Feb 162017
 

Eunice and Peter Huf are artists who met in Mexico in the 1960s and lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala for several years, before relocating to Europe with their two sons in the early 1970s.

Eunice Eileen (Hunt) Huf, born 27 February 1933 in Alberta, Canada, can trace her family’s roots back to Switzerland and Germany. Her mother migrated to Canada from Bessarabia in Eastern Europe. Her father was born in Alberta.

Eunice studied painting for two years in Edmonton, specializing in portraiture. She married young and worked for a couple of years before continuing her art studies at the Vancouver Art School (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) where she also honed her skills in photography. She then worked as a freelance artist in Canada and Arizona before deciding to visit Mexico to regroup following the break-down of her first marriage which ended in divorce.

Eunice Huf at Lake Chapala, ca 1968. Photo by Peter Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Eunice Huf at Lake Chapala, ca 1968. Photo by Peter Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Her visit to Mexico was life-changing. After relaxing and painting for a few weeks in the small tropical town of San Blas on the Pacific Coast, Eunice went to a Sunday night Lion’s Club dance where she met a tall, handsome, German artist, Peter Paul Huf. It was January 1965 and the start of a life-long romance. Forty years later, the Huf’s elder son, Paul “Pablo” Huf, retold the story of this romance in an enthralling art display in Mexico City.

After meeting at the dance, Eunice and Peter spent the next six months together, first in San Blas and then in Oaxaca and Zihuatanejo (Guerrero). It was in San Blas where they first met Jack Rutherford and his family with their vintage school bus, the start of a long friendship. Rutherford had dug the sand away from the walls of an abandoned building in order to display and sell his paintings. In February 1965, Eunice and Peter Huf exhibited together in a group art show on the walls of the then-ruined, roofless, customs house (partially restored since as a cultural center).

After visiting Zihuatanejo, Eunice returned to Vancouver in June 1965, while Peter returned to Europe. They eventually reunited in Amsterdam later that year and traveled to Spain and Morocco from where Eunice continued on to South Africa for a short visit.

By January 1967 they were back together (this time for good!) and aboard a ship bound for Mexico. After landing in Veracruz, they returned first to San Blas (where they displayed paintings in an Easter exhibition in the former customs house) and then to Ajijic, which the Rutherfords had suggested was a good place to live, paint and sell year-round.

Peter and Eunice Huf married soon after arriving in Ajijic and lived in the village from May 1967 until June 1972. They have two sons: Paul “Pablo” Huf, born in 1967, and Kristof Huf, born in 1971.

Eunice Hunt: Scarecrow Bride. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Hunt: Scarecrow Bride. 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

For almost all her time in Mexico (even after her marriage to Paul Huf), Eunice exhibited as Eunice Hunt, only changing her artistic name to Eunice Huf at about the time the couple left Mexico in 1972 to move first to Andalucia, Spain (1972-1974) and then to Bavaria, Germany.

Both Peter and Eunice Huf regularly exhibited their work in Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Ajijic. They also sold artworks from their own studios in Ajijic, located first in a building on Calle Galeana and then at their home on Calle Constitución #30 near the Posada Ajijic hotel. (This building, incidentally, was later occupied by artists Adolfo Riestra and Alan Bowers).

Eunice Huf supplemented the family income by giving private art classes to many people, including former Hollywood producer Sherman Harris, the then manager of the Posada Ajijic. Eunice kept an iguana, that she had borrowed to paint, under her bed, and had a little iguana, too.

Peter and Eunice were founder members of a small collective of artists, known as Grupo 68, that exhibited regularly at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara and elsewhere from 1967 to 1971. Grupo 68 initially had 5 members: Peter Huf, Eunice Huf, Jack Rutherford, John K. Peterson and (Don) Shaw (who was known only by his surname). Tom Brudenell was also listed as part of the group for some shows. Jack Rutherford dropped out of the group after a few months, but the remaining four stayed together until 1971.

The exhibitions at the Camino Real hotel began at the invitation of Ray Alvorado, a singer who was the public relations manager of the hotel. Members of Grupo 68 began to exhibit regularly, every Sunday afternoon, in the hotel grounds. Later, they also exhibited inside the hotel at its Thursday evening fiesta.

The Hufs’ first joint show in Ajijic was at Laura Bateman’s gallery, Rincón del Arte, which opened on 15 December 1967, when their firstborn son was barely two months old.

1968 was an especially busy year for the Hufs. They were involved in numerous exhibitions, beginning with one at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January. Other artists at this show included Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John Peterson, Shaw, Rodolfo Lozano, and Gail Michael. The Ajijic artists in this group, together with Gail Michael, Jules and Abby Rubenstein, and Jack and Doris Rutherford, began to exhibit at El Palomar every Friday.

In May 1968 the Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) opened a collective fine crafts show. Eunice and Peter Huf presented “miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels” which were popular with tourists, alongside wall-hangings, jewelry and sculptures by Ben Crabbe, Beverly Hunt, Gail Michael, Mary and Hudson Rose, Joe Rowe and Joe Vines.

The next month (June 1968), the Hufs were back in Guadalajara, exhibiting in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show (prints, drawings, wood cuts) at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. This show also featured works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten , Allyn Hunt, John K. Peterson, Tully Petty, Gene Quesada and Don Shaw. Reviewing the show, Allyn Hunt admired Eunice Hunt’s “Moon Trap”, saying it “has a lyrical, fantasy-like quality”.

Eunice Hunt: Still llife. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Hunt: Still llife. 1969. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

The “re-opening” of Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery in Ajijic (at Calle Hidalgo #41) in September was accompanied by a group show of 8 painters-Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, Donald Shaw and Coffeen Suhl – and a sculptor: Joe Wedgwood.

At the end of October Eunice Huf held her first solo show in Mexico, showing 40 paintings at the Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara (located at * de Julio #878). The show was one of the numerous art exhibitions in the city comprising the Cultural Program of the International Arts Festival for the XIX Mexico City Olympics. (Her show preceded a solo show of works by Georg Rauch also under the patronage of Señora Holt and the Olympics.)

At the same time as Huf’s solo show, Grupo 68 (listed as Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson and Shaw) shared the Galería del Bosque (Calle de la Noche #2677) in Guadalajara with José María de Servín. This event was also part of the Olympics Cultural Program.

Towards the end of 1968, the Hufs co-founded a co-operative gallery “La Galería” in Ajijic, located on Calle Zaragoza at its intersection with Juarez, one block west of El Tejaban. On Friday 13 December 1968, the month-long group show for the “re-opening” of La Galería in Ajijic was entitled “Life is Art”. It consisted of works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons (now Cynthia Luria), and Joe Wedgwood. Art lovers attending gallery openings at this time were often served a tequila-enriched pomegranate ponche alongside snacks such as peanuts.

Somehow, in this crowded year, the Hufs also managed to fit in an exhibition at Redwood City Gallery in California.

In February 1969, Eunice and Peter Huf joined with (Don) Shaw to exhibit at the 10th floor penthouse Tekare Restaurant at Calle 16 de Sept. #157, in Guadalajara. This location has fame as the first place where jazz was played in Guadalajara. Later that year, Eunice Huf had a showing at the co-operative La Galería in Ajijic.

“Grupo 68” (Eunice and Peter Huf, Don Shaw and John K Peterson) held a showing of works at The Instituto Aragon (Hidalgo #1302) in Guadalajara in June 1969.

7-7-7 show (Hunt, Huf, Shaw), 1969

Three of these artists (the Hufs and Shaw) held another show shortly afterwards in Guadalajara at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728). That gallery was owned by Jose Maria de Servin and the show was entitled 7-7-7. It featured seven works by each artist with the promotional material featuring a pose by the three artists emulating the Olympic scoring system.

The following year (1970), an Easter Art Show which opened at the restaurant-hotel Posada Ajijic on 28 March featured works by Eunice and Peter Huf, John Frost, John K. Peterson, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie (Maddox) Sherratt.

In June 1970, Eunice Huf’s work was included in a group showing at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other Lakeside artists with works in this show included Peter Huf, Daphne Aluta, Mario Aluta, John Frost, Lesley Maddox and Bruce Sherratt .

In May 1971, both Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt were among those exhibiting at a Fiesta de Arte in Ajijic, held at a private home. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

A review of the Hufs’ “Farewell Show” at El Tejaban restaurant in Ajijic in May 1972 congratulated them on their contribution to the local art scene, saying that their “steady flow of exceptional paintings has been a bright force in the art community of Jalisco for the past six years.”

Eunice Huf. Red with clouds. Date?. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Huf. Red with clouds. 1994. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Shortly before leaving Mexico, the Hufs illustrated a short 32-page booklet entitled Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80, published in Guadalajara by Boutique d’Artes Graficas in 1972. The poems in the booklet were written by Ira N. Nottonson, who was also living in Ajijic at the time. The illustrations in the book are Mexican naif in style, whereas their own art tended to be far more abstract or surrealist.

Eunice and Peter Huf left Mexico in the summer of 1972 with every intention of returning, but never did, despite making plans in early 1976 for shipping their recent works from Germany to Ajijic for a show at Jan Dunlap’s Wes Penn Gallery. According to organizers, the artists wanted to return to Ajijic permanently. It appears that this show never actually took place, owing to complications of logistics and customs regulations.

On moving to Europe, the Hufs lived near Nerja, in Andalucia, southern Spain, for a time, before settling in 1974 near Peter’s hometown of Kaufbeuren in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. The couple now have studios in the house where he was born in Kaufbeuren. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years, with both artists winning many awards along the way.

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from "Taking time out".

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from “Taking time out”.

Eunice Huf’s lengthy artistic career has continued unabated. The long list of exhibitions in which her work has featured includes: University Exhibit, Edmonton (1962); City Gallery Vancouver (1963); Downtown Gallery, Tucson, Arizona (1964); Stellenbush, South Africa (1966); Galeria Aduana, San Blas, Mexico (1966); Rincon del Arte, Ajijic (1967); Galeria 8 de Julio, Guadalajara (1968); Redwood City Gallery, California (1968); La Galeria, Ajijic (1969); Tekare, Guadalajara (1969); El Instituto Aragon, Guadalajara (1970); El Tejon [? Tejabán ?], Ajijic (1971); El Rastro, Marbella, Spain (1972); followed by many other exhibitions in Spain and across Germany. Huf was represented by Munich-based Galeria Hartmann in International Art Fairs in Cologne and Basle.

Both Eunice and Peter Huf were regulars until 2013 at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975.

Unlike her husband’s works which are usually painted in acrylics, Eunice Huf prefers oils and line drawings. She has produced several somewhat whimsical, exquisite, little books featuring her deceptively simple line drawings, but also does larger works, including paintings described by one reviewer as shaped by the open expanses of her native Canadian prairies.

Acknowledgment:

I am very grateful to Eunice and Peter Huf for their warm hospitality during a visit to their home and studio in October 2014 which has led to a lasting friendship. Their archive of photos and press clippings from their time in Mexico proved invaluable, as did their encouragement and their memories of people and events of the time.

Sources:

  • Ira N. Nottonson. 1972. Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80. (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Graficas. 1972. 32pp, short poems illustrated with 16 paintings by Eunice and Peter Huf.
  • Guadalajara Reporter : 9 Dec 1967; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 15 June 1968; 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 20 Nov 1971; 20 May 1972; 28 Feb 1976
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 5 Jun 1970

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.

Feb 132017
 

Mexican author Ramón Rubín Rivas (1912-2000) wrote a novel set at Lake Chapala: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza. He wrote more than a dozen novels and some 500 short stories over a lengthy career and this work, first published in 1951, is considered one of his finest, though it has never been translated into English.

Rubín was a particularly keen observer of the way of life, customs and beliefs of Mexico’s many indigenous groups. His writing is based on extensive travels throughout the country and prolonged periods of residence with several distinct indigenous groups including the Cora/Huichol in Nayarit and Jalisco, the Tarahumara (raramuri) in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, and the Tzotzil in Chiapas. His novel about Lake Chapala, which we will look at in more detail in a future post, is the story of an indigenous fisherman who wants to acquire a canoe, set against the background of a lake facing serious problems. During the 1950s, Rubín was an ardent campaigner for the protection of the lake when drought and overuse threatened its very existence.

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

The early history of Rubín’s life is hazy. His “official” biography states that he was born to Spanish immigrant parents in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on 11 June 1912, and that the family moved to Spain when Rubín was two years old. However, some researchers have found evidence suggesting that he was actually born on that date in San Vicente de la Barquera in northern Spain, and subsequently “adopted” Mazatlán as his birthplace as he became known as a Mexican writer. Rubín would apparently respond to questions about his birthplace by saying that his only source of information had been his parents, and they had said he was born in Mazatlán. The lack of a Mexican birth certificate is not surprising given that the public records in many parts of Mexico were destroyed during the early years of the Mexican Revolution, which erupted in 1910.

Wherever he was born, Rubín attended school in Spain until 1929 when, at the age of sixteen, he relocated to Mazatlán in Mexico. It was while taking typing classes in Mazatlán (as a means of earning a living) that he wrote his first stories, allegedly because he was sitting too far from the blackboard to copy what the teacher wrote as practice exercises. The teacher agreed that he could write whatever he wanted, provided there were no typing errors, and Rubín’s literary career was under way.

Working as a salesperson, Rubín traveled widely in Mexico. When he settled for a time in Mexico City, he had several short stories, based on his travels and experiences, published in Revista de Revistas. He later became a regular contributor to newspapers, especially to El Informador and El Occidental. Rubín’s direct approach to narrating stories owes much to his childhood, when he was entranced by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and by the adventure novels of Emilio Salgari.

In the Spanish Civil War (1938), Rubín enlisted as a merchant seaman on the side of the Republicans. While not formally a member of the International Brigades, he took a cargo of arms and ammunition to Spain and was lucky to escape alive. Franco’s forces dropped 72 bombs on his ship, none of which hit their intended target.

Rubín enjoyed a measure of literary success in 1942 with the publication of the first of an eventual five volumes of short stories, all entitled Cuentos mestizos (“Mestizo tales”). Later short story collections include Diez burbujas en el mar, sarta de cuentos salobres (1949), two volumes of Cuentos de indios (1954 y 1958), Los rezagados (1983), Navegantes sin ruta: relatos de mar y puerto (1983) and Cuentos de la ciudad (1991).

Rubín had traveled to Chiapas for the first time and lived among the Tzotzil in 1938. He put this knowledge to good use in his first novel, El callado dolor de los tzotziles {“The silent pain of the Tzotzil”) (1949). Literary critics consider this to be a seminal portrayal of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. The novel goes far beyond mere description or adulation of indigenous lifestyles and is a genuine drama about the intolerance of an indigenous community towards a couple who are unable to have children. In line with tribal tradition, the woman is banished to the mountains, the man leaves the community to live for a time among the mestizos. When he returns, his mental state altered by his experiences, he spirals downwards and seeks refuge in alcohol.

In a later indigenous novel, entitled La bruma lo vuelve azul (“The smoke turns blue”) (1954), the main character is a Huichol Indian named Kanayame who is rejected by his father, stripped of his indigenous roots in a government school, and turns to banditry. Rubín’s other indigenous novels include El canto de la grilla (1952), La sombra del techincuagüe (1955) and Cuando el táguaro agoniza (1960).

In addition, Rubín wrote the novels La loca (1949), La canoa perdida (1951), El seno de la esperanza (1960) and Donde mi sombra se espanta (1964). Some of his work has been translated (into English, German French, Russian and Italian) and several stories have been adapted for the stage. Rubín also wrote a short autobiography – Rubinescas – and several screenplays, none of which was ever made into a film, though Hugo Argüelles’s 1965 film Los cuervos están de luto is a plagarized version of Rubín’s original story “El duelo”.

Given that Rubín’s books have a wide appeal – cited as valuable sources of information about people and landscapes by anthropologists, biologists, sociologists and geographers – and were acclaimed by famous contemporaries, including his good friend Juan Rulfo, and literary historians, including Emmanuel Carballo who saw fit to include him in his Protagonistas de la literatura mexicana – why is it that Rubín is not much better known?

First, many of his books had small print runs, and were often self-financed, not the work of major publishers. Many of his books are, therefore, very difficult to find.

Second, Rubín was very much an individualist and neither living in Mexico City nor a member of any mainstream literary group.

Third, according to the author himself, his public disagreements with another famous Jalisco novelist, Agustín Yáñez, who served as Governor of Jalisco during the crisis affecting Lake Chapala in the 1950s, led to him being denied support by any of Yáñez’s numerous friends. Rubín was a vigorous opponent, on ecological grounds, of many of the “development” (drainage) schemes proposed during Yáñez’s administration.

Indeed, when he was chosen as the recipient of the Jalisco Prize in 1954, he declined to accept it on both intellectual and moral grounds, not wanting anything to do with the Yáñez administration which he believed had failed to do enough to protect Lake Chapala. (He was eventually awarded the Prize in 1997).

Rubín was proud of the fact that his work was based on travel and first-hand research, and did not derive from library sources or from his imagination while sitting at his desk. His writing shows that action and plot are more important to him than relaying introspective thoughts or feelings. However, he disliked the suggestion, sometimes made by literary critics, that he was Mexico’s Hemingway.

Rubín lived the bulk of his creative years (1940-1970) in Guadalajara. He taught at the University of Guadalajara and owned two small shoe manufacturing companies in Jalisco, both of which he eventually gave to his employees. In the early 1970s, he spent three years in Autlán, in the southern part of the state, before moving to San Miguel Cuyutlán, near Tlajomulco, for a decade. He then lived in a seniors’ home in Guadalajara for two years. Notwithstanding the many websites that claim he died the year before, Ramón Rubín Rivas died in Guadalajara on 25 May 2000.

Rubín did not win as many awards as might be expected from the quality and originality of his work, but he was awarded the Sinaloa Prize for Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the Jalisco Literary Prize in 1997. Prior to either of those awards, he had been recognized in the U.S. by the award from the New Mexico Book Association in 1994 of their “Premio de las Americas”, as the writer “whose work best exemplifies the common humanity of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere” – a truly fitting tribute to this man of the people.

Sources:

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

Feb 092017
 

Eunice and Peter Huf are artists who met in Mexico in the 1960s and lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala for several years, before relocating to Europe with their two sons in the early 1970s.

Peter Huf was born 2 May 1940 in Kaufbeuren in southern Germany. A self-taught artist, he began to paint in 1960, while living in Paris. He lived in Paris from 1958 to 1963, and also spent time in Malaga (Spain), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Stockholm (Sweden) before crossing the Atlantic in 1964 to live in New York.

Huf then traveled to San Blas on Mexico’s west coast, where he first met his future wife, the Canadian artist Eunice Hunt. The couple met at a Lions Club dance on a Sunday evening in January 1965, and spent the next six months together in San Blas, Oaxaca and Zihuatanejo (Guerrero).

Peter Paul Huf. Ajijic, ca 1970. Photo by Eunice Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Peter Paul Huf. Ajijic, ca 1970. Photo by Eunice Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

It was in San Blas where they first met Jack Rutherford and his family with their vintage school bus, the start of a long friendship. Rutherford had dug the sand away from the walls of an abandoned building in order to display and sell his paintings. In February 1965, Eunice and Peter Huf exhibited together in a group art show on the walls of the then-ruined, roofless, customs house (partially restored since as a cultural center).

After Zihuatanejo, the couple separated for several months but eventually reunited in Amsterdam later that year and visited Spain and Morocco. By January 1967 they were aboard a ship bound for Mexico. After landing in Veracruz, they returned first to San Blas (where they displayed paintings in an Easter exhibition in the former customs house) and then to Ajijic, which the Rutherfords had suggested was a good place to live, paint and sell year-round.

Peter Huf married Eunice Hunt soon after arriving in Ajijic and they lived in the village from May 1967 until June 1972. They have two sons: Paul “Pablo” Huf, born in 1967, and Kristof Huf, born in 1971.

Peter Huf. Untitled. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Peter Huf. From the “Mundo mono” series. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Both Peter and Eunice Huf regularly exhibited their work in Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Ajijic. They also sold artworks from their own studios in Ajijic, located first in a building on Calle Galeana and then at their home on Calle Constitución #30 near the Posada Ajijic hotel. (This building, incidentally, was later occupied by artists Adolfo Riestra and Alan Bowers).

Peter and Eunice founded a small collective of artists, known as Grupo 68, that exhibited regularly at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara and elsewhere from 1967 to 1971. Grupo 68 initially had 5 members: Peter Huf, Eunice Huf, Jack Rutherford, John K. Peterson and (Don) Shaw (who was known only by his surname). Tom Brudenell was also listed as part of the group for some shows. Jack Rutherford dropped out of the group after a few months, but the remaining four stayed together until 1971.

The exhibitions at the Camino Real hotel began at the invitation of Ray Alvorado, a singer who was the public relations manager of the hotel. The members of Grupo 68 began to exhibit regularly, every Sunday afternoon, in the hotel grounds. Later, they also exhibited inside the hotel at its Thursday evening fiesta.

Peter Huf. Totem. 1969.

Peter Huf: Totem. 1969. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The Hufs’ first joint show in Ajijic was at Laura Bateman’s gallery, Rincón del Arte, which opened on 15 December 1967, when their firstborn son was barely two months old.

1968 was an especially busy year for the Hufs. They were involved in numerous exhibitions, beginning with one at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January. Other artists at this show included Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John Peterson, Shaw, Rodolfo Lozano, and Gail Michael. The Ajijic artists in this group, together with Gail Michael, Jules and Abby Rubenstein, and Jack and Doris Rutherford, began to exhibit at El Palomar every Friday.

In May 1968 the Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) opened a collective fine crafts show. Eunice and Peter Huf presented “miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels” which were popular with tourists, alongside wall-hangings, jewelry and sculptures by Ben Crabbe, Beverly Hunt, Gail Michael, Mary and Hudson Rose, Joe Rowe and Joe Vines.

Untitled. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Peter Paul Huf. “Dejeuner sur l’herbe”. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

The next month (June 1968), the Hufs were back in Guadalajara, exhibiting in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show (prints, drawings, wood cuts) at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. This show also featured works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten , Allyn Hunt, John K. Peterson, Tully Petty, Gene Quesada and Don Shaw.

A few months before his passing last year, sculptor Don Shaw, who lived in Jocotepec for many years and was a close friend of the Hufs, shared with me the story of how he had helped ensure that Peter Huf would never try to return to Ajijic in the dark after a night’s drinking or partying in Jocotepec. Shaw had made an arrangement with the local police that if they ever found Peter Huf drunk on the street, they would lock him up, no questions asked, overnight and contact Shaw the following morning to bail him out. At US$20 a time, this might not have been the cheapest hotel in town but at least it put a safe roof over his friend’s head. Shaw’s story reminded me that Huf himself had told me about how he had once been a film extra in the making of The Great Escape, filmed near Munich, playing one of a group of prison guards who were becoming drunk. The director agreed that some genuine drinks would make their behavior more lifelike but hadn’t counted on the number of re-takes then required to get his footage. After all their hard work, the extras were disappointed to discover that this scene never survived the final cut.

The “re-opening” of Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery in Ajijic (at Calle Hidalgo #41) in September was accompanied by a group show of 8 painters-Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, Donald Shaw and Coffeen Suhl – and a sculptor: Joe Wedgwood.

In October 1968, Grupo 68 (listed as Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson and Shaw) shared the Galería del Bosque (Calle de la Noche #2677) in Guadalajara with José María de Servín. This event was one of the numerous art exhibitions in the city comprising the Cultural Program of the International Arts Festival for the XIX Mexico City Olympics.

Peter Huf. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Peter Huf. “Ferne Welten”. 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The following month, Peter Huf was helping plan a prospective show at Rincón del Arte intended to showcase work “purchased from Ajijic artists over the past 20 years”. It is unclear whether or not this show ever actually took place.

Towards the end of 1968, the Hufs co-founded a co-operative gallery “La Galería” in Ajijic, located on Calle Zaragoza at its intersection with Juarez, one block west of El Tejaban. On Friday 13 December 1968, the month-long group show for the “re-opening” of La Galería in Ajijic was entitled “Life is Art”. It consisted of works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons (now Cynthia Luria), Joe Wedgwood. Art lovers attending gallery openings at this time were often served a tequila-enriched pomegranate ponche alongside snacks such as peanuts.

Somehow, in this crowded year, the Hufs also managed to fit in an exhibition at Redwood City Gallery in California.

In February 1969, Eunice and Peter Huf joined with (Don) Shaw to exhibit at the 10th floor penthouse Tekare Restaurant at Calle 16 de Sept. #157, in Guadalajara. This location has fame as the first place where jazz was played in Guadalajara.

At the end of the month, Peter Huf had a solo show entitled “El Mundo Mono” (Monkey World) at La Galeria in Ajijic.

“Grupo 68” (Eunice and Peter Huf, Don Shaw and John K Peterson) held a showing of works at The Instituto Aragon (Hidalgo #1302) in Guadalajara in June 1969. Three of these artists (the Hufs and Shaw) held another show shortly afterwards in Guadalajara at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728). That gallery was owned by Jose Maria de Servin and the show was entitled 7-7-7. It featured seven works by each artist with the promotional material featuring a pose by the three artists emulating the Olympic scoring system.

The following year (1970), an Easter Art Show which opened at the restaurant-hotel Posada Ajijic on 28 March featured works by Eunice and Peter Huf, John Frost, John K. Peterson, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie (Maddox) Sherratt.

In May 1970, Peter Huf was afforded the honor of a one-person show, Pinturas de la Mente, at the Instituto Aleman (Goethe Institut) in Guadalajara.

The following month, both Peter and Eunice Huf were included in a group showing at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other Lakeside artists with works in this show included Daphne Aluta, Mario Aluta, John Frost, Lesley Maddox and Bruce Sherratt.

In May 1971, both Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt were among those exhibiting at a Fiesta de Arte in Ajijic, held at a private home. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

A review of the Hufs’ “Farewell Show” at El Tejaban restaurant in Ajijic in May 1972 congratulated them for their contribution to the local art scene, saying that their “steady flow of exceptional paintings has been a bright force in the art community of Jalisco for the past six years.”

Shortly before leaving Mexico, the Hufs illustrated a short 32-page booklet entitled Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80, published in Guadalajara by Boutique d’Artes Graficas in 1972. The poems in the booklet were written by Ira N. Nottonson, who was also living in Ajijic at the time. The illustrations in the book are Mexican naif in style, whereas their own art tended to be far more abstract or surrealist.

Peter Huf: Birds.

Peter Huf: Birds. 1967. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Eunice and Peter Huf left Mexico in the summer of 1972 with every intention of returning, but never did, despite making plans in early 1976 for shipping their recent works from Germany to Ajijic for a show at Jan Dunlap’s Wes Penn Gallery. According to organizers, the artists wanted to return to Ajijic permanently. It appears that this show never actually took place, owing to complications of logistics and customs regulations.

On moving to Europe, the Hufs lived near Nerja, in Andalucia, southern Spain, from 1972 to 1974, where they renewed their friendship with Jack Rutherford. While in Spain, Peter contracted typhoid (from a visit to Morocco) and was rushed from their isolated residence in the hills to the hospital in Torremolinos by former Ajijic resident Geoffrey Goodridge (the flamenco guitarist “Azul”) and his Dutch wife in their VW minivan.

In 1974, they returned to Peter’s hometown of Kaufbeuren in the Allgäu region of southern Germany and now have joint studios in the house where he was born. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years. Peter Huf’s art has won many awards along the way, including the colleagues’ prize of the Professional Association of Visual Artists (Berufsverband Bildender Kunstler).

Peter Paul Huf’s major solo shows include Augsburg, Germany (1966); La Galeria, Ajijic (1969); Instituto Aleman (Goethe Institut), Guadalajara (1970); Kunstwerkstatt und Galerie Pich, Munich (1980); and Haus de Kunst, Kunstsalon, Munich (1981).

Both Peter and Eunice Huf were regulars at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975. In 1994, Peter Huf founded The Art Tent at this market. The Art Tent, which Huf oversaw until 2014, gives some twenty artists – “painters, sculptors, object artists, and conceptual artists” an “opportunity to escape from the tightness of their booth and to display bigger works”, and has become a big attraction.

Mexican influences are still very apparent in Peter Huf’s work, even today. His paintings often incorporate geometric patterns and are mainly done using acrylics. To quote the artist, “My concept is my life and surrealism is part of it.”

Acknowledgment:

I am very grateful to Eunice and Peter Huf for their warm hospitality during a visit to their home and studio in October 2014 which has led to a lasting friendship. Their archive of photos and press clippings from their time in Mexico proved invaluable, as did their encouragement and their memories of people and events of the time.

Sources:

  • Ira N. Nottonson. 1972. Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80. (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Graficas. 1972. 32pp, short poems illustrated with 16 paintings by Eunice and Peter Huf.
  • Guadalajara Reporter : 9 Dec 1967; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 15 June 1968; 9 Nov 1968; 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 20 Nov 1971; 20 May 1972; 28 Feb 1976
  • El Informador (Guadalajara) : 5 Jun 1970

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 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Feb 062017
 

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 books, 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.

The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey.

1. TRIP ONE  (March 21, 1946)

“We had arrived in Guadalajara ready to spend a week with Nadeyne. We had never heard of Chapala, but we were willing to take her word that it was worth visiting, especially when we learned it was on a lake.” (82)

– – –

[After a day in Chapala] We drove out past the villas of the wealthier residents and found the smooth gravel ended at the outskirts of the town. The road proved even worse than I anticipated. It was dirt all the way and in very poor repair. To minimize the jolts it was necessary to go so slowly that most of the time I had to drive in second gear.

The road paralleled the shore of the lake. There were fields on either side and the mountains rose on our right. Actually, it was very pretty, with the picturesqueness being heightened by the cattle grazing in the fields and by the peasant people we passed, some riding donkeys, some herding goats, others carrying baskets. But, Lord, the going was bumpy! Trying to find the least broken surfaces occupied most of my attention.

As we rounded the first mountain headland, where the hills came close, I saw that a flood-stream, in racing down the slopes to reach the lake, had cut a ravine across the dirt tracks that comprised the road. The gully was narrow, but it was a good four feet deep and it was bridged only by two thick planks which were set a car’s width apart. As we crept over the planks, I thought, with a shudder, of the danger if one had to come back over them at night when it was hard to see.

After jolting along for about four miles we came to a pretty village called San Antonio. The road took several jogs to get through it and at the far end the General asked us to stop. She had some business to transact at a friend’s house. We offered to wait, but she announced she would walk the rest of the way. She needed the exercise. Mrs. Beyer would show us where to go, so we would not get lost. Once in Ajijic we were to visit the authoress, Neill James. We were to wait there and she would join us later.

As we resumed our way over the rutted washboard, I could see why the General preferred to walk. From here on the road had the appearance of a country lane, for it was shaded by gnarled trees that resembled mimosas. And besides being cooler and lovelier for walking, it was, if possible, even rougher for riding. Once in Ajijic the bumps came like bullets from a machine gun. The streets were cobbled. (85)

– – –

There was a resplendent purple and gold sunset. Sometimes unusual lighting effects can illumine a scene in an odd way, opening its whole significance, as it were. But this sunset did not have this effect on me. Principally, I saw it as a reminder of how late it was. I even resented the vividness. It seemed too flagrantly showy to be beautiful, and it heightened my sense of not belonging to Mexico. (90)

How could anyone ever feel at home in a land of such overpowering and excessive color? I asked myself. And as the question presented itself I felt as if all the alien features of the country—the heat, the tropical vegetation, the primitiveness, the throbbing colors— had gathered themselves together to oppress my northern spirit. (90)

Ross Parmenter: Aggie the Car[They had trouble starting the car and only left Ajijic as the sun was going down]

We were only a little way beyond Ajijic when I had to turn on the lights to see the ruts of the awful road. At first I doubted if the bulbs were burning, but as the dusk deepened I could see they were making a faint orange impression on the air in front of them. The glow dimmed and brightened according to our speed. I saw the generator was operating a bit, for when the motor turned faster the lights shone brighter. The trouble was that the road was so bad I had to go very slowly. It meant we had very little light. (91)
– – –
The intervening town of San Antonio, where the General had stopped on business on the way out, proved the greatest hazard. Not being electrified, there were no street lights and one turn looked very much like another. But we got safely through the dark village. [and eventually safely back to Chapala]. (91)

The illustration in this post is by Ross Parmenter.

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.

Feb 022017
 

Artist Cynthia Jones Luria, “Casey” to her friends, has several connections to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. She lived in the village from 1968 to 1969, and from about 2000 to 2003.

Born in 1943, her birth name is Cynthia Siddons Jones (“Siddons” is in memory of her maternal grandfather, artist Harry Siddons Mowbray). Her family gave her the nickname “Casey” when she was two.

Casey Luria attended Colorado Women’s College in Denver, and graduated in the class of 1963.

Casey Luria. Low Tide. 2010 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Cynthia Luria. Low Tide. 2010 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Over the years, on account of three marriages, Luria has used various different names for her art, including Cynthia Siddons, Cynthia Jones Hachten, Cynthia Jones Benjamin and, since 2001, Cynthia Jones Luria and Casey Luria.

On Valentine’s Day 1968, she married fellow artist Paul Charles Hachten in Mendocino, California. Immediately after their marriage, the young couple moved to Mexico, where they lived in Ajijic from 1968 to 1969. Peter Huf, who with his wife, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, was active in the Ajijic art community at that time, remembers Casey as “a very fine artist with a great sense for irony”. Casey became good friends with another artist who had links to Ajijic for more than forty years: Henry Edwards and his wife, Corinne.

Painting by Casey Luria. Credit: Casey Luria.

Example of iPad art by Cynthia Luria.

Cynthia Siddons (as she then signed her artwork) is listed among the artists exhibiting in the December 1968 to January 1969 show for the “re-opening” of La Galeria in Ajijic. The show, which opened on Friday 13 December 1968 was entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art” and also included works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth PetersonJack Rutherford, José Ma. de Servin, Shaw, and Joe Wedgwood.

In April 1969, Cynthia Siddons’ work was included in another show at La Galería in Ajijic, of “El Grupo”, together with works by John Kenneth Peterson and “guest artist” Charles Henry Blodgett. The members of El Grupo at the time, according to the Guadalajara daily Informador (20 April) were John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

Casey Luria. Sundown. 2015 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Cynthia Luria. Sundown. 2015 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Cynthia Siddons held a solo showing of her paintings at La Galeria (Zaragoza 1, Ajijic) which opened on Friday 4 July 1969. (She has also held one other gallery showing in Mexico since that time, under the name Casey Luria.)

Cynthia Benjamin (Cynthia Siddons). Tractores. Image: CABA, 2000.

Cynthia Luria (Cynthia Benjamin). Tractores. Image: CABA, 2000.

In April 1975, after divorcing Paul Hachten, Cynthia Siddons Jones married Jerome Benjamin.

Following the end of that relationship, in 2001 she married Robert (“Bob”) Alan Luria, also an artist, in Tucson, Arizona, a marriage that lasted until 2011. The couple were living in Ajijic at the time of their marriage and remained there for about three years in total. While living in Ajijic, and in association with Mexican folk art expert Marianne Carlson, they opened an art gallery on 16 de Septiembre, across the street from the Lake Chapala Society.

Luria says that, “It was our trips together around the country [to purchase artwork] that convinced Marianne that she had to do something to help save the crafts Mexico, knowing that it would cease to exist if the artists never made any money from their craft. She doesn’t do anything small, we discovered. Maestros del Arte is amazing. I hope it continues on for a very long time.” Luria is describing the origins and success of the annual Maestros del Arte art and handicrafts fair held at the lake. Luria is pictured, along with Carlson and Teresa Kendrick in a photo to commemorate the first Maestros del Arte show (in 2005 at the Hotel Italo in Ajijic) in the December 2005 issue of El Ojo del Lago. The event has become one of Mexico’s most important exhibitions of folk art, bringing in artisans and their work from all over the country to showcase and sell their creative output. Luria attended the show regularly until recently.

Cynthia Luria. Two Can. Gourd assemblage. 2005.

Cynthia Luria. Two Can. Gourd assemblage. 2005.

Casey and Bob Luria left Ajijic after Bob had two serious health scares. They settled in Silver City, New Mexico, where Casey ran a gallery called Bloomin Gourdworks, making whimsical gourd sculptures and totems to complement her jewelry designs. Her jewelry was shown at the Yellow Gallery in Silver City, and the gourd sculptures were displayed at Details, Art and Design in Tucson, Arizona. She also donated pieces for benefit auctions for the cancer society, the Tucson museum of art, and the city’s Symphony Orchestra.

In 2008, Cynthia (Casey) Luria joined with two fellow artists -Randi Olson and Connie Powers – to open a store called the “Silver City Bag Ladies” in Silver City, where they sold unique handcrafted bags. (Desert Exposure, October 2008). Luria is quoted as saying at the time that “We are experimenting with all sorts of materials, in all sorts of sizes and shapes. I guess you’d say, ‘Whatever’s your bag!'”

Luria currently resides in the Tucson area of Arizona where she is turning her attention to mastering papier-mâché sculpting. Though Luria’s first love was painting, and she continues to draw and paint, she has increasingly become devoted to sculpture. Her creations are often quirky, designed to amuse.

As an artist, Luria says that she paints primarily for fun and draws inspiration from Dr Seuss, as well as from Mexican and Aboriginal art. This link has some interesting and colorful examples of her iPad artwork, which she describes as “zen tangles and doodles” and “stream of consciousness painting”.

Sources:

  • El Informador (Guadalajara). 1969. 20 April 1969; 4 July 1969.
  • El Ojo del Lago. 2005. December 2005 issue.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri). 1967. 19 February 1967.

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Casey Luria for graciously sharing memories and information related to her career and time in Mexico. (This is an updated version of a post first published 16 June 2016.)

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

 Posted by at 6:18 am  Tagged with:
Jan 302017
 

Given that Canadian Ross Parmenter (1912-1999) only ever spent a few days at Lake Chapala, his inclusion in this series of profiles of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala may seem surprising. However, his detailed accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – first by car and then by boat – on two consecutive days in March 1946, are compelling reading, affording us a glimpse into several aspects of lakeside life at the time. [We look at these accounts in future posts]

And the 1940s was certainly an important time in the literary history of Ajijic. The author duo writing as Dane Chandos had just published Village in the Sun, while Neill James’s book Dust on my Heart, which also includes an interesting account of life in the village, was just about to be published in New York.

Parmenter’s travel account, published in Stages in a Journey, coincided with a time when more and more Americans (and to a lesser extent other foreigners) were traveling south to explore Mexico. Parmenter, though, was not your average tourist. He had a an artist’s eye but remained anxious about the difficulties and rewards of observing things in great detail. He was also an experienced writer. This somewhat unlikely combination gave Parmenter not only keen powers of observation but also an almost-obsessive attention to recording as many pertinent details as possible.

Even if the detailed accounts of his trip were not enough, Parmenter is one of the relatively small number of Canadians who have ever written about the area, quite possibly the first of any note.

Charles Ross Parmenter was born on 30 May 1912 in Toronto, Canada. At the University of Toronto he majored in modern history and reviewed art for the undergraduate newspaper. After gaining his BA degree in 1933 he worked briefly for the Toronto Evening Telegram before moving to New York in 1934 to work as a general reporter on the New York Times. In 1940 he joined the New York Times‘ music department as a reviewer, and was appointed the paper’s music news editor in 1955, a position he held until his retirement in 1964.

This lengthy career at the New York Times was punctuated by the second world war, during which Parmenter served for three years as a medical technician. Discharge from the armed services did not immediately alleviate his troubled soul and he set off to Mexico, hoping to find his bearings.

His traveling companion on this first trip – Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher – was more than twice his age. The two friends drove down from California in “Aggie”, her 1932 Plymouth four-door sedan. Parmenter later wrote that whereas he had gone to learn about Mexico, he had actually learned from Mexico, a sentiment subsequently echoed by many other authors and artists.

Parmenter’s Chapala-Ajijic trips comprise chapter 3 of his Stages in a Journey, which was not published until 1983. Stages in a Journey is an unusual book, part travel writing, part travelogue and part “an account of personal growth”, but still well worth reading.

The same volume has descriptions of several major 16th century monasteries in Mexico, including the Church of San Miguel Arcangel in Ixmiquilpan (Hidalgo); the Monastery of San Miguel Arcángel in Huejotzingo (Puebla); and the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapan (Oaxaca). Parmenter’s long-time friend Dick Perry, who has himself written several seminal works about Mexico’s colonial religious architecture, has stressed the importance of these accounts from the 1940s:

“His descriptions of these early colonial monuments, then virtually unknown to American art historians or travelers, remain among the earliest accounts in English and can claim considerable historic interest.”

Parmenter loved Mexico. After he retired in 1964, he divided his time between New York and Oaxaca. Over the years, he published several books related to Mexico and to his specialist interests in archaeology, Mixtec documents and colonial architecture.

For Lake Chapalaphiles, the most interesting of other Parmenter books about Mexico is Lawrence in Oaxaca: A Quest for the Novelist in Mexico (1984), in which he looks in minute detail at D. H. Lawrence’s stay in Oaxaca over the winter of 1924-25. It was a productive stay, during which Lawrence wrote four of the pieces in Mornings in Mexico and rewrote The Plumed Serpent which he had drafted in Chapala the year before.

Other books written by Parmenter include The Plant in my window (1949); Week in Yanhuitlan (1964); Explorer, Linguist and Ethnologist (1966) [Alphonse Louis Pinart]; The Awakened Eye (1968); School of the Soldier (1980); Lienzo of Tulancingo, Oaxaca (1993); and A House for Buddha: A Memoir with Drawings (1994). Parmenter fans will be disappointed to learn that another work – Zelia Nuttall and the recovery of Mexico’s past – remained unpublished at the time of his death, though copies of the manuscript are held by Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Ross Parmenter died at his Manhattan home on 18 October 1999 at the age of 87.

Sources:

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

Jan 262017
 

Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen were an artistic couple who had a long connection to Mexico. The certainly visited Mexico prior to 1938, and first visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala in 1950. They became regular visitors to Lake Chapala from then until the 1970s. The work of both artists was included in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

The couple grew up in the small city of Benton Harbor in Michigan, which has a street named after Eugene Nowlen’s paternal grandfather, A. R. Nowlen.

Eugene Pratt Nowlen (aka Gene Nowlen) was born on 4 November 1899 and became an architect, completing his education at the school of architecture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lillian Marjorie Poundstone, who usually went by her middle name, was born on 31 March 1901. An accomplished pianist, she studied at the University of Michigan (class of 1924) and became a music and dance teacher. While still in high school she won second place in a state local history competition. Her essay, along with other winning essays, was published in 1917 in “Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17”.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie’s musical accomplishments also started at an early age. She receives Regular mentions in the local press as a pianist. In November 1925, for instance, a short piece in Central Normal Life said that she played the “Blue Danube” waltz by Strauss and “To a Toy Soldier” by Clarence Warner with “great technical skill and fine interpretative ability.” It is clear from these and other references that both Marjorie and Eugene were in the social elite of Benton Harbor.

On 11 February 1928 they were united in marriage, a marriage that was to last until Gene’s death in 1977.

In their first years of marriage, Eugene Nolen practiced as an architect in his native city (remodeling the building occupied by the Peoples Savings Association and designing new homes), while Marjorie gave piano and dance lessons at their home at #758, Pearl Street.

The couple had two children: Barbara Jean (possibly Barbara Gene) and Richard, usually referred to in press reports as “Dick”. The children performed Mexican dances at local shows, and in more than one report, it was stated that “their parents have visited [Mexico] and bought authentic costumes”. At age 7, another report describes “Barbara Gene Nowlen taking several bows after her dance in a gorgeous costume brought back from Mexico by her parents”. The family’s love for Mexico was evident. For instance, following another concert, Marjorie Nowlen was going to show “Mexican motion pictures”.

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown.

A lengthy newspaper piece in 1942 reports that “Mrs Marjorie Nowlen” was working as a Red Cross nurse in Berrien County and had organized dozens of home nursing classes.

In 1943 the family left Benton Harbor and relocated to California, to Pasadena and Laguna Beach, where Eugene worked in real estate. The circumstances that led them to visit Ajijic in 1950 are unclear but, by the early 1950s, Eugene had retired in order to paint full-time. The couple promptly set off on an 18-month-long trip around the world, allowing plenty of painting time along the way.

On their return, Eugene Nowlen’s watercolors were shown at the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, in an exhibit, held in 1955, which also featured oils by Carl Schmidt of San Bernardino. The press report for this event says that Nowlen had won an award at the annual Madonna festival in Los Angeles for a watercolor entitled “Mexican Mother.” According to the Laguna Beach Art Association, Nowlen had several solo exhibits during his artistic career.

As an artist, Gene Nowlen developed his techniques by studying with several well-known artists, including Sueo Serisawa, Paul Darrow, Hans Burkhardt, and Leonard Edmondson.

In 1960, Nowlen’s “Market Day” was exhibited at a showing at a private home in Los Angeles, alongside works by many other artists, including one who also had close ties to Lake Chapala. One of the other paintings in the show as Priscilla Frazer’s “Mosaic Gate”. Frazer had a home in Chapala Haciendas for many years and her work will be subject of a future post.

The Nowlens were active in the Laguna Beach Art Association through the 1960s. For instance, in 1968, they co-organized a December art bazaar. According to a Los Angeles Times article in 1970, during Marjorie Nowlen’s chairmanship of the Exhibitions Committee at the Laguna Art Museum, she brought in experienced judges and the membership more than doubled from 300 to 640. The article describes her as “a soft spoken leader” and says that this “gracious, girlish grandmother with a gentle sense of humor” is “a doer.”

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972.

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie Nowlen exhibited at the Many Media Mini Show, Redlands Art Association, in 1970.

A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) included works by both Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen. (Other artists represented in this small volume include Luis Avalos, Antonio Cárdenas, Marian Carpenter, Jerry K. Carr, Tom Faloon, Priscilla Frazer, John Frost, Arthur L. Ganung, Virginia Ganung, Lona Isoard, Antonio López Vega, Luz Luna, Robert Neathery, José Olmedo, Hudson M. Rose, Mary Rose, Eleanor Smart and Jack Williams.)

Marjorie Nowlen also showed a work which received an honorable mention, in La Mirada’s Fiesta de Artes in Long Beach, California, in May 1974.

Gene Nowlen died on 27 September 1977 at the age of 77; Marjorie Nowlen passed away on 1 April 1998, at the age of 97.

Note:

While the 1940 US Census suggests that the Nowlens’ son, Richard, was born in about 1932, elsewhere it seems that he was actually born in 1929 and is the same Richard Nowlen who was murdered along with a female friend in the Mojave Desert, California in 1959, while on the run from Chino men’s prison.

Sources:

  • Central Normal Life, 25 November 1925, p1.
  • A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Jan 1964, 7.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California: 29 May 1955, p 51; 10 April 1960, p 57; 1 December 1968, p 149; 12 May 1974, p60.
  • Independent, Long Beach, California, 11 September 1959, p5.
  • Lael Morgan. 1970. “Art Exhibition Chairman Brings Changes to Laguna”, in Los Angeles Times (16 October 1970), E2.
  • Mirror News, Los Angeles, Monday, September 14, 1959 page 12.
  • The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan: 2 August 1917 p 2; 21 December 1923, p17; 28 July 1925, p4; 1 January 1938, p41; 22 June 1938, p 3; 11 May 1939, p3; 13 May 1939, p3; 23 June 1939, p 4; 16 March 1940, p4; 30 April 1940, p4; 31 December 1941, p120; 3 December 1952, Page 4; 23 May 1953, p 4.
  • The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, 22 September 1959, p2.
  • Michigan Ensign, Volume 25, UM Libraries, 1921.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. 2015. Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972. (Dustin Publications: Publications in California Art No. 11).
  • Cornelia M Richardson; Marjorie Poundstone; Edward Morris Brigham, jr.; Russell Holmes; Michigan Historical Commission.. 2017. Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17. (Lansing, Mich.: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co.).
  • San Bernardino County Sun, October 4, 1970, page 36.
  • The Tustin News, Tustin, California, 14 November 1963, p14.

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

Jan 232017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Jan 192017
 

Allen Wadsworth, born in about 1939, had at least two exhibitions in Ajijic in the 1970s and honed his carpentry and painting skills in the village prior to embarking on a long and distinguished career in Hollywood as a set painter and scenic artist for major movies and TV shows.

Wadsworth and his wife Diane are natives of Minnesota and grew up in the Montevideo area of that state. He was always good at art but only decided to pursue his talents in that field after a stint in the U.S. Navy. He spent time in the 1960s and early 1970s studying and painting, including spells in both England and Mexico. A 2014 newspaper piece says that Wadsworth also “enjoyed a stint as the general manager of an art gallery in the smokestack on the Queen Mary.”

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

While his precise dates in Ajijic remain unclear, Wadsworth held two exhibitions in the village. The earlier show was held at the gallery-restaurant known as El Tejabán (at Zaragoza #1), then run by Jan Dunlap. That show opened on 20 May 1973 and featured acrylics and oils. The newspaper account described Wadsworth as a watercolorist who had studied at several art schools in the U.S. and exhibited in many galleries.

Three years later, Jan Dunlap had a new gallery in Ajijic, at 16 de Septiembre #9, the Wes Penn Gallery, named for her former artist husband. The exhibit that opened on 21 February 1976 was a two-person show, combining photos by Sylvia Salmi with 14 of Wadsworth’s oil paintings. (It was followed by a solo show of works by Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen.)

A newspaper interview in 2014 quotes Wadsworth as saying, in relation to Mexico, that “I taught in an art gallery and made frames and after I got back from Mexico a friend hooked me up with the studios as a scenic artist.”

From Ajijic, Wadsworth was apparently thrown into the deep end as a set painter with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. His first project was the 1976 film, A Star is Born, which won Barbra Streisand an Academy Award for Best Original Song. After that, Wadsworth worked on The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, and released later that year. Working in the era before CGI (computer-generated imagery), all special effects had to be achieved through craftsmanship and skilled painting.

Wadsworth worked on numerous other major movies including Arthur (1981), Protocol (1984), The Goonies (1985), Dick Tracy (1990), Hook (1991), Casper (1995), Eraser (1996), Men in Black (1997), Viva Rock Vegas (2000), Scary Movie (2000), Dragonfly (2002), Hidalgo (2004). He also worked on several well-known TV shows including Roots mini-series (1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), Hotel (1983-1988), Falcon Crest (1981-1990).

Of all these projects, Wadsworth’s favorite Hook (1991), the cast of which featured such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. In addition to painting the Lost Boys’ treehouse in Neverland, Wadsworth painted the sky and clouds on the nursery walls and the huge, menacing crocodile that falls on Captain Hook in the movie’s final scene.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboki magazine.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboji magazine.

Away from his work on movies (for which he rented accommodation, as and when needed, in Los Angeles) Wadsworth and his wife, Diane, lived with their children in the northern California town of Alturas. Between movies, Wadsworth continued to paint, with occasional gallery shows to sell paintings in northern California, Idaho, Nevada and Washington.

After painting sets and scenery for 25 years, Wadsworth retired with his wife Diane to Iowa where he has a studio at Spirit Lake. Paintings spanning 45 years of work were exhibited in his solo show of 21 watercolors and 51 oils, “Paintings by Allen Wadsworth,” at The Pearson Lakes Art Center in Iowa which ran for two months from 17 July 2014.

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.

Jan 162017
 

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

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orozco mural;s inside Jiqulipan library

Orozco murals inside Gabino Ortiz Public Library, Jiqulipan

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

Sources:

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

Jan 122017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Alseth. Illustrated book cover, 1963.

Fred Alseth. Illustrated book cover, 1963.

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

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

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

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

Reference:

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

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

Jan 092017
 

Regina Alma (deCormier) Shekerjian and her husband, photographer Haig Shekerjian, spent several months living in Ajijic over the winter of 1950-51, and returned frequently thereafter, including numerous times in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Regina deCormier Shekerjian (1923-2000) was a well-known poet, author, translator and illustrator of children’s books.

She was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on 22 December 1923 and died on 21 April 2000 at the age of 76. DeCormier was the daughter of Robert DeCormier, a public school teacher born in Maine, and his Swedish-born wife, Selma.

After graduating from Poughkeepsie High School, where she was an active member of the Dramatic Club, Regina studied art at Skidmore College and then began classes at the University of New Mexico. In 1944, she married U.S. Navy Seaman Second Class Haig W. Shekerjian in Pensacola, Florida, where he was then stationed. Shekerjian had studied at the Eastman School of Photography in Rochester, New York, and had been a fellow student at the University of New Mexico, before joining the Navy in November 1943.

After Haig Shekerjian left the Navy in 1945, the couple, and their two sons (Tor and Jean-René) lived for many years in New Paltz, New York, where Haig was Art Director of the Media Services Center at the State University College.

Regina Shekerjian published under various names, including Regina Tor, Regina deCormier (or Decormier) and Regina Shekerjian.

As Regina Tor, she co-wrote, with Eleanor Roosevelt, Growing Toward Peace (Random House, 1960). This book, translated into 15 languages, was written for the United Nations and describes the various programs offered by that organization, with many attractive illustrations, presumed to be the work of Regina.

Regina Shekerjian had written to Eleanor Roosevelt several years earlier, in 1953, sending her a copy of her recently-published first book (Getting to know Korea) and seeking help with getting funding to travel to Germany to research her next book in the series. In a diary entry, Roosevelt includes quotes from Shekerjian’s letter to her:

“A letter addressed to me that accompanied the book interested me very much because I discovered that the author, Regina (Tor) Shekerjian, is a very near neighbor. She lives in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., a nice, quiet little village about 10 miles from Poughkeepsie.
She told me that this book was her first and she hoped it was just the beginning of a series. The next would be on Germany . . .  She is still looking for some way to get there so that this second volume can be written.
She introduces herself by saying: “You don’t remember me, but I had lunch with you one summer day. I was 21 that year and I was running for alderman on the Democratic ticket in the city of Poughkeepsie. I was the first woman ever to have run for that office. I was also the youngest, I guess.”
“Of course, that was eight summers ago and I was only one of about seven young Democrats, but I remember well that day. There were hot dogs and tiny, perfectly shaped red tomatoes and salad, and ice cream and you speaking about peace and the future of the world, and the part young people must play—the responsibility which belonged to each of us not only to preserve this great country but to help make it even greater.” [Eleanor Rooseveldt, 19 April 1953]

Regina first visited Ajijic when her husband took a sabbatical break over the winter of 1950-51 and they spent several months living in the village. Regina wrote an article in 1952 entitled “You can Afford a Mexican Summer” for Design in which she extolled the virtues of Ajijic as an ideal location for an inexpensive art-themed summer break.

Regina Shekerjian wrote at least six books for young readers: Getting to know Korea (1953); Getting to know Puerto Rico (1955); Getting to know Canada (1956); Getting to know the Philippines (1958); Getting to know Greece (1959) and Discovering Israel (1960), which won a National Jewish Book award.

Shekerjian illustrated several books, including River winding (1970); 19 Masks for the Naked Poet (1971); The Chinese Story Teller (1973); and Menus For All Occasions (1974).

Together, Regina and Haig Shekerjian illustrated several books, most of them written by Nancy Willard and aimed at young readers. They included The Adventures of Tom Thumb (1950); Life in the Middle Ages (1966); The boy, the rat, and the butterfly (1971); King Midas and the Golden Touch (1973); Play it in Spanish : Spanish games and folk songs for children (1973); The merry history of a Christmas pie : with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974); All on a May morning (1975); How Many Donkeys? A Turkish Folk Tale (1971); and The well-mannered balloon (1976).

The Shekerjians also co-wrote, with close relative Robert deCormier, A Book of Christmas Carols (1963); and A Book of Ballads, Songs and Snatches (1965).

Turning to poetry, Regina deCormier had poems published in numerous journals, including American Poetry Review, American Voice, ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, The G. W. Review, Kalliope, Kansas Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, Nimrod, Poetry East, and Salmagundi.

A collection of deCormier’s poems, entitled Hoofbeats on the Door: Poems, was published in 1993 by Helicon Nine Editions of Kansas City, Missouri. Several of the poems in this strong collection have obvious connections to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. 

Several of the poems in this strong collection have obvious connections to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. The longest and most complex is “From the Bellringer’s Wife’s Journal”, a rich, powerful, three-part poem set in Ajijic.

By the lake, bent over a wheelbarrow of water,
a woman guts a large salmon-gold carp,
gives a friend a recipe
for curing the bite of a scorpion,
and one for the heart that breaks.

The poem also includes  references to Calle Ocampo and, across the lake, the mountain named García.

The poem entitled “Testimony” describes the near-death experience of “Guillermo”.

“Rain” is a delightful tribute to one of Ajijic’s most famous residents ever, a legendary former ballet star who lived in Ajijic for decades prior to her passing in 1989:

[We] huddle over the photographs
of Zara, La Rusa,
the legendary one,
the dancer from the Ballet Russe
who came to this village
longer ago than anyone can remember,
the one who went everywhere
on horseback, the one
who still believes horses are spirits
from another realm…

“Lupe”, the title of another poem in the collection, turns out to be the daughter of the village baker, “Tito”:

Tito shoves the long-handled wood paddle
into the adobe over, lifts out
five perfectly round loaves of bread, round
as his wife’s breasts…
. . .
By five, all the loaves are ready,
heaped in wide shallow baskets, lifted
to the heads of their two youngest sons
who trot them off to the store.”

Her poems were chosen for at least two anthologies: “Snow”, “Grandmother” and “The Left Eye of Odin” were included in Two Worlds Walking (New Rivers Press, 1994) and “At the Cafe Saint Jacques” appeared in Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry, edited by Marilyn Sewell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). 

Michael Eager, the owner of La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic, remembers Regina as a very quiet person, who rarely talked much. He recalls her as being slender and pretty, with dark hair, and usually dressed casually, often in hand-embroidered blouses. Like her husband, Regina loved the local people, music and traditions.

Sources:

  • Regina Shekerjian. 1952. “You can Afford a Mexican Summer: Complete Details on how to Stretch your Dollars During an Art Trek South of the Border”, in Design, Volume 53, Issue 8, pp 182-197.
  • Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York, 19 February 1944, p5.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt. 1953. Diary entry dated 18 April 1953.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 4 July 2016.

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

Jan 052017
 

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

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

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

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

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

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

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

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Jan 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water

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

Industry

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

Livestock

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

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

Original source:

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

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Dec 292016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

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Dec 262016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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Dec 222016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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Dec 192016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Source:

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

Other Lake Chapala artists and authors associated with Berkeley

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

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

Dec 152016
 

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

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

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

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

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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Dec 122016
 

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

zepeda-la-ondina-de-chapala

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

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

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