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

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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

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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:

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Jan 162017
 

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

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orozco mural;s inside Jiqulipan library

Orozco murals inside Gabino Ortiz Public Library, Jiqulipan

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

Sources:

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Jan 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water

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

Industry

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

Livestock

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

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

Original source:

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

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Dec 292016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

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

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Nov 172016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

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

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

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

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

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

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

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

Richard Smith Robbins died on 22 February 1908.

Sources:

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 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:
Jun 062016
 

Witold, later Vitold, de Szyszlo (1881-1965), was born in Warsaw but lived part of his early life in Paris, where he studied natural sciences and became a member of the Paris Society of Geography.

His first visit to the U.S. is recorded as taking place in 1904. The passenger list says he was 23 years old, single, of “Polish-Russian” nationality, and a book-writer. He lived in Mexico for almost twelve months, from 1909 to 1910, making astute observations on the eve of the Mexican Revolution.

szyszlo-a-travers-le-mexique-1909-1910-vitold-de-szyszloShortly after the Revolution began, he moved to Peru. By 1925, he was married to Rosa Valdelomar; had a young son, Fernando; and was functioning as the Polish Consul in Lima. Rosa came from a distinguished Peruvian family. Her brother Abraham Valdelomar (1888-1919) was, briefly, a Peruvian diplomat in Italy, besides being one of his country’s most famous authors, crafting everything from short stories and novels to poetry, essays and theater plays.

De Szyszlo’s son, Fernando, clearly inherited some of the family’s artistic genius since he has become one of Peru’s best known modern artists. In an interview in 2005, Fernando attributed his success to the inspiration of Picasso and Mexico’s Rufino Tamayo. He recalled that his father considered painters to be drunks and impoverished, and had been disillusioned when he had abandoned formal studies of architecture to dedicate himself to painting. Fernando’s recognition by the art world came too late to be appreciated by his father, who died in Lima in 1965. (Some sources suggest 1963.)

Besides Dix mille kilomètres a travers le Mexique, 1909-1910, Vitold de Szyszlo also wrote La Naturaleza en América Ecuatorial (1955), a book based on forty years of research and exploration in the Amazon rainforest. He was a remarkable man, described in promotional material as a “geographer, biologist, zoologist and pioneer.”

Dix mille kilomètres a travers le Mexique, 1909-1910 contains excellent descriptions of some parts of Mexico, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca and Baja California, which were decidedly lesser-known at the time Vitold de Szyszlo was writing.

Despite including some poetic descriptions of Lake Chapala and towns like Ocotlán, de Szyszlo was somewhat disappointed with the reality of the lake, since he felt that the available maps had made the surrounding scenery seem much more Alpine. Vitold de Szyszlo reported on the progress of the major drainage scheme at the eastern end of Lake Chapala, and had first-hand experience of the party scene at Lake Chapala during Holy Week:

Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Diaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

After commenting on the various attractions of Chapala, including its hot springs and the opportunities that Lake Chapala offered for bird-hunting, he describes his return visit in 1909 to Chapala for Holy Week, only a few months before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution:

I returned to Chapala in April to attend the Holy Week festivities. While all the other Mexican towns are absorbed by Lent, a large number of visitors flock to Chapala for that period. Under the auspices of President Diaz, then in power, regattas were organized in small canoes reserved for the young ladies of the best society.

The president, in a navy blue suit and wearing a panama hat, was accompanied by his wife, dressed all in black, and his daughter Luz, in an elegant outfit. Among the other representatives of the smart set, come to Chapala for the occasion, were: the eminent finance minister Mr. Yves Limantour, to whom the country owes the consolidation of its foreign credit; Mr. Braniff, a railroad king, of working class origins, and Sr. Moreno, whose revenue reached a fabulous figure. It is said, not without malice, that just the wool from his sheep’s tails could be worth one million piastres. Also present were Mr. Landa, governor of the state of Mexico, Mr. Ahumada, governor of the state of Jalisco, Mr. Escaudon, governor of the state of Morelos, Messrs. Corcuera, Cuesta, Cosio, Hermosillo, Malo, Del Valle, etc.

Mexican millionaires make up the so called national aristocracy, but their doors are little accessible to strangers or even to their less fortunate compatriots. It is a very vain and proud circle where no one will speak to you without inquiring about your personal situation. The ladies, who make generous use of makeup, are rarely beautiful. Their annual budget for jewellery, toiletries, trinkets and trips to Europe amounts to hundreds of thousands of piastres. Some families own private hotels on the Champs Elysées, villas in Switzerland, on the Côte d’Azur, and at popular beaches and the fancy resorts of the good life.”

Source:

This post is based on chapter 55 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 use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jun 012016
 

Born in Brazil, painter and violinist Félix Bernadelli was an influential teacher of art in Guadalajara in the second half of the nineteenth century. Félix had two older brothers: Chilean-born painter Henrique Bernardelli  (1858-1936) and Mexican-born sculptor Rodolfo Bernardelli (1852 – 1931).

bernadelli-felix-chapala-ca-1899

Félix Bernardelli. Lake Chapala. ca 1899

Félix’s later art works tended towards impressionism. Many of his landscapes were based on visits to the areas around Guadalajara, including Lake Chapala. A joint show, held in 1945, long after his death, at the Casa del Arte in Mexico City was comprised of 66 paintings by Félix and his brother Henrique. In addition to figure studies and portraits, the show included paintings of Guanajuato, Zapopan, Rome, Capri, and of Lake Chapala.

In 1996, the Museum of San Carlos in Mexico City held a showing of works (watercolors, drawings, oils) by Félix Bernardelli and his students. The exhibition highlighted the contribution Bernardelli made to modernizing Mexican art, moving it away from the old, European-style representational approach into less charted waters.

Atiliano Félix Bernardelli was born in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, on 8 October 1862 and died in Guadalajara in 1908. He studied art and violin at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro and first came to Mexico in 1886 for a short visit with his sister who had lived for many years in Guadalajara.

A few months later, Bernardelli left to study art in Rome and Paris (under William Adolphe Bouguereau and Gabriel Ferrier), before returning to Guadalajara in 1892, where he proceeded to open an art academy and introduce students to the latest European art movements such as impressionism.

Bernardelli also undertook commissions, including decorative murals. For example he painted art nouveau female figures either side of the entrance to the El Libro de Caja store which belonged to postcard publisher Juan Kaiser. He also painted a mural inside the dome of Guadalajara’s Iglesia de la Soledad.

Bernardelli exhibited in New York, probably in early 1896, showing a selection of paintings done in Rome, Paris and Mexico. According to reports, he was thinking of selling six canvasses, including two impressionist views of Lake Chapala, to American admirers. At about the same time, he visited Washington DC to play the violin in concerts with Jaliscan pianist Enrique Morelos. (El Heraldo, Guadalajara, 19 March 1896). In 1898, Bernardelli’s work received national acclaim when it was included in the annual exhibition held by the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City.

Félix Bernardelli (center), ca 1898, with (clockwise), José María Lupercio, Rafael Ponce de León, unknown student, Jorge Enciso and Gerardo Murillo

Félix Bernardelli (center), ca 1898, with (clockwise), José María Lupercio, Rafael Ponce de León, unknown student, Jorge Enciso and Gerardo Murillo

With Bernardelli leading the way, for a couple of decades, Guadalajara was Mexico’s artistic frontier, significantly ahead of Mexico City in terms of experimentation and creativity, leading contemporary Mexican writer and diplomat Eduardo Gibbon to christen the city the “Florence of Mexico”.

In Guadalajara, Bernardelli taught many artists who went on to become nationally famous, including Gerardo Murillo (better known as Dr. Atl) and Roberto Montenegro, as well as Luis de la Torre, Jorge Enciso, Rafael Ponce de León and José María Lupercio, who became one of Mexico’s best-known photographers. Bernardelli encouraged many of his students to study in Europe and to become involved in mural painting.

American journalist Owen Wallace Gillpatrick, who visited Guadalajara in about 1899, later wrote that, “A delightful feature of social life in Guadalajara were the afternoons at the home and studios of the Mexican painter, Felix Bernardelli, where women and men of artistic, literary and musical pursuits met for music, poetry and gossip.” (The Man Who Likes Mexico, 1911)

Bernardelli’s works can be admired in the Regional Museum in Guadalajara, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Brazil, and in many major collections.

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 5:25 am  Tagged with:
Apr 252016
 

Diego José Abad (1727-1779) was a Mexican poet and author, born in Jiquilpan, Michoacán (then on the shores of Lake Chapala). His birthplace appears to be the only direct connection that he has to Lake Chapala.

abad-diego-joseAbad, born on 1 June 1727, was the eldest son in a wealthy ranch-owning family. At twelve years of age, he entered the Colegio de San Idelfonso in Mexico City, where he took classes in grammar, poetry, rhetoric and philosophy, before joining the Jesuit order two years later in 1741. After ordination in 1751, Abad taught rhetoric, philosophy, canon law and civil law in Jesuit seminaries in Mexico City, Zacatecas and Querétaro. He was in poor health for much of his life and spent his free time translating Virgil into Spanish.

In 1767, when King Charles III of Spain ordered all Jesuits out of New Spain, Abad entered exile in Italy, where he died twelve years later. Abad wrote many works, some in Latin, others in Spanish, including: El más embrollado problema de las matemáticas resuelto; De deo deoque homine heroica (1769; the 2nd edition of which was published under the pseudonym of Jacobus Josephus Labbè); El cursus philosophicus (1775); Disertación cómico seria acerca de la cultura latina de los extranjeros (1778); Geografía hidrográfica general, a work about the world’s major rivers.

Abad died in Bologna, Italy, on 30 September 1779.

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

Feb 042016
 

Leandro Izaguirre was born in Mexico City on 13 February 1867 and died in his native city on 26 February 1941. He was a painter, illustrator and educator.

Leandro Izaguirre: El Lago de Chapala (date unknown)

Leandro Izaguirre: El Lago de Chapala (date unknown)

There is no definitive date ascribed to his painting of Lake Chapala, which came up at auction in 2013, but it appears to show the lakeshore at the village of Chapala at the end of nineteenth century, and almost certainly predates the two weeks we know Izaguirre spent at Chapala in the second half of December 1906, with his friends Luis G. Urbina and Rubén M. Campos.

Izaguirre cover for El Mundo Ilustrado, 3 November 1895

Izaguirre cover for El Mundo Ilustrado, 3 November 1895

Izaguirre undertook formal studies of art at the the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City, starting in 1884, under the tutelage of Santiago Rebull and José Salomé Pina. Early in his career, Izaguirre was primarily a painter of historical subjects in the realist style then in favor in Mexico. He also painted numerous landscapes and portraits.

Izaguirre’s best known works include Colon en la Rábida (“Columbus at Rábida”); La fundación de Tenochtitlán (The Founding of Tenochtitlán), now in the collection of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City); and  El suplicio de Cuauhtémoc (“The Torture of Cuauhtémoc“). The last-named painting was painted for the Worlds Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago, where it won a prize.

Leandro Izaguirre spent some time in Italy and also taught for some years at the Academia de San Carlos (San Carlos Academy) in Mexico City. His students included José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro. He had work commissioned in Europe between 1904 and 1906. He also worked as an illustrator for El Mundo Ilustrado, a popular weekly magazine that ran from 1894 to 1914. He was particularly active during the early years of the magazine.

Sources:

  • Martha Eugenia Alfaro Cuevas. 2014. “Revisión histórica del semanario El Mundo Ilustrado (1894-1914), en sus diez etapas, a partir del análisis de sus carátulas y portadas” in Diseño y Sociedad, 35-36, Otoño 2013-Primavera 2014.

Other early paintings of Chapala are known by:

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 6:08 am  Tagged with:
Feb 012016
 

American writer Walter Willard “Spud” Johnson (1897-1968) and acclaimed poet Witter Bynner accompanied English novelist D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, during most of their time in Mexico in 1923. Johnson had been a student of Bynner at the University of California in 1919 (in the same class as Idella Purnell from Guadalajara) and subsequently worked as Bynner’s secretary.

Johnson and Bynner traveled down to Mexico City in March 1923, a few days after the Lawrences; all four stayed at the Hotel Monte Carlo. At the end of April, Lawrence left Mexico City to explore the possibility of moving to Chapala, conveniently close to Guadalajara where the group had an open invitation to visit Purnell and her father.

Willard Johnson: Print of Lake Chapala (illustration in Laughing Horse)

Willard Johnson: Print of Lake Chapala (illustration in Laughing Horse)

Frieda Lawrence, Johnson and Bynner traveled to Guadalajara by overnight train, arriving on 2 May 1923. Frieda then caught a camion to Chapala and joined her husband, who had already rented a house there, while Johnson and Bynner stayed a few days in Guadalajara before moving to Chapala and renting rooms in the Hotel Arzapalo.

After the Lawrences left Mexico in early July, Johnson and Bynner remained in Chapala, having decided it provided the right conditions for them to mix writing with leisure.

After this visit in 1923, it does not appear that Johnson ever returned to the Lake Chapala area, though he did visit other parts of Mexico in the late 1940s and 1950s, traveling with Mabel and Tony Luhan [1], once with Lynn Riggs and once with Georgia O’Leefe. (Bynner, on the other hand, bought a home in Chapala in 1940 and was a frequent return visitor, spending several years of his life there.)

Johnson was born on 3 June 1897 Illinois, but spent most of his youth in Greeley, Colorado. After two years at the Colorado State Teacher’s College (1916-18) and a short time at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he transferred to the University of California at Berkeley. At Berkeley, he met Witter Bynner, took his popular poetry course, and began to take poetry writing more seriously, the start of a close and lasting friendship.

johnson-laughing-horse-lawrenc-enumber

Cover of the special edition of Laughing Horse devoted to D. H. Lawrence

In early 1922, Johnson and two friends founded their own “alternative” magazine, Laughing Horse, which was published intermittently over the next thirty years. In summer 1922, Johnson left Berkeley and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he began to write poetry while working as Bynner’s secretary.

During their time in Chapala, Johnson worked on a special edition of Laughing Horse (left) as well as on poems later included in his collection Horizontal Yellow (1935).

In D. H. Lawrence, a composite biography, editor Edward Nehls quotes Johnson’s recollection of a typical day in Chapala:

“Mornings we all worked, Lawrence generally down towards a little peninsula where tall trees grew near the water. He sat there, back against a tree, eyes often looking over the scene that was to be the background for his novel, and wrote in tiny, fast words in a thick, blue-bound book, the tale which called Quetzalcoatl. Here also he read Mexican history and folklore and observed, almost unconsciously, the life that went on around him, and somehow got the spirit of the place.

There were the little boys who sold idols from the lake; the women who washed clothes at the waters’ edge and dried them on the sands; there were lone fishermen, white calzones pulled to their hips, bronze legs wading deep in the waters, fine nets catching the hundreds of tiny charales: boatmen steering their clumsy, beautiful craft around the peninsula; men and women going to market with baskets of pitahuayas on their heads; lovers, even, wandering along the windy shore; goatherds; mothers bathing babies; sometimes a group of Mexican boys swimming nude off-shore instead of renting ugly bathing-suits further down by the hotel…

Afternoons we often had tea together or Lawrence and I walked along the mud flats below the village or along the cobbled country road around the Japanese hill – or up the hill itself. We discovered that botany had been a favorite study of both of us at school and took a friendly though more or less ignorant interest in the flora as we walked and talked. Lawrence talked most, of course.”

By 1926 Johnson’s work had been published in Poetry, Pan, Echo, Palms (the poetry magazine started by Idella Purnell), and the New Republic. He published a collection of fifty-six poems, some new and some reprinted from various publications, in 1935, entitled Horizontal Yellow. He also made numerous contributions to The New Yorker, Sunset Magazine and Taos Valley News.

By 1927, Johnson’s relationship with Bynner had weakened (though they remained friends) and he became the secretary to Mabel Dodge Luhan [1] in Taos, New Mexico.

By the early 1930s Johnson had become a fixture in the New Mexico literary and social scenes, dividing his time between Santa Fe and Taos. He continued to write for local papers and ran a small hand printing press. In his fifties, he took up drawing and painting. He died in 1968, still planning a show of his artwork. The show was still held, becoming a fitting memorial to the life and work of this talented writer.

Footnote:

[1] Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962) was a wealthy American patron of the arts who, among other claims to fame, had sponsored Lawrence’s initial visit to Taos in 1922-23. She had moved to Taos in 1919 (as Mabel Dodge Sterne) with her then husband Maurice and Elsie Clews Parsons, to start a literary colony. Mabel took the advice of Antonio (Tony) Luhan, a Native American, to buy a 12-acre (49,000 m2) property. Soon after, she sent Maurice packing (with a monthly allowance) and in 1923 married Tony Luhan. Mabel Luhan later wrote a memoir about Lawrence’s visit entitled, Lorenzo in Taos (1932). The Luhans hosted numerous influential writers, poets and artists, at their home, The Mabel Dodge Luhan House, since designated a national historic landmark, and now an inn and conference center.

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 5:59 am  Tagged with:
Jan 252016
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the multiple achievements of Emma-Lindsay Squier, an extraordinary woman who visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1926.

In this post we take a closer look at just how Squier described her visits to Lake Chapala and Jocotepec in her autobiographical Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934).

squier-emma-lindsay-gringa

Her initial impressions of Lake Chapala were, frankly, not that positive:

“About twenty miles east (sic) of Guadalajara is the famous Lake Chapala. It is by way of being the Mexican Riviera; one which lacks, however, the Continental touch. It tries hard to be sophisticated, but I did not find the purple and pink stucco castles of the millionaires either interesting or in good taste. Mexico is at her best when she caps herself with red tile, bougainvillea vines over her painted adobe panniers, and smilingly challenges the world to produce anything more pictorial.” (Gringa, 145)

However, she was fascinated by the possibility that the Aztecs had lingered at Lake Chapala for several hundreds of years, during their migratory wanderings:

“Today, the blue waters of the lake and burial mounds on the the surrounding hills are constantly yielding up primitive, distorted little clay images that are thought to be mementos of that far-gone time. The Indians say that these small people of barro (clay) are those of the Aztec tribe who would not desert Chapala, and for their disobedience were turned into soulless effigies. They say, too, that the fireflies one sees at night, drifting up from the marshy shores in clouds of golden stars, are the spirits of those repentant ones who are belatedly trying to follow their kinsmen to glories that have long been swallowed up in the tragedies of the past.” (Gringa, 145-146)”

From Chapala, she was then driven by Dr. William Walker to Jocotepec:

“We drove from the village of Chapala along a narrow sandy road that follows the lake. Now and then through the interlaced greenery of trees and shrubbery we could see long primitive fishing boats scooped out of logs propelled by triangular orange-colored sails, skimming across the blue water. The smell of nets drying on the beach mingled with the fragrance of lime blossoms. On the other side of the road, in fields, bounded by fences made of piled stones, small but powerful-looking cattle grazed, and white-garmented peons dozed in the shade of coral-flowered tavachin (sic) trees.”

The farther we drew away from the town of Chapala with its rococo castles and its air of pseudo-sophistication, the closer we came to a Mexico unspoiled, untainted by self-consciousness.

And when we bumped along a cobblestoned road that led to the plaza of Jocotepec, a wave of color and movement and music engulfed us. It was if we stepped out of the twentieth century into the life of a hundred years ago.” (Gringa, 146)

They arrived during a fiesta and she describes the people thronging the plaza:

“… the central square was an almost compact mass of peons in freshly white garments, shirts that were stiff with starch, and long, wide cotton trousers that had been pleated in diagonal lozenges by the patient application of heavy charcoal-heated irons.

The sombreros they wore lacked the high crowns I had seen elsewhere. But the brims made up for the lack of height. They were tremendously wide, curved upward at the edges just the least bit, and two long black cords came down from the shallow-crowned hat and held it under the owner’s chin or dangled down the back of his neck–al gusto.

Few of them wore shoes. Their brown feet were encased in finely woven sandals. But every mother’s son of them in that bobbing, undulating throng was carrying a sarape over his shoulder, the kind you see only in this remote Indian village, one with a dark background of well-carded wool and a woven border of vivid flowers. The boca (mouth) is ornamented thus as well. When the wide opening is slipped over the owner’s head, he is wearing a fringed brown cloak, decorated with flowers, so closely woven that the tropical rain can scarcely seep through.” (Gringa, 147).

Squier goes on to describe the mariachi bands, and being invited to a local bullfight by the mayor – presidente – of the town, an invitation she was unable to pass up. Fortunately, it turned out to be a bloodless bullfight in which the bulls were not killed.

Some time later, when she was listening to a mariachi band in Mexico City with her husband John Ransome Bransby, Squier was delighted to see that some members of the group were wearing sarapes identical in design to those she had seen in Jocotepec. Sure enough, several of the band’s members were indeed from that village on Lake Chapala.

Source:

  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

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

Jan 182016
 

Emma-Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) was a nature and travel writer who lived much of her life in California. She visited and wrote about Lake Chapala in the 1920s, while spending several months in Guadalajara.

Known as “Emily” to family and friends, she was born in Marion, Indiana, on 1 Dec 1892. Her father, Russell Lafayette Squier, was a salesman, and her mother, Helen Ada Lindsay (Squier) was a teacher and an elocutionist. The family was not well off but Emily became a significant source of income at a very early age. At four years of age, Emily proved to have a natural talent for reciting poems and readings from memory and began making public appearances on the Chautauqua circuit, promotional materials billing her as “Baby Squier”.

Recalling her first visit to Mexico, at age ten, to give a dramatic recital in English in Ciudad Porfirio Diaz (now Piedras Negras), across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, she later wrote, “I fell in love with Mexico when I was ten years old. It was love at first sight.” (Gringa, 3)

After classes in the Sacred Heart Academy in Salem (Oregon) and Bremerton High School (Washington), Emily studied journalism for two years at the University of Washington. She dropped out of university when the family moved to Glendale (California) in 1915, where she became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She was later appointed an assistant editor of California Life, a monthly periodical published in Pasadena.

She became a prolific writer of short pieces, published in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Hearst’s and The American Girl. A series of articles about wildlife interacting with people, often with a degree of fantasy, proved especially successful with readers, and a collection of such stories was published as The Wild Heart (1922),with illustrations and decorations by Paul Bransom. The book “captured the imagination of readers from coast to coast…”

Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

Emma-Lindsay Squier (then Mrs George Mark), ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

She spent the latter part of 1919 in Nova Scotia, Canada, collecting stories for a future book, and then in 1920 and 1921, she attended Columbia University in New York, studying drama and literature. She returned to the Seattle area to collect the legends of the Indians of the Puget Sound tribes.

Her writing fame and fortune continued to grow, Emily’s second collected work about animals, On Autumn Trails and Adventures in Captivity (1922) was heralded as “a grown-up book for children and a children’s book for grown-ups”. Squier’s other book-length works included The Red Palanquin (1924); Children of the Twilight: Folk-Tales on Indian Tribes (1926); and The bride of the sacred well, and other tales of Ancient Mexico (1928).

Her first marriage was to a distant cousin George Mark, whom she had met in New York. After their marriage in 1922, they initially lived in New York, but soon relocated to San Diego, where Emily joined the San Diego Players and first met John Bransby. They quickly became a couple and by 1926 Emily had separated from George and decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to travel in Mexico.

In 1926, Squier was offered the opportunity to spend several months in Mexico collecting local folk stories and legends. Her many adventures from this and subsequent trips are told with color and relish in Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). She traveled on a freighter, the S.S. Washington, down the west coast, met and danced with ex-President Obregón in Culiacán, and then spent several months at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara. In Guadalajara, she became such good friends with poet Idella Purnell and her father that he lent her his car whenever she wanted.

On one occasion, the car had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and Emily was helped by the unexpected arrival of a man on a black horse:

“He was wearing an elaborate charro suit. The black, tight fitting trousers glinted with silver ornaments from thigh to ankle. His silken blouse was embroidered in festive colors, and his sombrero was the fanciest I had yet seen. It was of white felt, richly embroidered with silver, and had a painted medallion of the Virgin ornamenting the exaggerated crown. A sarape of the diamond-shaped Saltillo pattern was strapped across his saddle”. (Gringa, 131)

Safely back at the Purnells, she discovered his picture was on wanted posters and that she had been helped by the notorious ‘El Catorce’, “the bloodthirsty bandit who had attacked and set fire to a passenger train!” (More than 100 people were killed in this incident which took place in April 1927).

She also relates the story told by Idella’s father, Dr. George Purnell, about being kidnapped by bandits and released only after a ransom of $200 was paid. (This event actually occurred in April 1930).

Squier and Idella Purnell befriended a group of Huichol Indians in Guadalajara and after much confusion successfully bartered some ribbons and jewelry for Huichol arrows and woven bags. In a letter back home to her then fiance John Bransby, Squier wrote,

“We noticed that two of the Indians carried tiny, crudely made violins. The strings were of wire, the bow was of gut. Upon these weird little instruments they sawed with primitive vigor, and drew forth unmusical wailings as of cats on back-yard fences.”

The violins were home-made, but Squier never did find out how the Indians had first come into contact with the instrument. She did, however, have the opportunity to learn more about some of their stories and legends.

Among the legends she collected on this trip was one related to Lake Chapala. Her version, “The Little Lost Stars of Chapala”, was published in the August 1928 issue of Good Housekeeping.

The introduction makes for very interesting reading…

We had spent the day at Lake Chapala, that lovely blue body of water that is set like a jewel into the barren ring of Mexico’s mountains. It is a gay place, a meeting place for the old world as represented by the primitive Indian life about it, and the new world with its motor boats and motor cars and its air of naive sophistication. A curious place in a way, for you will find there that mingling of childlike simplicity and vague menace that is the essence of all things Mexican. Quaint little stucco castles shaded by palms and mangoes dot the shores of the lake, and are pointed out zestfully as being the homes of millionaire, and poets, and artists – this being the order of their importance. There is a plaza where the band plays on Sunday afternoons, and the sophisticates sit at tables and sip “refrescos“, watching with tolerant amusement the paseo of the Indians and humbler folk, who walk round and round in couples, enjoying themselves in solemn, aloof silence. Out upon the blue waters of the lake long black canoes come gliding, their sales huge and square-cut like those of Chinese sampans. Sometimes the sails are made of colored cloth, and make bright patches of blue or red or orange against the vivid background of sky and shore. They thread their way serenely through scattered flotillas of trim white modern craft, and there is always a drifting confusion of laughter and song mingled with the splash of oars and the subdued chugging of motor-boat engines.

In the center of the lake, a long, scorpion-shaped island lies. It is seldom visited, for there is little to be seen upon it, and the menace of the alacran for which it is named, and which it resembles, is not to be lightly disregarded.

Across the lake the mountains rise up sharp and grim, like the upturned teeth of some great prehistoric monster. And in these mountains, only a short journey from civilization as represented by the florid gaiety of Lake Chapala, are tribes of Indians among whom no white man would dare to venture unless under the specific protection of some priest of padre known to them, and capable of speaking their barbarous tongue. It is said that these savage Indios are the remnants of the once powerful Alcohuas, whose king, Cozoc, held in bondage the mighty tribe of Azteca for a long and irksome period.”

Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier

Gordon Coutts: Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1925

In Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934), Squier describes visiting Lake Chapala and, in particular, Jocotepec, an account we will look at in a separate post.

In 1928, Squier divorced George Mark and married John Ransome Bransby (1901-1998), an actor and movie producer, whose fine photos illustrate Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). The couple were living in New York, but within a week of marriage were traveling in opposite directions: Bransby was starting a theatrical tour while his wife was headed to Guatemala to collect legends for a new series. In 1929, Bransby was still touring when Squier was sailing even further south, to Peru.

Squier had taken a movie camera with her during her trip to Mexico in 1926 and the resulting reels helped Squier and Bransby win the opportunity (in 1930) to film an educational travelogue entitled Mexico (finally released in 1937). This trip is described in some detail in the second half of Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico.

The Bransbys spent time in southern Mexico before returning via Veracruz to Mexico City (where they socialized with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Frances Toor, among other notables). They also spent six weeks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where they filmed a traditional wedding ceremony, before returning to New York by October 1930.

Their resulting 60-minute film was divided into three 20-minute “episodes”: “Modern Mexico,” “Mexico of yesterday” and “Land of chewing gum.” The highlights included Diego Rivera painting murals, the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the Passion Play in Ixtapalapa, and some of the earliest known footage of chewing gum (chicle) production.

Squier and Bransby later spent time touring the Caribbean, and Squier also visited Africa, always looking for more legends and animal stories. Squier’s work became the basis for two motion pictures: the Academy Award-nominated Dancing Pirate (Pioneer Pictures, 1936), based on her story “Glorious Buccaneer” (Colliers, December 1930) and billed as “The first dancing musical in 100% new Technicolor”, and The Angry God (1948), based on a story by Squier about how the god Colima tries to win the love of a beautiful young Indian maiden, who won’t betray the man she loves.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Emma-Lindsay Squier was forced to slow down in her final years. Her incredibly productive life came to an end on 16 September 1941 in Saranac Lake, New York.

Sources:

  • Aileen Block. 1995. Emma-Lindsay’s Scrapbook: A Biography of Emma-Lindsay Squier (Privately printed)
  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

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

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