Oct 192017
 

Following Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, a renewed emphasis was placed on the gathering of reliable statistics. Officials of the state of Jalisco made several attempts to gather relevant information, primarily in order to better monitor the state’s development. These efforts began with Victoriano Roa (1825) and were continued by Manuel López Cotilla (1843), Longinus Banda (1873) and Mariano Bárcena (1888). These statistical reports may not be as fun to read as travel accounts but are a veritable gold mine of valuable information.

Manuel López Cotilla (1800-1861) was born in Guadalajara. His father, a Spaniard who died in 1816, was a captain in the Royalist army, and hated the insurgents who were fighting for an independent Mexico. At age 18, Manuel López Cotilla contracted tuberculosis, following which he led a reclusive life for many years, dedicating himself to drawing and studying mathematics.

When he entered public life, he became a popular politician and successful educator. He occupied various posts on the city council and in the state government following Independence and was instrumental in reforming primary education. He founded several schools, including the first night school dedicated to adult education. López Cotilla was also responsible for producing noteworthy textbooks, including a handbook of practical geometry for schools. In 1851 he made a formal proposal for the creation of a teacher training college. This proposal was not carried out until long after his death.

Manuel López Cotilla’s statistical account, entitled Noticias geográficas y estadistísticas del Departamento de Jalisco, provides no details about the lake itself, but does include short descriptions, all following a set pattern, of each of the main villages on its shores. By this time, administrative reorganization had resulted in most of the northern shore of Lake Chapala falling into the Third Division – Tlajomulco – of the District of Jalisco. Apart from Tlajomulco itself, which boasted 3,066 inhabitants, the most important village in the district was Jocotepec, as these brief extracts reveal.

Jocotepec, a village located at the western end of Lake Chapala, is the seat of the curacy and receives payments. It has a justice of the peace, a municipal school and 2,742 inhabitants dedicated to farming, fishing and manufacturing. Its municipal fund produced in 1840 the sum of 456 pesos and 3 reales. It is 16 leagues from Guadalajara and 8½ leagues SSE of Tlajomulco.

San Cristóbal Zapotitlán, similarly situated on the shore of lake Chapala and belonging to the parish of Jocotepec, has a population of 735 inhabitants mainly working in farming, fishing and making mats (petates or esteras). It is 12 leagues SE, ¼ S. of Tlajomulco and 20 from Guadalajara.

San Juan Cosalá, situated like the previous villages, has 667 inhabitants dedicated to farming, fishing and the manufacture of equipales, which are low round seats, with or without high backs, and very commonly used in the country. Its climate is warm compared to its neighbors; it has a justice of the peace and belongs ecclesiastically to the parish of Jocotepec. It is 14 leagues from the capital of the District and 9 SE, ¼ S from Tlajomulco.

San Andrés Ajijic, with 954 inhabitants dedicated to the same jobs as the previous village and whose location and climate it shares, belongs to the curacy of Jocotepec and has a justice of the peace. Its distance from Guadalajara is 15 leagues and from Tlajomulco 11 SE, ¼ E leaning towards the SE

San Antonio Tlayacapan is in similar circumstances to the previous village, except for the occupation of its inhabitants, who number 423, and their dedication to only farming and fishing. It is 14 leagues from the District capital and 12 SE, ¼ E from Tlajomulco.

Chapala is the village that gives its name to the extensive lake that bathes the shores. It is the seat of a curacy, sub-office for payments, has a justice of the peace and 1,029 inhabitants employed mainly in fishing, farming and the cultivation of orchards. It is 14½ leagues from Guadalajara and 12½ ESE of Tlajomulco. Its municipal fund produced in 1840 the sum of 46 pesos 1 real.

Manuel López Cotilla retired in 1855 on the grounds of ill-health and died on 27 October 1861. His remains now repose in the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscienses in downtown Guadalajara, overlooked by a fine commemorative statue.

This profile is based on an extract from chapter 22 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

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

Aug 312017
 

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

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

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

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

Frederick Starr in 1909.

Frederick Starr in 1909.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This profile is based on an extract from chapter 40 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Sources / References:

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

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

Jul 062017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAKE CHAPALA

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Jun 192017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Lago de Chapala

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

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

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

– Salvador Escudero

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 

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

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

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes :

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

Sources

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

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

May 252017
 

Stories about underdogs who rise to the top of their chosen field or profession are always fascinating. So how did Adela Breton, an amateur artist, come to produce some of the finest ever copies of ancient Mexican murals and friezes? In several cases, the originals no longer exist or have become badly corroded, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Adela Breton, Watercolor of the east façade of the ‘Nunnery’ at Chichen Itza. Photo credit: Dan Brown/Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

Breton traveled widely throughout Mexico. While her most significant work in terms of archeology was undertaken in central and southern Mexico, she also made a major contribution to the story of western Mexico by recording the excavation of a shaft tomb near Etzatlán, investigating a nearby obsidian works, and by mapping the circular mounds that were the only surface evidence of Guachimontones, the major archaeological site close to Teuchitlán. Breton also visited Chapala, where she sketched a couple of local people and collected several small archaeological pieces.

Stone mace head, from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Stone mace head from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

We can only speculate as to precisely why she visited Chapala in 1896, but it is more than possible that it was to see if the curative waters would alleviate her rheumatism or arthritis. This is supported by the comment in The Mexican Herald in 1902 that Breton had “for many years spent her winters in Mexico for reasons of health” prior to becoming seriously interested in pre-Columbian civilizations.

It is possible that her introduction to Chapala was at the invitation of Septimus Crowe, a former British vice-consul who had made his home there. It is also very possible that her 1896 visit was a return visit to the lake. The anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons, who visited in the early 1930s, wrote about the earthenware idolos “washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town” and then writes that “An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow did not impart to the ethnologist.” Breton is the best candidate for this “English lady”. Assuming that Parsons has the chronology correct, then Breton must have visited Chapala and met Crowe in about 1893, well before her proven visit in May 1896. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure since the whereabouts of Breton’s original diaries are unknown.

Adela Catherine Breton was born in London, England, on 31 December 1849. Her father, William Henry Breton, served in the Royal Navy, had a keen interest in archaeology and regularly brought curios home from his travels. He also authored two travel books, both published in 1835: Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land, during the years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833 and Scandinavian sketches, or, A tour in Norway.

When Adela was 18 months old, the family moved to Bath and established their home in Camden Crescent. This would remain Adela’s home for the rest of her life. Quite how Adela acquired and honed her artistic skills is unclear. Art would certainly have been an essential part of the general education of any well-to-do young English lady at the time but her proficiency, especially with watercolors, strongly suggests that she had some further art training at some point.

After her mother died in 1874, Adela kept house and cared for her aging father. He died in 1887. Adela was never married, and the death of both parents gave her a substantial inheritance (shared with a younger brother) and enabled her to be independent. Almost immediately, she started to travel, perhaps seeking to avoid British winters and find a climate beneficial for her health. She took to spending extended periods abroad, initially in Canada and the U.S., and then later in Mexico and elsewhere. One of her first trips was to Banff and across the Rockies by the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway. She also spent time in Japan (1890) and experienced an earthquake in San Francisco (1891) before visiting Mexico for the first time in 1892, when she arrived at the port of Veracruz aboard a ship from Havana, Cuba.

From Veracruz, she then traveled inland via Tlaxcala, Puebla and Cholula to Mexico City. She was so captivated by Mexico that she submitted the first of several travel pieces to her local newspaper back in Bath as “Your Mexican Correspondent”. Her arrival in Mexico City, to stay at the Hotel Iturbide, was duly noted on 1 April 1892 in a Mexico City daily, The Two Republics.

In December 1893, Breton embarked on an extended adventure in Mexico which lasted eighteen months until mid-1895. She traveled into Michoacán, where she came into contact with a local guide, Pablo Solorio, who she employed as her traveling companion and assistant on this and several subsequent occasions. Pablo looked after the logistics (horses, camp sites, food, contacts to local communities) which allowed Breton to focus on recording the local people, architecture, geology and historical sites through her art.

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

After Michoacán (and possibly Jalisco), they explored central Mexico and the mountains of Puebla and Oaxaca. Breton’s time at Teotihuacan in 1895 was especially productive since it enabled her to make meticulous sketches and paintings of the pre-Columbian murals of Teopancaxco which became a reference point for many later studies. Breton was also very interested in geology and Mexico’s volcanoes, so both 1xtaccíhuatl Volcano and the Pico de Orizaba were on her itinerary.

Photos taken in Bath show that Pablo accompanied Breton back to the U.K. for a visit, though she makes no mention of this in her extensive notes.

In 1896-97, Adela returned to Mexico and Pablo guided her through Michoacán before traveling north into Zacatecas and south to Guerrero. They visited Chapala in May 1896, as shown by the annotation alongside these two small paintings in her sketchbook for that period. The figurine identified as from Chapala was included in “The Remarkable Miss Breton” exhibit at Bath in 2016.

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

By the time Breton left Mexico for New York in April 1897, she had apparently become quite a familiar figure in Mexico City with The Mexican Herald reporting that, “Miss Adela Breton, a young lady of this capital, leaves this morning, contrary to the habits of Mexico, quite alone, for New York on a pleasure trip.”

Over the winter of 1898-99, Breton was back in Mexico, painting in the mining town of Real del Monte, a town which probably has more British connections than anywhere in Mexico. Real del Monte attracted Cornish tin miners, and even today, more than century later, residents still peddle their own, spiced-up version of Cornish pasties. Real del Monte is also the place where soccer was first played in Mexico; the local team, formed in 1901, is the oldest in the country.

Adela Breton. 1896. Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Adela Breton. Watercolor of Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

The turn of the century marked a new and defining chapter in Breton’s life. She made her first visit to Chichen Itza in 1900, at the age of 50. The visit was at the request of archeologist Alfred Maudslay, who asked her to check the accuracy of drawings he had done himself. Breton was able to improve significantly on Maudslay’s efforts and over the course of the next seven years, spent extended periods of time drawing and paintings at several Maya sites. Some, such as Chichén Itzá and Usmal, were well known even at that time while others, such as Labná and Acanceh, were (and to some extent still are) largely unknown.

Among her best-known watercolors are those depicting the frescos of battle scenes in the Upper Temple of Jaguars at Chichen Itza. They were already deteriorating by the time Breton painted them, but her record, compiled over numerous visits, is the only one to show all of them as they appeared at that time and in full color. When color photography made its debut, there was very little color remaining on any of the original frescoes.

Breton was constantly worried about the inherent problems of making accurate detailed drawings of such large objects. Despite being an accomplished photographer, she decided, after some experimentation, that even the best photos lacked some of the contrast and details she could incorporate into her drawings following a prolonged study of the real objects. Over the years, Breton justifiably acquired a reputation as one of the finest copyists of Mexican murals, manuscripts, maps and codices ever known.

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Her success was only possible because Breton had not only acquired some fluency in Spanish but was also able to communicate in several Mayan languages. This was essential, given the remote places where she often worked. As a reporter for The Mexican Herald wrote, Breton had chosen to explore ruins “reached only at the expense of tremendous hardships in the way of travel and accommodations” before adding, appreciatively, “and has done it all at her own expense.”

Her long-time guide-companion Pablo died (possibly of yellow fever) in 1904. Adela did not learn of his death for several months. Even though they had no romantic involvement, Adela was distraught when the news finally reached her, but it did nothing to deter her from continuing to document ancient sites.

By this time, Breton knew all the great names in Mexican archeology, including like-minded foreigners such as Zelia Nuttall, Alfred Tozzer, Fredric Ward Putnam, Alfred Maudslay and Eduard Seler, as well as many Mexicans working in the field.

Archaeologist Alfred Tozzer described Breton as:

“a character … an English maiden lady of much means. Her appearance is typical of an independent, unmarried spinster of fully sixty, tall, thin, and with a long face, grey hair, extremely near sighted but straight as an arrow. She wore a short skirt, a dark blue shirtwaist with straight collar attached, and a brimmed straw hat covered with flowers and planted perfectly square upon her head, but the surprise comes when she starts to talk. She is En-glish, you know, En-glish to the very bone and her speech is as exaggerated as any affected English lady ever heard upon the stage.”

Others who met her were less complimentary. For example, Edward Thompson, who was U.S. Consul to the Yucatán while Breton was working at Chichen Itza, wrote, “To tell the honest truth she’s a nuisance. She is a ladylike person but full of whims, complaints and prejudices.”

Breton certainly had several run-ins with authorities during her trips and appears to have regularly bemoaned the food, especially, once writing that, “The difficulty of going into Mexico is the impossibility of getting any food … I used to live chiefly on air and a few peanuts for the long riding journeys – 30 miles without any breakfast, and then some frijol broth”.

Despite such issues, however, Breton always maintained, like so many other foreign visitors before and after her, that Mexico held a very special place in her heart, so I prefer to assume that her occasional moans were more due to her general ill-health, compounded by repeated bouts of malaria and other diseases, than they were to any genuine dissatisfaction.

Her academic respectability grew as she became ever more involved in the biannual International Congress of Americanistas. At the 1902 Congress, held in the U.S., she exhibited her large copies of Mayan mural paintings found at Chichen Itza. In Vienna at the 1908 Congress, she gave a paper about the survival of ancient ceremonial dances (such as Las Voladores) in Mexico.

During the 1910 Congress, held in Chile and Argentina, she presented a paper (with lantern slides) entitled “Painting and sculpture in Mexico and Central America”. She opened this paper with a fervent plea for the world to recognize the quality of indigenous art and architecture in the Americas:

“Not many years ago it was the custom to depreciate the ancient peoples of America, and to represent them as savages, or as best as semi-civilized, with little knowledge of the arts … The excavations of each season now bring fresh evidence of the high rank reached by some of the ancient races in every line of art, and especially their remarkable skill in painting and sculpture. In their conception of grand and impressive buildings and the decoration of them with painted sculptures and frescoes, and still more in their skillful treatment of the difficult processes of colored relief in stuccoes, they take a foremost place among the nations of antiquity.”

The 1912 International Congress of Americanistas was held in London, England, and Breton was one of the co-organizers.

Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Figurine from Chapala, Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

What makes her trips to Mexico so remarkable is not that she was English, or a woman, or both, but that she was a woman often traveling on her own, riding more than a thousand kilometers side-saddle in the process. This is very different to an earlier Englishwomen, Rose Kingsley (daughter of Charles Kingsley), whose 1872 visit to Mexico (South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico) was as part of a large group led by the influential railroad entrepreneur General William Palmer.

Breton’s last visit to Mexico came in summer 1908 when she went to Mexico City to copy an ancient, and fragile, map for Professor Alfred Maudslay. By 1910, the Mexican Revolution was underway and for most of the following decade foreigners were well-advised to stay away from any off-the-beaten-track places of the kind that most interested Breton.

Major archaeological sites which Breton had drawn or painted include Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Acanceh, Zempoala, Ake, El Tajin, Mitla, Uxmal, Xochicalco, Cholula, and La Quemada. Her keen eye for detail meant that Breton became critical of many of the so-called “restoration” efforts carried out during the late Porfiriato at sites like Teotihuacan, Xochicalco and Mitla.

In 1922, Breton left her home in Bath for the last time, to sail to Rio to attend the Americanists’ Congress. Ill health caused her to stay longer than she anticipated there, to recover from dysentery, before setting off for home via the West Indies and Canada. Unfortunately, she fell ill again, and died in Barbados, at the age of 73, on 13 June 1923.

She left her entire collection to the Bristol Art Gallery & Museum of Antiquities. It includes more than 300 watercolors and 80 printed photographs, as well as 13 sketch books and has not been on public display very often. The major exhibitions include Bristol (1946), Cambridge (1952), the British Museum, London (1973) and one entitled “The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton and the Temples of Mexico”, which began at Bristol Museums in 1989 and then toured the U.K. Two complementary exhibits were held in the U.K. in 2016-2017: “The Remarkable Miss Breton” (in Bath) and “Adela Breton: Ancient Mexico in Colour” (in Bristol). The most significant exhibit in Mexico of Breton’s work was held in 1993 at the National History Museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) in Chapultepec Castle.

Breton’s remarkable drawings and watercolors of landscapes, people, murals and cities remain an invaluable resource and surely more than merit a permanent display somewhere. Come on sponsors: make sure this extraordinary female artist-explorer and her work get the attention they so richly deserve!

Sources:

  • Breton, Adela C. 1892. “A Mexican Sanctuary”. Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1892.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures”, Man, vol 3, 130-133, 1903.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1908. Survival of Ceremonial Dances among Mexican Indians. Proceedings, 16th International Congress of Americanists (Vienna), 531-540.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1912. Painting and Sculpture in Mexico and Central America. Proceedings, 17th International Congress of Americanists (Buenos Aires, 1910), 1, 245-247.
  • Giles, Sue and Jennifer Stewart (eds). 1989. The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton & the Temples of Mexico. City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
  • McVicker, Mary F. 2005. Adela Breton, A Victorian Artist amid Mexico’s Ruins. UNM Press.
  • Pint, John. 2016. “Adela Breton, 19th century British artist and explorer of Mexico feted in England”, Guadalajara Reporter 11 August 2016. Republished as “British archaeological artist visited Teuchitlán in 1896“.
  • The Mexican Herald : 10 April 1897, p8; 25 October 1902.
  • The Two Republics (Mexico City) : 1 April 1892.
  • Townsend, Richard F. (ed) 1998. Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past. Art institute of Chicago.
  • Weigand, Phil C. and Eduardo Williams. 1997. “Adela Breton y los inicios de la arqueología en el occidente de México”. Relaciones (Zamora, Mich.), vol 18, #70, pp 217-255

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

May 222017
 

Rubén M. Campos‘s novel Claudio Oronoz includes dozens of pages relating to Lake Chapala. The lake is not only described (in all its glory) but also provides the setting for some memorable discussions between the main characters.

Campos utilizes Lake Chapala as a kind of antidote for, or counterbalance to, life in Mexico City. This is perfectly fitting, especially given the fact that the novel was written at the start of the twentieth century, precisely the time when many of the wealthier businessmen and residents of Mexico City established close ties to Lake Chapala, often setting up second homes there.

The protagonist of this novel is a young man, Claudio Oronoz, who considers himself an artist. (His poems appear at intervals in the novel). At the age of twenty-one, Claudio evades the obligations and responsibilities foisted on him by his family, who want him to enter business, turns his back on materialism, and heads for the capital city in search of like-minded bohemian individuals with whom he can share his thoughts, feelings and concerns. Thus begins his “odyssey of pleasure”, which subsequently involves trips to the theater, dinners, “parties and orgies”.

To quote Claudio: “I had imagined a distinct area for dreamers, for thinkers, a special neighborhood for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets …” He hoped to find “that blissful neighborhood which this Latin-American metropolis, like Paris, must have” but becomes increasingly disillusioned as he finds instead “the roar of the struggle for life in workshops, in factories, in warehouses, in the daily traffic of the streets, in the haste of passers-by.”

Eventually, Claudio does succeed in locating the “bohemian neighborhood and the fierce artists” he had dreamed of, and shares friendship and experiences with other young artists. But Claudio has a serious illness (consumption or tuberculosis) which is gradually sapping his energies. He is torn between a tendency to hedonistic debauchery and reveling in the pure love that he feels for Clara Rionda, the woman who cared for him during one of his serious relapses.

Two of Claudio’s other friends share Clara’s home with him: José Abreu, the narrator of the novel, and his lover Ana Belmar, Clara’s best friend, who was born in Jamay on the shores of Lake Chapala.

After some time enjoying themselves in Mexico City, the group decides to escape the city and go to Lake Chapala. (They return to the city for the final section of the book).

The trip to the lake via train from Mexico City to Ocotlán, and then by lake steam boat (vaporcito) from Ocotlán to Chapala is described at some length, and the text includes many details about the village of Chapala. For instance, the group stays on the second floor of a lakefront hotel: this is a clear reference to the historic Arzapalo hotel that first opened in 1898. The group arrived in early April, apparently well before Easter that particular year, since they are described as being among the first visitors that spring. Even the chalets (with verandas) that characterized the second homes of the wealthy in Chapala at that time are described.

These descriptive details owe nothing to coincidence or chance. As Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, the main section of the book about Chapala is based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published many years previously, as “En el Chapala”. This was actually published twice – first in La Patria (1899) and then, with some variations, in Revista Moderna (1902) – before being suitably modified for the section in Claudio Oronoz: an interesting example of how a regular narrative or travel piece can be recycled as an integral part of a fictional work.

Claudio Oronoz is considered to be Campos’s master work in fiction. Campos’s portrayal of youthful artistic and intellectual ambitions which ultimately lead his protagonist to disillusionment helped move Mexican novels away from the realism of the end of the 19th century into new, emerging “modern” territory. Mexican literature would never be the same; later Mexican writers would never look back.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.
  • The text of the original novel is included in the thesis (downloadable as a pdf file) linked to below.

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.

May 152017
 

Rubén Marcos Campos, though now largely forgotten, was one of the major figures in Mexican literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Campos, a poet, intellectual, novelist and folklorist, was born on 25 April 1871 in Ciudad Manuel Doblado, Guanajuato, and died in Mexico City on 7 June 1945.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

His first novel, entitled Claudio Oronoz, was published in 1906 and is considered one of the gems of the so-called modernist prose that was then in vogue. Lake Chapala plays an important part in the novel, as the destination towards which the hedonistic protagonist gravitates.

Campos was well acquainted with Lake Chapala and vacationed there several times over the years. In 1906, for example, we know from contemporary newspapers that he spent the second half of December in Chapala in the company of poet Luis G. Urbina (1864-1934) and painter Leandro Izaguirre (1867-1941).

In 1899, Campos wrote several short travel pieces about the lake for La Patria. We will take a closer look at both Claudio Oronoz and these travel articles in later posts.

Campos lost his mother at an early age, and grew up in León, Guanajuato, before moving to Mexico City in about 1890 to try and make his way as a writer. He was soon accepted into the literary circles of the city which gave him the opportunity to have poems and articles published in many of the major publications of the time, including El Mundo Ilustrado, Nosotros, México, Vida Moderna, El Universal, El Centinela and Revista Moderna. The last named, Revista Moderna, published two of his poems – “Desnudos” and “Ruth” – in its second issue, adding Campos to its distinguished list of contributors alongside Amado Nervo, José Juan Tablada, Luis Gonzaga Urbina and Jesús E. Valenzuela.

His only published collection of poetry was La flauta de Pan (1900), where many verses suggest or explore eroticism and sensuality. However, Campos’s poetry is not very well known, mainly because his essays and studies of popular music and Mexican folklore were already gaining him an enviable reputation for non-fiction writing, based on sound research and skillful use of language.

His most important articles about music and folklore appeared in such specialist publications as Revista Musical de México, Gaceta Musical, México Musical and Boletín Latinoamericano de Música. Among the many books by Campos related to the fields of history, folklore and folk music are Chapultepec, su leyenda y su historia (1922); El folklore y la música mexicana (1928); El folklore literario de México (1929); El folklore musical de las ciudades (1930); La producción literaria de los aztecas (1936); and Tradiciones y leyendas mexicanas (1938).

His keen interest in folklore and its history did not prevent him from continuing to hone his skills as a reporter. Campos produced numerous, elegantly-written pieces about different parts of Mexico, and also wrote several short fictional stories, many of them for El Nacional. A collection of  travel pieces was published in 1922 as Las alas nómadas.

The publication of his first novel Claudio Oronoz in 1906 marked the start of an astonishingly productive period that lasted to his death. The novel was welcomed by critics, despite being quite unlike most of his previous work, and established Campos as an accomplished modernist, quickly hailed as one of Mexico’s finest writers of prose of the period.

His versatility knew few bounds and Campos also completed at least three operatic librettos: Zulema (1899); Tlahuicole (1925); and Quetzalcóatl (1928).

He employed pen names at various points in his career; these pen names included Rubén Martínez, R. Martínez Campos, Oro and Rudel.

Given his interest in all aspects of culture and in interpreting the human story, it is not surprising that many of Campos’s stories and novels examine the multifarious seedy undersides of life such as sexual abuse, imprisonment, alcoholism, prostitution, murder and abandonment.

Campos managed to combine this prodigious output with a teaching career. At one time or other, he inspired students in the Escuela Normal Preparatoria, the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Conservatorio Nacional de Ciudad de México, the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía, and in the Universidad Nacional de México (UNAM)) in a variety of subjects, including art, music, history and Mexican folklore.

In addition to Claudio Oronoz, widely regarded as his master work, Campos also completed two other important novels: Aztlán, tierra de garzas (1935) and El bar: la vida literaria de México, which remained unpublished during his lifetime, but was finally put in print by the Universidad Nacional de México (UNAM) in 2013.

El bar: la vida literaria de México is especially interesting. It explores the bohemian artistic and literary scene of Mexico towards the end of the Porfiriato. It is based on the experiences of Campos and the other members of his literary circles, as well as of artists such as Julio Ruelas and Germán Gedovius, and of musicians including Manuel M. Ponce and Ernesto Elorduy. All of these literary and artistic greats are given their real names in the novel, the only exceptions being the author himself and Alberto Leduc, whose fictitious names – respectively Benamor Cumps and Raúl Clebodet – are anagrams of their real names.

Several works by Rubén M. Campos have been re-released in recent years, making them more available to modern readers.

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.

May 012017
 

Ireneo Paz, the paternal grandfather of Nobel Prize-winning author Octavio Paz, was a respected writer, journalist and intellectual.

One of his novels, Guadalupe, first published in 1874, is an illustrated romance novel (in Spanish) with several descriptive passages relating to Lake Chapala. The story is set in an unnamed lakeshore village. The text includes several mentions of specific towns and villages around the lake, and one of the middle chapters is devoted to the events that arise from a storm on the lake.

While the style of the writing is “dated”, the story is clearly told. English speakers with an intermediate level of Spanish should find the plot and dialogue relatively easy to follow. The third edition of this book can be downloaded for free (as a pdf file or for ereaders) via Google Books:

Ireneo Paz Flores was born 3 July 1836, in Guadalajara, and died in Mexico City on 4 November 1924. A lawyer by background, he founded several literary magazines and was editor of the national magazine La Patria Ilustrada, which, in 1889, was the first major publication to regularly accept the often-startling cartoons and skeleton-like calaveras drawn by famed graphic designer and engraver José Guadalupe Posada.

In a prolific career, Ireneo Paz wrote more than 30 books, including poetry, plays comedy, memoirs and novels. His best-known works are a study of Malinche and a book about the famous Mexican (Californian) bandit Joaquin Murrieta. Among his works are: La piedra del sacrificio (1871); La manzana de la discordia (1871); Amor y suplicio (1873); Guadalupe (1874); Amor de viejo (1874); Doña Marina (1883); Leyendas históricas de la Independencia (1894); Vida y aventuras de Joaquín Murrieta, famoso bandolero mexicano (1908); Porfirio Díaz (1911); Leyendas históricas (1914).

Tragically, the political differences between La Patria (edited by Ireneo Paz) and La Libertad (edited by Santiago Sierra Méndez) led to a duel between the two men in April 1880, in which the latter was killed.

During the Mexican revolution, Mexico City was the scene of fighting between rival groups. In 1914 (the year his grandson was born), Ireneo Paz’s spacious, well-appointed house and printing shop in the heart of the old city were ransacked and Paz moved the family out of the then-city to live in Mixcoac.

Ireneo Paz’s own life and writing career are interesting, but his greatest contribution to Mexican literature is through the influence he exerted on his grandson, Octavio, who lived under the same roof throughout his childhood.

As British translator, journalist and non-fiction author Nick Caistor explains in his biography of Octavio Paz, Ireneo Paz was his grandson’s “direct link to the struggles for Mexican independence in the nineteenth century, in which he had personally played as significant role, and to Mexican history in general.”

However, despite supporting the liberal movement led by Benito Juárez in the 1850s, and fighting against the French, most notably in the city of Colima, Ireneo Paz had eventually become a staunch supporter of the modernization efforts of Mexico’s multi-term dictator President Porfirio Díaz.

Caistor justifiably argues that Ireneo Paz exerted an influence over his grandson that extended well beyond politics:

As a novelist he was one of the precursors of the ‘indigenista’ movement, which sought to make the indigenous inhabitants of Mexico protagonists of the national narrative for the first time. The awareness of the presence of the ‘other’, the silenced, marginalized voice of the country’s first inhabitants, fascinated Octavio from an early age.

At the same time, the Paz household was open to outside influences. Despite his opposition to the French invasion, by the 1880s Ireneo Paz saw France as the emblem for modernity. In 1889 he even travelled to Paris as an exhibitor at the Exposition Universelle where he displayed examples of his printing and binding.”

Illustration of a storm on Lake Chapala from Guadalupe (1882). Artist unknown.

Not surprisingly, the Paz household was full of books, including not only those written or printed by Ireneo but also a fine collection of Spanish and French literature, many of the volumes brought back from Paris. Growing up in such an atmosphere undoubtedly wove its spell over young Octavio who became one of Mexico’s most famous and revered poets.

Paz’s exploration of the Mexican identity, El laberinto de la soledad, first published in 1950, was elegantly translated by Lysander Kemp, and published in 1961 as The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. Kemp, who later became chief editor of the University of Texas Press, had his own connections to Lake Chapala: he was a long-time resident (1953-1965) of Jocotepec, at the western end of the lake.

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 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 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water

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

Industry

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

Livestock

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

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

Original source:

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

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

 

Dec 292016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

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

Dec 262016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Nov 172016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

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

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

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

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

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

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

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

Richard Smith Robbins died on 22 February 1908.

Sources:

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 6:16 am  Tagged with:
Oct 312016
 

Help needed! I have managed to learn very little about the writer Arthur Brooke Caden (ca 1871-1906) beyond the fact that he accompanied American novelist Charles Fleming Embree and his wife on a multi-day boat trip on Lake Chapala in 1898, and wrote about their experiences in “Mascota’s Cruise”, published in The Mexican Herald on 13 September 1898.

embree-1The boat trip included visits to Tizapan and Mezcala Island, and gave Embree the opportunity to acquire the background knowledge of the lake’s geography that he employed so skillfully in his novel A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900), set entirely at Lake Chapala.

Arthur Brooke Caden is listed as the author of a 239-page novel entitled An imaginary story, published in Chicago in 1903, but beyond that I have learned nothing about his upbringing, education or writing career. The available evidence suggests that Arthur Brooke Caden died in Manhattan, New York, on 31 March 1906 at the tragically young age of 35. Charles Embree himself had died the year before, following a short illness, at the even younger age of 31.

Who knows what these two talented young authors might have achieved had their lives not been cut short in their prime.

This post is a tribute to these two writers timed to coincide with Mexico’s annual Noche de Muertos (“Night of the Dead”), more popularly known as Day of the Dead – see Mexico’s Day of the Dead: nine of the best places to visit.

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

Sep 192016
 

Eduardo A. Gibbon y Cárdenas, born in about 1849, was a 19th century Mexican art critic, journalist, writer and diplomat.

In the 1870s, he made various contributions to El Artista, a Mexico City-based  “monthly review of literature, science and the aesthetical arts.” After the magazine ceased publication (due to lack of financial support) Gibbon resuscitated the title, with the first of the new series of El Artista appearing in October 1891. By all accounts, this was a well-produced magazine, the first issue of which included translation of part of Hopkinson Smith’s White Umbrella in Mexico. Gibbon’s main contribution as a writer to the first issue of the new series was “a description of the Luray grottoes of Virginia in sprightly and unhackneyed phrase.”

In 1874, Gibbon was elected a Member of the Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics.

gibbon-title-pageHe wrote several books, including La catedral de México (1874) and Reflexiones sobre arte nacional (1892), and a Spanish translation of Felix de Salm’s memoirs about the final days of Emperor Maximilian. While holding a diplomatic position in London, England, in the late 1880s, he took the opportunity to write Nocturnal London (S. E. Stanley, 1890).

A few years later, in 1893, he published Guadalajara, (La Florencia Mexicana). This is essentially a popular guide to the author’s chosen trilogy of major attractions in Jalisco: Guadalajara, Juanacatlán Falls (the “Niagara of Mexico”) and Lake Chapala. Gibbon’s writing is poetic, verging on the flowery, but despite that many of his descriptions make for interesting reading.

Gibbon’s romantic, poetic prose about his trips to Lake Chapala, in 1893 or earlier, includes one of the earliest detailed accounts of a boat trip on the lake. He also mentions the fact that deposits of petroleum have been located under the lake, and that studies are being undertaken to see if the deposits are large enough to be worth exploiting.

Gibbon stayed in a simple hotel; this was at least five years before the famous Arzapalo hotel opened. The author also described the chalet built on the shore by an Englishman (possibly Septimus Crowe), and clearly recognized the tourist potential of the area. This is how he described the then-village of Chapala:

We entered along a straight and long road, like those that form the main street of every village. The houses were of a single story, with white or colored facades. The doors and windows of wood; the latter without bars or glass, showing that in the honored home of the fisherman, they are safe even without these luxuries. So it is just as easy to enter one of the homes here, through the windows, often obstructed by the pots full of flowers or the large cages of melodious birds, as it is through the doorway. A soporific silence, that in this village of fishermen! So quiet that, at mid-day, only the buzz of the clouds of gnats, and the beating wings of the gulls crossing the sky can be heard.

But the great luminous place was at the end of this street: Lake Chapala. A fishing boat, with its lateen sail, was approaching the port. Apart from that, nothing was in sight on the immense surface of the water, on which the afternoon sun shone, producing lights and shadows like those made by marcasite….

The bells of the poetic parish church that rang on the shores of the lake-sea, brought all the village’s inhabitants to their feet. On the rustic wharf, very close to the hotel, one of those regular-sized vessels, called here canoes, but which are really flat-bottomed launches, was already anchored. The unloading of the domestic merchandise that had been brought for sale, had begun; later these would be sold in the Sunday tianguis, [street market] so common in these villages. With a slight following wind, three canoes came through the small waves, which, with sails slightly filled, came towards the beach. The rowers were working to propel the slow advance of these such primitive vessels, which, in rough waters would tip over very easily, and which only progress in their race when the wind is really strong and favorable….”

Source:

This post is based on chapter 37 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

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

Aug 222016
 

Blair Niles (1880-1959), as she is best known, was formerly Mary Blair Rice, the first wife of naturalist and oceanographer Charles Beebe. The Beebes visited Mexico (and Lake Chapala) over the winter of 1903-1904. As Mary Blair Rice, she contributed the cover design to Beebe’s book Two Bird Lovers in Mexico (which is dedicated to her) and wrote the chapter entitled “How We Did It”. As they camped their way across Mexico, she also wrote several articles about the trip for the New York Post and Harper’s.

In “How We Did It”, she offered the following advice for future female explorers in Mexico:

“To the woman who is courageous enough to defy the expostulations of her friends and to undertake a camping trip to Mexico, let me say that I congratulate her on having before her one of the most unique and fascinating experiences of her life; that is if she goes in the proper spirit. And the proper spirit is to be interested in everything and to have one’s mind firmly made up to ignore small discomforts.”

niles-blairBlair divorced Beebe in 1913, marrying architect Robin Niles (Beebe’s next door neighbor) the very next day. She subsequently changed her name to Blair Niles, and had a distinguished career as a travel writer and novelist, as well as being one of the four founding members of the Society of Women Geographers.

In addition to travel books on Ecuador, Columbia, and Haiti, she also wrote Strange Brother, a novel with a homosexual hero, and Condemned to Devil’s Island: the Biography of an Unknown Convict, which was turned into one of the first talking movies of all time.

Blair Niles’s books include Casual Wanderings in Ecuador (1923); Columbia: Land of Miracles (1924); Black Haiti (A Biography of Africa’s Eldest Daughter) (1926); Free (1930); Strange Brother (1931); Light Again (1933); Maria Paluna (1934); Day of Immense Sun (1936); Peruvian Pageant (1937); Journeys in Time (1946) and Passengers to Mexico: The Last Invasion of the Americas (1943).

An ardent traveler, Blair Niles died in 1959, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of books, and having had a significant impact on 20th century feminism.

Source:

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

Aug 082016
 

Charles Beebe (1877-1962) and his wife, Mary Blair Rice (the subject of a future post) visited Lake Chapala in the latter half of March 1904.

Charles William Beebe (Will Beebe, as he preferred) was an American ornithologist, naturalist, explorer and author, born in Brooklyn, New York. He never completed a college degree, but undertook pioneering studies in various fields of ecology, in habitats ranging from high altitude forests (in search of pheasants) to tropical rain forests, coral reefs and the ocean depths.

beebe-title-pageBeebe married his first wife, Mary Blair Rice, in 1902. Two Bird Lovers in Mexico describes their first trip overseas in the winter of 1903-1904, when Beebe was curator of ornithology at the New York Zoological Society.

Beebe went on to become director of the Society’s Department of Tropical Research, undertaking work in dozens of countries, including extended stays in British Guiana (now Guyana), the Galapagos Islands, Bermuda and Trinidad. He inspired an entire generation of naturalists to explore the connections between animals, plants and their environment.

Beebe wrote dozens of books, and hundreds of magazine articles during a prolific career. His nonacademic books (such as Two Bird Lovers in Mexico) popularized natural history, while simultaneously promoting the need for conservation. They brought the sights, sounds, thrills, and perils, of remote places into the homes of armchair travelers everywhere. Among his best-known works are Galapagos (1923), Half Mile Down (1934), and Unseen Life of New York (1953).

beebe_-public-domainAmong Beebe’s many extraordinary achievements was a record descent (with Otis Barton) to 3028 feet (914 meters) below the ocean surface in a bathysphere off Bermuda in 1934.

He also seems to have been the first person to identify the temperature anomalies that are now known as El Niño. More than 88 animal species had been named after him by the time of his death, in Trinidad, on 4 June 1962.

Armed with a shotgun, rifle, and two revolvers, the Beebes arrived in Veracruz in December 1903 and immediately took the train across the country to Guadalajara. They set off to camp on the slopes of Colima volcano, witnessing an eruption there the following January.

The following extracts from Two Bird Lovers in Mexico come from Chapter VI, “The Marshes of Chapala”:

. . . When the marvel of the bird-life of Lake Chapala and its marshes revealed itself to us, the feelings we experienced cannot be put into words; such one feels at a first glance through a great telescope, or perhaps when one gazes in wonder upon the distant earth from a balloon. At these times, one is for an an instant outside of his petty personality and a part of, a realizer of, the cosmos. Here on these waters and marshes we saw, not individuals or flocks, but a world of birds! Never before had a realization of the untold solid bulk in numbers of the birds of our continent been impressed so vividly upon us. And the marvel of it all was the more impressive because of its unexpectedness.

A hot, breathless day found our little cavalcade passing the picturesque old cathedral of La Barca, our horses’ hoofs stirring up a cloud of the omnipresent adobe dust. A New England housewife who spends her life in banishing dust from her home could exist in the houses of Mexicans only in a state of insanity. The unfinished adobe walls being nothing but dust in a slightly hardened state, the least touch inside or out removes a film of the earth powder.

. . . We crossed a stream by a rickety wooden bridge, and learned that its waters were the same as those flowing at the bottom of the barranca, crossing the mesquite wilderness. Here we were near the source of the Rio Santiago, where it flows from Lake Chapala. At one side was moored the little stern-wheeler which every other day carries a few passengers down to the lake and through its entire length of fifty miles to the several hotels at the western end.

Along the muddy shallows of the lake can be found numbers of quaint relics of a by-gone race of people. Strange dishes and three-legged bowls, sinkers and buttons, charms and amulets, objects of unknown use, and now and then little smiling idols of stone, whose cheerful expression, perhaps, gave hope to earnest worshippers hundreds of years before the first Spanish priest placed foot upon the shores of the New World.

. . . We in the North have neglected the egrets until well-nigh the last survivor has been murdered; but here in this wild place, where, outside of the towns, a man’s best law and safeguard is in his holster, these birds have already found champions. Short tolerance had the first plume-hunter — an American — who began his nefarious work in the Chapala marshes. The rough but beauty-loving caballeros who owned the haciendas surrounding the lake talked it over, formed — to all intents and purposes — an Audubon Society, ran the millinery agent off, and forbade the shooting of these birds. There was no fine or imprisonment for shooting egrets, — only a widespread verbal “revolver law,” more significant and potent than many of our inscribed legislative enactments.

. . . The air was filled with a multitude of sweet notes, — half strange, half familiar, — and the sight of scores of brilliant yellow breasts, crescent marked, turned toward us, told us that it was a hint of well-known Meadowlark music which puzzled our memory. But this melody was very unlike the sharp, steel tones which ring so true across the frost-gemmed fields of our Northland in early spring. The larks looked very little different from our Northern birds; their backs perhaps darker and their breasts of a warmer, more orange yellow. This genial, tropical air has thawed their voices and softened their tones, and the sweetest of choruses came from the throats of these Mexican Meadowlarks. We passed hundreds upon hundreds of blackbirds, evenly divided between golden-headed beauties and others whose trim ebony forms were richly marked with scarlet and white shoulders — the Bicoloured Blackbirds. Their clucks were continuous, as they walked and hopped about, searching and finding. The half-sodden meadows must indeed have been a limitless storehouse for insects and seeds, since they afforded food for so great a number of birds.

. . . We now came to occasional swampy places with small patches of open water surrounded by higher ground. Blackbirds, and Cowbirds with red eyes, chased grasshoppers and other insects. When an occasional hopper of unusually large size sprang up, a fluttering mass of feathers, scarlet, white, golden, and black would set upon him. But often a low-browed Caracara galloped up, scattering the lesser birds and appropriating the remains of the insect for himself. It was amusing to see how these curious birds seized their small prey in the talons of one foot and lifted it toward their beak, nibbling at it from between their toes, like a cockatoo with a piece of bread.

. . .  Chapala honours us with a final farewell. The sun is sinking in a cloudless sky, a wind rises from somewhere, ruffles the face of the pools and brings the scent of the marsh blooms to us. A small flock of White-fronted Geese passes rapidly overhead, not very high up, when all at once there floats into view cloud after cloud of purest white, stained on one edge by the gold of the setting sun. We dismount and look up until our bodies ache, and still they come, silently driving into the darkening north. The great imperative call of the year has sounded; the drawing which brooks no refusal…

During their trip to Mexico, Beebe and his wife observed and collected hundreds of birds, flowers, grasshoppers and lizards, but seem to have encountered remarkably few Mexicans, except for the ones who piled stones on their railway tracks for a prank. Beebe and Mary Blair Rice divorced in 1913.

Source:

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.

 

Jul 212016
 

This early impressionist painting of Lake Chapala by Donald Cecil Totten was offered for sale on eBay in 2015, though it remains frustratingly unclear when the American artist actually visited Chapala.

Donald Cecil Totten. Lake Chapala, Date unknown.

Donald Cecil Totten. Lake Chapala, Date unknown. 13.5″ x 9.5″.

Totten was born in Vermillion, South Dakota, on 13 August 1903, but lived most of his adult life in Los Angeles, California. He died in Long Beach, California, on 29 October 1967.

Totten graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, and then studied journalism for a year at the University of Southern California. He then studied art for about three years at the Otis Art Institute, where his teachers included Edouard Vysekal and E. Roscoe Schrader. In the late 1920s, early 1930s, he took classes at the Art Student League of Los Angeles, where he was especially inspired by American artist Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973).

In the mid-1920s, prior to studying at the Art Student League, Totten did some international traveling. He is known to have visited Fiji, Australia and Hawaii and is recorded on a ship’s passenger list as returning to Honolulu, Hawaii, from Sydney, Australia, on 11 March 1927, aboard the SS Ventura. His trip to Mexico may well have been at about this time. While Totten’s son recalls that his father enjoyed speaking Spanish, he has no recollection of him ever talking about Mexico.

At the time of the 1930 US Census, Totten (then aged 26) was living with his parents at their home on Colorado Avenue, Long Beach, and working as a clerk in a grocery store (probably the store owned by his father).

During the late 1930s, Totten worked on murals for the Federal Art Project in Pasadena’s Grant School and the Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, assisted James Redmond on the “Early California” mural (1936) in the Compton Post Office, and co-designed (with Helen Lundeberg) the mural “History of Transportation” (1940) in Centennial Park, Los Angeles. Later in life, Totten would reflect that working on large murals in his early life had led to his enthusiasm in later years for producing large abstract paintings, which he called “portable murals.”

Partial view of mural in Compton Post Office. Photo courtesy of Julia Armstrong-Totten

Partial view of mural in Compton Post Office. Photo courtesy of Julia Armstrong-Totten

Between 1938 and 1940 Totten directed the Art Students League in Los Angeles. A later exhibition about the League, entitled “A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-1953”, was held in Pasadena in 2008 and co-curated by art historian Julia Armstrong-Totten, the artist’s daughter-in-law.

After spending a year in Washington in 1942, Donald Totten married and began a career which combined painting and exhibiting his own work with art education. He taught for a decade at Barnsdall Arts & Crafts Center in Los Angeles, before joining the faculty at Marymount College in Palos Verdes in 1961 to give studio and art history classes. Totten also taught at the University of California at Los Angeles Extension, and at Inglewood Adult High School.

Totten’s work was exhibited at Younger Painters of Los Angeles (1929-30); Barnsdall Center (1944); Pasadena Museum (1960); Paul Plummer Gallery, Hollywood, Los Angeles (1960-62); the Long Beach Museum of Art (1961, 1962); Marymount College Girard Library (1962); the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles (1962).

Group shows towards the end of his career included one at the Palos Verdes Art Gallery, with Mel Anderson and Marilyn Prior, in 1963. In December 1963, Totten at a Holiday Art Festival group show at a private home, sponsored by the Mother Butler Mission guild of Marymount College, Totten exhibited alongside Redondo Beach artist Robert Neathery who subsequently lived at Lake Chapala for more than thirty years.

Totten’s final solo exhibition was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1964). A retrospective of Totten’s art, organized by Leslie Baird, was held at the Esquire Theatre Gallery in Pasadena in November 1964, shortly after the artist had suffered a severe stroke. A second retrospective,“Don Totten Los Angeles Modernist”, was held at the Palos Verdes Art Center in 1997.

Totten’s mural work can be seen in the Holliston Methodist Church, Pasadena; his paintings are in many private collections.

Sources:

  • Betty Hoag. 1964. An interview of Donald Totten conducted 1964 May 28, by Betty Hoag for the Archives of American Art, at the artist’s home in Los Angeles.
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • El Sereno Star, Number 44, 29 October 1964.
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula News, 24 August 1961; 12 October 1961; 4 January 1962; 15 February 1962; 13 September 1962; 5 December 1963; 12 December 1963.
  • Rolling Hills Herald, Number 18, 28 February 1963.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Julia Armstrong-Totten, the daughter-in-law of Don Totten, for helping to sort out the likely period when this painting was completed, via an exchange of emails and messages in January 2016.

Related posts:

Other Lake Chapala artists with links to the Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA; 1935-1943) include:

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 5:57 am  Tagged with:
error: Content is protected !!