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).

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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:

  • Laura González Matute. Undated. “Félix Bernardelli (1862-1908). Un artista moderno en el Museo Nacional de San Carlos” [http://discursovisual.net/dvweb11/agora/agolaura.htm]
  • El Heraldo, Guadalajara. 1896. “Triunfo de un artista jalisciense”, 19 March 1896, p. 6.

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 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.

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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:

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 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.

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 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.)

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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.

Jan 112016
 

In July 1923, a few days before the British author D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda left Chapala, they arranged an extended four-day boat trip around the lake with friends including Idella Purnell and her father, Dr. George Purnell.

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923

The Esmeralda boat trip, July 1923. Photo credit: Willard Johnson.

The group that assembled at the pier in Chapala to board the Esmeralda on 4 July 1923 comprised:

  • D. H. Lawrence
  • Frieda Lawrence
  • Witter Bynner
  • Willard (“Spud”) Johnson
  • Dr. George E. Purnell
  • Idella Purnell
  • The boat Captain, from Tuxcueca
  • Two unnamed Mexican crew
  • Daniel, the Lawrences’ gardener and night watchman

Idella Purnell later recalled how “we took off amid the applause of the population of Chapala, a large part of which was on the beach.” (quoted in Bynner, 169)

Unfortunately, the trip did not prove to be without its challenges. The boat ran into very bad  weather overnight, causing several of the group to suffer from motion sickness, before the Esmeralda finally limped to shore on the south side of the lake near Tuxcueca.

Bynner was particularly ill, so Idella accompanied him back to Chapala on the regular (and larger) lake steamer. While friends escorted Bynner to a hospital in Guadalajara, for an operation to resolve an infected fistula, Idella remained in Chapala to greet the remaining members of the party when they finally made it back to port a few days later, having spent a second night near Tizapan el Alto and a third night near La Palma. On 9 July, the Lawrences left Chapala for Guadalajara en route to the U.S.

The trip on the Esmeralda would not quickly be forgotten. In The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence not only describes how the boat was pitched about by storms on “the chalk-white lake” but also succinctly depicts the boat’s departure:

“Barelegged sailors began to pole the ship from the shore. They leaned heavily on the poles, and walked along the rims of the vessel. Slowly she began to move upon the waters, in the shallows. Slowly, she was leaving the shore, and the throng.

Two other sailors swiftly began to hoist the huge, square white sail. Quickly, yet heavily it rose in the air, and took the wind. It had the great sign of Quetzalcoatl, the circling blue snake and the blue eagle upon a yellow field, at the centre, like a great eye.”  – (The Plumed Serpent, chapter XVIII)

Bynner, in Journey with Genius, includes far too many details of his own malaise, but also quotes this passage from one of Idella Purnell’s later letters, recalling the morning after the storm:

“The next thing I knew my father was excitedly summoning us all to come and see a water snake. I couldn’t see why a water snake was of any interest, now whey we had to be awakened so early to see one; there was only a faint gray light under our shelter. But obediently we all went on top of the hatch. The water snake was a waterspout, a black funnel reaching from the lake to the sky, or rather a chimney, with an elbow in it about half way up. The lake was now gray and angry, a thin rain spattered down, and it was cold. My seasickness was upon me again.” (quoted in Journey with Genius, 171)

Lawrence’s wife Frieda, in her memoirs, Not I, But the Wind…, had her own recollections of the trip

“We went into a huge old Noah’s Ark of a boat, called “Esmeralda”, on the Lake of Chapala, with two other friends and Spud. Three Mexicans looked after the boat. They had guitars and sang their melancholy or fierce songs at the end of the boat. In the evening we slowly drifted along the large lake, that was more like a white sea, and, one day, we had no more to eat. So we landed on the island of the scorpions, still crowned by a Mexican empty prison, and only fit for scorpions. There Lawrence bought a live goat, but when we had seen our Mexican boatmen practically tearing the poor beast to pieces, our appetites vanished and we did not want to eat any more.”  – (Not I, But the Wind…, 140-141)

The various minor discrepancies in the diverse accounts of this boat trip are easily forgivable, given the discomforts suffered during the expedition, and the relatively short time that the writers were in the area. For example, in her description, Frieda appears to overlook Bynner’ presence, and to conflate two separate islands, the Isla de Mexcala (Mezcala Island) and Isla de los Alacranes (Scorpion Island).

Sources:

  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind… (New York: Viking Press)
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and his world. (London: Thames & Hudson)
  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)

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 072016
 

Spanish-born artist José Arpa Perea (1858-1952), José Arpa to English-speakers, worked in Spain, Mexico and Texas. From his native Spain, Arpa arrived in Mexico in 1895. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910 he relocated to San Antonio, Texas. Arpa made frequent trips back to Spain, and in 1931, returned to live and work there.

We know he spent some time in Chapala on account of this beautiful oil painting of Chapala, Mexico, sold at auction in 2006 for $24,000. Arpa specialized in landscapes (with occasional portraits), and we know that he painted in various parts of Mexico, predominantly central Mexico.

Jose Arpa: Chapala. Oil on panel; date unknown

Jose Arpa: Chapala. Oil on panel; date unknown (ca 1900?)

Born in Carmona, Spain, Arpa first studied art in 1876 under Eduardo Cano de la Peña at the Museum of Fine Arts in Seville. He also studied in Rome, Italy (1883-1886). His paintings are pre-impressionist in style, and his best works rely on brilliant colors and a particular skill in depicting the effects of sunlight. Four of his canvases were exhibited, on behalf of Spain, at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

In 1895, Arpa traveled to Morocco, and then to Mexico. It is possible that his decision to live in Mexico was on account of previous meetings in Seville with members of two Spanish families – Rivero and Quijano – who were residents of Puebla, Mexico. Arpa declined an invitation to become director of Mexico’s Academy of Fine Arts, and worked independently, painting the local landscapes and customs.

Jose Arpa: Ixtaccihuatl. Oil; ca 1898

Jose Arpa: Ixtaccihuatl. Oil; ca 1898

Arpa spent time in Jalapa, Veracruz, a city of some artistic renown at that time, and had several works accepted for the XXIII Exhibition of the National Fine Arts School (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Mexico City, which opened in January 1899.

In Puebla, Arpa undertook the interior decoration of several city homes. He had painted several murals previously in Spain, but apparently none of them survive, whereas some of his Neo-Mudéjar (Moorish Revival) stucco and mural work in Puebla still exist.

In Texas (after the Mexican Revolution began in 1910) Arpa established his studio in San Antonio and painted the rivers, flowers and rich, blue skies of the Texas Hill Country. His work influenced many painters in Texas, including Xavier Gonzalez (his nephew, and assistant in drawing classes), Octavio Medellín, and Porfirio Salinas.

Arpa’s work has been widely exhibited and won many awards. Ten of his paintings are in the permanent collection of the San Antonio Museum of Art. In 2015, the Museum held a major exhibition of his works, entitled “The Three Worlds of José Arpa y Perea: Spain, Mexico, and San Antonio“.

Previously, in 1998, a major retrospective of his paintings, including some of his American works, had been held in Seville, the city where he spent his final years.

Main sources:

  • Montserrat Galí Boadella. 2000. José Arpa Perea En México (1895-1910). Laboratorio de Arte 13 (2000) 241-261.
  • J. Fernández Lacomba. 1998. José Arpa Perea (Catálogo de la Exposición), Sevilla, Fundación El Monte.

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 6:36 am  Tagged with:
Jan 042016
 

D. H. Lawrence, together with his wife Frieda, and friends Witter Bynner and Willard (“Spud”) Johnson, visited Mexico in March 1923, initially staying in Mexico City.

By the end of April, Lawrence was becoming restless and actively looking for somewhere where he could write. The traveling party had an open invitation to visit Guadalajara, the home of Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner’s at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley. After reading about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico, Lawrence decided to  catch the train to Guadalajara and then explore the lakeside village of Chapala for himself.

Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, he sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately. Lawrence and his wife Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Knud Merrild’s book, A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence.)

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

Life was not without its incidents and travails. Frieda, especially, was unconvinced about the charms of Chapala:

Lawrence went to Guadalajara and found a house with a patio on the Lake of Chapala. There, Lawrence began to write his “Plumed Serpent”. He sat by the lake under a pepper tree writing it. The lake was curious with its white water. My enthusiasm for bathing in it faded considerably when one morning a huge snake rose yards high, it seemed to me, only a few feet away. At the end of the patio, we had the family that Lawrence describes in the “Plumed Serpent”, and all the life of Chapala. I tried my one attempt at civilizing those Mexican children, but when they asked me one day, “Do you have lice too, Niña,” I had enough and gave up in a rage. At night I was frightened of bandits and we had one of the sons of the cook sleeping outside our bedroom door with a loaded revolver, but he snored so fiercely that I wasn’t sure whether the fear of bandits wasn’t preferable. We quite sank into the patio life. Bynner and Spud came every afternoon, and I remember Bynner saying to me one day, while he was mixing a cocktail: “If you and Lawrence quarrel, why don’t you hit first?” I took the advice and the next time Lawrence was cross, I rose to the occasion and got out of my Mexican indifference and flew at him.  – (Frieda Lawrence: (1934), Not I, But the Wind… Viking Press, New York (1934), p 139)

The house the Lawrences rented was at Zaragoza #4 (since renumbered Zaragoza #307) and became the basis for the description of Kate’s living quarters in The Plumed Serpent. The Lawrences lived in the house from the start of May 1923 to about 9 July that year.

Interestingly, the house subsequently had several additional links to famous writers and artists.

Immediately after the Lawrences departed, the next renters were American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser, who lived there for 18 months. They did not realize the identity of the previous tenant – “an English writer” –  until the following year. Their time in Chapala is described, with great wit and charm, in Jackson’s Burros and Paintbrushes (University of Texas Press, 1985).

[Jackson visited Mexico many times and made several return visits to Chapala, including one in 1968 when he, his wife and young grandson, “rented the charming old Witter Bynner house right in the center of the village of Chapala. It had become the property of Peter Hurd, the artist…” In 1923, Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo. In 1930, Bynner bought a home in Chapala (not the one rented by Lawrence) and was a frequent winter visitor for many years.]

Lawrence house in Chapala - ca 1963

Lawrence house in Chapala – ca 1963

Over the years, the house on Zaragoza that Lawrence and Frieda had occupied was extensively remodeled and expanded. The first major renovation was undertaken in about 1940 by famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Another large-scale renovation took place after the house was acquired in 1954 by American artist and architect Roy MacNicol (mistakenly spelled MacNichol in Moore’s The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence).

lawrence-quinta-quetzacoatl-chapala

Quinta Quetzacoatl

In the late 1970s, Canadian poet Al Purdy, a great admirer of Lawrence (to the point of having a bust of Lawrence on the hall table of his home in Ontario), wrote a hand-signed and numbered book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala, published by The Paget Press in 1980, as a limited edition of 44 copies. [If any generous benefactor is reading this, I’d love to own a copy!] The book includes a photograph, taken by Purdy’s wife Eurithe, of the plumed serpent tile work above the door of the Lawrence house.

The town of Chapala today would be totally unrecognizable to Lawrence, but the home where he spent a productive summer writing the first draft of The Plumed Serpent eventually became the Quinta Quetzalcoatl, an exclusive boutique hotel.

Sources:

  • Goldsmith, M.O. 1941. “Week-end house in Mexico: G. Cristo house, Lake Chapala.” House and Garden vol 79 (May 1941). Describes the remodeling of D.H. Lawrence’s one story adobe cottage by Luis Barragán, the “talented young Mexican architect.”
  • Harry T. Moore (ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence (Two volumes), (New York: Viking Press).

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

Dec 312015
 

In writing about the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala, I have collected a long list of enigmatic references to lesser known artists, whose life and work remain very much a mystery.

In the hope that someone, somewhere, will be able to fill in some of the blanks, this post is about another of these “mystery artists”, about whom I would love to know more.

Miss Trude Neuhaus (a German artist, dates unknown) is mentioned in the New York Times of 1 Nov 1925. She is reported to have brought to the Anderson Galleries in New York, “an exhibition of paintings, water colors and drawings of Mexican types and scenery” which had been exhibited at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City. The exhibition also included “Aztec figurines and pottery recently excavated by the artist in Chapala, Mexico”.

The exhibit at the Anderson Galleries ran from 3-14 November 1925.

The only background offered about Miss Neuhaus is that she had “studied under Burmester in Munich” and was a portrait painter in Germany. According to the short piece in the New York Times, she planned to return to Germany “after exhibiting her work in the large cities of the United States”, in order “to make several portraits, for which she has commissions.”

The only auction record I’ve found for Trude Neuhaus is for a painting entitled “Indian mother and child” which sold in the U.S. in 1984 for $500.

Can anyone tell me more about Trude Neuhaus, who it appears must have visited Chapala shortly after D. H. Lawrence, and at about the same time as Everett Gee Jackson was living there?

Other mysteries relating to Lake Chapala authors and artists:

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 6:21 am  Tagged with:
Dec 282015
 

Author and poet Harold Witter Bynner (1881-1968), known as “Hal” to his friends, had a lengthy connection to Lake Chapala extending over more than forty years. He first visited the lake and the village in 1923, when he and then companion Willard Johnson were traveling with D.H. Lawrence and his wife.

Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and later (1940) bought a house there, which became his second home, his primary residence remaining in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bynner spent two and a half years in Chapala during the second world war, and the equivalent of ten years of his life there in total.

Poet, mimic and raconteur Witter Bynner was born into a wealthy family. Apparently, he liked to recount stories about his mother, who, he claimed, kept $500,000 in cash in one of her closets.

He graduated from Harvard in 1902, having been on the staff of the Harvard Advocate.

Bynner published his first volume of verse, Young Harvard and Other Poems, in 1907. Other early works included Tiger (1913), The New World (1915), The Beloved Stranger (1919), A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems (1920), Pins for Wings (1920) and A Book of Love (1923).

In 1916, in an extended prank aimed at deflating the self-important poetry commentators of the time, Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke collaborated to perpetrate what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century”. Bynner and Ficke had met at Harvard and were to become lifelong friends. Ficke and his wife Gladys accompanied Bynner on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. In 1916, Bynner writing under the pen name “Emanuel Morgan” and Ficke, writing as “Anne Knish” published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments. Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918. (Ficke, incidentally, later spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala, with Bynner, and wrote a novel set there: Mrs Morton of Mexico.)

Even though Bynner still became President of the Poetry Society of America from 1920 to 1922, the Spectra hoax was not well received by the poetry establishment, and Bynner’s later poetry received less attention than deserved.

Bynner traveled extensively in the Orient, and compiled and translated an anthology of Chinese poetry: The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty 618–906 (1929) as well as The Way of Life According to Laotzu (1944). He also amassed an impressive collection of Chinese artifacts.

In 1919, he accepted a teaching post at the University of California at Berkeley. Students in his poetry class there included both Idella Purnell and Willard “Spud” Johnson. When Bynner left academia and moved to Taos, New Mexico, in 1922, to concentrate on his own writing, Johnson followed to become his secretary-companion. In Taos, they met D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, and the four traveled together to Mexico in the spring of 1923. After a short time in Mexico City, they settled in Chapala, where the Lawrences rented a house while Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo.

bynner-coverChapala with the Lawrences

Bynner’s memoir of this trip and the group’s time in Chapala is told in his engagingly-written Journey with Genius (1951), which is full of anecdotes and analysis. Among the former, for example, is the story told them by Winfield Scott, manager of the Arzapalo, who a few years earlier had been kidnapped by bandits who attacked the Hotel Rivera in El Fuente.

Bynner, who seems to have had near-perfect recall, describes Chapala and their trips together in loving detail, as well as providing insights into Lawrence’s work habits and mood swings. For his part, Lawrence appears to have been less than impressed, since in The Plumed Serpent he used Bynner as the basis for the unflattering character of Owen, the American at the bullfight.

Bynner’s poem about Lawrence in Chapala, “The Foreigner”, is short and sweet:

Chapala still remembers the foreigner
Who came with a pale red beard and pale blue eyes
And a pale white skin that covered a dark soul;
They remember the night when he thought he saw a hand
Reach through a broken window and fumble at a lock;
They remember a tree on the beach where he used to sit
And ask the burros questions about peace;
They remember him walking, walking away from something.

The Lawrences left Chapala in early July 1923, but Bynner and Johnson stayed a few months more, so that Bynner could continue working on his book of verse, Caravan (1925).

bynner-1961Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and a letter from that time shows how he thinks the town has changed, in part due to tourists: “Too much elegancia now, constant shrill clatter, no calzones, not so many guaraches, no plaza-market.” Among the changes, Bynner noted several other American writers and a painter in Chapala, making up “a real little colony” (quoted in Delpar).

Elsewhere, diary entries and other letters reveal why he liked Chapala: “The Mind clears at Chapala. Questions answer themselves. Tasks become easy”, and how he felt at home there: “Me for Chapala. I doubt if I shall find another place in Mexico so simpatico.”

Poems related to these first two visits to Chapala (1923 and 1925) include “On a Mexican Lake” (New Republic, 1923); “The Foreigner” (The Nation, 1926); “Chapala Poems” (Poetry, 1927); “To my mother concerning a Mexican sunset / Mescala etc.” (Poetry, 1927); “Indian Earth” [Owls; Tule; Volcano; A Sunset on Lake Chapala; Men of Music; A Weaver from Jocotepec] (The Yale Review, 1928); and “Six Mexican Poems” [A Mexican Wind; A Beautiful Mexican; From Chapala to a San Franciscan; The Cross on Tunapec; Conflict; The Web] (Bookman, 1929).

Bynner included many of these poems in the collection Indian Earth (1929), which he dedicated to Lawrence, and which many consider some of Bynner’s finest work. A reviewer for Pacific Affairs (a journal of the University of British Columbia, Canada), wrote that “Chapala, a sequence occupying over half the seventy-seven pages of the book, is a poignant revelation to one in quest of the essence of an alien spirit, that alien spirit being in this case the simple, passionate Indian soul of old Mexico.”

Among my personal favorites (though I admit to bias) is

A Weaver From Jocotepec

Sundays he comes to me with new zarapes
Woven especial ways to please us both:
The Indian key and many-coloured flowers
And lines called rays and stars called little doves.
I order a design; he tells me yes
And, looking down across his Asian beard,
Foresees a good zarape. Other time
I order a design; he tells me no.

Since weavers of Jocotepec are the best in Jalisco,
And no weaver in Jocotepec is more expert than mine,
I watched the zarapes of strangers who came to the plaza
For the Sunday evening processions around the band,
And I showed him once, on a stranger, a tattered blanket
Patterned no better than his but better blent––
Only to find it had taken three weavers to weave it:
My weaver first and then the sun and rain.

Later Chapala-related poems by Bynner include “Chapala Moon and The Conquest of Mexico” (two poems; Forum and Century, 1936) and “Beach at Chapala” (Southwest Review, 1947).

Bynner’s third trip to Chapala, with partner Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964), came in 1931. The pair visited Taxco and Chapala, but Bynner preferred Chapala, claiming (somewhat in contradiction to his earlier letter about a “real little colony”) that, “Chapala survives without a single foreigner living there and, despite its hotels and shabby mansions, continues to be primitive and feel remote.” Of course, this was by no means true; there certainly were foreigners living in Chapala in 1931, including some who had been there since the start of the century.

When Bynner returned to Chapala for a longer stay in January 1940, he first stayed at the Hotel Nido, but not finding it much to his liking soon purchased a house almost directly across the street. The original address was Galeana #441, but the street name today is Francisco I. Madero. We will consider the history of this house in a separate post, but Bynner and Hunt regularly vacationed here thereafter.

At some point in mid-1944, Bynner had been joined at Chapala by a young American painter Charles Stigall, whose ill health at the time had caused him not to be drafted. He lived with Bynner while he recuperated. Certainly he was there in November 1944, as the Guadalajara daily El Informador (19 November 1944) records both “Mr Witter Bynner, famous American poet” and “Mr Charles Stigel” attending an exhibition of Mexican paintings by Edith Wallach, at the Villa Montecarlo. Among the other guests, at the opening were “Nigel Stansbury Millet (one half of the Dane Chandos writing duo); Miss Neill James; Mr Otto Butterlin and his “lovely daughter Rita”; Miss Ann Medalie; and Mr. Herbert Johnson and wife.” (The newspaper makes no mention of Bob Hunt, who was also in Chapala at that time).

In November 1945, Bynner lost his oldest and closest friend, Arthur Ficke. The following month, he returned to Chapala for the winter.

Bynner and Hunt continued to visit Chapala regularly for many years, into the early 1960s. He was well aware of how much the town had changed since his first visit in 1923. For example in a letter to Edward Nehls in the 1950s, Bynner wrote,

“The “beach” where Lawrence used to sit, is now a severe boulevard [Ramon Corona] which gives me a pang when I remember the simple village we lived in. The tree under which he sat and wrote is gone long since and the beach close to it where fishermen cast nets and women washed clothes has receded a quarter of a mile. But the mountains still surround what is left of the lake and, as a village somewhat inland, Chapala would still have charmed us had we come upon it in its present state.”

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala for part of the year. At about this time, his eyesight began to deteriorate. Bynner and Hunt, in the company of artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, traveled to Europe and North Africa for the first six months of 1950, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a fictionalized travelogue about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

Bynner’s final years were spent in ill-health. Bynner had almost completely lost his sight by January 1964, when he unexpectedly lost his long-time partner, Bob Hunt, who had a fatal heart attach just as he was setting out for Chapala, having made arrangements for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by John Liggett Meigs.

The following year, Bynner suffered a severe stroke. While friends looked after him for the remainder of his life (he died in 1968), Bynner’s doctors ordered that the famous poet was not well enough to receive visitors for more than one minute at a time.

Bynner left his Santa Fe home to St. John’s College, together with the funds to create a foundation that supports poetry. The house and grounds are now the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

His passing marked the loss of one of the many literary greats who had found inspiration at Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Bushby, D. Maitland. 1931. “Poets of Our Southern Frontier”, Out West Magazine, Feb 1931, p 41-42.
  • Bynner, Witter. 1951. Joumey with Genius: Recollection and Reflections Concerning The D.H. Lawrences (New York: The John Day Company).
  • Bynner, Witter. 1981. Selected Letters (edited by James Kraft). The Works of Witter Bynner. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Delpar, Helen. 1992. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican : Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935. (University of Alabama Press)
  • Kraft, James 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (UNM Press)
  • Nehls, Edward (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Sze, Corinne P. 1992. “The Witter Bynner House” [Santa Fe], Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Association, Vol 20, No 2, September 1992.

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

Dec 212015
 

Explanations of why the famous British author D. H. Lawrence chose to visit Chapala in 1923 often ignore the key role played by Idella Purnell, a strong-willed young poetry fanatic from Guadalajara.

Purnell had studied under American poet Witter Bynner at the University of California, and Bynner had received an open invitation to visit Purnell and her family in Guadalajara. Over the winter of 1922-23, Bynner and Lawrence had become friends during the English author’s first stay in New Mexico.

In 1923, Lawrence was becoming restless and proposed a trip to Mexico. Lawrence and his wife Frieda invited Bynner, and Bynner’s secretary-companion Willard “Spud” Johnson (who had been a fellow student of Purnell in Bynner’s class), to accompany them. After a short time in Mexico City, the group settled in Chapala for the summer, during which time they met frequently with Idella Purnell and her dentist father, Dr. George Purnell, sometimes in Guadalajara, sometimes in Chapala. The Purnells had numerous links to Chapala and Ajijic (where Dr. Purnell owned a small house), and Idella Purnell went on to enjoy considerable success as a poet, editor, and author of children’s books.

Idella Purnell: The Merry Frogs

Idella Purnell: The Merry Frogs (1936)

[Born on 28 March 1863, Purnell’s father, George Edward Purnell (1863-1961), was among the earliest graduates in dentistry from the University of Maryland, the first dental college in the U.S. Purnell practiced in Missouri before moving to California. In 1889, during a downturn in the Californian economy, a vacation trip to Mexico became a permanent move.

Purnell set up a dental practice in Guadalajara and got married. Dr. Purnell also had mining interests, including a stake in the Quien Sabe Mining company at Ajijic, where several rich veins of gold ore were found in 1909, duly reported in the Los Angeles Herald and El Paso Herald. Some years later (1930), Purnell was kidnapped by bandits but released unharmed after less than a week in exchange for four hundred pesos.]

Idella, the eldest of the Purnell’s three children, was born in Guadalajara on 1 April 1901, and named after her mother. As a teenager, she taught primary school in Guadalajara before attending the University of California, Berkeley. During her second semester there, she was the youngest student in a poetry class given by Witter Bynner. She also became an associate editor of The Occident, the university’s literary magazine.

After she gained her B.A. degree in 1922, Purnell returned to Guadalajara where she worked as a secretary in the American Consulate for the next couple of years. She began writing to Bynner, asking him to come for a visit:

“I was very hungry for intellectual contacts; Guadalajara at that time was an arid desert.” (letter to Nehls)

Taking advantage of her connections to the Berkeley poetry circles, Purnell spent much of 1922 planning the first issue of Palms, a small poetry magazine that she would edit and publish until 1930.

The first issue of Palms appeared in the spring of 1923, just before her prayers for further intellectual stimulation were answered by the visit of Bynner, Johnson and Lawrence. Bynner had been supportive of Palms from the start, but had certainly not anticipated Lawrence’s willingness to offer some poems and drawings, in exchange for some home-made marmalade.

In Journey with Genius, his account of visiting Mexico with Lawrence, Bynner describes how they visited the Purnells’ “quaint little untidy house of adobe”:

“Never have I seen Lorenzo [Lawrence] more amiable, more ingratiating that he was that evening. He listened to poems of Idella’s and to some of her Palms material. He was full of saintly deference to everyone…” (Journey with Genius, 82).

Idella Purnell was initially taken aback by Lawrence, but soon became enthralled:

“Even warned about the red beard, it was with a sense of shock that I met Mr. Lawrence, so thin, so fragile and nervous-quick, and with such a flaming red beard, and such intense, sparkling, large mischievous blue eyes which he sometimes narrowed in a cat-like manner. His rusty hair was always in disorder, as though it never knew a comb. But otherwise the man seemed neat almost to obsession and frail, as though all his energy went into producing the unruly mop on top and the energetic still beard.” [Letter from Purnell to Bynner, quoted in Journey with Genius]

Over the next few months, the Purnells saw Lawrence regularly, either at their home in Guadalajara, or in Chapala at weekends when they stayed Saturday nights at the Hotel Arzapalo.

In early July, a few days before the Lawrences left Chapala, they arranged an extended four‑day boat trip around the lake with Idella Purnell and her father. The group left Chapala aboard the Esmeralda on 4 July.

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923. Photo credit: Willard Johnson.

The boat ran into very bad weather overnight, causing several of the group to be sick, before they finally limped into shore on the south side of the lake near Tuxcueca. From there, Idella took a badly-suffering Bynner back to Chapala on the regular steamer. While friends accompanied Bynner to a hospital in Guadalajara, Idella remained in Chapala to greet the remaining members of the party when they finally returned a few days later.

Based on these times with Lawrence and his friends in Chapala, Purnell wrote an unpublished roman à clef novel entitled Friction. The novel, whose title was suggested by Lawrence, apparently incorporates some excellent descriptions of the local area, and revolves around a political assassination. Among the characters are Edmund (Lawrence), Gertrude (Frieda), Judith (Idella), Lionel (Johnson) and Dean (Bynner).

Purnell continued to publish and edit Palms, considered a forum for young, upcoming poets, until 1930. She never published any of her own poems in Palms, but under her leadership, the magazine published work by more than 350 poets, many of them rising stars at the time, even if largely forgotten since.

palms-cover-by-gotzchePalms included contributions from Bynner, D.H. Lawrence, Johnson, Marjorie Allen Seifert, Warren Gilbert, Mable Dodge Luhan, Countee Cullen, Norman Maclean, Carl Rakosi, Langston Hughes and Alexander Laing, among others. Both Lawrence, and his Danish artist friend Kai Gøtzsche (1886‑1963) (see image) provided illustrations for Palms‘ covers, as did Idella’s younger sister Frances-Lee Purnell. Famous American poet and critic Ezra Pound, in his essay “Small Magazines” (1930), said that Palms “was probably the best poetry magazine of its time”, high praise indeed.

During the second half of the 1920s, Purnell yo-yoed between Mexico and the U.S. In summer 1925, she was head of the foreign book department at the Los Angeles Public Library, where she first met future husband, John M. Weatherwax, before moving back to Mexico in October.

[In 1926, while staying at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara, Emma Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) became good friends with the Purnells. Squier’s time with them is described in detail in her memoir Gringa (1934).]

purnell-idella-30-mexican-menus-span-engIn 1927, Purnell and Weatherwax married, and she joined him in Aberdeen, Washington. She returned to Guadalajara the following year to have their only child, a daughter who, tragically, died as an infant. Weatherwax sued for divorce in 1929, but despite this, he and Purnell collaborated on 19 books between June 1929 and October 1930.

She gave up publishing Palms in 1930. The title was briefly revived by Elmer Nicholas in 1932, a minister in Frankton, Indiana.

On a business trip to New York in 1930, Purnell fell in love with Remington (“Remi”) Stone. The couple lived in New York and married in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, on 30 September 1932.

In 1931, Purnell returned once again to Guadalajara, and the following year was the organizer and dean of the first University of Guadalajara summer session. Many years later, in 1975, her photograph appeared in the Guadalajara Colony Reporter as a guest of honor at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the University of Guadalajara, since she had been the University of California’s delegate to the university’s opening in 1925.

In 1932, Purnell applied, unsuccessfully, for a Guggenheim fellowship to study the anthropology of Lake Chapala and write an anthropological-fictional novel to be called Canoa, which she hoped “would convey to the reader the idyllic atmosphere of the Mexican countryside.” (Delpar)

Purnell had two children with Remington Stone: Marijane Stone, born in 1934, and Remington, born in 1938. The couple also later brought up Purnell’s niece, Carrie Stone. In 1935, when Marijane was only 14 months old, the family began another Mexican gold-mining venture. Remi remained in New York to secure financing, while Idella and Marijane joined Dr. Purnell in Ameca, Jalisco, to oversee the mining operations. All three became ill, so Remi arrived to help run the mine. In 1937, Idella and Marijane went to Los Angeles for medical reasons. Remi gave up the mine shortly afterwards when the Mexican government began expropriating foreign-owned mining property.

In Los Angeles, Idella taught creative writing, and during World War II, she became a riveter for Douglas Aviation and Fletcher Aviation.

In the 1950s, she started studying dianetics, and opened a Center for Dianetics in Pasadena in 1951, before moving it to Sierra Madre in 1956.

Purnell died in Los Angeles, California, on 1 December 1982; she had played an active role in many different literary and educational achievements of the twentieth century. Her archive of correspondence and papers, 1922‑1960, is held by the University of Texas.

purnell-idella-1944-bambi-sIn her long literary career, Idella Purnell (Stone) was the author or co-author of numerous children’s books, including The Talking Bird, an Aztec Story Book: Tales Told to Little Paco By His Grandfather (1930); Why the Bee is Busy and Other Rumanian Fairy Tales Told to Little Marcu By Baba Maritza (1930); Little Yusuf: The Story of a Syrian Boy (1931); The Wishing Owl, a Maya Storybook (1931); The Lost Princess of Yucatan (1931); The Forbidden City (1932); Pedro the Potter (1935); The Merry Frogs (1936).

However, Purnell’s best known work is the Walt Disney version of Bambi (1944), when she “retold” Felix Salten’s original version, Bambi, A Life in the Woods, with Disney providing the illustrations. (Incidentally, Walt Disney himself actually visited Chapala at least once; he gave a speech at the Villa Montecarlo in October 1964, during a “De Pueblo a Pueblo” meeting attended by Mexican president Adolfo Lopez Mateos and US military historian John D Eisenhower).

purnell-idella-sci-fi-anthologyIn addition to children’s stories, Purnell also wrote non-fiction, including a Spanish language biography of the famous American botanist Luther Burbank: Luther Burbank, el Mago de las Plantas (Argentina: Espasa Calpe, 1955), and 30 Mexican Menus in Spanish and English (Ward Ritchie Press, 1971).

Works compiled and edited by Purnell include 14 Great Tales of ESP (Fawcet, 1969) and Never in This World, a collection of stories by twelve famous science-fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov (Fawcett, 1971).

Her short pieces include “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala“, originally published in American Junior Red Cross News in December 1936.

Sources:

  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)
  • Helen Delpar. 1995. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations Between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935 (University of Alabama Press)
  • David Ellis. 1998. D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930; The Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence, Volume 3. Cambridge University Press.
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind… (New York: Viking Press)
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and his world. (London: Thames & Hudson)
  • Edward Nehls (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Vilma Potter. 1994. “Idella Purnell’s PALMS and Godfather Witter Bynner.” American Periodicals, Vol 4 (1994), pp 47-64, published by Ohio State University.

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 142015
 

English novelist, poet and essayist David Herbert Lawrence was 37 years of age in summer 1923 when he spent three months in Chapala writing the first draft of the work that eventually became The Plumed Serpent (1926). For an account of Lawrence’s time in Chapala, see:

The first version of The Plumed Serpent , very different to the final version, was titled Quetzalcoatl and completed in Chapala. Lawrence revised this early version the following year during a visit to Oaxaca. The Plumed Serpent was published in 1926. In 1995, long after Lawrence’s death, the original version, Quetzalcoatl, was also published.

If you haven’t yet read The Plumed Serpent, the entire text is available online:

The Plumed Serpent has been extensively analyzed by literary experts. (One of the most interesting of these analyses is L. D. Clark’s Dark Night of the Body: D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent, Univ. of Texas, 1964). The purpose of this article is not to delve into literary criticism but to highlight some of the salient links between Lawrence’s novel, his time in Mexico and, in particular, his months at Lake Chapala.

Outline plot

The plot, as described on the back cover of some editions of The Plumed Serpent:

“Kate Leslie, an Irish widow visiting Mexico, finds herself equally repelled and fascinated by what she sees as the primitive cruelty of the country. As she becomes involved with Don Ramon and General Cipriano, her perceptions change. Caught up in the plans of these two men to revive the old Aztec religion and political order, she submits to the ‘blood-consciousness’ and phallic power that they represent.”

Differences between Quetzalcoatl and The Plumed Serpent

Literary scholars have subjected the differences between the two versions to reams of analysis. Lawrence made dozens of important changes, but the most significant difference comes in how he developed the character of his heroine, Kate. In the original version, Quetzalcoatl, Kate did not agree to marry General Cipriano Viedma, did not agree to become the manifestation of the rain-goddess and did not agree to remain in Mexico.

The characters in the novel

Lawrence-Plumed-SerpentMany of the events in The Plumed Serpent are based on experiences Lawrence had in Mexico, and many of the characters are based on people in his immediate circle or people he met during his trip.

Some of Lawrence’s minor characters can readily be linked to real people. For instance, his portrayal of the Americans Owen Rhys and Bud Villiers at the bullfight was based on his traveling companions Witter Bynner and Willard (“Spud”) Johnson respectively.

The archaeologist Mrs Norris (Chapter II), who hosted a memorable tea party, was, in real life, Mrs Zelia Nuttall (1858-1933).

The young Mexican who conducted the tour of the frescoes in Mexico City (chapter III) was Mexican artist-geographer Miguel Covarrubias (See Mexican artist-geographer helped put Bali on the tourist map and Mexico in the USA: Pacific fauna and flora mural in San Francisco).

The family of Mexicans at Kate’s house (chapters VIII and IX) was based on the Mexican family that helped look after Lawrence and his wife Frieda in their home in Chapala.

Bell, the American hotel owner in chapter VI, was based on hotelier-photographer Winfield Scott, who at one time had managed the Hotel Ribera Castellanos, but in 1923 was managing the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, the hotel where Lawrence’s traveling companions Bynner and Johnson stayed. (The Hotel Ribera Castellanos has various literary claims to fame dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, when it was owned by Ignacio Castellanos and his wife, poet Esther Tapia de Castellanos.)

The more complex characters in The Plumed Serpent are, in all likelihood, fictional amalgams of several real people. The personality and actions of Don Ramón, for instance, are said to echo José Vasconcelas, the Mexican Education Minister at the time of Lawrence’s visit, combined perhaps with elements of General Arnulfo Gómez, who Lawrence met in Cuernavaca. Witter Bynner, in Journey with Genius, suggests that an American ex-boxer John Dibrell, then resident in Chapala, also influenced the character of Don Ramón.

Cipriano in the novel adopts tactics similar to those espoused by General Gómez, but other details of his life are surely based on the early life of Benito Juárez, the nineteenth century reformer, of humble origin, who served five terms as Mexico’s president.

The landscapes and villages of Lake Chapala

The Plumed Serpent includes many locales that clearly relate to specific places Lawrence visited during his three months in Chapala in 1923. Almost all of the place names Lawrence uses in the novel are the names of real places in the Lake Chapala area, though Lawrence “reassigns” them in his novel.

For example, Lake Chapala itself is fictionalized as “Lake Sayula” in the novel. (Sayula is the name of a town and shallow lake to the west of the real Lake Chapala.) Even though Lawrence stayed at Lake Chapala into the summer rainy season, when the local vegetation is at its most verdant, in chapter 5 of The Plumed Serpent, where Kate arrives at the lake, he deliberately paints only an unflattering dry-season description of the lake’s surrounding countryside:

Dry country with mesquite bushes, in the dawn: then green wheat alternating with ripe wheat. And men already in the pale, ripened wheat reaping with sickles, cutting short little handfuls from the short straw. A bright sky, with a bluish shadow on earth. Parched slopes with ragged maize stubble. Then a forlorn hacienda and a man on horseback, in a blanket, driving a silent flock of cows, sheep, bulls, goats, lambs, rippling a bit ghostly in the dawn, from under a tottering archway. A long canal beside the railway, a long canal paved with bright green leaves from which poked the mauve heads of the lirio, the water hyacinth. The sun was lifting up, red. In a moment it was the full, dazzling gold of a Mexican morning.”

Ixtlahuacan (chapter V), with its railway station, was Lawrence’s name for the town of Ocotlán. The nearby Orilla Hotel (chapters V, VI) was (in reality) the once prominent Hotel Ribera Castellanos. In the novel, Kate was greeted by the hotel manager:

He showed Kate to her room in the unfinished quarter, and ordered her breakfast. The hotel consisted of an old low ranch-house with a veranda — and this was the dining-room, lounge, kitchen, and office. Then there was a two-storey new wing, with a smart bathroom between each two bedrooms, and almost up-to-date fittings: very incongruous.

But the new wing was unfinished — had been unfinished for a dozen years and more, the work abandoned when Porfirio Diaz fled. Now it would probably never be finished. (chapter V)

In the following chapter, Lawrence expands his explanation of the hotel’s recent history:

In Porfirio Diaz’ day, the lake-side began to be the Riviera of Mexico, and Orilla was to be the Nice, or at least the Mentone of the country. But revolutions started erupting again, and in 1911 Don Porfirio fled to Paris with, it is said, thirty million gold pesos in his pocket: a peso being half a dollar, nearly half-a-crown. But we need not believe all that is said, especially by a man’s enemies.

During the subsequent revolutions, Orilla, which had begun to be a winter paradise for the Americans, lapsed back into barbarism and broken brickwork. In 1921 a feeble new start had been made.

The place belonged to a German-Mexican family, who also owned the adjacent hacienda. They acquired the property from the American Hotel Company, who had undertaken to develop the lake-shore, and who had gone bankrupt during the various revolutions.

The German-Mexican owners were not popular with the natives. An angel from heaven would not have been popular, these years, if he had been known as the owner of property. However, in 1921 the hotel was very modestly opened again, with an American manager. (chapter VI)

Lawrence uses Kate’s boat ride from Orilla to Sayula (Chapala) to include a thumb nail account of the historically-important Island of Mezcala:

They were passing the island, with its ruins of fortress and prison. It was all rock and dryness, with great broken walls and the shell of a church among its hurtful stones and its dry grey herbage. For a long time the Indians had defended it against the Spaniards. Then the Spaniards used the island as a fortress against the Indians. Later, as a penal settlement. And now the place was a ruin, repellent, full of scorpions, and otherwise empty of life. Only one or two fishermen lived in the tiny cove facing the mainland, and a flock of goats, specks of life creeping among the rocks. And an unhappy fellow put there by the Government to register the weather. (chapter VI)

The village of Sayula itself, where most of the book’s action takes place, is, of course, based on the village of Chapala, complete with its hot pools and (in 1923) newly-opened railway station:

‘Sayula!’ said the man in the bows, pointing ahead.

She saw, away off, a place where there were green trees, where the shore was flat, and a biggish building stood out.

‘What is the building?’ she asked.

‘The railway station.’

She was suitably impressed, for it was a new-looking, imposing structure.

A little steamer was smoking, lying off from a wooden jetty in the loneliness, and black, laden boats were poling out to her, and merging back to shore. The vessel gave a hoot, and slowly yet busily set off on the bosom of the water, heading in a slanting line across the lake, to which the tiny high white twin-towers of Tuliapán showed above the water-line, tiny and far-off, on the other side.

They had passed the jetty, and rounding the shoal where the willows grew, she could see Sayula; white fluted twin-towers of the church, obelisk shaped above the pepper-trees; beyond, a mound of a hill standing alone, dotted with dry bushes, distinct and Japanese-looking; beyond this, the corrugated, blue-ribbed, flat-flanked mountains of Mexico.

It looked peaceful, delicate, almost Japanese. As she drew nearer she saw the beach with the washing spread on the sand; the fleecy green willow-trees and pepper-trees, and the villas in foliage and flowers, hanging magenta curtains of bougainvillea, red dots of hibiscus, pink abundance of tall oleander trees; occasional palm-trees sticking out.

The boat was steering round a stone jetty, on which, in black letters, was painted an advertisement for motor-car tyres. There were a few seats, some deep fleecy trees growing out of the sand, a booth for selling drinks, a little promenade, and white boats on a sandy beach. A few women sitting under parasols, a few bathers in the water, and trees in front of the few villas deep in green or blazing scarlet blossoms.

‘This is very good,’ thought Kate. ‘It is not too savage, and not over-civilized. It isn’t broken, but it is rather out of repair. It is in contact with the world, but the world has got a very weak grip on it.’

She went to the hotel, as Don Ramón had advised her. (Chapter VI)

Lawrence opens chapter VII with a more in-depth look at the village:

Sayula was a little lake resort; not for the idle rich, for Mexico has few left; but for tradespeople from Guadalajara, and week-enders. Even of these, there were few.

Nevertheless, there were two hotels, left over, really, from the safe quiet days of Don Porfirio, as were most of the villas. The outlying villas were shut up, some of them abandoned. Those in the village lived in a perpetual quake of fear. There were many terrors, but the two regnant were bandits and bolshevists.

Sayula had her little branch of railway, her one train a day. The railway did not pay, and fought with extinction. But it was enough.

Sayula also had that real insanity of America, the automobile. As men used to want a horse and a sword, now they want a car. As women used to pine for a home and a box at the theatre, now it is a ‘machine.’ And the poor follow the middle class. There was a perpetual rush of ‘machines’, motor-cars and motor-buses — called camiónes — along the one forlorn road coming to Sayula from Guadalajara. One hope, one faith, one destiny; to ride in a camión, to own a car.” (chapter VII)

At weekends, Sayula really heated up, with the arrival of cityfolk, who presented quite a spectacle to the local peons:

But on Saturdays and Sundays there was something of a show. Then the camiónes and motor-cars came in lurching and hissing. And, like strange birds alighting, you had slim and charming girls in organdie frocks and face-powder and bobbed hair, fluttering into the plaza. There they strolled, arm in arm, brilliant in red organdie and blue chiffon and white muslin and pink and mauve and tangerine frail stuffs, their black hair bobbed out, their dark slim arms interlaced, their dark faces curiously macabre in the heavy make-up; approximating to white, but the white of a clown or a corpse.

In a world of big, handsome peon men, these flappers flapped with butterfly brightness and an incongruous shrillness, manless. The supply of fifis, the male young elegants who are supposed to equate the flappers, was small. But still, fifis there were, in white flannel trousers and white shoes, dark jackets, correct straw hats, and canes. Fifis far more ladylike than the reckless flappers; and far more nervous, wincing. But fifis none the less, gallant, smoking a cigarette with an elegant flourish, talking elegant Castilian, as near as possible, and looking as if they were going to be sacrificed to some Mexican god within a twelvemonth; when they were properly plumped and perfumed. The sacrificial calves being fattened.

On Saturday, the fifis and the flappers and the motor-car people from town–only a forlorn few, after all–tried to be butterfly gay, in sinister Mexico. They hired the musicians with guitars and fiddle, and the jazz music began to quaver, a little too tenderly, without enough kick.” (chapter VII)

At weekends, the village plaza became the center of commercial activity:

It was Saturday, so the plaza was very full, and along the cobbled streets stretching from the square many torches fluttered and wavered upon the ground, illuminating a dark salesman and an array of straw hats, or a heap of straw mats called petates, or pyramids of oranges from across the lake.

It was Saturday, and Sunday morning was market. So, as it were suddenly, the life in the plaza was dense and heavy with potency. The Indians had come in from all the villages, and from far across the lake. And with them they brought the curious heavy potency of life which seems to hum deeper and deeper when they collect together.

In the afternoon, with the wind from the south, the big canoas, sailing-boats with black hulls and one huge sail, had come drifting across the waters, bringing the market-produce and the natives to their gathering ground. All the white specks of villages on the far shore, and on the far-off slopes, had sent their wild quota to the throng. (chapter VII)

The house which Lawrence and his wife Frieda rented in Chapala at Zaragoza #4 became Kate’s living quarters in The Plumed Serpent:

Her house was what she wanted; a low, L-shaped, tiled building with rough red floors and deep veranda, and the other two sides of the patio completed by the thick, dark little mango-forest outside the low wall. The square of the patio, within the precincts of the house and the mango-trees, was gay with oleanders and hibiscus, and there was a basin of water in the seedy grass. The flower-pots along the veranda were full of flowering geranium and foreign flowers. At the far end of the patio the chickens were scratching under the silent motionlessness of ragged banana-trees.

There she had it; her stone, cool, dark house, every room opening on to the veranda; her deep, shady veranda, or piazza, or corridor, looking out to the brilliant sun, the sparkling flowers and the seed-grass, the still water and the yellowing banana-trees, the dark splendour of the shadow-dense mango-trees.

With the house went a Mexican Juana with two thick-haired daughters and one son. This family lived in a den at the back of the projecting bay of the dining-room. There, half screened, was the well and the toilet, and a little kitchen and a sleeping-room where the family slept on mats on the floor. There the paltry chickens paddled, and the banana-trees made a chitter as the wind came.” (chapter IX)

Early in the day, Kate would sit on the veranda:

Morning!  Brilliant sun pouring into the patio, on the hibiscus flowers and the fluttering yellow and green rags of the banana-trees.  Birds swiftly coming and going, with tropical suddenness. In the dense shadow of the mango-grove, white-clad Indians going like ghosts.  The sense of fierce sun and, almost more impressive, of dark, intense shadow.  A twitter of life, yet a certain heavy weight of silence.  A dazzling flicker and brilliance of light, yet the feeling of weight.” (chapter IX)

The imposing, twin-spired church (chapters XVI and XVIII) was only a few steps away from the house Lawrence rented in Chapala.

Jamiltepec, Don Ramón’s hacienda on Lake Sayula (chapter VI onwards) was based on the mansion Villa El Manglar, owned by in-laws of President Porfirio Díaz, which was partially ruined in 1923.

Other obvious parallels include the market scene (chapter VII), and the novel’s depictions of women washing clothes and men fishing for charales (chapter IX).

Lawrence’s wife Frieda, in her memoir Not I, But the Wind… (1934), also recalls that,

“We went across the pale Lake of Chapala to a native village where they made serapes; they dyed the wool and wove them on simple looms. Lawrence made some designs and had them woven, as in the “Plumed Serpent”.

These examples should suffice to show just how keenly Lawrence observed everyone and everything around him during his months in Chapala, as well as how widely he read about Mexico’s history, both ancient and modern.

Why was there never a movie version?

Somewhat surprisingly, Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent has never been made into a movie.

Apparently, there was a 1970 screenplay by Robert Bolt (who wrote Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Man for All Seasons) that Christopher Miles hoped to direct, but this project never came to fruition. Miles wanted his sister (and Robert Bolt’s wife) Sarah Miles, the English actress who starred in Ryan’s Daughter, to play “Kate Leslie” and Oliver Reed to be “Cipriano”. In a 1973 newspaper article, Sarah is quoted as saying, “I’m going to star in ‘The Plumed Serpent‘ on location in Argentina. Robert has written the screenplay from a D.H. Lawrence story. And my brother Christopher is going to direct.” (Long Beach Independent, 9 April, 1973)

Sources:

  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)
  • L. D. Clark. 1964. Dark Night of the Body: D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent. (Univ. of Texas)
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1923 (published 1995) Quetzalcoatl.
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.

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

Dec 102015
 

Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott was born in Galesburg, Michigan on 15 July 1863 and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 January 1942.

Early advert for Scott's Views

Early advert for Scott’s Views

Scott spent six months in Mexico in 1888, and then lived in the country, with occasional breaks in California, from 1895 to 1924.

From 1890 to 1894, he was working in Oakland, California. In 1894, he spent a weekend in jail when an aggrieved ex-colleague, unhappy about the terms of a business deal, denounced Scott for taking and possessing “indecent” photographs. A contemporary news report described them as “obscene photographs of semi-naked young Chinese girls” between 10 and 14 years of age. Scott was freed and exonerated because it proved impossible to find any such photos in his possession.

This may well have been the stimulus, if any was needed, that prompted Scott to move to Mexico in 1895 and settle in Silao, Guanajuato, where he undertook photographic commissions for the Mexican Central Railway (Ferrocarril Central Mexicano) and, from January 1897, for the the National Railways (Ferrocarriles Nacionales). He is known to have photographed the famous Guanajuato mummies. He also sold some photos in 1896 to the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago.

His railway-related images include photos of canyons, stations, rural landscapes, and everyday life of the people living close to the tracks. By 1897, an advert in Modern Mexico (January 1897) claimed that he had amassed “the largest and most complete collection of scenes of Mexico and Mexican life”. In that same year, Wilson’s photographic magazine called him a pictorialist photographer and publicized his hundreds of images of Mexico and the U.S., with 5×8 prints on sale by mail order for $3 a dozen.

On 21 October 1898, now 35 years of age, Scott married 18-year-old Edna Browning Cody in the city of León, Guanajuato. Edna was from Lakeview, Michigan, but lived with her parents in the mining camp of  Mineral de Cardones in Guanajuato.

By 1900, he and his wife (now known as Edna Cody Scott) lived in Ocotlán, Jalisco, on Lake Chapala, where he advertised the sale of “true portraits of the life and landscape of this country of unparalleled picturesqueness.”

Scott-Chapala-Sonora-News-Co

Several of his photos, including a panoramic view of Chapala, were used to illustrate A tour in Mexico, written by Mrs James Edwin Morris (The Abbey press, 1902).

A 1903 list of Scott’s Views of Mexico (published in Ocotlán, Jalisco) has 2486 numbered titles for Scott’s Mexican photographs, together with a testimonial attesting to their quality from Reau Campbell, of the American Tourist Association, author of Campbell’s New Revised Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Mexico (1899).

scott-winfield-water-carrier-lake-chapala-1909-2

Scott: A Water Carrier (Lake Chapala) , 1909

Scott’s photographs were in wide demand for postcards. Three small photographs of Chapala, all by Scott, were used on the first postcard published by Juan Kaiser (with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor San Luis Potosí y Guadalajara”) in about 1906.

Scott’s specialty was the portrayal of women and children, as well as landscapes, and Mexico’s national photographic archive holds no fewer than 223 female portraits taken by Scott. Many of his portraits are exceptional in composition. Scott was one of the first of Mexico’s commercial photographers to pay as much attention to the context and surroundings as to the subject. His success in this regard is partly attributable to his rapid adoption of smaller and lighter cameras.

scott-lake-chapala-ca-1908-

Scott: Lake Chapala, ca 1908

In 1908 Scott’s photographs were used to illustrate an account in Modern Mexico about the Colima-Manzanillo railway, then under construction but due to be completed in time for Mexico’s centenary celebrations in 1910.

During his time in Mexico, Mexico Scott collaborated with fellow photographer Charles B. Waite. The two photographers offered, in the words of photographic historian Rosa Casanova, images specially chosen to appeal to an English-speaking audience: “a ‘costumbrista’ vision of the landscape, monuments, and people of the country, producing an imagery that was also adopted in Mexico, thanks to their widespread circulation in the form of postcards produced first by the Sonora News Company and later on by La Rochester.”

Winfield Scott’s daughter Margaret/Margarita (aged 15 in 1921) was born in Mexico in about 1906. Witter Bynner and others say that Scott’s wife (Margaret’s mother) was Mexican, but do not offer a name. Was this the same Edna Cody Scott whom Scott had married in 1898? Equally unclear is the precise timeline when Scott was managing a hotel in Ocotlán, the source of stories Scott shared with D. H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, Witter Bynner and others in 1923.

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Scott moved to California, but returned in 1912, and then divided his time between California and Mexico until 1924. When applying in 1921 (in the U.S.) for a new passport so that he can return to Ocotlán, he described himself as 5′ 5″ tall, with light blue eyes and brown hair.

scott-winfield-hotel-arzapalo-chapala-2

Scott: The Hotel Arzapalo, early 1900s.

By 1923, Scott had been widowed and was manager of the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, living there with his daughter Margaret in rooms on the west wing facing the lake. D. H. Lawrence used Scott as the basis for the hotel owner Bell in his novel The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence’s traveling companions Witter Bynner and Willard “Spud” Johnson stayed at the hotel, which was conveniently close to the house that Lawrence and his wife Frieda had rented.

In his memoir Journey with Genius (1951), Witter Bynner devotes chapter 16 to the Hotel Arzapalo and chapter 22 to Mr. Winfield Scott. He includes a detailed account of Scott telling them about how, while managing an hotel in Ocotlán, he narrowly escaped from bandits on one occasion. (Bynner, pp 110-114)

Elsewhere, Idella Purnell, a Guadalajara poet who spent time with Lawrence, has written about how she and Margarita Scott accompanied the Lawrences by boat to the railway station (presumably at Ocotlán) in mid-July 1923, when Lawrence and his wife Frieda left Chapala to return to Guadalajara and then New York.

Later that year, when Lawrence and Kai Gøtzsche visited Guadalajara in October 1923, they chose to stay at the Hotel García because Winfield Scott had now moved from Chapala and was managing that hotel. Scott did not remain at the Hotel García for long. By the end of the following year, he had moved back to California, where he lived until his death in 1942.

Sources:

Related posts:

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

Dec 072015
 

English novelist, poet and essayist David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was 37 years of age in summer 1923 when he spent three months in Chapala writing the first draft of the work that eventually became The Plumed Serpent (1926).

Early years

Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, on 11 September 1885, and died in France on 2 March 1930. He studied at Nottingham High School and University College, Nottingham, where he gained a teaching certificate, and then taught for three years, but left the profession in 1911, following a bout of pneumonia, to concentrate full-time on his writing career. In 1914, he married Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen) (1879-1956), the former wife of one of his university French teachers.

Lawrence was deemed medically unfit to serve in the first world war (1914-18). During the war, the couple lived in near destitution on account of suspicion engendered by Lawrence’s anti-war sentiments and Frieda’s German background. Accused of espionage while living at Zennor, on a secluded part of the Cornish coast, they were forced to move to London.

As soon as was practical after the war, they left the U.K. to live abroad. Lawrence only ever returned to the U.K. on two occasions after that, each time staying for as short a time as possible. Lawrence and Frieda began an itinerant existence as the novelist sought the perfect place to live and work; this quest took them to Australia, Italy (where he acquired the nickname Lorenzo, used by wife Frieda and others from that time), Sri Lanka, the U.S., Mexico and France, but no single location ever satisfied Lawrence for long.

From New Mexico to Mexico City and Chapala

In September 1922, Lawrence and Frieda were invited by Mabel Dodge Luhan, to spend the winter in New Mexico. En route to her ranch near Taos, they spent a night in Santa Fe at the home of Witter Bynner the poet. Bynner and his secretary (and lover) Willard (“Spud”) Johnson would travel with the Lawrences to Mexico the following year. (We look at them in relation to Lake Chapala in separate posts).

In March 1923, Lawrence, Frieda, Bynner and Johnson arrived in Mexico City and took rooms in the Hotel Monte Carlo, close to the city center. This hotel became the basis for the Hotel San Remo in The Plumed Serpent.

By the end of April, Lawrence was getting restless again, and still looking for somewhere to write. The party had an open invitation to visit Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner, in Guadalajara. Lawrence read about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico and, taking into account its proximity to Guadalajara, decided to explore the village for himself.

Curiously, there is some uncertainty among biographers as to how (and precisely when) Lawrence first arrived in Chapala. Some claim that he left the Mexico City-Guadalajara train at Ocotlán, and then took a boat to Chapala. While this was possible (and this manner of arrival was clearly the basis for the trip to “Lake Sayula” described in chapters V and VI of The Plumed Serpent), it seems unlikely, given that the house he subsequently rented in Chapala was recommended by a consular official in Guadalajara.

More likely, Lawrence stayed in Guadalajara and met the official face-to-face. He then had several alternative means of traveling to Chapala: train back to Ocotlán, followed by boat, or train to La Capilla and then the La Capilla-Chapala railway (which operated on a limited schedule), or bus (camion) all the way from Guadalajara.

D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Chapala, 1923

D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Chapala, 1923

However he arrived, Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, had sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately.

Frieda, Bynner and Johnson narrowly caught the overnight train and met the Purnells in Guadalajara the following morning. According to Bynner, Frieda then caught a camion (bus) to Chapala to join her husband, who had already rented a house in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. Bynner and Johnson opted to stay a few days in the city before joining the Lawrences at the lake. When they did arrive, they chose to enjoy the comforts of the nearby Hotel Arzapalo.

Lawrence sets up home in Chapala

Lawrence and Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, at Calle Zaragoza #4 (later renumbered #307). In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Merrild.)

Lawrence’s stay at Lake Chapala proved to be a highly productive one. His major achievement at Chapala was to write the entire first draft of a new novel set in Mexico. Initially called Quetzocaoatl (after the feathered serpent of Mexican mythology), the draft was completely rewritten the following year in Oaxaca as The Plumed Serpent.

Writing beside the beach

After a couple of false starts, Lawrence began his novel on 10 May and, writing at a furious pace, completed ten chapters by the end of the month. Within two months, the first draft was essentially complete.

Lawrence did not do very much writing in the house, but preferred to sit under a tree on the edge of the lake. Willard “Spud” Johnson recalled that:

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 blank book, the tale which he called Quetzalcoatl. Here also he read Mexican history and folklore and observed, almost unconsciously, the life that went on about 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 fisherman, 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 pitahayas 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. (quoted in Udall)

Seeking a permanent home

For much of their stay in Chapala, Lawrence was hoping to find a property suitable for long-term residence, as evidenced by this letter, dated 17 June 1923, from Frieda to their Danish artist friends Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche back in Taos, New Mexico:

“We are still not sure of our fate–but if we see a place we really like, we will have it and plant bananas–I am already very tired of not doing my own work.–Lawrence does not want to go to Europe, but he is not sure of what he wants.  –The common people are also very nice but of course really wild–And I think we could have a good time, Merrild would love the lake and swimming, we could have natives to spin and weave and make pottery and I am sure this has never been painted—–” (quoted in Merrild)

It is unclear whether or not Frieda intended the last comment, about the lake never having been painted, to be taken literally. The truth is that many artists had painted Lake Chapala long before the Lawrences ever stayed there, including Johann Moritz Rugendas (who painted there in 1834), Ferdinand Schmoll (1879-1950), watercolorist Paul Fischer, and August Löhr (1843-1919). Moreover, only days after the Lawrences left their home in Chapala, it was rented by two young American artists, Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser.

Late in June, Lawrence himself writes to Merrild, explaining that despite looking for a new home, they have now given up hope of finding somewhere suitable:

“We were away two days travelling on the lake and looking at haciendas. One could easily get a little place. But now they are expecting more revolution, & it is so risky. Besides, why should one work to build a place & make it nice, only to have it destroyed.

So, for the present at least, I give it up. It’s no good. Mankind is too unkind.” (quoted in Merrild)

In July 1923, a few days before Lawrence and Frieda left Chapala, they arranged an extended four-day boat trip around the lake with friends including Idella Purnell and her father, Dr. George Purnell. The trip, aboard the Esmeralda, began on 4 July. Two of the party returned early, but the others endured some very rough weather, before their return to port.

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923. Photo credit: Willard Johnson

Lawrence returns to Chapala (briefly) in October 1923

On 9 July, the Lawrences left Chapala for New York via Guadalajara, Laredo, San Antonio, New Orleans and Washington D.C. The following month, Frieda went to Europe, leaving Lawrence behind in the U.S. In October, Lawrence returned to Mexico, traveling with the Danish painter Kai Gotzsche down the west coast, with plenty of unanticipated adventures, to spend a month in Guadalajara. They stayed most of the time in the Hotel García (where Winfield Scott, former manager of the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, was now in charge). From Guadalajara, they visited Chapala for a single day on 21 October 1923, before traveling to Mexico City in mid-November, before sailing from Veracruz for England.

The following year (1924), Lawrence and Frieda came back across the Atlantic to New Mexico in March, bringing with them the painter, the Hon. Dorothy Brett (who later wrote her own memoir of Lawrence). The Lawrences spent the Fall of 1924 in Oaxaca, where Lawrence focused on reworking Quetzacoatl into the manuscript for The Plumed Serpent.

The lake looks like urine?

Did Lawrence really like Lake Chapala? That remains an open question, and no doubt depended on his mood when asked. Playwright Christopher Isherwood, when interviewed by David Lambourne, credited D. H Lawrence with having taught him that for best effect you don’t need to describe things as they are, but as you saw them:

“Lawrence… was so intensely subjective. I mean his wonder at the mountains above Taos, you know, and then his rage at Lake Chapala. And the characteristic methods of his attack were so marvelous. I mean, he was in a bad temper about Lake Chapala, so he just said, ‘The lake looks like urine.’ He meant, ‘It looks like urine to me,’ you see…”

Lawrence Myths

Inevitably, many misconceptions have arisen about Lawrence’s time in Chapala. It is often assumed, for instance, that he spent far more time in Chapala than just ten weeks. It is sometimes claimed that he spent “one winter” there, whereas in fact he visited from May to July, witnessing the very end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season.

Nor was Lawrence the first Anglophone writer to find inspiration at Lake Chapala, though he was quite possibly the most illustrious. The honor of writing the earliest full-length novel set at the lake in English goes to Charles Embree (1874-1905), who spent eight months in Chapala in 1898, and wrote A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900).

Chapala remains a place of pilgrimage for Lawrence fans

Since 1923, many Lawrence fans have made their own pilgrimage to Chapala to see first-hand what inspired their great hero. Perhaps the most famous of these admirers is the Canadian poet Al Purdy, who visited Chapala several times in the 1970s and 1980s. Purdy was a huge fan of Lawrence, even to having a bust of Lawrence on his hall table back in Canada and wrote a limited edition book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala (The Paget Press, 1980).

Sources / Further reading:

  • David Bidini. 2009. “Visit to poet Al Purdy’s home stirs up more than a few old ghosts”, National Post, Friday 30 October 2009.
  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)
  • David Ellis. 1998. D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930; The Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence, Volume 3. Cambridge University Press.
  • David Lambourne. 1975. “A kind of Left-Wing Direction”, an interview with
    Christopher Isherwood” in Poetry Nation No. 4, 1975. [accessed 2 Feb 2005]
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind… (New York: Viking Press)
  • Knud Merrild. A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D. H. Lawrence.
  • Harry T. Moore(ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (Two volumes)
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and his world. (London: Thames & Hudson)
  • Edward Nehls (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Vilma Potter. 1994. “Idella Purnell’s PALMS and Godfather Witter Bynner.” American Periodicals, Vol 4 (1994), pp 47-64, published by Ohio State University.
  • Sharyn Udall. 1994. Spud Johnson & Laughing Horse. (Univ. New Mexico)

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.

Nov 192015
 

Kai Guldbrandsen Gøtzsche (1886-1963) was born in Aarhus, Denmark, on 6 May 1886 and studied painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen from 1908 to 1912. He first arrived in the U.S. in 1921.

Gotzsche-PortraitOfLawrenceIn 1922-23, he became part of the circle of artists and writers that revolved around fellow Danish painter Knud Merrild (1894-1954), who later contributed significantly to the U.S. Modernism movement, most notably that chapter of the movement that took place in Los Angeles, California.

Gøtzsche and Merrild first met in New York, and they subsequently drove to Taos where they spent the winter of 1922-23 and became friends with the English author D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. During the winter at the ranch, Merrild designed several dust-jackets for the American editions of Lawrence’s books, though most were never used.

Merrild recounts some of the experiences that he and Gøtzsche had with Lawrence at Taos in 1922-23 in A Poet and Two Painters. A memoir of D.H. Lawrence (1938) and in With D. H. Lawrence in New Mexico. A memoir of D. H. Lawrence (1964).

Gotzsche-Kai-1923-LawrenceCoverLawrence and his wife traveled to Mexico early in 1923, staying first in Mexico City and then renting a house in Chapala. At Chapala, Lawrence spent several months writing the first draft of the book that would later become The Plumed Serpent.

While Gøtzsche did not visit Lawrence during the English writer’s first trip to Chapala (May-July 1923), he did travel with him later that year, when Lawrence revisited Mexico in the autumn and then sailed to Europe. That trip took the two men down the west coast of Mexico and on to Guadalajara, where they stayed for a month.

On 21 October 1923, they took a day-trip to Chapala, so that Lawrence could revisited old haunts. Gøtzsche’s memories of this trip were published in D.H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography, Volume Two, 1919-1925 (edited by Edward Nehls), published in 1958. According to Drewey Wayne Gunn in American and British Writers in Mexico, 1556-1973, “Gøtzsche  was painting and was particularly enchanted with Chapala when they visited it one day”.

palms-cover-by-gotzche

Palms, February 1924. Cover art by Kai Gotzsche.

Gøtzsche became well-known for his animal, flower and figure paintings, and his artwork was chosen for the cover of the Penguin edition of D. H. Lawrence: Selected Short Stories (top image) and for D. H. Lawrence’s translation of Giovanni Verga’s Mastro-don Gesualdo (middle image).

Works by Gøtzsche can be found in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. Gøtzsche also illustrated the cover of at least one issue of Palms, the small poetry magazine edited by Idella Purnell Stone in Guadalajara from 1924 to 1929. (bottom image)

Gøtzsche married Esther Andersen, a fellow Dane, in 1926; the couple’s two children were born in the U.S., but shortly after his exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1932, the family moved to Denmark. They spent another five years in the U.S. from 1947 to 1952, before returning once again to Denmark.

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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Oct 052015
 

Owen Wallace Gillpatrick (1862-1925) was an American author and playwright who spent a short time in the Chapala area in about 1899, several years prior to publishing his book The Man who likes Mexico (1911). The book includes an atmospheric photo of moonlight shining on Lake Chapala.

gillpatrick-book-coverThe title of his book, The Man who likes Mexico, is the byline he used as a correspondent for the Mexican Herald. His planned one year trip to Mexico in 1898 eventually became six years in length. The book describes his journeys and experiences during his first two years in Mexico. He approached the country with a refreshingly positive attitude, summed up by the following quote from the foreword:

“Americans who visit Mexico will not fail to discover much that is likeable; and it seems only just to remark first on what is likeable, deferring adverse comment until a careful observation of life and conditions shall have rendered intelligent criticism possible.”

Gillpatrick was born in New Hampshire, but lived almost all his life in California. He had always yearned to visit Mexico:

Reared in California, where the romance of early Mexican days still lingers, and where the prodigality of nature and of life are in keeping with Mexican tradition, I ardently dreamed of this Spanish American southland”.

He was a spontaneous and adventurous traveler. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Gillpatrick positively preferred the areas away from the railroads. He stayed for a month in Guadalajara, before continuing on to Chapala. Gillpatrick’s enthusiasm for Mexico never waned. He closed his book by writing that, “Two ties united my heart to Mexico—first, love of friends; last and always, her mountains”.

His recollections of Chapala include a description of the Hotel Arzapalo, Chapala’s first major hotel, designed by local architect Guillermo de Alba for Ignacio Arzapalo Palacios, a Spaniard who had come to Chapala seeking the curative properties of Chapala’s thermal waters and then fallen in love with its natural beauty and favorable climate. The hotel had opened in 1898.

That the manager of the Hotel Arzapalo was a man of taste, I knew when I saw the hotel, with its clambering rose-vines, its well-kept gardens and the little pier running out into the lake, with comfortable benches at either side. When he assigned me to a room, with a view of mountain and lake combined, I was doubly sure. The memories of my ride, together with a bountiful dinner, made me content to loaf the rest of the afternoon; but towards evening I started in search of the warm mineral baths, for which the place is noted. A gentleman who knows Chapala, had said to me, “Don’t go to the fine-looking bath-house with the ‘Baño’ sign; follow the same street till you come to some old buildings and then ask for the tanque.” So I walked by the fine-looking baños and in an old orange orchard, I found the great swimming tank. It must be sixty feet long by twenty wide, and the bottom slopes so that at one end it is over a man’s head. It is surrounded by a high wall and the palms and orange trees grow close up to it. The water is a trifle more than blood-warm, so that you feel an almost imperceptible accession of warmth in stepping into it. It is the kind of a bath that you leave reluctantly and then feel tempted to return to.

The Hotel Arzapalo has some fifty rooms, a large sala and dining-room overlooking the lake, and is provided with a bar and billiard table. The cooking is excellent and the bread is all made in the house. The hotel is situated in what is, beyond doubt, one of the loveliest and most healthful spots in all Mexico.

Gillpatrick’s prose was very popular in his native country during his lifetime. He was a fluent Spanish speaker, and his translation “with much taste and skill” of Catalan writer Àngel Guimerà’s play Marta of the Lowlands, was performed on Broadway in 1903. He also translated Guimerà’s La Pecadora (Putnam, 1917).

Source:

This post is based on the biography that appears in my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

Other authors featured in Lake Chapala Through The Ages 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 use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 102015
 

Hugo Brehme was born in Eisenach, Germany, 3 December 1882, and died on 13 June 1954 as a result of an auto accident in Mexico City. Brehme certainly visited and photographed Lake Chapala on more than one occasion. Images of the lake and its environs appear in his work from around 1920.

Hugo Brehme: Fishermen in Lake Chapala. ca 1925.

Hugo Brehme: Fishermen in Lake Chapala. ca 1925.

Brehme studied photography in Erfurt, completing his studies in 1902, and then opened his own studio. He took several trips to the then-German colonies in Africa.

He first visited Mexico in 1906, strongly influenced by having read Mexiko: Eine Reise Durch das Land der Azteken (“Mexico, a journey through the land of the Aztecs“) by Oswald Schroeder (published in Leipzig 1905).

On 14 August 1906, Brehme, then 23 years old, left Hamburg for Veracruz, Mexico, on board the SS Fürst Bismarck, traveling 3rd class. The ship called in at Dover (U.K.), Le Havre (France), Santander (Spain), A Coruña (Portugal) and Cuba, en route to Mexico.

He clearly liked what he found in Mexico, and saw a future there, since he returned to Germany, married his sweetheart Auguste Hartmann, and soon afterwards, in August 1908, the couple were on their way back there. They traveled on the SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie, but this time in the relative luxury of 2nd class!

By 1910, Brehme had a studio in Mexico City and rapidly gained popularity among the wealthier residents. The following year, he joined Casasola’s Agencia Fotográfica Mexicana. He documented many of the key events of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20),  including the Decena Trágica of 1913, Emiliano Zapata’s activities in Morelos, and the 1914 U.S. intervention in Veracruz.

Brehme quickly established himself as an outstanding commercial photographer, specializing in black-and-white postcard views. For more than 40 years, he roamed the country, using excellent photographic technique and composition to capture all manner of scenes. Some of his images are hauntingly beautiful, reminding us of a bygone age that we can never hope to regain.

The 1927 edition of Terry’s Guide to Mexico recommends Brehme as having “the largest, most complete and most beautiful collection of artistic photographs (views, types, churches, etc.) in Mexico.”

Brehme’s best-known photographic book is México pintoresco (“Picturesque Mexico”) which was published in 1923. A second volume Picturesque Mexico: The Country, The People and The Architecture appeared in 1925 (in English, French and German). These are among the masterpieces in the history of photography in Mexico.

Hog Brehme. Boats at Lake Chapala.

Hugo Brehme. Boats at Lake Chapala. ca 1925?. (From Marian Storm’s Prologue To Mexico)

Brehme, who is also credited with having introduced the first photographic Christmas cards into Mexico, was granted Mexican citizenship shortly before his death. His son Arno, born in Mexico in 1914, also became a photographer and worked in his father’s studio. Of the relatively small number of photos attributed to Arno (Armando Brehme), perhaps the most interesting are those of the eruption of Paricutin Volcano in 1943.

There is no question that some images signed by Brehme were actually taken by other photographers, and there are doubts about others. For example, see this analysis (in Spanish) of some of his photos. Equally, there is no doubt that many Brehme photos were used, without adequate attribution, by other authors.

These issues aside, Brehme was clearly a master of publicity, and helped to foment an interest in Mexico, and travel in Mexico, that extended far beyond its borders.

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.

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We had thought that perhaps the earliest known published photograph of Lake Chapala was that signed “A. Briquet” which is included opposite page 224 in Chapter XVI of Thomas L. Rogers’ book Mexico? Sí, señor! in 1893. The photo (below) is titled “On the Lake Shore” and shows a small settlement of humble fishermen’s huts.

briquet-on-the-lake-shore-pre-1893

Similar huts were certainly found on the shores of Lake Chapala, as evidenced for example by this early postcard:

Early postcard of Lake Chapala showing typical fishermen's huts

Early postcard of Lake Chapala showing typical fishermen’s huts

In general, all the photos scattered through Rogers’ book appear to be positioned so as to relate to the text near them, which led us to assume that the photo most likely showed Lake Chapala. The chapter is about the “Guadalajara division of the Mexican Central Railway” and includes a detailed description of Lake Chapala (a short distance south of the line). Rogers visited Lake Chapala in 1892 and a Chapala-related extract from his book appears in chapter 36 of my Lake Chapala Through The Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008).

However, kudos to alert reader Yvonne Lauterbach (see comments following this post) who has pointed out that the identical photograph in the Abel Briquet Photographic Collection of the University of Texas at Austin is entitled “El Lago de Cuitzeo”.

El Lago de Cuitzeo (Lake Cuitzeo) is never mentioned by Rogers in his book, and is located a significant distance away from the the Mexican Central Railway. However, there seems little doubt that the photo shows Lake Cuitzeo since the title appears to have been chosen by Briquet himself, when he included it in his series Vistas Mexicanas (“Mexican Views”).

How did a photo of Lake Cuitzeo come to be included in a book that makes no mention of the lake? Presumably Rogers’ publisher decided they needed an illustration of Lake Chapala but, in the absence of locating a suitable image, chose to substitute this photo of Lake Cuitzeo, editing its original title to mask its true location.

The other photos included in Chapter XVI of Thomas L. Rogers’ book Mexico? Sí, señor! are located correctly. The chapter includes a small photo of Ocotlán (on the lake, though the lake is not shown), and one of the Atequiza hacienda, as well as full page images of the Río Lerma and the famous Juanacatlán Falls. It also includes various line drawings, such as that of the Lake Chapala steamboat “Chapala”.

Who was Abel Briquet?

The commercial photographer Alfred Saint-Ange Briquet, better known as Abel Briquet, was born in Paris 30 December, 1833 and died in Mexico in 1926. He began his photographic career in Paris in 1854, and taught photography at the French military academy of Saint Cyr. He seems to have visited Mexico several times prior to establishing residence here.

The precise date he began working in Mexico is uncertain, but he closed his Paris studio in 1865. Eleven years later, in 1876, he was commissioned to record the construction of the Mexican National Railway line between Veracruz and Mexico City.

Assisted by the patronage of President Porfirio Díaz (who loved all things French), Briquet spent the next 30 years undertaking commissions, such as one in 1883 to photograph Mexican ports for the shipping firm Compagnie Maritime Transatlantique. He also produced a series of commemorative photographic albums about Mexico, including Vistas Mexicanas, Tipos Mexicanos and Antiquedades Mexicanos. These works make him one of the earliest commercial photographers to work in Mexico, and one of the most prolific.

Briquet’s photographs evoke a spirit of discovery as he traveled the length and breadth of Mexico recording the landscapes, flora and fauna, “typical” everyday scenes, buildings and monuments. His images of factories, railroads and other technological advancements show the extent of economic progress during Diaz’s ill-fated regime.

Briquet’s photographic career stalled with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, in part because of his close ties to the former government.

Meanwhile, the search for the earliest published photo that really shows Lake Chapala continues!

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.

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