited Chapala on a quest to explore the haunts of D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) and later produced a limited edition book based on his trip. [Lawrence wrote his novel “The Plumed Serpent” while staying in Chapala om 1923.]

Canadian historian and non-fiction writer Ross Parmenter (1912-1999) only ever spent a few days at Lake Chapala, in 1946, but has left us detailed descriptions of the local villages and of what life was like at the time.

The enigmatic Maxwell Desmond Poyntz, who was born in British Columbia on 4 January 1918 and died in Canada, at the age of 81, on 29 November 1999, is known to have visited Jocotepec while working on a “proposed trilogy”. It is unclear if he ever finished this magnum opus; there is no record of its publication.

The famous Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga (1932-1987) had a holiday home in San Antonio Tlayacapan for many years in the 1970s and 1980s and frequently visited and wrote while staying there. Several literary friends and relatives of Ryga also visited or used his holiday home. They include Ryga’s daughter Tanya (a drama teacher) and her husband Larry Reece, a musician, artist and drama professor; Brian Paisley, and the multi-talented Ken Smedley and his wife, the actress, artist and model, Dorian Smedley-Kohl. Ken and Dorian Smedley were instrumental in mounting the first (and only) Ajijic Fringe Theatre – “El Fringe” – in 1988.

We plan to add profiles of many more Canadian artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala in coming months.

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 5:37 am  Tagged with:
Jun 262017
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946.

The author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle. They meet up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

Ross Parmenter describes Ajijic and its church in 1946 in chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

At Ajijic the boatman brought us alongside the pier.
– – –

After getting the hat, Mary Alice and I took the time to do what had been impossible the day before. We looked around the town. We noticed that nearly all the low houses had corrugated tile roofs. Because of the wide, overhanging eaves, the roofs seemed to slope towards each other as if they wanted to meet over the narrow, cobbled streets. Most of the houses were whitewashed, but some were cream-colored and others showed the brown adobes of which they were built. The uncoated walls harmonized with the dirt roads, for the adobes were made of the same earth.

Occasionally we saw sprays of magenta bougainvillea toppling over expanses of flat, high walls. At one corner we saw fishing nets tacked for mending to the side of a house. Looking up the steeply sloping cross street, we saw high hills flanking the upper side of the town. Looking down, we got a glimpse of the lake, a silver-gray line drawn at the end of a vista of walls and sharply projecting eaves.

At the centre of the village, as we expected, we found a plaza with a church at one corner. The plaza was like an unfinished sketch. There was no sign of a municipal palace, but otherwise it had the usual elements. But nothing was complete. The bandstand, for instance, had railing posts, but no railing; and there was no sign of a roof. There were tiled walks radiating from the stand, but the more important outer walks were still unpaved. There were cement lamp posts, but they were used only as supports for electric cord that was strung between them with a few exposed bulbs hanging at irregular intervals. And the fountain had a circular stone basin all right, but its source of water, instead of being an ornamental centrepiece, was an ordinary kitchen faucet on one side.

Most of the iron benches were broken and the flower beds were unkempt and forlorn, Indeed, the whole square would have been dusty and dreary had it not been for the trees. The jacarandas were a mass of blue blossoms. And among the pale green foliage of the flat-topped flamboyants were so many red-orange flowers that I could see why they are called “flame trees.”

The church was at the back of a walled garden. Its steeple rose in four diminishing stories and was so elegant in effect that it suggested the work of a Georgian admirer of Sir Christopher Wren.
An arched gateway led into the garden. When we passed through its wrought iron gates we found the fine tower had raised false hopes. The rest of the church did not live up to it. It was small and crude, with all of the rough facade being whitewashed except the old doorway. In the gray stones of its lintel, cut in rough letters, was the information that the church had been built in 1749. By this time I had seen so many earlier dates that I felt blasé about anything so recent. After all, it was a mere twenty-six years before the American Revolution.

The low-ceilinged interior was not impressive, but it gave evidence of care. Defining the vestibule, was a new entrance screen of highly varnished wood and the floor of blue and white checked tile was as clean as a Dutch kitchen. The wooden reredos behind the altar looked as if it had been planned for a loftier church and then been cut off at the top to fit this one. It was painted white. A big picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe hung on the side wall. Another Virgin was a large, fresh-faced doll that resembled Deanna Durbin. With her white dress, blue cape and silver crown, she was decked out as if she were a princess in a Christmas pantomime.

In striking opposition was the church’s most interesting object: a primitive Jesus realistically nailed to a fanciful cross, which had rays suggesting a sunburst. The Saviour’s brightly gilded crown of thorns and his red velvet waist wrapper contrasted grotesquely with his gray, blood-streaked body.

As we turned to leave, a bell began ringing outside. It had a regular sound pattern: one long clang and two short ones. We also heard some pleasantly tinkling bells. And rounding the vestibule screen we almost caught our breath at what we saw. Framed by the trees of the garden and the high round arch of the gateway was a beautiful view of the cobbled street, and making his way up that street was a man in the white cotton clothes of a native driving three tan oxen, who were ringing the bells at their throats with the rhythmic bobbing of their heads.

The louder bell, that was ringing dash, dot, dot, was one of those in the steeple of the church. A boy was tolling it by pulling on an outside rope that reached the ground.” (pp 96-98)

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

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

Jun 222017
 

George Abend (1922-1976), a jazz musician and prominent figure in the San Francisco Bay Area abstract expressionism movement, studied in Guadalajara in the mid-1950s, at which time he was a frequent visitor to Ajijic.

Born in New York City in 1922, Abend studied at the University of California, Berkeley (1946-47); the 1948–1950 California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (1948-50); and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, France (1951-52), before moving to Mexico to study at the University of Guadalajara (1953-54).

George Abend. Untitled (1950).

George Abend. Untitled (1950).

A decade later, he taught art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Cedar Educational Center in Pittsburgh (1962-66) before moving to California and becoming a visiting artist at California State College (Los Angeles) and a film consultant at the University of Southern California from 1966 to 1969.

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Abend was a close friend of Don Martin, a painter who established his studio in Ajijic in 1954, and of the Beat poet and photographer Anne McKeever who also had links to Ajijic. Don’s widow Joan Martin kindly drew my attention to the photograph (above) used for the cover of the second (Summer 1956) number of Climax, a small-circulation Beat magazine from that time, published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Abend playing the piano in Don Martin‘s studio in Ajijic, with Don’s then girlfriend, Lori Fair, on drums. Abend, an accomplished musician, also played drums, percussion and the clarinet.

Abend’s striking abstract works earned him the honor of having numerous solo shows, including Howard Gallery, San Francisco (1949); Metart Galleries (1950); Lucien Labaudt Gallery (1950, 1952); Galerie de France, Paris (1951); Olivetti Art Gallery, Guadalajara (1954); Batman Gallery, San Francisco (1961); Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania (1963); Howard Wise Gallery, New York (annually from 1963 to 1966); New York Six Gallery (1964); Hewlett Gallery, Pittsburgh (1965); Coast Gallery, Big Sur (1970); Fulton Gallery, New York (1973); and the University of California (1976).

George Abend, 1948. Photo by Harry Bowden.

George Abend, 1948. Photo by Harry Bowden.

His work was also chosen for inclusion in many group shows, including the Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association (later the San Francisco Art Institute) at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1949, 1950, 1960, 1961); Third Annual Exhibition of Painting, California Palace of The Legion of Honor (1949); and the Winter Invitational, California Palace of The Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1960).

Among the institutions in California holding works by George Abend in their permanent collections are The Oakland Museum and the Monterey Museum of Art.

Abend died in Santa Cruz, California in 1976.

Sources:

  • Thomas Albright. 1985. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 to 1980, Univ. California Press.
  • Susan Landauer. 1996. The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionists, Univ. California Press.

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.

Jun 192017
 

Poet and politician Salvador Escudero was born in the south of Jalisco, at San Gabriel, on 22 April 1883 and died in Mexico City in January 1946. Escudero was a much-published poet and prime mover in the Jalisco intellectual circles of his time.

As a young man, Escudero was the boyfriend of Jalisco-born model and novelist Lupe Marín (who later became the second wife of muralist Diego Rivera).

Escudero was considered an “exquisite romantic poet”. Despite the fact that he lived a humble and simple life and never had any grand pretensions, his supporters in Chapala ensured that he was, briefly, governor of Jalisco in 1920.

After the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, Escudero joined “the cause” and soon found himself working alongside Adolfo de la Huerta, who became his friend and protector. After witnessing first-hand some of the battlefield horrors of the Revolution near the city of León in Guanajuato, Escudero traveled with de la Huerta to Veracruz and later to Hermosillo, Sonora, as de la Huerta’s private secretary.

In Veracruz, in November 1915, Escudero was working with the Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación). In his spare time he founded and published a literary magazine Faros. He published many of his own poems (many of them classical 14-line sonnets) in Faros as well as in local Veracruz newspapers.

After de la Huerta was appointed governor of Sonora, Escudero accompanied him to the state capital of Hermosillo. Escudero was so impressed by the beauty of the local girls that he began a series of sonnets, each extolling the virtues of a single member of the fair sex. It was while living in Hermosillo that Escudero won a national poetry prize for a poem entitled “No escuche quien no sabe de estas cosas”.

Escudero never sought fame or glory but wrote purely for the sake of writing. Contemporaries considered him a civic-minded individual who always tried to help others. He was also a passionate fan and supporter of bullfights.

In August 1920, at the end of the Mexican Revolution, Escudero was a candidate for the governorship of Jalisco. When his rival Basilio Vadillo was declared the winner, Escudero’s supporters established an alternative state government, based in Chapala, which was quickly disbanded by federal authorities acting on behalf of President Álvaro Obregón.

His poems include one entitled “Al Lago de Chapala” (“To Lake Chapala”) which, according to Chapala archive chronological notes, was published in El Monitor on 30 October 1910:

Al Lago de Chapala

Dame tu lira de armonías ignotas,
Lago que finges al fulgor muriente
De esta tarde otoñal, una gran frente
De blancos pensamientos: las gaviotas.

Lago de quimerizas lejanías:
Enseñame a ser triste, con el duelo
Que en tí copia la luna y vierte el cielo
De los dorados y otoñales días…

Lago que arrancas versos al poeta
Y suspiros de amor. En la discreta
Paz de tus playas de aromosas brisas,
Quiero encontrar el bien apetecido:
Morir en el silencio del olvido
Y que barran tus olas mis cenizas.

– Salvador Escudero

Sources:

  • Gobiernos de la Revolución.
  • El Monitor, 30 October 1910 [cited in unpublished chronological notes of Chapala archives]
  • Juan de Dios Bojórquez. Hombres y Aspectos de México en la Tercera Etapa de la Revolución; Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana. Mexico, 1963.

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

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Jun 152017
 

José Othón de Aguinaga was born in Guadalajara on 18 February 1873, and died in the city in 1969.

Othón began drawing as a child in 1882 when he was in the Colegio Mariano. From 1887 to 1891, he took classes with Felipe Castro in the Liceo de Varones in Guadalajara. Then he attended San Carlos Academy in Mexico City from 1892 until 1894, where he studied with Santiago Rebull and José Salomé Pina.

The image below (the only available illustration) is a black and white photo showing Othón’s landscape, “The old road to Chapala”. The photo comes from the Historía de Jalisco. The date of the original painting is unknown.

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala.

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala. Credit: Gobierno de Jalisco.

José Othón de Aguinaga spent three years in Europe at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris between 1895 and 1898, where he took classes with Henri Lucien Doucet, Bahet (?), William Bouguereau and León Bonnat. During this time, he traveled and painted, becoming a master of nudes, portraits of elderly people and still lifes.

On his return to Mexico he decided to forgo painting in favor of helping run a family sugar estate in Michoacán until 1909.

In 1909, he moved to Guadalajara and started to give art classes, especially drawing techniques, and focus on his own painting. He gave classes for more than thirty years. He was director of drawing instruction in the government schools in Guadalajara (1915-1917), and taught at the preparatory school of the University of Guadalajara (1916-1921), the preparatory school of the National University (UNAM) (1918-1936) and the Jalisco Institute of Sciences (1925-1930, 1937-1939).

A close friend of Tapatío artist and author Ixca Farias, Othón is best known for landscapes, portraits and still lifes. His portrait of José Palomera is in the collection of the Jalisco State Library in Guadalajara; another of his portraits is held by the Regional Museum in the city. Othón also completed several mural paintings on cloth which decorate Templo de Jesús, the Jesuit church in the city of Zacatecas. Othón served a term as president of the Mexican Society of Artists and Painters.

There is a government primary school named in Othón’s honor in the resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Sources:

  • Anon. José Othón de Aguinaga. (Biography)
  • Ixca Farias 1939. Biografía de pintores jaliscienses, 1882-1940. Guadalajara: Ricardo Delgado.
  • Gobierno de Jalisco (various contributers). 1981. Historia de Jalisco. Guadalajara. 1981.

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

 

 Posted by at 6:10 am  Tagged with:
Jun 122017
 

As we saw in previous posts, Rubén M. Campos, though now largely forgotten, was one of the major figures in Mexican literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Campos spent several vacations at Lake Chapala and made good use of his knowledge of the area’s history and geography in his acclaimed novel Claudio Oronoz.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

The parts of the novel that were set at Lake Chapala were, as Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published some years previously, as “En el Chapala”. “En el Chapala” was the second of three descriptive, factual pieces about Lake Chapala, published in La Patria in 1899, which we consider in this post. The first of his three short articles in 1899 was datelined “Chapala, 27 March”, the second “Chapala, 28 March”, and the third “Ocotlán, 28 March.”

The first piece describes the train ride from Mexico City to Tula, Irapuato (where the train remains for two hours allowing passengers to find an early breakfast) and La Barca, where  a “picturesque multitude” fills the station: two blind men playing guitars and singing, while fruit and vegetable sellers compete to sell their oranges, mameys, cucumbers and nopales, offering “the fruit at very low prices, without taking advantage of strangers of foreigners”.

The train then continued on to Ocotlán, arriving there by mid-day. There, Campos was met by his friend (and fellow poet)  Honorato Barrera and they took a streetcar across the town to the steamboat “Chapala”, which was moored in the River Santiago, awaiting the arrival of some important person from Mexico City and his family.

Within minutes, the steamboat was on Lake Chapala: “We entered the lake, amidst some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable, the largest lake in our beautiful country, and the lake whose horizons unite water and sky, surrounded by bluish-violet mountains with distant small fishing ports, barely distinguishable, even with a telescope: Jamay, Cojumatlán, Jocotepec, Tuxcueca, Tizapán – a parade of musical names that reach my ear on the fresh breeze…”

In the second article in the series – “En el Chapala” – Campos likens the movement of the steamboat to that of a serpent making its way through the water, and gives a lengthy, poetic description of the varied colors of the sky, lake and landscape, as seen from the steamboat. Campos expresses his emotions and marvels at his own feelings of enchantment as the sun goes down in the late afternoon, and the lake is bathed in moonlight as they reach the village of Chapala.

In his third article, Campos offers a much more detailed description of the village itself, starting with its position as a “small port, lost in a fold of the mountains that descends to kiss the surface of the lake”. Chapala, that has “a line of buildings that defends if from the lake breezes”, is only a small village at this time with “barely a fistful of houses on winding little streets that creep up the mountainside.”

The village does have some magnificent homes: “Suddenly, I find myself in a golden age. We wander up and down around the buildings that wealthy gentlemen have built here, starting with the English consul, Mr. Carden, who discovered this paradise.” Even though it is nighttime, Campos and his companions are invited to view several of these homes, clustered around a small bay. with their balconies, terraces and extensive gardens.

A few hours later, the party is ferried back out to the steamboat “Chapala”, lying at anchor some distance offshore, for the return journey to Ocotlán.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.

Sources

  • Rubén M. Campos. 1899. “Notas de viaje”, La Patria, 30 March 1899, p 1; 2 April 1899, pp 1, 2.
  • Rubén M. Campos. 1906. Claudio Oronoz. Mexico. J. Ballesca y ca.
  • Dulce Diana Aguirre López. 2015. Edición crítica de Claudio Oronoz, de Rubén M. Campos. Masters thesis, UNAM, 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.

Jun 082017
 

The Black American artist Arthur Monroe, born in Brooklyn in 1935, grew up in New York and traveled in Mexico, before settling in California and becoming an integral part of the abstract expressionist movement of West Coast painters and poets. He lived and painted for three years in Ajijic in the early 1960s.

Monroe studied art and first encountered abstract impressionism (and its links to jazz) in New York, where he studied at Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and City College. The East Village at the time was a “caldron of creativity stirred by poets, painters, sculptors and jazz musicians.” Monroe, whose studio was close to that of Willem De Kooning, became close friends with the famous jazz musician Charlie Parker. His love for jazz has never diminished.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games - Skully. 2001.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games – Skully. 2001.

Deciding that he needed to look at less traditional forms of visual art, and determined “to escape American racism and discrimination”, Monroe traveled to Mexico (and later to South America), where he became immersed in the rich spirituality and iconography of the ancient cultures: the Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Zapotec and Mixtec of Oaxaca, and the Olmec of eastern Mexico.

From Mexico, Monroe returned to live in California, first in Big Sur and then in San Francisco, where he quickly became part of the legendary Beat Era of North Beach in the late 1950s. (Other Beat Era artists and authors with links to Lake Chapala include Al Young, Ned Polsky, Alexander Trocchi, Don Martin, Clayton Eshleman, Ernest Alexander, Jack Gilbert, ruth weiss, and Stanley Twardowicz).

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Monroe’s circle of Beat Era friends included painters Michael McCracken and Michael Bowen. The three painters shared a huge loft-studio relatively near Pier 23. Monroe had a Volkswagen Bug and avoided any parking issues by the simple expedient of driving into the elevator and storing his vehicle, when not in use, in the studio. Later, the trio of artists found themselves unable to meet the rent. Monroe put his works into storage and when that bill wasn’t paid, they were auctioned off: many of the paintings ended up in the hands of two Santa Cruz art collectors for a measly $400 in total.

Monroe’s interest in Mexico continued. In the early 1960s, as the Beat Era was drawing to a close, he was back in Mexico, living and painting for three years in Ajijic. It was in Ajijic that Monroe first met the poet and writer Al Young who also lived in California. In a 1969 newspaper interview, Young recalled that,

“At that time, Ajijic (near Guadalajara) was crammed with hippies … Arthur was one of the beatniks who had sort of lasted into the hippie era … The Mexicans loved him. They all called him by one name: Arturo. He was a very romantic figure, wearing the Mexican straw hat that the peasants wore. He was painting, and he was highly respected.”

In 1965, Monroe held an exhibition of his work at the Posada Ajijic, at the invitation of the inn’s manager Peter Spencer. In August 1965, Spencer announced that he would host a series of four solo shows in the hotel, each lasting two weeks, starting with Charles Littler (of the University of Arizona Art Department) and followed by Dick Poole, Arthur Monroe and John Thompson.

Back in California, Monroe continued to paint but took an establishment position as Registrar at the Oakland Museum. In addition, Monroe has taken an activist role in fighting to preserve indigenous petroglyphs scattered throughout California and has researched the history of African-American soldiers in World War II for a future book.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

As a painter, Monroe has always remained an abstract expressionist, preferring to let his ideas emerge gradually on the canvas to having any pre-determined drawing guide what he wanted to portray. Some works have taken up to three years to complete as he continually seeks to convey new “visual truths”. His work was included in a group show at the Cabrillo College Gallery in 1969 to mark Black Culture Week. He has also exhibited at the Richmond Art Center and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Monroe’s many one-person shows include an exhibition of large paintings at the Santa Cruz Art League’s Da Vinci Gallery in January 1991, the Don O’Melveny exhibition in December 2001, and the major show “The Inside of Now”, held at the Wiegand Gallery on the campus of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, in 2006. A newspaper preview of the show described Monroe’s large-scale canvasses as “vibrant with rhythm and color”, “unplanned, improvisational works, created in the moment”. Al Young, then Poet Laureate of California, said of Monroe that, “With playful clarity and depth, he paints his emotional response to the wayward world — and always with loving spontaneity.”

Sources:

  • Judith Broadhurst. 1991. “The beat goes on for artist Arthur Monroe”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 25 January 1991, p 11.
  • Terry St. John. Arthur Monroe (website)
  • East Bay Times, 16 March 2006
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California), 23 February 1969, p 13; 18 January 1991.

Other posts related to Beat artists, poets and writers:

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 Posted by at 5:39 am  Tagged with:
Jun 052017
 

Gordon Gammack was an Iowa newspaper reporter and columnist. During his 40-plus years working for The Des Moines Register and Tribune he covered three major wars – World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War – as a war correspondent.

Late in life in the early 1970s, he visited Chapala and wrote a couple of newspaper pieces about the area. The first focused on the places, including Lake Chapala, where Iowan individuals and couples had chosen to retire. The second piece looked at the downside of living in “Shangri-La” as Gammack christened the northern lake shore.

Gammack, the son of an Episcopalian pastor, was born in Lenox, Massachusetts on 31 May 1909 and died on 18 November 1974 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

After graduating from Kent School, Connecticut, where he wrote for the Kent School News, he attended Harvard University and then began work as a reporter for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. A friend of his older brother, Tom, arranged for him to join The Register and Tribune in 1933, during the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to come by. Gammack never looked back. He began by covering crime and sports, then moved on to state politics. Fellow reporters considered Gammack a natural – someone who could walk into a strange town and “three stories would run up and jump into his pocket” as one of his colleagues put it.

During World War II he became a foreign correspondent for the newspaper and followed Iowans serving in the armed forces in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, often sending personal notes home from front-line soldiers to their families. He was with the American forces that liberated Paris.

After the was Gammack became a columnist. His evening Tribune column usually appeared in the left-hand column of page one.

During one of several visits to Korea during the Korean War, Gammack witnessed the first exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war. He secured an exclusive radio and TV interview with Iowan Richard Morrison, the first American soldier released.

Gammack also covered the Vietnam War and won a National Headliners Club Award for his series of articles about Michael Kjome of Decorah, Iowa, who had been held as a prisoner of war.

A collection of his war columns, edited by Andrea Clardy, was published in 1979 as Gordon Gammack: Columns from Three Wars.

In 1971, Gammack visited Chapala during his research to write and photograph Iowans for an article entitled, “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”. In the article, Gammack describes how, “two former Tama residents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Morris, find retirement pleasant in Mexico. Domestic help there is so inexpensive that the Morrises have two gardeners and two cook-maids at their magnificent home near Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara.” He also photographed “Harold Stillwell, formerly of Malcom, and Mrs Stillwell” in their garden overlooking the lake.

A couple of months later, Gammack penned “The Trouble with Shangri-La” which looked at the downside of living at Lake Chapala. Noting, first, that a home that cost $50,000 to build in Des Moines would cost less than half that to build in Chapala, Gammack lists some of the many disadvantages, as he sees it, of retiring to live in Mexico, and, in particular, at Lake Chapala: the loneliness of expatriation, the “formidable separation” from children; the Napoleonic system of justice; the “high percentage of extreme right wingers and racists among the Americans in the area”; the loss of Medicare; the lack of telephones; the danger of contaminated water; the inferiority of local beef; the erratic mail service; “almost no worthwhile U.S. TV or radio programs”; problems with language.

Gordon Gammack died of lung cancer at the age of 65. One of his daughters also became a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

Sources:

  • Des Moines Register Famous Iowans: Gordon Gammack.
  • Friedricks, William. 2009. “Gammack, Gordon” in The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 22 May 2017.
  • Gordon Gammack. 1971. “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”, Des Moines Register, 14 November 1971, p 110
  • ——— (1972?). “The Trouble with Shangri-La”. Des Moines Register, [cited in Guadalajara Reporter 22 January 1972]

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

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