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.
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.
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