Oct 172016
 

Howard True Wheeler (ca 1896-1968) wrote Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, a 562-page tome of more than 200 folk tales collected from all over Jalisco, including many from Chapala, published by the The American Folklore Society in 1943. It is clear from the introduction of this book that Wheeler conducted fieldwork in Jalisco “during three months of the summer of 1930”, ignoring the “purely literary tales” in favor of collecting genuine folk tales from all over the state. Wheeler thanks the pioneering feminist Dr. Elsie Crews Parsons “whose assistance made possible the expedition”. Parsons herself definitely visited Chapala in 1932, and it is possible she had been there earlier.

Wheeler was born in California in about 1896 and served, while still a young man, with U.S. forces during the first world war. He gained an A.B. from the University of California and, in 1928, an M.A. from Stanford University. He then taught for a year at Mountain View High School before beginning his doctorate studies, also at Stanford. The 1930 fieldwork in Jalisco, “as a representative of the American Folklore Society”, was intended as the basis for his doctorate dissertation.

At the time of the 1930 U.S. census, Wheeler was living with his wife Geneva in Mountain View, Santa Clara, California. He was appointed to the faculty of the Romanic Languages department at Stanford in October 1930 and was awarded his doctorate in 1935.

Wheeler started work as a language teacher in 1934 at the Santa Rosa Junior College and remained at that institution until 1942 when he was dismissed (or at least his contract was not renewed) as a result of a much-publicized staff-room brawl involving a coffee cup. According to newspaper reports at the time, Wheeler threw a cup of coffee at a fellow instructor, Otto Carl Ross, because Ross referred to President Roosevelt as a communist. Ross denied this and claimed he was only “criticizing the Administration’s farm policy” when “the next thing I knew a coffee cup came flying through the air.” According to Wheeler, the coffee cup missed Ross by four feet; according to Ross, it hit him in the head. News reports said that Wheeler was prepared to go to court to obtain reinstatement, but it is unclear if he ever actually did so.

Wheeler’s summer in Jalisco collecting folk tales in 1930 proved to be a valuable one, not only for Wheeler’s own doctorate studies, but also for a number of other authors. His impressive collection of Jalisco folk tales has been the basis for several works by the children’s author Verna Aardema (1911-2000). Aardema’s stories, based directly on Wheeler’s collection, include The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (1979), the beautifully-illustrated story set on the south side of Lake Chapala, and Borreguita and the Coyote: A Tale from Ayutla, Mexico (1991).

Tales from Wheeler’s book were also woven into Michael Mejia’s short story “Coyote Takes Us Home”, included in Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith’s anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (2010). Mejia teaches creative writing at the University of Utah, is the Editor-in-chief of Western Humanities Review and the author of the novel Forgetfulness. He discussed the genesis of this story in this interview.

Wheeler collected at least 13 folktales in or near Chapala and 11 near Tizapan el Alto. His contribution to documenting and preserving Jalisco’s oral history and folklore deserves to be more widely remembered.

Sources:

  • The Stanford Daily. 1930. Research Worker Back from Mexico to Join Faculty. The Stanford Daily. Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 October 1930.
  • Healdsburg Tribune. 1934. Instructors at Junior College Are Scattered. Healdsburg Tribune, Number 212, 11 July 1934.
  • Oakland Tribune. 1942. “Professor Claims His Victim Called F. R. a Communist.”  Oakland Tribune, May 13, 1942, p 13.
  • Clovis News-Journal, New Mexico. 1942. May 13, 1942.

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

Jun 202016
 

American anthropologist Ralph Beals was traveling with fellow anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons (1875-1941), when they visited Chapala and Ajijic in December 1932.

The two anthropologists had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. Years later, Beals would adopt Parsons’ fieldwork methods and follow up on her pioneering work at Mitla, Oaxaca, subsequently publishing his findings as The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico (1975).

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon) They stayed in Chapala for about ten days.

beals-ralphParsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Ralph Beals, born in Pasadena, California on 19 July 1901, gained his doctorate in 1930 from the University of California at Berkeley, and after a brief stint in the National Park Service, taught at UCLA for 33 years, from 1936 to 1969. He founded the UCLA Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and served as its chairman in 1941-1948. He was later chairman of the UCLA Department of Anthropology, 1964-1965. Beals served as president of the American Anthropological Association, and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Grant.

beals-cheranBeals first visited Mexico in 1918-19 when he spent time in Sonora and Sinaloa. In 1932, he worked with the Yaqui and Mayo. Later, with Elsie Clews Parsons, he studied the Cora and Huichol in Nayarit, as well as the Mixe in Oaxaca. In 1938, he was a member of the multidisciplinary team that made a comprehensive study of the Tarascan Indians in Michoacán, to help formulate government policies and programs. During this project, Beals and various collaborators and assistants carried out extensive fieldwork in the town of Cherán.

His academic writings related to Mexico include: The Comparative Ethnology of Northern Mexico before 1750 (1932); The contemporary culture of the Cáhita Indians (1943); The aboriginal culture of the Cáhita Indians (1943); Houses and House Use of the Sierra Tarascans (1944); Cheran: A Sierra Tarascan Village (1946); No Frontier to Learning; the Mexican Student in the United States (1957); Ethnology of the Western Mixe (1973); The peasant marketing system of Oaxaca, Mexico (1975).

Ralph Beals died at his Los Angeles home on 24 February 1985, having made a truly distinguished contribution to the anthropology of indigenous groups in Mexico.

His brother Carleton Beals (1893-1979) also had a deep and long-term interest in Mexico, though no direct link to Lake Chapala. Carleton Beals was a journalist, historian, social activist and author, who founded the English Preparatory Institute in Mexico City in about 1920, and taught at the American High School. Following studies in Europe, Carleton returned to Mexico City as correspondent for The Nation. After separating from his wife, Carleton became romantically involved with Mercedes, the sister of renowned photographer and model Tina Modotti. Carleton Beals wrote more than 45 books, including biographies of Porfirio Díaz and Leon Trotsky. In 1938, Time Magazine called Carleton Beals, “the best informed and the most awkward living writer on Latin America.”

Sources:

  • Desley Deacon. 1999. Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (Univ. of Chicago Press)
  • Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt. 1992. Wealth and Rebellion: Elsie Clews Parsons, anthropologist and folklorist. 360 pages.

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.

 

  • Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.
Feb 292016
 

Santa Fe poet Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964) visited Chapala regularly with poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) for about thirty years, starting in the early 1930s. Hunt, whose full name was Robert Nichols Montague Hunt, was Bynner’s long-time partner, as well as being a poet in his own right.

Born in Pasadena, California, on 19 May 1906, Hunt’s parents were Harriette Boardman Hunt (1868-1913) and Pasadena architect Myron Hunt. Myron Hunt was a prominent architect in southern California, and designed the Hollywood Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Bob Hunt worked briefly for his father’s firm, and is said to have had some talent as a designer, but like so many facets of his life, he never quite achieved what others thought he might, as he moved from one interest to another. Hunt’s design skills enabled him to add a wing to Bynner’s adobe home in Santa Fe, and to make significant alterations to their home in Chapala, as well as redesigning the living room of Peter Hurd‘s ranch in New Mexico.

Hunt was first introduced to Witter Bynner in 1924 by author and historian Paul Horgan.

[Horgan twice won the Pulitzer Prize for History: in 1955 for Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History and in 1976 for Lamy of Santa Fe. He was a childhood friend of artist Peter Hurd, and wrote, “Peter Hurd : A Portrait Sketch from Life”, for the catalog of the artist’s 1965 retrospective. ]

Hunt and Bynner’s paths crossed again in Santa Fe in 1926, and in Los Angeles in 1928. In November 1930 Hunt visited Bynner in Santa Fe to recuperate from a stress-related illness, following six months of long days working as Assistant Manager and Treasurer of the Paramount Public Theatres in Portland, Oregon.

James Kraft, Bynner’s biographer, describes the young Hunt:

“Bob, Bobby, sometimes called Monté, was twenty-four when he came to Bynner’s house. Tall, lean, elegantly handsome in the way of Robert Taylor or Robert Montgomery, with a brisk, debonair walk and an easy way of dressing, wearing clothes so well they seemed insignificant, he had a fine, clear voice, excellent manners, little formal education but a crackling sharp mind, and was well read and intelligent about history, art, and literature. He had tried all kinds of schools and jobs but could “do” nothing, and his patient father, the well-known California architect Myron Hunt, had attempted everything he could think of to help him.”

This 1930 visit began a partnership which lasted until Hunt’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1964. Hunt became not only Bynner’s partner, but his business manager, editor and, when the much-older poet struggled with serious health issues in his later life, his primary care-giver.

In 1931, Hunt and Bynner visited Taxco and Chapala. A few years later, they rented a house in Chapala (from late November 1934 to late April 1935) with poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke and his second wife Gladys, an artist.

l to r: Robert Hunt, Galdys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: "Who is Witter Bynner"?]

Robert Hunt (left), Gladys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: “Who is Witter Bynner”?]

In December 1936, Bynner and Hunt collected Bynner’s mother at Mexico City airport and toured around with her, including a stay at the Arzapalo Hotel in Chapala. Bynner’s mother, who did not get on well with Hunt, died in November 1937.

In 1940, Bynner bought a home in Chapala, close to the square at Galeana #441 (the street name was later changed to Francisco I. Madero).

Hunt’s health issues caused him to be rejected by both the army and navy when the U.S. entered the second world war, but he served on the local draft board for a year. After a short break in Chapala in early 1943, Hunt left Bynner in Chapala and returned to the U.S. to further assist the war effort by working on the docks in San Francisco. Hunt rejoined Bynner in Chapala in September 1944; they did not return to Santa Fe until August of the following year.

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala with Hunt for part of the year.The following year, the two men, together with artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, spent six months traveling in Europe and North Africa, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a travelogue-novel about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

In the 1950s, as Bynner’s health declined, he continued to visit Chapala, but Hunt took increasing refuge in the bottle, becoming angry and belligerent when drunk.

Hunt’s death in 1964 came as he was about to leave for Chapala to bring back more possessions from their winter home. Hunt had arranged for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by artist John Liggett Meigs. Meigs, in partnership with fellow artist Peter Hurd, later purchased the Bynner house in Chapala, complete with all its remaining contents.

Hunt wrote one collection of eighteen poems, The Early World and other poems, dedicated to Witter Bynner (Santa Fe: The Villagra Bookshop, 1936), and also compiled the collection of poems that became Bynner’s Selected Poems, with an introduction by Paul Horgan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936]

Sources:

  • Lynn Cline. 2007. Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers’ Colonies, 1917-1950. (Univ. New Mexico Press)
  • Mark S. Fuller, 2015. Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs (Sunstone Press)
  • James Kraft, 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (Univ. New Mexico 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.

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Feb 082016
 

Elsie Worthington Clews Parsons (1875-1941) was a woman way ahead of her time. Variously described as a “relentlessly modern woman”, “a pioneering feminist” and “eminent anthropologist”, she was all of these and so much more.

parsons-elsie-clewsParsons, born to a wealthy family in New York City on 27 November 1875, became one of America’s foremost anthropologists, but also made significant contributions as a sociologist and folklorist. She is best known for pioneering work among the Native American tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, including the Tewa and Hopi.

Parsons visited Mexico numerous times, and had spent extended periods in Mexico prior to her visit to Chapala in December 1932. On that occasion, she spent at least 10 days there; it is unclear if she revisited the lake area at any point after that.

She gained her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1896, and then switched to Columbia University to study history and sociology for her master’s degree (1897) and Ph.D. (1899).

The following year, on 1 September 1900, she married lawyer and future Republican congressman Herbert Parsons, a political ally of President Roosevelt, in Newport, Rhode Island. She lectured in sociology at Barnard from 1902 to 1905, resigning to accompany her husband to Washington.

Her first book, The Family (1906) was a feminist tract founded on sociological research and analysis. Its discussion of trial marriage became both popular and notorious, leading Parsons to adopt the pseudonym “John Main” for her next two books: Religious Chastity (1913) and The Old Fashioned Woman (1913). She reverted to her own name for Fear and Conventionality (1914), Social Freedom (1915) and Social Rule (1916).

parsons-elsie-clews-2In 1919, she helped found The New School for Social Research in New York City and became a lecturer there. In that same year, Mabel Dodge Sterne (later Mabel Luhan), a wealthy American patron of the arts, moved to Taos, with her then husband Maurice, to start a literary colony there. Luhan sponsored D.H. Lawrence‘s initial visit to Taos in 1922-23 and helped Parsons with her research into local Native American culture and beliefs.

For more than 25 years, Parsons conducted methodical fieldwork and collected a vast amount of data from the Caribbean, U.S., Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, much of which she would eventually synthesize into major academic works. These include the widely acclaimed works about Zapotec Indians in Mexico: Mitla: Town of the Souls (1936), Native Americans in Pueblo Indian Religion(2 volumes, 1939), and Andean cultures in Peguche, Canton of Otavalo (1945).

She also published a number of works on West Indian and African American folklore, including Folk-Tales of Andros Island, Bahamas (1918); Folk-Lore from the Cape Verde Islands (1923); Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina (1923); and Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English (3 volumes, 1933–43).

Parsons served as associate editor for The Journal of American Folklore (1918-1941), president of the American Folklore Society (1919-1920) and president of the American Ethnological Society (1923-1925). At the time of her death, she had just been elected the first female president of the American Anthropological Association (1941).

Parsons’ visit to Lake Chapala in December 1932 is noteworthy for several reasons.

She was traveling with fellow anthropologist Ralph Beals (1901-1985). They had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. [Parsons, incidentally, was responsible for introducing Beals, who founded the anthropology and sociology departments at UCLA, to her anthropological fieldwork techniques. He employed similar techniques to great effect when he built on Parsons’ prior work at Mitla, and expanded it into his 1975 work, The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico.]

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon)

Parsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure. Parsons was not favorably impressed by Lake Chapala’s small villages, calling them “unattractive, as squalid as Spanish towns”, and concluding that, “They must have been settled by Spanish fishermen, and god knows what became of the Zacateca population.” [quoted in Deacon]

They spent ten days at Lake Chapala, during which time, according to Zumwalt, Parsons worked on an early draft of Pueblo Indian Religion.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Several years later, Parsons published a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, in the May 1937 issue of The Scientific Monthly. This article included several mentions of Lake Chapala, with Parsons casting doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected there by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers.

Parsons describes how ever since the 1890s, there has been,

“at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow did not impart to the ethnologist.”

While Parsons is not sure what became of Lumholtz’s collection, she says that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr, and which are now in the Peabody Museum in Cambridge (Harvard University), are definitely genuine and not faked.

The “Mr. Crow” referred to by Parsons is Septimus Crowe (1842-1903). [For more about Septimus Crowe and about the Lumholtz and Starr trips to Lake Chapala in the 1890s, see my Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales.]

One real mystery stemming from Parsons’ description above is the identity of the “English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago”. Just who was she? Clearly, she must have visited Chapala in the period 1895-1898. There seem to be two likely candidates. The first is The Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, who returned from a trip to Mexico in March 1896, coincidentally on the same train as Lumholtz. The only known article by Pauncefote relating to Chapala is “Chapala the Beautiful”, published in Harper’s Bazar (1900). It is very likely that she may met and knew Crowe, since he had been a British Vice Consul in Norway, though she makes no mention of him in her article. The second candidate is Adela Breton, a British artist who visited (and painted) several archaeological sites in Mexico in the years after 1894, though her connection to Septimus Crowe is less clear.

The bulk of Parsons’ paper is devoted to her argument that the Lake Chapala miniatures are prayer-images, similar to those used in Oaxaca and elsewhere:

“All the Chapala offerings are either perforated or of a form to which string could be tied. They may have been hung on a stick, a prayer-stick, just as the Huichol Indians hang their miniature prayer-images to-day.”

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Parsons describes how some figurines of a dog (she actually had a faked copy of such a dog on her table at Chapala) had something in their mouth and a container on their back. The container, Parsons argues, was to carry humans across the river after death. Pet-lovers everywhere will rejoice to learn that:

“The dog ferryman belief is that if you treat dogs well a dog will carry you across the big river you have to cross in your journey after death… but if you have maltreated dogs, beating them or refusing them food, you will be left stranded on the river. The river dogs are black for an Indian, and the Zapotecs, and white for a Spaniard; white dogs will not carry an Indian lest they soil their coats – unless you have a piece of soap with you and promise to wash your ferryman on the other side. The burden or carrying basket of the Chapala Lake region, the ancient basket carried in the ancient way, by tumpline, is the exact shape of the object on the back of the dog figurine, narrow and deep and flaring toward the top.”

On 19 December 1941, after an amazingly productive and full life, Elsie Crews Parsons left New York City and was ferried across the river into the after-world.

Sources:

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

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 232015
 

Guadalajara poet Idella Purnell‘s “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala” was first published in the December 1936 issue of American Junior Red Cross News. The story was reprinted in El Ojo del Lago, December 2001. Purnell’s father owned a small home in Ajijic and Purnell regularly visited Lake Chapala.

American-Junior-Red-Cross-News-Dec-1936

The little Indian village of Ajijic in Mexico nestles between high green mountains and a thin strip of white beach along a lovely lake. Its name is pronounced Ahee-heec, and it sounds more like a hiccup than a name. Ajijic has one long main street, and a few other streets, a tiny town square, or plaza with trees and flowers, and a small high-steepled church, built in 1740 – a quarter of a century before the American Revolution. Around the tiny church cluster the houses of the people, mud brick houses with red tiled roofs. Nearly every house has a patio, or flower garden in the center, and has behind it another garden, in which grow pomegranates, bananas, and trees bearing papayas, which are green melons like cantaloupes. Nearly everyone has birds in cages, and chickens and pigs. The pigs go into the streets and lie grunting in the mud puddles, rooting them up with their snouts.
      In this toy-like village lived a boy and his grandmother. His name was José Contreras. They had a grocery store so small and with so few groceries that we would wonder why they called it a store. A dozen paraffin candles, a few pounds of coffee, beans, corn, sugar, ropes, green peppers, soap, onions, ten bottles of soda pop, half a dozen cans of sardines and of hot green peppers, perhaps one egg or two, were for sale.
      His grandmother could no longer read the numbers on money or on the weights, and José would show her: “These two weights you put on this side of the scales when anyone wants to buy ten centavos of coffee.” He kept store for her most of the time, and always while she went to the mill to have the corn ground for their corn cakes, or while she washed their clothes up at the spring. But after all, he was a boy, and his grandmother often shooed him out and told him to run along and have a good time.
      One Sunday José and his friend Paco decided to go up in the mountains. Paco’s father lent Paco his burro. Climbing out of the town they soon left behind them cobblestone streets and small mud-brick houses with fences of cobblestones piled on each other, and gardens of fruit and flowers. In the mountains they climbed until they reached the rich black fields where wild flowers grow. Here the two boys picked big bunches of St. John’s roses to take home.
      Paco wanted his flowers for rice pudding but José thought maybe his grandmother could use his for her eyes. The boys tied their big bouquets to the high-peaked crowns of their hats, climbed on the burro again and started home. On their way they met Cholé driving home her father’s big black ox, which had been grazing in the upland pastures all day. Cholé was a ragged-looking girl of fourteen, much poorer even than José. She had two dresses and one pair of shoes and a pair of stockings worn out at the feet. Mostly she went barefoot to save her shoes and stockings for church.
      Cholé told them that more than anything in the world she wanted to earn some money to go in the bus to Guadalajara to find work, so that she could wear nice clothes and help her family. Her father and mother were willing, but she didn’t have even two pennies.
When José told her what his flowers were for, she shook her head. “It will take more than St. John’s roses to cure your grandmother’s eyes. It is not sickness, but old age that makes her sight dim, and for old age, there is no cure. What she needs is a good pair of glasses. In Guadalajara, they say there are all kinds of spectacles for two and three pesos.”
      That night as José lay on the straw mat that was his bed, he wondered how he could earn two or three pesos. He had not told his grandmother the real reason he had brought her St. John’s roses, and she had cooked rice pudding with them. While José ate it, he nearly choked with his secret disappointment.
      The next day someone told him how he might earn some money. “Why don’t you go to San Juan on San Juan’s Day? They say that on that day, the idols come out of the lake, and if you can find a few and sell them, you can earn money!”
      The village of San Juan was only five miles away so that in a few hours José could walk there. He decided that if he found any idols he would sell them in his grandmother’s store. That would make the foreigners come to buy, and maybe they would purchase some soap, or candles, or an egg, after they once came in for an idol.
      He remembered what their school teacher had told them about the history of the lake. “Once upon a time,” The school teacher had said, “a long time ago, San Juan was the capital of the Indian Kingdom of Cutzalan. There were a great many people there. The people worshipped many gods. One of them, called the unknown God, had no name. The Indians used to make idols and images of stone and throw them into the lake for the Unknown God. They also made tiny jars with three handles. They pierced their ears or noses and let drops of blood fall into these tiny jars, and when after a few weeks or months, the jars were full, they threw them into the lake as sacrifices to him.” José decided that he must tell Cholé about this, too. Perhaps she could find enough idols and carved jars to earn money to go to Guadalajara!
      On San Juan’s Day, José and Cholé set out for the lake. They got up earlier than the earliest fisherman and walked and walked in the dark, on their way so San Juan. About daylight they arrived. They went at once to the beach and sat down, to wait for the idols to come out of the lake.
      A boat from Chapala came in, with its big square sail, bringing a load of cow peas and rope to trade for papayas. The bus to Jocotepec went by. Fisherman put out with empty nets and came back with full baskets and boats. The men were up in the mountains working in the corn. And the idols had not come out of the lake!
      Cholé began to cry and José wanted to, but he was nearly a man, so he whistled instead, a thin, unsteady tune. Suddenly José gave Cholé a great clap on the back that nearly upset her.
      “Cholé!” he cried. “I bet that about the idols coming out of the lake an San Juan’s Day is what our teacher would call a superstition! I bet it isn’t even so. It is the end of the dry season, though, so the lake waters are at their lowest and that’s why they say the idols come out. I’m going in!”
      “But you’ll get your clothes all wet!”
      “Who cares?” cried José. He took off his hat and his blanket, and his overalls, and red waist sash. He rolled his white cotton trousers up as high as they would go, and waded in. Then he stubbed his toe on something hard, felt for it, and pulled it up out of the water. Only a stone. This happened three times. But the fourth time the object was carved. An idol! Cholé was so exited and happy that her tears dried up. Slipping off her dress and wearing the white cotton slip that all the women of Ajijic use as a bathing suit, she waded in, too.
In an hour or so they had all that they could carry: idols, little jars for blood sacrifices, and stands for the jars, ugly small objects called naguales – witches who change themselves into animals whenever they willed.
      José and Cholé sat in the hot sun until they dried off, and then put on the rest of their clothes and started home. On their way the bus picked them up and gave them a ride to Ajijic. The driver knew José because his bus always brought coffee out from Guadalajara to the grandmother’s store.
      Nearly a month later Cholé climbed onto the same bus on her way to Guadalajara. She was wearing her best dress and her shoes and stockings. Folded in her handkerchief she had ten pesos to buy new clothes and pay her expenses until she found work. José and his grandmother came out to wave good-bye to her.
      Jose’s grandmother looked proud and happy in her new spectacles which, as Cholé rode away, sparkled and flashed in the bright sunshine.

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

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Dec 032015
 

Gladys Brown Ficke (1890-1973), the second wife of poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) was a painter (oils and watercolors) and illustrator. The Fickes spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

Under her maiden name, she drew the line drawings illustrating each chapter of her husband’s novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico (1939), including this one of Chapala:

ficke-ch-1-illustraion-gladys-brown

Mrs Morton’s mature garden leading down to the lakeshore is the setting for several of the dramatic moments in the novel:

ficke--chapala-gladys-brownOne chapter look at events in Jocotepec, where the mountains form an impressive backdrop to the then-village in this fictionalized view:

ficke-jocotepec-gladys-brownChapter 11 is about a religious procession to the cemetery (campo santo) on the hillside:

ficke--campo-santo-gladys-brownGladys Brown Ficke was born on 29 August 1890 and died 14 May 1973. After her husband’s death in 1945, she ran their estate at Hardhack, New York, as a sanctuary and retreat for artists.

Gladys Brown Ficke wrote a four-volume biography of her husband, and a novel, initially entitled The Bird in the Ice-box, but later renamed The Final Beauty. “The major characters of the novel are Nathalia Bradford (based on Phyllis Playter), Daxton Sillis (based on John Cowper Powys), and Edward Lucas (whose character seems suggested by Evans Rodgers).” [1] Neither book was ever published; both are in the Arthur Davison Ficke Papers at Yale University in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Reference:

[1] Melvon L Lankeny. “Gladys Brown Ficke and The Final Beauty“, Powys Journal, 2003, Vol. 13, pp.95-119.

Related posts:

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Nov 162015
 

Poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) and his second wife Gladys, an artist, spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with fellow poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

Ficke subsequently penned a novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico, set at the lake and published in 1939 by Reynal & Hitchcock, New York. It is Ficke’s only novel. One of the stories told in the novel, about “The Burro of Chapala”,  had been published previously, with an illustration by Eric Lundgren, the December 1937 edition of Esquire.

ficke-book-cover-2

Frontispiece of Mrs. Morton of Mexico

The novel was illustrated at the heading and end of each chapter with interesting and attractive drawings by Ficke’s wife, Gladys Brown.

Like many novelists, Ficke based many of his characters on real people.

The title character is an octogenarian American expatriate, based in real-life (as Neill James pointed out in Dust on My Heart), on the persona of Mrs. Hunton, originally from Virginia, the matriarch of a family that first settled in Chapala at the start of the twentieth century. Many of the details of Mrs. Morton’s family given in the book tally with what is known of Mrs. Hunton’s own family. Both, for example, are named Elizabeth, and both had husbands that were mining engineers. The descriptions of Mrs. Morton’s home, “Villa Colima”, could easily apply to the former Hunton residence in Chapala, and so on.

The British Vice-Consul, who (in the novel) used to visit Sir John Murdoch twenty-odd years ago, and had family in Devon, could well be a nod to former British Vice-Consul for Norway, Septimus Crowe, who “retired” to Chapala at the end of the nineteenth century, and whose wife had family in Tavistock, Devon.

Ficke does not even bother to disguise “Widow Sanchez” of the Hotel Universal, praised as a “very famous cook”. She is clearly the novelistic twin of La Viuda Sanchez, owner (for many a long year) of a popular restaurant-bar in Chapala.

The extraordinary character Professor Arzici in chapter VII is surely based on the artist Gerardo Murillo, better known as Dr. Atl. They share an interest in “curvilinear perspective” (Atl’s “aerial” landscapes), both experimented with new pigments (Atlcolors are still used today), both loved to paint volcanoes, both were “a combination of scientist and painter” and “eccentric but gifted”, and both went by pseudonyms: while Dr. Atl means Dr. Water, Professor Arzici means, according to the novel, Professor Terrible Mountain of Fire. “Only about eighty years of age”, “ugly as a goat”, “long snow-white beard”, “bald head”, “pipe ” – that’s Atl! (p 171-2)

There may well be real-life equivalents for some of the other characters in this novel, such as the poet and dramatist Señor Enrique Devargas Castellano, or the former politician General “Antonio” Hernando Gonzales. Suggestions welcomed!

Ficke also includes descriptions of lakeside geography, from Chapala west to Ajijic and Jocotepec. One passage that sings comes where Mrs. Morton is sitting in her garden contemplating the lake and wondering why she loves it, “with an intensely personal feeling, just as if it were a very small and private lake of one’s own”:

Perhaps because it had the intense reality of a dream-lake: because it comprised so much  mysterious variety of shore, with pointed mountains, harsh cliffs, sloping plains and rounded hills; because of its hidden little villages and its small rocky islands, its wide sea-like expanses and its narrow reedy inlets, its acre-broad drifting masses of water-hyacinths and its square-rigged fishing boats with prows high and sharp as a blackbird’s beak; because of its golden days of sun and its grey days of rain, its blue noonday skies and its black-and-starry- midnight dome.” (167)
. . .
Quiet dark-eyed fishermen sailed over these waters; their returning boats were outlined against the western gold, and at night their nets, hung on poles along the beach, were turned by the moonlight to spider-webs of silver. (168)

Mrs Morton of Mexico was reviewed positively by Kirkus:

“A sentimental story of an 80 year old Englishwoman’s last adventure in Mexico. Having lived some forty years on the shores of Lake Chapala, after the death of her husband, Mrs. Morton cultivates her garden and the friendship of the Mexicans, and intensifies her legendary qualities by hiding a political refugee, buying the tail of a burro, acquiring a holy picture, having her hair bobbed, inspiring a poet, and preventing a mass killing. There are nice touches of the Mexican servants and townspeople, there are some charming scenes, there is a certain authenticity, and the whole is pleasant, intelligent reading.”

Esther Brown, reviewing the book for the El Paso Herald Post, however, was less convinced:

“OF the many ways to write a book about Mexico Arthur Davison Ficke has found a new one. In Mrs Morton of Mexico he combines an interesting character study of an eccentric old Englishwoman with descriptions of people and places in a little town on the edge of Lake Chapala near Guadalajara. For those who prefer fiction set in Mexico to fact about Mexico this book will be welcome. The author has doubtless spent a summer on Lake Chapala and enjoys writing about it. He feels the spell of Mexico and its people but he fails somehow to be very convincing about it. Perhaps it is because his main character is a foreigner in Mexico. On the other hand he just misses making a thorough study of her because he is too concerned about the setting and minor characters in his story. These are stereotyped – the revolting general the inscrutable Indian woman, the Spanish gentleman of the old school and the inevitable artist. The decorations of Gladys Brown at the heading and end of each chapter are very interesting and attractive.” – (El Paso Herald Post, 18 November 1939, p6)

Related reading:

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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Nov 092015
 

Poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) and his second wife Gladys, an artist, spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with fellow poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

ficke-book-cover-2Ficke subsequently wrote a novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico, set at the lake and published in 1939 by Reynal & Hitchcock, New York. It is Ficke’s only novel. The novel was illustrated at the heading and end of each chapter with interesting and attractive drawings by Ficke’s wife, Gladys Brown.

We take a closer look at the novel in a separate post, but the title character is an octogenarian American expatriate, based in real-life (as Neill James pointed out in her Dust on My Heart), on the persona of Mrs. Hunton, originally from Virginia, the matriarch of a family that first settled in Chapala at the start of the twentieth century.

A poem by Ficke entitled “Lake Chapala” and at least one of the stories told in the novel, about “The Burro of Chapala”, had been published previously, in Esquire. (The poem, illustrated by John Groth, in May 1936, and the short story, with an illustration by Eric Lundgren, in December 1937.)

Portrait of Ficke (Iowa Post)

Portrait of Ficke (Iowa Post)

Arthur Davison Ficke was born on 10 November 1883 in Davenport, Iowa, the son of a lawyer, and died in Hudson, New York, on 30 November 1945. During his childhood, the family traveled to Europe and the Orient, the start of a lifelong interest in Japanese art.

Ficke entered Harvard College in 1900, where he first met Witter Bynner, who became a lifelong friend. After graduating from Harvard in 1904, Ficke then gained a law degree at Iowa State University (1908) while teaching some English classes at the university and having married Evelyn Bethune Blunt in 1907 .

He was a prolific poet. Ficke published From the Isles his first collection of poetry in 1907. This was quickly followed by The Happy Princess and Other Poems (1907), The Earth Passion (1908), The Breaking of Bonds (1910), Twelve Japanese Painters (1913), Mr. Faust (1913), Sonnets of a Portrait Painter (1914), The Man on the Hilltop and Other Poems (1915), Chats on Japanese Prints (1915), and An April Elegy (1917).

Ficke was close friends with Bynner, who accompanied the Fickes on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. This close friendship led to the two poets perpetrating what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century” in 1916, when they published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments, purportedly written by Anne Knish (Ficke) and Emanuel Morgan (Bynner). 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.

During the first world war, Ficke served in France with the U.S. Army from 1917 to 1919. For a short time in 1922, Ficke accepted a post as curator of Japanese prints and lecturer in Japanese art at the Fogg Art Museum in Boston.

On 8 December 1923, a year after his divorce from Evelyn, Ficke married Gladys Brown, a painter. The couple settled first in New York City but then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, until 1928. He published four books in the 1920s: Out of Silence and Other Poems (1924); Selected Poems (1926); Christ in China (1927); Mountain Against Mountain (1929), followed by The Road to the Mountain (1930). Later works include The Secret and Other Poems (1936) and Tumultuous Shore and Other Poems (1942).

A brush with tuberculosis took him to North Carolina and Texas for treatment, after which, in the early 1930s, he traveled to Jamaica and Florida before his visit to Chapala in 1934-35.

“University of Iowa researcher William H. Roba said many writers thought of him as a “poet’s poet.” Tall, debonair, always impeccably dressed and with perfect manners, he stood out from others. He used traditional forms for most of his poetry — odes, elegies, sonnets — but had a humorous side that sometimes emerged in his writings.” – Tom Longden in Desmoines Register.

Source:

  • Tom Longden. 2017. Famous Iowans: Arthur Davison Ficke: Poet, art critic, lecturer. Des Moines Register 2017

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.

Oct 122015
 

In about 1937, English author Rodney Alexander Gallop (1901-1948) visited Ajijic, where he met two fellow Englishmen, Nigel Stansbury Millet and Peter Lilley, the dynamic duo who wrote under the pen name Dane Chandos. Shortly before his death, Gallop reviewed Dane Chandos’ Village in the Sun for The Spectator. In the review, he recalled visiting the village of Ajijic, and meeting the book’s authors, eleven years earlier.

Gallop was born in Folkestone, England, in 1901, and died on 25 September 1947. He was an accomplished ethnomusicologist and linguist, fluent in several languages, including Spanish and German. In 1922-23, while studying at King’s College, Cambridge, he attended classes given in Spain by German basque expert Hermann Urtel, the beginning of a lifelong interest in Basque culture. After university, Gallop entered the U.K. diplomatic service, which led to successive postings in Belgrade, Athens, Lisbon, Mexico and Copenhagen.

gallop-mexican-mosaic-1939Wherever he served, he sought local traditional folklore in dances, poetry, song, and art. He made important collections of items relating to local culture in Greece, Portugal and Mexico. These collection were later donated by his widow, Marjorie Gallop, to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, in south London. The first part of the collection, items from Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Portugal and Mexico was donated in 1960, followed by several Mexican dancing masks in 1967, and a pair of earrings from Pahuatlán, Puebla, Mexico, in 1977.

Gallop wrote extensively about his findings and experiences. As a result of his diplomatic assignment to Portugal, Gallop wrote the well-received A Book of the Basques (1930), Six Basque Folksongs, with adaptation in English verses (1931) and Portugal, a Book of Folk Ways (1936). Gallop was also a frequent contributor to the journal Folklore. He helped revive an interest in international dancing in the U.K., organizing, with the help of Violet Alford, the International Folk Dance Festival in 1935. This led, indirectly, to the founding of The International Council for Traditional Music in 1947.

Marjorie Gallop: Untitled sketch of Lake Chapala from Mexican Mosaic (1939)

Marjorie Gallop: Untitled sketch of Lake Chapala (Mexican Mosaic, 1939)

Gallop illustrated his major work about Mexico, Mexican Mosaic: Folklore and Tradition (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), with his own photographs, together with drawings by Marjorie, his wife. The following short extracts relate to Ajijic and Chapala:

An hour’s drive to the south-east brings one to Lake Chapala, a great stretch of opaque water, glinting with opalescent light, sixty miles long and from eight to twelve wide. Here D. H. Lawrence chose to set some of the scenes of The Plumed Serpent. Cloud-topped mountains slope down to its western and southern shores, some of them in Jalisco, others in Michoacan, where one hears stories, never properly investigated, of Indian tribes with fair skins and grey eyes.

In Ajijic, at least, we found no lighter colouring, but golden skins and the features which one would expert in Indians who, though they have lost their language, belong to the great Nahua family. They fish with seines in long dug-out canoes, cultivate the slopes rising steeply from the shore and carry merchandise across the lake in heavy square-sailed craft well able to ride the seas whipped up by Chapala’s sudden storms. From Spain by way of Guadalajara, they have borrowed the custom of el coloquio en la reja, the lover’s tryst at the barred window. The young man who wishes to honour both the custom and the lady of his choice is required to present himself at the Presidencia Municipal an hour before his tryst and at the cost of a peso to take out a license showing that he is sober. This does not mean that the Mayor thinks he must be drunk to wish to serenade any girl in Ajijic. On the contrary, it is a practical measure aimed at preventing brawls, and the high charge not only brings money into the municipal coffers but increases the value of the compliment to the lady.”

Gallop returned to Europe as the second world war was starting and devoted himself to making broadcasts in Danish for the BBC, aimed at boosting the morale of Danish resistance against the occupying forces. For this work, he was later made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

Sources:

  • Philippe Veyrin: “Rodney A. Gallop (1901-1948)”, in Eusko Jakintza, 3 (1949), 79-88.
  • Rodney Gallop: “Rural Mexico: Village in the Sun. By Dane Chandos”, review in The Spectator, 17 June 1948, 22.

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Sep 242015
 

Max Pollak (aka Max Pollack) lived from 1886 to 1970 and is best known for his portrait etchings. It is unclear precisely when, or how often, he visited Lake Chapala, though it appears to have been in the 1930s. Several of his etchings of the Lake Chapala area have come up for auction in the past few years.

Pollak was born in Prague (in then-Czechoslovakia) on 27 February 1886 and grew up in Vienna. He studied at the Vienna Academy of Art under Ferdinand Schmutzer, a renowned portraitist.

In 1910, Pollak spent some time in Italy and won the Prix de Rome for his etchings. Prior to the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, he also visited France and the Netherlands.

Pollak’s single best-known work, widely reproduced, is his “singular and penetrating” portrait of Sigmund Freud (1913). Pollak created portraits of many noteworthy individuals in Europe (and later in the U.S.), along with genre scenes and landscapes.

In 1914, Pollak began a series of etchings depicting Jewish refugees from Russia and Bohemia who were arriving in Vienna. During the war, he served as an artist for the Austrian Army, sketching in the field before completing etchings back in Vienna.

Max Pollak: Etching of Lake Chapala.

Max Pollak. Mexico: Papayas on Lake Chapala. Etching.

By the mid 1920s, Pollak was living in Paris, where he made etchings of street scenes and portraits of several celebrated actors and dancers.

In 1927, he emigrated to the U.S., where he lived in New York City for a few years. As a result, his etching listed as “Marfil (Church on the Hill)“, and presumably resulting from a visit to Guanajuato in Mexico, may be slightly later than its usually ascribed date of about 1926.

Pollak traveled quite widely in the 1930s, including spells in Europe, Palestine, and Mexico.

His etchings of Lake Chapala are believed to date from the mid-1930s. The image above is entitled “Mexico: Papayas on Lake Chapala”; the image below is labeled “Mexico: Weeping Willow on Lake Chapala”.

Max_Pollak_etching_Willow_1_c-1930s

Max Pollak. Mexico: Weeping Willow on Lake Chapala. c 1933

Pollak settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1937, where he remained active in the local art scene for many years until his death in Sausalito, California, on 29 May 1970.

His major exhibitions include Gump’s, San Francisco (1934); Cincinnati Museum (1939); Golden Gate International Exposition (1939); California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1940, solo); California Society of Etchers (1942, 1944, 1945), and Chicago Society of Etchers (1942).

His work is in the collections of the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts in San Francisco; British Museum, London; De Young Museum, San Francisco; Freud Museum, London; Judah L. Magnes Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York Public Library; Oakland Museum; Princeton University, and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Source: Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

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

Jun 222015
 

Poet, writer and politician Honorato Barrera Buenrostro was born in the Lakeside town of Jamay (mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca) in 1870 and died in Ocotlán in 1952.

He left his home town for Mexico City at a young age. In Mexico City, he studied and wrote alongside Amado Nervo (1870-1919) and Luis Gonzaga Urbina (1864-1934). Coincidentally, Urbina’s own collection of poetry, Puestas de sol, includes “El poema del lago” (“The Lake Poem”), a lengthy poem inspired by a visit to Chapala. Barrera Buenrostro was also a good friend of the poet and novelist Rubén M. Campos, who had many links to Chapala.

Barrera Buenrostro subsequently returned to Ocotlán where he worked in commerce and as a telegraphist for the railway company. He later moved to Chapala, and was the Mayor (Presidente Municipal) of Chapala in 1924, during the time when Lic. José Guadalupe Zuno was the state governor (1923-1926).

aquel-famoso-remingtonBarrera Buenrostro’s work won various literary prizes, including ones awarded in Aguascalientes, Morelia and Mexico City. His best known works are a book of poems, Andamio de Marfíl (1947), and a novel, El rémington sin funda (1947).

The novel El rémington sin funda (1947) is based on the life of Rodolfo Álvarez del Castillo. Nicknamed “El Remington”, Álvarez del Castillo was a famous pistol-packing womanizer of the 1930s, who eventually fought a duel with a soldier in which both men lost their lives. Álvarez del Castillo was the brother-in-law of famous Mexican movie star María Félix and his life story became the basis for at least two Mexican films: ¡Se la llevó el Rémington! (1948), starring charro singer Luis Aguilar, and Aquel famoso Remington (1982), directed by Gustavo Alatriste.

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 202014
 

Frederick (sometimes Federico/Fritz/Fredrick/Friedrich) Wilhelm Butterlin was born in Cologne, Germany, in about January 1905, and was the middle of three brothers (Otto was older, Ernesto younger).

Frederick was a well-known photographer and seems to have been the owner of what was almost certainly one of the first art galleries in Ajijic.

Frederick had not yet celebrated his third birthday when his parents brought him to Mexico in 1907. The family had a first class cabin on the “Fürst Bismarck” of the Hamburg-America line, which departed Hamburg on 14 October 1907 for Veracruz, via Southampton, Santander, Coruna and Cuba. The passenger list duly records the ages of each of the family members. Frederick was 2 years and 9 months of age, his older brother Otto was 6 years and 6 months. Their father Hans Butterlin was 37 and his wife Amelie 26. The family settled in Guadalajara but so far I have been able to find out nothing of substance about their whereabouts during the next twenty years which includes the Mexican Revolution.

Girls belonging to the Old Colony (Saskatchewan) Mennonites moving to Mexico. Photo by Frederick Butterlin ca 1948

Girls belonging to the Old Colony (Saskatchewan) Mennonites moving to Mexico. Photo by Frederick Butterlin ca 1948

What is known is that in 1929, Frederick was a witness to his older brother Otto Butterlin’s marriage in California. In the 1930 U.S. census, Frederick W. is listed as 25 years old, single, and is said to have immigrated to the U.S. in about 1920. His occupation is listed as “sugar operator”. It is unclear how long Frederick remained in the U.S. but by 1934, he had become a noteworthy photographer.

Among other achievements as a photographer, he contributed to the Amateur Competitions in the January 1934 and February 1934 issues of Camera Craft, (A Photographic Monthly). He was also active as a photographer in Mexico, though precise dates are lacking. For example he is mentioned (albeit with an incorrect nationality) in Olivier Debroise’s Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico (University of Texas, 2001): “Perhaps the most interesting contributor to Foto was the Frenchman F.W. Butterlin, another devotee of pictorismo (as he called it), whose interesting composition entitled “Railroad Wheels” recalls the early work of Paul Strand.” (p 65).

In November 1935, “Fritz Butterlin” gave a keynote address on pictorial art in photography, based on observations made on “his long trips”, at the Club Literario de Inglés in Guadalajara.

In 1936, Frederick, then aged 32, married 26-year-old Bertha Eimbcke Ferreira from Mazatlan, Sinaloa. She was a languages teacher, and was president of the Mexican Association of English Teachers from 1963 until at least 1971.

Frederick seems to have continued his photographic career for several decades. His published photos include some evocative portrait photographs of Mennonites in Mexico published in the Mennonite Life editions of October 1949 and January 1952.

In 1956, Butterlin, working for “Exclusivas Jimenez SA de CV” placed a series of advertisements in El Informador recommending the use of “ADOX” film for photography.

In earlier adverts in the same daily (eg 27 February 1951), “Federico W. Butterlin” was offering his services as a translator (English, German, French, Spanish) of all kinds of books, brochures, manuals, letters, etc., so it appears that photography alone was never lucrative enough to satisfy his financial needs.

There are also references to Frederick having owned one of the earliest galleries in Ajijic in the 1940s. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet “Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey”, “Frederick owned the first restaurant and gallery in Ajijic in the 1940s, and was a painter in the classical style.” Hargraves appears to be misidentifying the photographer brother, Frederick, with his elder brother Otto, who was indeed a well-known painter.

[Last update: 1 May 2016]

As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

Related posts:

Nov 132014
 

Han(n)s Otto Butterlin (or Otto Butterlin as he was usually known, at least in Mexico) was born in Cologne, Germany, 26 Dec 1900 and became an abstract and impressionist painter of some renown.

He was the oldest of the three Butterlin brothers. Otto moved with his middle brother Frederick and their parents (Johannes and Amelie) from Germany to Mexico in 1907. (Otto’s youngest brother Ernesto would be born a decade later in Guadalajara.)

According to his entry in the 1946 edition of Who’s Who in Latin America, Part I – Mexico, Otto was decorated by the German government for service performed during the first world war.

Immediately after the war, Otto studied at the Universities of Bonn, Marburg, and Munich (1918-20) and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich (1920-22).

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

During his time at the latter institution, he wrote and illustrated a booklet Ixtaccihuatl. Der Azteken Legende vom Berge der schlafenden Frau (Ixtaccihuatl: The Aztec Legend of the Mountain of the Sleeping Woman), published in Berlin in 1921 as a limited edition of 250 copies by Verlag A. R. Meyer. The 14-page “lyrical leaflet” included five original woodcuts (see images).

U.S. immigration records show that Otto Butterlin (5’9″ tall with blond hair and blue eyes) was resident there between August 1924 and October 1929, though he probably made trips to visit family in Mexico during that time.

On 7 June 1929, Otto married Margaret Elaine (Anglin) Dodge (1906-1982) in Alameda, California. Otto’s younger brother Frederick was a witness at the ceremony. It was Otto’s first marriage, and Margaret’s second. Margaret (“Peggy”), aged 23 when she married Otto and described as the “operator of a beauty parlor”, had previously been married to Latham L Dodge (1904-1955). From that marriage, she had a daughter Jacqueline Dodge (born 22 March 1925).

Otto made his living as a chemist and supervisor of operations in various industrial plants for at least 15 years. At the time of the 1930 Mexican census (held on 15 May), he and his wife were living in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where he was working at the sugar refinery.

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

The following year, in 1931 Margaret gave birth to their daughter Rita Elaine in Los Mochis. Rita went on to marry four times. Her first marriage (1951-58) was to one of Otto’s friends – textile artist and silkscreen innovator Jim Tillett (1913-1996) – and her second (1959-1963) to Chilean film star Octavio Señoret Guevara (1924-1990). She was subsequently briefly married (1967-69) to Haskel Bratter, before falling in love with and marrying (1971-his passing) Howard Perkins Taylor (1916-1993).

While Rita was still an infant, Otto decided to formalize his permanent right to residence in Mexico and became a naturalized Mexican citizen in October 1935. Immigration records show that he continued to visit the U.S. several times a year.

It appears to be at about this time that Otto decided to spend more time on his art.

Following the economic calamities of the early 1930s, the U.S. had initiated its Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration). This was an ambitious “New Deal” agency and employed millions of unemployed, and mostly unskilled, people to carry out public works projects. Hundreds of artists found support from WPA to complete paintings, sculptures and murals, many of which were designed for specific public spaces. A number of these artists, including Otto Butterlin, either had or came to have close connections to the Lake Chapala area.

In Otto’s case, he received the support of WPA to paint “New York City Panorama” (1937). The painting is described by art critic Robert Pincus, in a review of a 2006 exhibition called “Art of the WPA Era From Collections of the San Diego Region”, as a “nightmarish swirl of faces and electric signs”:

“The steep downturn of the American economy turned city streets into huddled masses of people who gathered in soup lines. Many people felt that they were at the mercy of forces beyond their control – forces of a modern, bureaucratic state whose emblem was the city.

This sort of alienation assumed different guises. There is the nightmarish swirl of faces and electric signs in Otto Butterlin’s “New York City Panorama” (1937), more expressionist metaphor than visual document. (He was part of the contingency of artists from Mexico who worked in the United States that included Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco in New York and Alfredo Ramos Martinez in San Diego.)”

By the early 1940s, Otto Butterlin was based in Mexico City and working as an executive in the Bayer chemical company, a position which enabled him to supply several well-known artists of the time, such as A. Amador Lugo (who was epileptic) with needed medications, at a time when they were very hard to obtain.

During this period, Butterlin taught art with, or to, numerous well-known Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera, Ricardo Martinez, José Chávez Morado, Ricardo Martínez and Gunther Gerzso.

In 1941, Otto introduced his friend Gunther Gerzso (a famous set designer who later became a fine painter) to gallery owner Inés Amor. A few years later, in May 1950, Amor arranged Gerzso’s first solo exhibition in the Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City. Gerzso became a famous artist. According to Octavio Paz, Gerzso was one of Latin America’s greatest ever painters, on account of the fact that he, Carlos Mérida and Rufino Tamayo had opposed the “ideologist aesthetic movement into which muralism had degenerated.”

Otto Butterlin had been accorded the honor of his own one-man show at the Galería de Arte Mexicano several years earlier. The exhibition, which lasted from November 1942 to February 1943 featured 32 of Otto’s works, probably including “The Funeral” (now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art). Otto’s paintings were also exhibited at various locations elsewhere in Mexico, as well as in Germany, Holland, and the U.S.

Butterlin-Hanns-Otto-The-Funeral-ca1942

Hanns Otto Butterlin. The Funeral (ca 1942)

In September 1945, Otto and his wife Peggy, together with daughter Rita, relocated to live in Ajijic. In a 1945 article, Neill James, who had arrived in Ajijic a couple of years earlier, described Otto Butterlin as a “well known expressionist and abstract painter who owns a huerta in Ajijic where he lives with his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Rita.”

Otto Butterlin: Modern Figure Study. 1949

Otto Butterlin: Modern Figure Study. 1949

His 1946 Who’s Who entry says he was the author of a “book of poems” but this appears to refer to his much earlier booklet Ixtaccihuatl (1921).

The group of artists exhibiting watercolors in May 1954 in “Galería Arturo Pani D.” in Calle Niza in Mexico City includes a Butterlin (probably Otto) alongside such famous contemporary artists as Raúl Anguiano, Fererico Cantú, Leonora Carrington, Carlos Mérida, Roberto Montenegro, Juan Soriano, Rufino Tamayo and Alfredo Zalce.

Both Otto and brother Ernesto Butterlin were among the 28 artists who had a joint exhibition the following month, June 1954, also in Mexico City, at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes’ Salón de la Plástica Mexicana. Other artists whose work was featured on that occasion include Roberto F. Balbuena, Michael Baxte, Leonora Carrinqton, Enrique Climent, José Feher, Elvira Gascón, Gunther Gerzso and Carlos Mérida.

In October 1954, Otto Butterlin requested permission from the Mexican government to be allowed to accept and use, “without losing his Mexican citizenship”, the “Honor and Merit” decoration awarded to him by the Government of the Republic of Haiti.

Otto Butterlin died in Ajijic on 2 April 1956. An article by Kenneth McCaleb in The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (15 February 1968) offers two alternative explanations, saying that “Otto Butterlin either shot himself or – as some said – was killed by his mistress.”

Note (April 2016): We thank the Registro Civil in Chapala which kindly emailed us a copy of the official death certificate of Otto Butterlin.

Partial list of sources:

  • Monica Señoret (Otto Butterlin’s granddaughter), personal communications via email. April 2015.
  • Kenneth McCaleb, “Conversation Piece: How To Be an Art Collector”, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times 15 February 1968.
  • María Cristina Hernández Escobar. “Gunther Gerzso, The Appearance of the Invisible”. Voices of Mexico. UNAM. n.d. [formerly at http://www.revistascisan.unam.mx/Voices/pdfs/5323.pdf]
  • Robert L. Pincus, “WPA captures the soul of a nation”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 February 2006, page F-1.
  • Robert Hilton (ed). Who’s Who In Latin America A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women Of Latin America. Part I – Mexico. (1946)

As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

Related posts:

Nov 102014
 

Bruce Douglas was the pen-name of Theodore Wayland Douglas, who was born in Indianapolis 29 May 1897 and died in Mexico in about 1961.

Bruce Douglas is reported to have been a recent visitor to Ajijic in Neill James’ article about life in Ajijic published in 1945, so we can safely assume he visited in 1944 or very early in 1945. It is unknown if Douglas returned later to the Lake Chapala region, though he  resided full-time in Mexico City from at least as early as 1943 until his death.

douglas-bruce-cover-2Douglas served in the U.S. Navy during the first world war. Shortly after the war, he was awarded his bachelor’s degree from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, in 1918. In 1922, he received his Masters degree in English from the University of Illinois. He worked as a reporter on the Indianapolis Star 1919-20.

Douglas began his writing career after many years teaching in universities. From 1920 to 1932, he undertook postgraduate work while also teaching English at a series of universities, including Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of Oregon. He also taught at the University of Texas and the State College of Washington.

Douglas married twice. His first marriage was in 1922 to Lucretia Lowe in Champaign, Illinois. His second marriage, in about 1929, was to a Mexican girl, Lee Patricia Bohan, born in 1906. The couple had one son. It appears likely that Bohan was a student, or university colleague of Douglas. She gained a B.A. in French from the Southern Methodist University in Texas in 1927, and then presented her Master’s Thesis the following year at the University of Chicago. (Her thesis was entitled: “Fielding’s Portrayal of the Country Squire (Henry Fielding)”. Bohan died in California in 1984.

Douglas was a prolific writer of short stories during the 1930s and 1940s. His first success in getting stories published was in May 1930 when Ace-High Magazine accepted “The Ghost of Oro Gulch”. That same year, he also saw at least three other short stories in print: “Code of the Range” in Western Rangers, “The Cowpoke from Coyote” in Western Trails and “For Love of a Bandit” in Ranch Romances.

After 1932, Douglas dedicated himself full-time to his fiction writing. Between 1930 and 1954, he had more than sixty short stories and several short novels published in the U.S., Canada and U.K.

His books include Border Range (1942) and The Strong Shall Hold (1943), in which “Wes Marshall fights for his father’s spread” (both western novels) as well as a thriller Tropical maze, published in the U.K. in 1948.

In 1934, one of his stories, “Holdup at Dry Wells” appeared in the same issue of Cowboy stories (vol. 26, no. 3) as “Off the westbound freight”, by John Mersereau, another author associated with Ajijic.

Main Source:

  • Ronald Hilton (ed) Who’s Who In Latin America: Part I Mexico (1946)
Nov 062014
 

While researching the history of the artists associated with the Lake Chapala region, I came across more and more references to the “two Butterlin brothers”. The problem was that different sources, including otherwise reputable art history sites, gave them quite different first names: Ernesto and Hans? Hans and Frederick? Linares and Otto?

There was very little evidence and it seemed impossible to tell which source was accurate, and why different accounts gave such different names, ages and details. They were usually described as “German”, but it was unclear whether they had been born in Germany or were the sons of German immigrants to Mexico.

Eventually, I compiled enough evidence to prove conclusively that there were not two Butterlin brothers, but three! Two had been born in Germany and were brought by their parents to Mexico. Safely ensconced in Guadalajara, the parents then had a third son, several years younger than his siblings.

The picture was complicated by the fact that two of the brothers used different names at different stages of their life, with the older brother rarely using his first name on his art once he arrived in Mexico, while the youngest brother adopted a surname for much of his artistic career that had no obvious connection to his family name.

Small wonder, then, that confusion reigned about the Butterlin brothers on many art history sites, some of which even failed to identify correctly the country of birth of each of the three brothers.

The three brothers (in order of birth) are:

There are still great gaps in my knowledge of this family, but the picture that finally began to emerge showed that the Butterlins deserved wider recognition as an artistic family of some consequence.

In future posts, I will show how all three Butterlin brothers contributed significantly to the development of the artist colony in the Lake Chapala area, albeit it in rather different ways.

Sep 012014
 

The son of a physician, writer and poet R. Jere Black Jr. was born 27 June 1892 at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He would also live at different times in Chautauqua, New York; Washington, D.C.; Long Beach and Santa Monica, California; and Byron Center in Michigan, as well as in Mexico.

R Jere Black's passport photo, 1922

R Jere Black’s passport photo, 1922

During World War I, Black served as a machine gunner with the American Expeditionary Force in France from May 1918 to May 1919. He was gassed by the Germans, which left him in ill health for the remainder of his life, with numerous spells in hospital. He married Josephine Elizabeth Best (1894-1976) in 1920. By 1937, the couple had divorced and his former wife had remarried.

It is unclear when he first visited Lake Chapala, but R. Jere Black died at the home of Paul “Pablo” Heuer, in the village of Ajijic, on 7 September 1953, and was buried in the Ajijic Municipal Cemetery the following day.

Black made his living from writing stories and short pieces for a number of popular magazines, both “slicks” and “pulps”, including The Smart Set, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Breezy Stories, Battle Stories, Sweetheart Stories and College Life. His brother described him as “a brilliant, fascinating person.”

His most productive period in terms of published writings was the period 1928 to 1934. This period included three poems published in Weird Tales: “Lyonesse” (December 1928), “Masquerade” (March 1930) and “The Pirate” (August 1930), a non-fiction piece, “The Pseudo-Scientific Field,” for Author and Journalist (May 1930) which took a look at “science fiction” (a term still in its infancy at the time), and a novel, The Killing of the Golden Goose: A Christopher King Mystery Story (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1934).

Black’s wife, born as Josephine Elizabeth Best but better known as E. Best Black, was also a writer of genre fiction. Born in 1894 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she and Jere Black married there in 1920, before traveling widely. Mrs Black wrote a story with the title “Flaming Ruth” (a pun) for Young’s Realistic Stories Magazine in February 1928 and also published two hardback novels featuring detective Peter Strangley: The Ravenelle Riddle (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1933) and The Crime of the Chromium Bowl (London: George Newnes, 1937). By 1937, however, she had divorced R. Jere Black and become the wife of Theron Lowden Kelley (1899-1967). Josephine Elizabeth Best Kelley died in 1976 in Monterey, California.

Source:

May 212014
 

Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.

Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).

romero-ruben-coverBesides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.

Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.

In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.

The relevant extract from Apuntes de un lugareño describing Romero’s impressions in 1897, is given, with commentary in chapter 41 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.

Translations of Romero’s works in English include:

  • Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.
  • The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.
  • A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)

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.

Mar 222012
 

Lee Freeman Hersch (1896-1953) was born 5 September 1896 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a painter in realist and abstract styles. He died in Madrid, Spain in 1953.

Lee Hersch studied painting with Henry Keller, Kenyon Cox and Douglas Volk at the Cleveland School of Art and the National Academy of Design. His subject matter was varied. In 1918, in Taos, New Mexico, he painted scenes with Indians of the Taos Pueblo. In 1921 he married novelist Helen Virginia Davis (1896-1978). The couple met and married in Paris and for several years thereafter their studio on the Left Bank was a popular gathering-place for painters, writers, and other intellectuals.

In 1925, Lee Hersch held a solo exhibit at the Montross Gallery in New York. In the 1930s, he was painting mainly landscapes, dividing his time between California and New York.

After the second world war, his work became more abstract, and he joined the ranks of New York’s influential abstract expressionists, an art movement that rivaled or echoed what was happening in the Parisian art world. Hersch was given a one-man show by Peggy Guggenheim in her gallery in New York, which became well-known for shows of abstract expressionism, by artists such as Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes and Hans Hofmann.

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Relatively little is known about some parts of the life of Lee F. Hersch, but his works include a “super modernist impressionist painting” of Mexico’s Lake Chapala, described by the Bruce Palmer Galleries as having “great color and energy, and in fine condition”. It is thought to have been painted relatively early in his career, circa 1930.

Hersch was a member of the Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles and the Woodstock Art Association. He exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Salons of America. A retrospective of his work, with accompanying catalog, was held in Paris in 1954.

Bio credit: Bruce Palmer Galleries.

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