Sep 282017
 

Pema Chödrön, then known as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown lived with her husband, the poet and writer Jim Levy, for about a year in Ajijic from mid-1968 until May 1969.

Pema Chödrön, 2007. (Credit: Creative Commons)

Pema Chödrön, 2007. (Credit: Creative Commons)

Chödrön was born (as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) in New York City on 14 July 1936. After attending Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, she married at the age of 21, had two children, and moved to California, where she studied at the University of California at Berkeley. She graduated from that institution with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s in elementary education.

While at Berkeley, Chödrön met Jim Levy for the first time. She divorced her first husband and married Levy in 1966. Chödrön taught as an elementary school teacher for some years, first in California and later in New Mexico.

During her time in Ajijic, Chödrön taught English to Beverly Johnson‘s daughter Jill Maldonado who retains fond memories of her former tutor.

[I have so far been unable to find out anything else about Chödrön’s time in the village, so if you can add to this brief profile, please get in touch!]

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

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

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

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

After Deirdre Blomfield-Brown’s marriage to Levy ended in 1971, she “explored different therapies and spiritual traditions” before stumbling across Buddhism. Deirdre subsequently changed her name to Pema Chödrön and became a novice Buddhist nun in 1974. She studied with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in San Francisco and Lama Chime Rinpoche in London, England. Following years of study, she was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Hong Kong in July 1981.

Chödrön was appointed by Trungpa Rinpoche as director of the Boulder Shambhala Center in Colorado for a few years before moving in 1984 to establish Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She became the Abbey’s director in 1986 and remains in that position to this day.

Chödrön’s teachings and books, such as The Wisdom of No Escape (1991), Start Where You Are (1994), When Things Fall Apart (1997), No Time to Lose (2005), and Practicing Peace in Times of War (2006) have reached a very wide audience.

In 2016 Chödrön was awarded the Global Bhikkhuni Award, presented by the Chinese Buddhist Bhikkhuni Association of Taiwan.

Sources:

  • Jim Levy. 2009. ¿PARADISE LOST? in Hakod – “The Voice of the Taos Jewish Center”, Vol 8 #2, Winter 2009/5770.
  • Andrea Miller. 2017. Becoming Pema. Lion’s Roar, 16 July 2017.
  • Wikipedia. Pema Chödrön.

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

 Posted by at 5:05 am
Sep 252017
 

Designer, craftsman and bon viveur Russell Seeley Bayly (1919-2013) lived in Jocotepec, at the western end of Lake Chapala, for close to forty years. He became a good personal friend, though I now regret not having recorded him as he reminisced about his life, loves and adventures.

Bayly was born in Los Angeles, Calfornia on 5 May 1919. He grew up in a privileged family, wealthy enough to have its own stables and horse trainer in addition to a butler, cook, housekeeper, maids, gardeners and a seamstress. Bayly’s father, Roy D. Bayly, was a successful financier and stock broker who had commissioned noted California architect Reginald Davis Johnson to build a Virginia-style home on nine acres of property in Flintridge, near Pasadena. Bayly Sr. was a co-founder of the Flintridge Riding Club and his children, including Russell, were all accomplished riders, winning ribbons and trophies for riding and jumping.

“Russ” Bayly was in the class of ’34 at Polytechnic School before attending Midland School. He graduated from this small boarding school near Los Olivos in 1938. Among his life-long friends was the artist-photographer John Frost, who also attended Midland. Not altogether coincidentally, Frost and his wife – the author Joan Van Every Frost – moved to Jocotepec shortly before Bayly did the same.

Bayly enlisted in the U.S. military on 7 January 1942, after two years of college at the University of Virginia, and giving his previous occupation as “fisherman, oysterman.” He served in the U.S. cavalry during the second world war but his wartime experiences left him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Russell Bayly relaxing at home with his neighbor Tad Davidson (Lady Mary Fleming), August 2008. Photo by Tony Burton.

Russell Bayly, aged 89, relaxing at home with his neighbor Tad Davidson (Lady Mary Fleming), August 2008. Photo by Tony Burton.

After the war, Bayly attended the highly regarded Chouinard Art Institute (Chouinard School of Art and Design) in Los Angeles. He married Joan Virginia Young  in 1947, and the couple had four children: Russell Warder (1948-2016), David Hostetter (1951) Brooks (1952), and daughter Neville (1954).

In the 1950s, while working as a painting contractor, Bayly found recognition as a designer, primarily of furniture. For example, his work was highlighted in a national exhibition of Californian design first held at the Pasadena Art Museum from 12 January to 23 February 1958. Over the years, Bayly filed for several patents relating to original furniture designs. These almost certainly included the “prototype chair in steel, teak and fabric”, shown in a photograph that appeared in California Design in 1965. A matching ottoman was also available.

In the mid-1960s, the well-known industrial designer Victor J. Papanek, who had been at design school with Bayly, offered him a position as associate professor of design at Purdue University. Bayly taught there for four years, ending in 1971.

Bayly and his wife, Bee, moved to Jocotepec in late 1971, and rented a house there while beginning construction of their own home. While the Guadalajara Reporter for 20 July 1974 reports that Russell and his wife Bee had just entertained friends to a farewell party, prior to Russell “returning to his college teaching position in California”, Russell was no longer teaching by that time, though he did return to Los Alamos, California, and subsequently Santa Barbara, to make a living. Bayly regularly returned to Jocotepec prior to becoming a full-time resident of the town in the 1980s.

During his years in Jocotepec, he designed and oversaw the construction of several homes in the town, including the modernist, open-plan, steel-beamed hexagonal building that was his home for the last thirty years of his life. Built on a small corner lot overlooking the town and lake, the design was based on a series of hexagons with full-height living areas, floor-to-ceiling glass windows onto an immaculate garden, and a mezzanine that afforded a panoramic view across the lake. It also had a fully-equipped workshop for working metal and wood. Bayly was a skilled craftsman and took particularly delight in crafting the most exquisite furniture and small boxes, often utilizing rare scraps of exotic woods that he had found abandoned in some lumber yard.

Bayly. Photo taken in Jocotepec, August 2007 by Tony Burton.

Chairs and table designed by Russell Bayly. Photo taken in Jocotepec, August 2007 by Tony Burton.

Bayly’s former home, at Hidalgo Nte. #150, was his crowning achievement in terms of architecture and design. He personally designed and built all the bespoke furniture and fittings throughout the home, achieving a simple elegance that would have been worthy of inclusion in Architectural Digest.

Bayly imported a vintage VW “Combi” van from California, converted it into a no-frills camper, and used it to travel all over Mexico. Every few years he would take a lengthy overseas trip: to Europe, Africa or Asia.

In later life, Bayly helped me run several lengthy ecotourist trips through western Mexico, trips that inevitably involved lots of dirt road driving (which he loved). He always kept a camping chair, bottle of white wine (suitably cooled) and a couple of glasses in his van. One of my abiding memories from the many trips we did together is of him carrying these items to the top of a little-known pyramid in Michoacán so that he could sit, relax and sip his wine while enjoying the scenery and brilliant sunset.

Bayly had worked in so many different jobs at some point in his lifetime (lumberjack, educator, tuna fisherman, steel mill) that he was able to entertain guests at dinner parties with a seamless, and seemingly endless, stream of stories, all told with good humor and great insight. Bayly was a conversationalist, raconteur and bon viveur second to none.

Even in his final years, as his daily siestas became longer, Bayly remained willing to ferry groups of paragliders into the hills near Jocotepec as they sought the best launch spots, secure in the knowledge that he would manage to find them again wherever they landed and drive them safely back to civilization.

Having done what he could to make the world a better place, Bayly died on 23 February 2013.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Brooks Bayly for kindly sharing memories and details of his father’s life.

Sources:

  • California Design 9 (1965)
  • Catalog of national exhibition first held at the Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, Calif., January 12-February 23, 1958. (Designers include: Russell S. Bayly Associates, Martin Borenstein, Robert E. Brown, Garry M. Carthew, Danny Ho Fong, William A. Kalpe, and Roger Kennedy.)
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 20 July 1974.
  • OakTree Times (magazine of the Polytechnic School Community), Spring/Summer 2014.

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

Sep 212017
 

Jack Vance was a successful mystery, fantasy and science fiction author who wrote more than a dozen books and also wrote TV screenplays.

He and his wife Norma spent several months in Mexico traveling with Frank Herbert (author of Dune) and his wife Beverly and their two young sons in the second half of 1953.

Vance had met the then less successful Herbert a year earlier in California, and the two had become friends and writing companions, sometimes working on joint projects. They decided to visit Mexico in search of new experiences and stimulation. The Vance-Herbert friendship was the start of one of the greatest literary bromances related to Lake Chapala.

Many aspects of the families’ joint trip to Mexico in the Vances’ new blue Jeep station wagon are endearingly told by Herbert’s elder son, Brian, in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert.

Selection of covers of books by Jack Vance

Selection of covers of books by Jack Vance

Vance and his wife Norma bought a new blue Jeep station wagon for the trip and the families shared driving, expenses and domestic tasks. After stopping briefly at a roadside monument marking the Tropic of Cancer, Norma accidentally left her purse on the car as they drove away. By the time they made a quick U-turn to recover the purse, which contained Jack’s favorite fountain pen (Vance was accustomed to writing long-hand whereas Herbert used a typewriter), it had been run over by another vehicle and the pen squashed.

A few days later they reached Chapala and rented a large house in the village. Brian Herbert describes the lake and surrounding farmland before writing that,

“A fishing and artists’ colony, Chapala was much favored by tourists, especially Americans. The town, while small, boasted one of the world’s great beer gardens – a large tavern by the lake that had outdoor seating under a shady, striped canvas roof. On hot days, my parents and the Vances could be found there, cooling themselves in the shade. Sunsets on the lake were spectacular.”

The “two-story adobe and white stucco house, which had been converted to a duplex” rental property was on the hillside a block from the lake. Strict silence was enforced during the mid-morning to mid-afternoon “writing hours”, so that both men could concentrate on developing plots and characters.

While the writers did cooperate on some “joint ventures” while in Chapala, they each also wrote short stories, hoping to sell some to magazines north of the border and thereby extend their stay in Mexico.

According to San Francisco book and art dealer Tim Underwood who edited a work about Vance, the origins of his futuristic novel To Live Forever (1956) date back to 1953 at Lake Chapala:

“One night Frank and Jack tossed around an idea for a novel and afterward flipped a coin to see who would write it. Jack won the toss and the book became To Live Forever.” 

It should be noted that To Live Forever was Betty Ballantine’s choice for the title, not the author’s. Well received by critics, it was later renamed Clarges.

After two months in Chapala, with funds running low, the Vances and Herberts decided to move to the larger, lower-cost city of Ciudad Guzmán in southern Jalisco. After about a month in Ciudad Guzmán, with funds running low, the group returned to the U.S. and then shared the Vances’ farmhouse in Kenwood, California, for several weeks.

John Holbrook Vance was born in San Francisco on 28 August 1916 and died in Oakland on 26 May 2013. He wrote more than 60 books. In addition to work published under “Jack Vance”, he published 11 mystery stories as John Holbrook Vance and 3 as Ellery Queen as well as single titles using various different pen names, including Alan Wade, Peter Held, John van See and Jay Kavanse.

Vance, educated at the University of California Berkeley, held a variety of jobs prior to serving in the Merchant Marine and becoming an established writer.

Described by Carlo Rotella (in a 2009 profile for the New York Times Magazine) as “one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices”, Vance won numerous awards, including the Edgar Award (1960), the Hugo Award (1963, 1967), the Nebula Award (1966), the Jupiter Award (1975), the Achievement Award (1984), the Gilgam’s Award (1988), the World Fantasy Award (1990) and the Grand Master Award (1997).

Sources:

  • Brian Herbert. 2003. Dreamer of Dune: the biography of Frank Herbert. (New York: Tom Doherty Associates).
  • Erik Jorgensen. 2014. “‘The Spice’ Flows From Santa Rosa“, Oak Leaf (SRJC’s Student Newspaper), 8 December 2014.
  • Carlo Rotella. 2009. “The Genre Artist“, The New York Times Magazine, 15 July 2009.
  • Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller (eds). 1980. Jack Vance. (Taplinger Publishing Company).
  • Jack Vance. 2009. This Is Me, Jack Vance! Or, More Properly, This Is “I” (Subterranean Press).
  • David B Williams. “Vance Museum – Miscellany – Biographical Sketch“.

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.

 

Sep 182017
 

Roland Vargo, the only Dutch actor to play in films alongside Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn, left Hollywood behind on retirement and settled in Chapala Haciendas, overlooking Lake Chapala.

Roland Vargo was his self-chosen stage name. He was born Jacob Frederik Vuerhard in Utrecht on 15 March 1908. He grew up on Java, returned to the Netherlands as a teenager and worked, among things, as an illustrator at Het Vaderland.

He then moved to Berlin, determined to try his luck with the blossoming film industry in Germany. His first film part seems to have been in Jugendtragödie (“Tragedy of Youth”, 1929).

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno’s best-known film role came in the German classic Der Blaue Engel (“The Blue Angel”, 1930), which starred German sensation Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. He also had a part in Der Mann, the seinen Mörder sucht (“The Man in Search of his Murderer”, 1931).

While in Berlin he was discovered by a talent scout of the Hollywood studio MGM and invited to travel to the U.S. to play the lead role in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Unfortunately his ship across the Atlantic was delayed and the part was given instead to Lew Ayres. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the two men became best friends.

In 1932 Varno married Elizabeth (“Betty”) Tyree. The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but later divorced.

While Varno was never an A-list Hollywood superstar, this dependable, handsome, character actor, just under six foot tall, who spoke several languages, found work on dozens of films in the 1930s and 1940s.

He also made two movies in the Netherlands, both released in 1934: Malle Gevallen and the successful soldier comedy Het meisje met de blauwe hoed (“The girl with the blue hat”).

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in "As You Desire Me" (1932)

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in “As You Desire Me” (1932)

His best known scene in Hollywood was a dance with Greta Garbo in As You Desire Me (1932). He also appeared with Katherine Hepburn in Quality Street (1937), and in Gunga Din (1939), Three Faces West (1940), Women in Bondage (1943), The Return of the Vampire (1943), My Name is Julia Ross (1945), Three’s a Crowd (1945), Flight to Nowhere (1946) and Scared to Death (1947).

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

During World War II, Varno worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and had parts (ranging from a spy to a freedom fighter) in propaganda films  including one entitled Hitler’s Children. He also added Japanese to the list of languages he spoke either fluently or semi-fluently.

After the war he played in radio and television series in the U.S., including Space Patrol (1950), The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951-1958) and 77 Sunset Strip. He also worked as a truck driver, carpenter, encyclopedia salesman and broker.

Varno made his last movie appearance in Istanbul (1957) but continued to do occasional TV work, among which was some on the set of the miniseries War and Remembrance (1988-9), based on the novel by Herman Wouk.

After his retirement in the early 1970s, Varno moved to Chapala, where he directed two plays for the English-language Lakeside Little Theater: The Bad Seed in November 1976 and Harvey in November 1979. The actors in The Bad Seed included Norma Miller, the 11-year-old daughter of photographer Bert Miller. Another photographer, Toni Beatty, a family friend of Varno from his time in California, visited him in Ajijic and stayed in the village for several months with her husband Larry Walsh in a casita owned by acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi.

Roland Varno died in Lancaster, California on 24 May 1996 at the age of 88.

Family links:

  • Varno’s sister, Anneke, was the Netherlands’ “Dear Abby” for many years.
  • Varno’s son, Martin Varno, wrote the script for Night of the Blood Beast (1958).
  • Varno’s daughter, Jill Taggart, is a sound engineer with numerous credits to her name.

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.

 Posted by at 5:43 am  Tagged with:
Sep 142017
 

Journalist-adventurer Don Hogan was one of the more extraordinary characters who lived in Ajijic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While there is no evidence he wrote anything of significance while living in the village, several people certainly later wrote about him, not always in a very complimentary manner. Stories about Hogan’s life are commonplace but hard facts difficult to find. Inevitably, therefore, this brief profile of him begs as many questions as it answers.

Hogan arrived in Ajijic with his wife and two children in the late 1960s and lived in the village for about two years. In May 1971, he was one of the organizers, along with Beth Avary and Peter Huf, of a large group art show, Fiesta de Arte, held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic). None of the 30 or so artists [1] who took part in this show, or the 500 or so viewers, could have guessed that barely three months later Hogan’s life would end in tragedy.

Donald William Hogan was born in New York City to William Anthony and Marie (Joule) Hogan of Greenwich, Connecticut, on 20 September 1928.

Hogan married Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1932-1985) in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 November 1953. “Betsy” Hogan had graduated from Vassar College that year and was an active feminist. As a writer, producer, and broadcaster, she specialized in themes related to the status of women and women’s equity and later founded Betsy Hogan Associates which arranged equal employment opportunity seminars for public and private sector organizations.

Don and Betsy Hogan had at least one child, a daughter, born in about 1956. They later divorced and Don Hogan married Kulla Kuusk. Kuusk, born in Estonia, graduated from Vassar in 1955. Don and Kulla Hogan had two children: a daughter born in about 1960 and a son in about 1962.

Early in his career, Don Hogan worked as a journalist for The Boston Post before taking a job as assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. While at The Boston Post, Hogan, ever an adventurer, had uncovered a story about an unknown soldier trapped in a hospital with amnesia, which became the basis for an NBC “Big Story” dramatization in 1956.

At the New York Herald Tribune, Hogan reported on a variety of significant events, including the arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1958 of someone “identified by the cognoscenti as a racketeer of international importance”: Meyer Lansky. [Coincidentally, Meyer Lansky’s grandson later married the granddaughter of American artist John K. Peterson, who was living in Ajijic at the same time as Hogan and undoubtedly knew him quite well.]

Not long afterwards, Hogan and fellow journalist Peter Braestrup investigated New York’s clothing industry and were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for their series exposing racketeering in the New York garment industry.

Peter Huf recalls how Hogan told him that in pursuit of another story – one about a society murder – he had arranged for a fireman’s ladder to be positioned so he could reach the cell window of a woman being held in police custody to get an exclusive interview with her about the crime.

Hogan’s family had links to sugar estates in pre-Castro Cuba, and his brother, Tony Hogan, was a sugar broker with offices at 120 Wall Street, New York.

In the later stages of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), Don Hogan therefore found himself ideally placed to write about events on the island and used his press credentials to gain access to Fidel Castro and the rebels fighting Batista. In 1957, Hogan spent 12 days living with the rebels, much of the time with Castro’s troops, and wrote about his experiences for the U.S. and foreign press. New York lawyer and investment banker Richard Coulson visited Hogan in Havana and later wrote that Hogan, “had covered Fidel’s campaign from the guerrilla skirmishes in the Sierra Maestre to victory in the streets of Havana.”

Once Castro’s government was in power in January 1959, Hogan accepted a job as the public relations manager for Cuba’s Sugar Stabilization Institute, working alongside its head, Alberto Fernández. A year later, Hogan’s position was abolished and he returned to New York.

During his time in Havana, Hogan had made contacts with an FBI informant and had also developed CIA connections. Joan Mellen, the author of The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution (2016) writes that Hogan was a CIA informant from mid-1960. The CIA were especially interested in the activities of Alberto Fernández, and encouraged Hogan to make regular reports on his activities, while later recognizing, according to one source quoted by Mellen, that Hogan was “somewhat unscrupulous and hazardous from a security standpoint.”

A year later, back in New York, Hogan was regarded by the CIA’s Bernard Reichhardt as an “undesirable hanger-on”. Mellen says that Reichhardt received a full biography of Hogan in May 1961 and “knew that Hogan had been “thrice married”, had been suspended from the New York Herald Tribune at the time it faced a strike and had taken on a job to write a history of Castro’s 26th of July Movement.”

By all accounts, Hogan did complete his book which, according to Peter Huf, was anti-Castro. However, he was unable to find a willing publisher.

After his Cuban adventures, Hogan does not appear to have remained in New York for very long. According to the various versions of his life he shared with acquaintances in Ajijic, he spent several years in South America, dividing his time between the sophisticated social elite in Buenos Aires (a city he loved) and trying to make a fortune from a sawmill he owned in Peru.

Hogan was still convinced his book about Cuba would one day make him rich but in the meantime appears to have lived on a modest monthly remittance – $700 according to Jerry Murray – from his father in the U.S. and had to borrow additional funds to maintain his accustomed lifestyle, while hoping his luck would change. His wife, Kulla (usually known in Ajijic as “Kulale” and thought by locals to be Hawaiian), took a job with Helen Kirtland in her loom business to help make ends meet.

In his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic at this time, Henry Edwards describes “John Hamilton” (Hogan) as arriving in the village with his wife and their two youngsters after losing all his money in a logging venture in Peru expropriated by the government. Hamilton, over six feet tall with a “boxer’s frame”, had thick blonde hair and blue eyes. He “habitually wore a hunting jacket (tan with shell pockets), big leather lace-up boots, tan jungle pants and a leather belt.” He also regularly carried a gun and hunted in the mountains.

As family finances collapsed, Hogan became more desperate and decided to risk drug dealing. He borrowed money to buy a substantial stash of marijuana but had several guns pulled on him once he handed over the cash and never did get any weed. A few weeks later, after borrowing another $20,000, Hogan tried again, this time taking a weapon with him, prepared to use it to enforce the deal. This attempt went horribly wrong. No sooner did he reach for his gun than the drug dealers shot him dead. It was 21 August 1971.

This is the version of his death as recalled by several people who were in Ajijic at the time, who say he died “across the lake”, with some mentioning the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Jerry Murray, for example, has written that Hogan died in the state of Guerrero while trying to make a deal for “a strain of mota renowned as Acapulco gold.”

The true story may be less prosaic. According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter, Hogan had died “in his pick-up car near Tequila… Police said that he had apparently suffered a bullet wound in one arm but that was not the cause of death.”

Even after his death, controversy dogged Hogan. He was buried in the southern section of Ajijic cemetery in grave marked by a “five-feet-tall crucifix made of black marble” (Murray), paid for by his father. Unfortunately, the following year, a hotel developer’s bulldozer plowed through the area, desecrating many graves, including those of novelist Willard Marsh and journalist and adventurer Donald Hogan.

Note:

[1] The list of exhibitors who took part in the Fiesta de Art in 1971 reads like a Who’s Who of artists in Ajijic at the time. It includes Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Acknowledgement

  • My sincere thanks to Peter Huf and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing their memories of Donald Hogan with me.

Sources:

  • Richard Coulson. 2014. A Corkscrew Life. iUniverse.
  • Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 18 October 1956, p 57.
  • Henry F. Edwards. 2008. Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Heinz-D Fischer and Erika J. Fischer, 2003. Complete Historical Handbook of the Pulitzer Prize System 1917-2000. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 22 May 1971; 28 August 1971
  • Harvard University Library. Papers of Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris Hogan, 1971-1976: A Finding Aid.
  • Don Hogan. 1958. “Watchdogs Call Lansky for Quiz on Apalachin”, New York Herald Tribune, 13 February 1958, p 17.
  • Don Hogan. 1957. “The Rebellion in Cuba”, Kingston Gleaner (Jamaica), 16 December 1957, p 12.
  • Don Hogan and Peter Braestrup. 1959. “Dress Union Shares in Blame for Rackets.” New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1958, p 1.
  • Joan Mellen. 2016. The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Jerry Murray. 2002. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust“. -e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002.
  • Jerry Murray. 2008. “Slodge“. e*I*40 (Vol. 7 No. 5), October 2008.
  • Stephen Woodbridge. “Woodbridge Family Tree.”

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

Sep 112017
 

Photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh lived in Mexico for several years, starting with a three month stay in Ajijic in 1976.

Beatty and Walsh had originally planned to spend six months traveling through Mexico before heading further south to Peru, but they ended up staying in Mexico for nine years!

Toni Beatty was born in Los Angeles, raised in Spain, France and Austria, and educated at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Toni Beatty. Paradise under the Sea, Las Cruces, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Paradise under the Sea, Las Cruces, NM. Print on metal.

She and her husband arrived in Ajijic in early July 1976 to visit a family friend, the Hollywood actor Roland Varno, who had retired there. Varno introduced them to American photographer Sylvia Salmi (1909-1977) who had been living in the village for more than a decade and she rented them her “very charming casita. The casita had wonderful Talavera tile and the ceilings were lined with petates… the petates gave the house a wonderful grassy smell.”

By this time, Salmi was no longer processing her own photos, but she encouraged Beatty to use both her darkroom and all the chemicals and papers she needed. Salmi was the personal inspiration for Beatty to take black and white portrait photography seriously and acquire the technical skills to complement her natural eye for a good composition.

Beatty and her husband became firm friends with Katie Goodridge Ingram (whose family had first moved to Ajijic in the 1940s) and with writer and photographer Agustín Velarde and his wife, Betsy Oien. They also became close friends with Adolfo Riestra, arguably the most famous of all the Mexican painters and sculptors to have lived in Ajijic for any prolonged period of time. Riestra, born in Tepic, Nayarit, had his studio at Calle Constitución #32, formerly the home and studio of Peter Paul Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, from about 1971 to 1976.

It was during one of their regular visits to chat and gossip with Riestra in his studio that Beatty experienced something of an artistic revelation:

“At the time, Adolfo was working on these very organic, textural abstracts and there were several large paintings leaning up against the walls of the house. I recall the moment when I suddenly understood the joys of abstract art on a very visceral level, standing in the hallway and looking at one of those paintings. It changed the way I looked at things in that what now got my attention was the sensuous delight of running my eyes over the interplay of light on the textured walls of Mexico. I still shoot architectural abstracts all these years later and love that contemplative work.”

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio in Ajijic.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio in Ajijic.

A few weeks later, Adolfo and his partner Wendy left Ajijic to move closer to Mexico City, to Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos. Tepoztlán was already becoming known nationally as a center for artists of all kinds. When Beatty and her husband decided, in October 1976, to move on from Ajijic with the intention of driving to Oaxaca, they called in at Tepoztlán to visit their friends, fell in love with the place, and stayed.

Astonishingly, Beatty later discovered that she had been in Tepoztlán as an infant when her father was making a film about an agricultural experiment in Amecameca. Perhaps that is why the scenically-spectacular village felt like home when she returned in 1976? Beatty loved her time in Tepoztlán :

“That time was the beginning for me of a visual awakening like I’d never experienced before and also introduced me to a new pace that was living in Mexico. I had lived in Europe from 1955 to 1961, so was experienced with different cultures, but Mexico was very different and each day brought new discoveries.”

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

In 1981, Beatty and Walsh moved to Mexico City where Beatty worked on commercial illustrations for textbooks, annual reports, business brochures, theater work, and architecture.

Beatty recalls that there were some significant differences in developing your own photographs in Mexico, compared to what was then happening in the U.S.:

“Latin American photography at the time was very grainy and contrasty, which went perfectly with the often gritty subject matter. I could only buy grade 3 or 4 Agfa paper made in Brazil, very heavy duty stuff. Tri X was the film of choice and that was before I learned Ansel Adams zone system and began to appreciate and achieve good mid-tone separation. In later years, I brought in Ilford papers and films to use, and also had the great good luck to take a course with San Francisco based photographer Jack Welpott, who taught me the zone system.”

After Mexico, Beatty continued to expand her photography while working professionally as a librarian. (She was director of the Rio Rancho Public Libraries in New Mexico from 1986 to 2008).

Early in her photography career, she focused on environmental portraiture and nude studies. As she experimented with techniques, her work became less representational and far more abstract.

Toni Beatty. Doloroso, Morelia, Mexico. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Doloroso, Morelia, Mexico. Print on metal.

In recent years, Beatty has embraced digital photographic technology and many of her strongest images are digitally-enhanced photographs, often printed onto metal to emphasize their vivid colors and luminescence.

Her exceptional talent and skills are nowhere more clearly evident than in the series of albums related to funerary art that Beatty has produced in recent years.

  • More of Toni Beatty’s powerful images can be seen online at her personal webpage.

Beatty’s interest in funerary art was first awakened in 1977 when she and her husband were living in Tepoztlán, near Mexico City, and were invited to attend a picnic as part of the annual Day of the Dead celebrations in nearby Amecameca. In 2004, she became fascinated by depictions of angels in all their varied forms, a passion that gave her the excuse to travel to Austria, the Czech Republic, the U.K. and elsewhere.

Her work related to graveyards explores the meaning behind the different ways in which people react to and cope with death in Europe and the Americas, including the use of offerings to help in the afterlife. Her work is thought-provoking but not provocative. It bridges life and death. Interviewed for a local newspaper a few years ago, she stressed that, “The graveyard is where the two realities meet — the living and the veil of life”.

Beatty’s work has been included in numerous group exhibits, including one with four other local photographers at the Loma Colorado Main Library in Rio Rancho in March 2009. Her photographs are in two New Mexico galleries: the Gathering of Artists gallery in Bernalillo and El Arte de Placitas in Placitas.

Larry Walsh, her husband, is an author, poet and blogger, who was co-producer, while working at KNME-TV in Albuquerque, of “Surviving Columbus”, an account of the Pueblo Indians’ 450-year struggle to preserve their culture, land, and religion despite European contact.

Toni Beatty and Larry Walsh currently reside in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Toni Beatty for sharing via email memories of her time in Mexico and for her permission to reproduce these examples of her work.

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.

 

Sep 072017
 

Adolfo Riestra, a superb sculptor and painter, lived and worked in Ajijic from about 1971 to 1976. For most of this time, he occupied the former home (Constitución #32) of German artist Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt. Riestra and his partner, Wendy Jones, had 2 young children at the time.

Riestra was born in Tepic, Nayarit in 1944. He died in Mexico City on 10 October 1989, just one day after a major exhibition of his work opened at Galeria OMR.

Riestra studied painting in Guadalajara under “Dwite” (Dwight?) Albisson from 1955 to 1956, and then took a law degree at the Universidad de Guanajuato (1962-66) where he also attended the Taller de Jesús Gallardo.

Adolfo Riestra. Bañistas.

Adolfo Riestra. Bañistas.

In November 1969 he held a solo show of 26 paintings at the Teatro Experimental de Jalisco in Guadalajara. The following year (1970) he worked with John Hamilton in the Potrero Hill Graphics Workshop in San Francisco, California.

In 1972, Riestra exhibited in a show with Adolfo Luis Cuevas. Riestra’s work was strongly influenced by political events and the 1968 Mexico City student massacre. Riestra’s paintings include two entitled “Retrato de Alan Bowers.”

Adolfo Riestra. 1972. Portrait of Alan Bowers.

Adolfo Riestra. 1972. Portrait of Alan Bowers. (Bonhams and Butterflields auction, 2006).

In April 1976 he held a one-person show at the Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer.

Photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh were good friends with Riestra in Ajijic and Beatty credits Riestra with opening her eyes to the possibilities offered by abstract art.

After about six years in Ajijic, Riestra and his family moved to the village of Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos in 1976. Riestra later lived in Mexico City and France.

After Ajijic, his work increasingly focused on modern interpretations of ancient sculptures. These works clearly show the strong influences of archaeological and folk art from several parts of Mexico including Metepec, Colima and his native Nayarit.

Adolfo Riestra. Self-portrait, 1973.

Adolfo Riestra. Self-portrait, 1973.

Riestra’s work was widely featured in group shows during his lifetime, including national exhibitions of painting and sculpture organized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (1977, 1979, 1980) and international exhibitions in Cuba, Belgium and the United States. Group shows after his death featuring his works include the Museo Regional de Nayarit in Tepic (1999); the Art Museum in Tucson, Arizona (2000); the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (2000, 2001); in Hannover, Germany (2000); Museo Universitario de Ciencia y Arte in Mexico City (2002); MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) (2003); and in the five artist show “Mexicanidad: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, Adolfo Riestra” held in Kunsthalle Würth, in Baden Württemberg, Germany, in 2012.

Adolfo Riestra. La cantante negra.

Adolfo Riestra. La cantante negra.

Solo shows of Riestra’s paintings, drawings and sculpture include several at Galería OMR (owned by Riestra’s brother) in Mexico City (1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 2004, 2009); as well as at the Galería Sloan Racotta (1982) and Galería Florencia Riestra (1989), both in Mexico City; Wenger Gallery in Los Angeles, California (1991); MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) (1998); Universidad de Guanajuato (2000); Universidad de las Américas in Puebla (2003); and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Emilia Ortiz, in Tepic, Nayarit (2011).

Riestra died in Mexico City on 10 October 1989 at the tragically young age of 45. Writing for a retrospective exhibition of Riesta’s works many years later, Dr. Edward Sullivan described Riestra’s untimely passing as robbing Mexico and indeed the world of a complex, multifaceted artist.

Works by Adolfo Riestra can be found in the collections of several major museums, including Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The state of Nayarit’s annual prize for contemporary sculpture is named in his honor.

Family connections

Adolfo Riestra’s daughter, Melissa Riestra, is a social activist in Mexico City. Adolfo’s first cousin, Nicolás Echeverria, is an award-winning musician and documentary film maker who has specialized in documenting indigenous peoples. His works include three films about the Huichol and Cora, as well as Cabeza de Vaca (1991), Vivir mata (2001), and Eco de la montaña (2014).

This is an updated version of a post originally published on 22 March 2012.

Acknowledgment

I am grateful to Alan Bowers, Toni Beatty, Paul Huf and the late Tom Faloon for sharing their personal memories of Adolfo Riestra with me.

Sources:

  • Cien45. 2017. 100 años. 45 artistas en Nayarit. Tepic: Fundación Álica de Nayarit, A.C.
  • Germaine Gómez Haro. 2008. “Adolfo Riestra: arcaísmo y modernidad“, La Jornada semanal, 13 de abril de 2008, núm. 684.
  • El Informador. Exposición pictórica. El Informador (Guadalajara) 8 November 1969, p1.
  • Edward J. Sullivan. 1998. Adolfo Riestra, Dibujante, pintor y escultor. Catalogue of 1998 exhibition at MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey). 156 pp.
  • Tomás Pérez González. 2014. “Las Aristas del Gesto” de Adolfo Riestra [many photos of Riestra’s work]
 Posted by at 9:17 am
Sep 042017
 

Near the start of his writing career, an impecunious Frank Herbert, the genius behind the epic science fiction novel Dune, lived in the town of Chapala for several months. It was September 1953 and Herbert was 32 years old and struggling to make a living as a writer.

Herbert would not have been in Chapala at all had he not met fantasy writer Jack Vance for the first time a year earlier. The two men were about the same age, but Vance was already a successful writer known for his science fiction “pulps” and was making decent money writing scripts for Captain Video, a popular TV show. Herbert was a reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, had not yet found much success as a writer, and was struggling to pay the family bills.

As the two men got to know each other they talked of joint writing projects and of the two families traveling together to Mexico in search of new experiences and stimulation for their work.

This joint trip to Mexico, endearingly told by Herbert’s elder son, Brian, in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, was the start of one of the greatest literary bromances related to Lake Chapala. Brian was only six years old at the time so much of what he writes is presumably based on notes written by his father and recollections shared by his mother, Beverly.

Vance and his wife Norma bought a new blue Jeep station wagon for the trip and the families shared driving, expenses and domestic tasks. After stopping briefly at a roadside monument marking the Tropic of Cancer, Norma accidentally left her purse on the car as they drove away. By the time they made a quick U-turn to recover the purse, which contained Jack’s favorite fountain pen (Vance was accustomed to writing long-hand whereas Herbert used a typewriter), it had been run over by another vehicle and the pen squashed.

A few days later they reached Chapala and rented a large house in the village. Brian Herbert describes the lake and surrounding farmland before writing that,

“A fishing and artists’ colony, Chapala was much favored by tourists, especially Americans. The town, while small, boasted one of the world’s great beer gardens – a large tavern by the lake that had outdoor seating under a shady, striped canvas roof. On hot days, my parents and the Vances could be found there, cooling themselves in the shade. Sunsets on the lake were spectacular.”

The “two-story adobe and white stucco house, which had been converted to a duplex” rental property was on the hillside a block from the lake. Strict silence was enforced during the mid-morning to mid-afternoon “writing hours”, so that both men could concentrate on developing plots and characters.

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance. (Jorgensen. 2014)

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance. (from Jorgensen, 2014)

While the writers did cooperate on some “joint ventures” while in Chapala, each of them also wrote short stories, hoping to sell some to magazines north of the border and thereby extend their stay in Mexico. Herbert was also working on a psychological thriller set in a submarine, serialized in Astounding magazine as “Under Pressure”, and later turned into the book The Dragon in the Sea (1956).

Herbert also completed a humorous short piece entitled “Life with Animalitos”, submitted to Reader’s Digest but never published.

After two months in Chapala, with funds running low, the Vances and Herberts decided to move to the larger, lower-cost city of Ciudad Guzmán in southern Jalisco. Shortly after arriving in the city, Herbert was invited to the home of a retired Mexican Army general. When sweet cookies were brought round, Herbert hungrily consumed two before discovering they were laced “with the most expensive North African hashish in the world” and experiencing hallucinations.

This was the initial experience that gave Herbert the idea for melange, the fictional spice found only on the planet Dune that was “the most important substance in the universe”. According to Herbert’s son, “Paul Atreides’s experiences with that drug [in the novel] mirror the author’s personal experiences.”

After about a month in Ciudad Guzmán, and almost out of funds, the group returned to the U.S. and then shared the Vances’ farmhouse in Kenwood, California, for several weeks.

Herbert eventually found his financial footing, in part by writing speeches for Republican senator Guy Cordon. In 1959 he began work on Dune (published as a hardback in 1965) which opened all kinds of literary doors and enabled him to achieve the success he had previously only dreamed about.

Dune, one of the most popular science fiction novels ever written, won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and was the first major ecological science fiction novel. The movie version of Dune in 1984, screenplay by David Lynch, was shot entirely in Mexico: at Churubusco Studios, Mexico City;  Samalayuca sand dunes in Chihuahua; and at Puerto Peñasco  and the nearby El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar in Sonora.

Many elements from Dune – including warring noble houses, “aura” spice and “moisture farming” – are evident in the later Star Wars movies. Herbert was the first to recognize this and formed, with a number of like-minded colleagues a lighthearted club called the “We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society”.

Herbert wrote more than twenty other novels, including The Green Brain (1966), The Santaroga Barrier (1968), Hellstrom’s Hive (1973), The Dosadi Experiment(1977) and The White Plague (1982).

Science fiction fans everywhere should be eternally grateful that Frank Herbert accompanied his friend Jack Vance to Chapala, and that he then ate those two cookies at the General’s house in Ciudad Guzmán.

Frank Patrick Herbert, Jr., was born on 8 October 1920 in Tacoma, Washington, and died on 11 February 1986 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sources:

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

 

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