Jul 132014
 

Canadian artist Clarence Ainslie Loomis was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1917. Loomis studied at the Northern Vocational School under S. S. Finlay, and at the Ontario College of Art under J. W. Beatty. Loomis graduated with the degree of AOCA (Associate of the Ontario College of Art) and was later (1940) elected a member of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers (CPE), becoming its secretary in 1943.

loomis-sunset-over-lake-chapala-smRelatively little is known about Loomis, whose small oil painting entitled “Sunset, Lake Chapala” (see image) dates from 1991 and depicts a horse and rider by the lake at sunset.

One of Loomis’ works is in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In 1993, the National Art Gallery of Canada received a gift from “C. Ainslie Loomis” of Brantford, Ontario, of an album of photographs entitled The Antiquities of Cambodia, which had been published in 1867. Apparently Loomis bought this work for 75 cents in Britnell’s bookstore in Toronto when she was a university student in 1939. Today, the album is thought to be worth closer to $10,000!

Sombrero Books always welcomes corrections, or any 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.

Jul 072014
 

According to American writer Oakley Hall, the British novelist Christopher Veiel was living at Lake Chapala at the same time he was in 1952.

veiel-hearts-and-heads-coverIt is not known what Veiel was working on, if anything, during his time in Mexico, but his first (and apparently only) novel was published two years later, in 1954, in the U.K. as Intrigue (London: H. Hamilton), and in the U.S. as Hearts and Heads (Boston, U.S.: Little, Brown and Company).

Michael Hargraves says that at the time of its publication Veiel was living in Connecticut, having settled there after some extensive traveling.

Veiel was also the translator (from French) of Francois Clement’s book, The Disobedient Son (Boston: Little, Brown, 1956].

The Kirkus Review of Hearts and Heads, describes it as “A frivolous entertainment” and “saucy and skittish”. The novel “follows the emotional escapades of Edward Wallingford and Constance, his young wife, as their first months of marriage take them to Geneva where Edward does not find with Constance the sexual incentive he has had with other girls… Constance, on the other hand, while appreciative that Edward is “such a rock” finds something softer in Pierre – the brother of the housekeeper of their neighbor Carlos, and now their chauffeur. Constance decides to marry Pierre but postponing the admission to Edward, the three leave for England where Pierre, in a moment of petulant pride, bares the past and turns on Edward – with a poker. Edward almost dies, and both Constance and Pierre are tried but cleared when Edward comes to their defense…”

Jun 302014
 

Anthony Ostroff (1923-1978) was born in Gary, Indiana and educated at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the Sorbonne, and the University of Grenoble. Ostroff wrote a short poem entitled: “Lake Chapala” which was published in 1977 in his A Fall in Mexico (Garden City, New York: Doubleday).

Ostroff traveled widely in Mexico (the date of his visit to Chapala is unclear) but was clearly not impressed by the lake, as evidenced by the last stanza of his poem, which reads:

Farther on
the road descends
to us & ends,
a lake-edge mess
of roots, mud,
tubers. A sludge
moccasin
swims the soup,
his writhing lost
to a straight V.
His arrow head
held lip high,
his nostrils try
the line of cess.

ostroff-anthony-1977In his notes to the poem, in the back of the book, Ostroff writes, “The lake, a part of which extends into Michoacán, lies mainly in Jalisco and is, at a distance, quite beautiful. It was once a popular resort area for wealthy Mexicans. Pollution of the lake, however, proceeded at such a rate that by the time of the poem bearing its name it had become a broth of typhoid and amebic dysentery, and the town of Chapala was all but deserted. The village of Ajijic, also on the shores of the lake, had a small, expatriate American colony.”

Working mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, his poetry and short fiction was published in such magazines as Harper’s, The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, Kenyon Review, and Poetry. Ostroff was also the recipient of a grant from the National Association of Educational Broadcasting to produce a series of broadcasts on American Poetry.

Ostroff, whose literary and academic career included spells teaching at the University of California at Berkley (1949-1969) and at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon (1969-1978), edited The contemporary poet as artist and critic: Eight symposia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964) and also wrote:

  • Imperatives (Harcourt Brace & World, 1962)
  • Islander, selected poems of Anthony Ostroff (Ash Creek Press, 2000)
  • To build a House; the short stories of Anthony Ostroff (Portland, Ash Creek Press, 2003)

Anthony Ostroff was a friend of various poets in the San Francisco region, including Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Josephine Miles and Richard Everhart.

Ostroff died in 1978 from a heart attack suffered after hang-gliding on the coast of Oregon.

The Poetry Collection of the State University of New York at Buffalo houses the Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978, which contains  all of the poet’s published and unpublished poems, plays, short stories and articles in manuscript and published form, with thousands of corrections in the poet’s hand, as well as tape recordings prepared by Ostroff, including the series he directed for the
national Association of Educational Broadcasting.

Source for biography:

 Posted by at 7:38 am  Tagged with:
Jun 262014
 

Described as “painters” by Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet “Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey” (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves), David and Helen Morris may have started out as painters but became far better known as potters. Born in Washington D.C. (his father was a doctor at Walter Reed Army Hospital), David Morris graduated from Georgetown University and was then employed in the city as head of the arts section of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal program, in the 1930s. He met Helen at this time and they married in 1937. The couple spent their honeymoon in Mexico.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

During the second world war, Morris served in the U.S. armed forces in Europe and the Pacific. Following the war, they tried to settle in the Washington D.C. area where Morris studied at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Washington, D.C., but soon soon decided to return to Mexico where they lived for several years, with Morris gaining a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Guadalajara.

The family (son Nicholas was born in about 1949) subsequently settled in Ajijic, where they were active in the artistic colony in the early 1950s. A framed oil on board, entitled “Railroad Station at Lake Chapala”, painted in 1950, was sold at auction in California in 2009. In 1953, the family moved back to the U.S., establishing the La Paz pottery workshop in Sausalito, in the San Francisco Bay area of California. A major fire in 1960 destroyed their first studio, in a former boatyard, and they built a new studio in Larkspur. Morris produced more than 10,000 pieces of functional stoneware and porcelain, some now in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution and other museums. He was particularly adept at utilizing “rich, lush glazes”, based on ancient Chinese techniques.

Jun 182014
 

José López Portillo y Rojas (1850-1923) was born in Guadalajara. He graduated as a lawyer in Guadalajara in 1871, before spending three years traveling in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. On his return, he published his first book: Egypt and Palestine. Notes from a trip (1874).

portillo-y-rojas-jose-lopezHe began an illustrious political career as deputy for Jalisco to the national Congress from 1875-1877. Shortly after that first experience of national politics, he returned to Guadalajara and became a journalist, teacher of law, and member of that city’s literary circle.

The group included other young Jalisco writers such as Antonio Zaragoza and Manuel Álvarez del Castillo, one of whose sons, Jesús, would later start the El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara, which remains one of the city’s most important dailies.

In 1880, López Portillo y Rojas returned to Mexico City as a deputy. In 1882, he became a state senator. In 1886, he joined with Manuel Álvarez del Castillo and Ester Tapia de Castellanos to start a new publication in Guadalajara. La República Literaria, a magazine of science, art and literature quickly became nationally famous, but only lasted until 1890.

In 1891, López Portillo published the first transcription, albeit partial, of Father Antonio Tello’s invaluable 17th century account relating to Lake Chapala. In 1892, he published his only book of verse Transitory harmonies. By 1902, López Portillo was living in Mexico City and had joined the Partido Científico (Scientific Party). After the fall of Díaz, he held various federal government posts before becoming Governor of the State of Jalisco (1912-1914). For a brief period in 1914, he was appointed as Foreign Relations Secretary in the government of Victoriano Huerta, during the time when the U.S. invaded the port of Veracruz.

He left politics shortly afterwards and dedicated himself to teaching and writing. He left a vast body of work, ranging from travel accounts, poems, and literary criticism to historical and legal essays, short stories and novels. His best known collection of short stories is Stories, tales and short stories (1918). His best known novel, The parcel (1898), relates the fight between two hacienda owners for a worthless parcel of land.

At the time of his death in Mexico City on 22 of May, 1923, he was director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua (Mexican Academy of Language). One of López Portillo’s grandsons, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1920-2004), served as President of Mexico between 1976 and 1982. In Guadalajara, the Casa-Museo López Portillo, a museum and exhibition space honoring the family, can be visited at Calle Liceo #177.

A short story about Lake Chapala, entitled “José la garza morena” (“José the Great Blue Heron”) was published in Cosmos (a monthly magazine published in Mexico City) , in June 1912, pp. 401-405. It is a tale about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

The story starts by remembering the times before Lake Chapala’s shores has been altered by civilization:

When I visited the lakeside hamlet of Chapala for the first time, now many years ago, I found everything in an almost primitive state, better than now from some points of view, but worse from others.

The author compares the Chapala of earlier times with the situation during the Porfiriato (when he was active in politics as a supporter of President Díaz):

Not a sign back then of the picturesque villas that today adorn and decorate these shores from the town to the Manglar, which is the house where Don Porfirio Díaz used to stay during the time, happy for him, of his all-embracing command; but everywhere was thick scrub, cheerful orchards with severe rocky places, which were in harmony with that rustic and unspoiled landscape.

The scene is set; the action begins with an evening trip in a rowboat on the lake. The beauty of the lake, as depicted by the author, creates an impression of decadence and morbidity, because there are no signs of life out on the water:

But that scene of glorification seemed dead and desolate, without any bird to make it cheerful; not a stork, nor a crane, nor a duck stained the burnished horizon with its graceful silhouette.

Further on, the author continues:

The lake appeared magnificent and solitary under that divine show, as if it were another asphalt lake, a new Dead Sea. But it was not always thus; and the recollections of better times engraved in my memory transformed this most unhappy spectacle, because before the rising tide of civilization invaded these places with platoons of armed hunters with shining rifles, flocks of ducks would rise suddenly into the air from the marshes as the boat approached.

The second part of the short story is about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

Credit and reference:

My sincere thanks to Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara for bringing this short story (and his analysis of it) to my attention. The extracts above are translations by Tony Burton.

Vogt, Wolfgang (1989) “El lago de Chapala en la literatura” in Estudios sociales: revista cuatrimestral del Instituto de Estudios Sociales. Universidad de Guadalajara: Year 2, Number 5: 1989, 37-47. Republished in 1994 as pp 163-176 of Vogt (1994) La cultura jalisciense desde la colonia hasta la Revolución (Guadalajara: H. Ayuntamiento).

Jun 082014
 

Ramón Martínez Ocaranza was born in Jiquilpan, Michoacán, 15 April, 1915, and died in Morelia 21 September 1982.

He was a poet, essayist, social fighter and teacher, who used to joke that only a wall had stopped him from becoming President of Mexico–this was because Lázaro Cárdenas (President of Mexico 1934-1940) had been born in the house next door!

ocaranza-ramonMartínez christened his native city of Jiquilpan as the “city of jacarandas”, a name that is still widely used today on account of the city’s many blue-flowering jacaranda trees.

He published numerous volumes of poetry, including:

Al pan, pan y al vino, vino, 1943; Ávido Amor, 1944; Preludio de la muerte enemiga, 1946; Muros de soledad, first part 1952, second part 1992; De la vida encantada, 1952; Río de llanto, 1955; Alegoría de México, 1959; Otoño encarcelado, 1968; Elegía de los triángulos, 1974; Elegías en la Muerte de Pablo Neruda, 1977; Patología del Ser, 1981.  Works published after his death include the poetry volumes La Edad del tiempo, 1985; and Vocación de Job, 1992, which formed part of El libro de los días (1997).

He also wrote an autobiography, finally published twenty years after his death in 2002. He studied (and later taught) at Colegio de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (Morelia) and studied at UNAM. His poems contain many pre-Columbian element and he researched and wrote about Tarascan literature.

Sadly, a campaign in 2010-2011 to turn his former house (Río Mayo #367, colonia Ventura Puente, Morelia)  into a small museum and exhibition space has apparently failed, owing to lack of funds.

 Posted by at 6:56 am  Tagged with:
May 302014
 

Garland Franklin Clifton was an American author who lived in the Chapala area in the 1960s. He wrote “Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico” (apparently privately printed in Washington D.C., 1971). While the book is not set at Lakeside, it seems highly probably that parts, or all all of it, were written while Clifton was living there.

“Wooden Leg John” is written as a series of 20 letters dated from Christmas Day 1967 to Christmas Day 1968 from Bullard A. Loney (Bull A. Loney) to his “Uncle Sam”. “The “Bull” has deserted his wife and is living it up in Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexico border. The book includes many verses and lyrics.

Back cover art of Garland Clifton's Wooden Leg John, a satire on Americans living in Mexico.

Back cover art of Garland Clifton’s “Wooden Leg John, a satire on Americans living in Mexico”.

Clifton also wrote “American meccas in Mexico: Guadalajara, Chapala-Ajijic, Manzanillo: a detailed discussion of these three vacation and retirement areas of Mexico” (published in Laredo, Texas, 27 pages, 1966).

Clifton was born 6 December 1922 in Yardelle, Arkansas, USA, and died 29 December 2013 in Gulfport, Mississippi, USA. In the preface to “Wooden Leg John”, Clifton describes himself as a “Scotch-Irish native-born Arkansas Mountaineer and the tenth of 14 children.” He joined the U.S. military in September 1940 and retired from military service in November 1960, having served overseas in New Guinea, the Phillipines, Germany, Japan and Korea, by which time he had risen to be a U.S. Air Force master sergeant.

Not long afterwards, he married a Mexican girl, María. The couple had four children, and lived for some time in Chapala, before moving, in 1967, to Douglas, Arizona. By 1971, he was living in Washington D.C. with wife Maria (then aged 26), Manuel (8), Laura (7), Carmen (5) and Armando (1).

Sources:

  • Dust jacket of “Wooden Leg John”
  • Garland Franklin Clifton“, by Ruby Woods-Robinson, M.S.L.S. (accessed 4 May 2014)
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.

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)

May 162014
 

The earliest known reference to Lake Chapala in a poem must surely be that made by Bernardo de Balbuena (1562-1627) in El Bernardo, written between 1592 and 1602, published in Madrid in 1624. The poem took a decade to write because of its extraordinary length—some 40,000 octavo reales (Royal eighths) in size!

Bernardo de BalbuenaBalbuena was born in Valdepeñas, Spain, in 1562. In 1584, at age 22, he crossed the Atlantic to join his father, who owned properties in New Spain. This was only 63 years after the conquest, but already various cities had been founded and were beginning to prosper.

Balbuena was already a prizewinning poet by the time he was named Chaplain of the Audiencia of Guadalajara in 1592. He later lived for several years in the small isolated village of San Pedro Lagunillas near Compostela, close to Tepic. In 1593, he wrote Grandeza mexicana, a poem which appeared in book form in 1604, and was dedicated to Doña Isabel de Tobar y Guzmán, with whom he was in love.

Balbuena returned to Spain in 1606 and was never to set foot again in New Spain, despite having fallen in love with the country and having become a “Mexican” poet. In 1608, he published Siglo de Oro en las selvas de Erífile, a pastoral novel. In 1626, he became Bishop of Puerto Rico, dying there the following year.

In El Bernardo, the author begins by describing France and Spain. By Book XIII, he is describing Asia. Then (Book XV), he overflies Europe. The descriptions of imagined aerial trips are supposedly the best passages of the entire work, with the highlight being Book XVIII which sees the magician Malgesí flying over America, from Patagonia in the south to the northern edge of New Spain.

Numerous places are mentioned, including the Andes, Brazil and Chiapas, as well as Zacatecas, Guadalajara and the erupting volcano of Jala, before Chapala gets its moment of fame:

Come, between the fresh Pánuco and Gualulco
to Tlaxcala, and the Mexican kingdom,
to Michoacán, Colima and Acapulco
the town closest to the southern sea,
the villages of Quiseo and Tlajomulco,
and in their environs and flower-filled plain
the abundant lagoon of Chapala,
which equals the Ocean in depth and breadth.

Spanish-Mexican philosopher Ramón Xirau describes Balbuena as a “splendid poet who should be remembered and, above all, re-read.” However, reading (or re-reading) 40,000 octavo reales might well be more than most people have time for!

[Extract from "Lake Chapala—as large as an ocean?", chapter 7 of Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers' tales]

 Posted by at 8:07 am  Tagged with:
May 122014
 

These extracts come from Dale Hoyt Palfrey’s review of the latest (4th) edition of “Western Mexico, a Traveler’s Treasury” for The Guadalajara Reporter, 18 April 2014.

9780973519150-Cover-thumbnail“Whether you’re an intrepid on-the-road adventurer or a relaxed armchair traveler, Tony Burton’s “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is an ideal companion… One factor that lends special appeal to this singular travel book is Burton’s departure from the stock formula found in conventional guides. He adheres to a more organic approach, drawing on personal experience and meticulous research to divulge the virtues and peculiarities of every destination.”

“Another major strength is the author’s attention to historical details that enrich the individual profile of each place. In some cases he scratched up intriguing facts by chatting with the local people, in others he tapped on tireless study of a vast array of previously published works. The bibliography lists writings going back as far as 1899, as well as “Lake Chapala through the Ages,” Burton’s own compilation of excerpts from works by other travel writers covering the era of 1530-1910.”

“Above all, the British-born geographer is a bold adventurer who delights in departing from the main travel routes to explore back roads and discover unexpected corners that other travelers and writers often see as nothing more than dots on the map. He has a knack for digging up the idiosyncrasies of each destination he visits, be it local legends and folklore, off-beat museums, geological characteristics, mining deposits of minerals, stones and precious metals, or an outstanding restaurant, inn or spa worthy of mention.”

“First published in 1993, the revised and expanded fourth edition of “Western Mexico”… opens with what qualifies as the most comprehensive guide to the Lake Chapala region available in English. “The next segment explores the agricultural valley and the Sierra highlands stretching west from Guadalajara. Part three covers Tapalpa, Mazamitla and other high altitude spots, plus the city of Colima. From there the text follows a route northeast of Guadalajara into the region of Los Altos and beyond Jalisco’s borders to León, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes, continuing into Zacatecas and the far-flung northern “hand” of Jalisco.”

“Material in parts six and seven spans the Pacific coast from San Blas, Nayarit to Cuyutlán, Colima. The final chapters thoroughly survey the state of Michoacán.”

“The development of Puerto Vallarta and the birth of the Paricutín volcano stand out among the book’s fascinating historical accounts. Expositions on Jalisco’s Manantlán Biosphere Reserve and the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries of Michoacán are obligatory reading to grasp the value of Mexico’s extraordinary natural treasures.”

“Burton’s clear writing style and bonus sidebar boxes added to each chapter make for easy, breezy reading. A series of area maps drawn by the author and Mark Eager’s attractive pen and ink illustrations of different locales complement the text. The cover art work is a reproduction of a watercolor scene of Ajijic by the late Georg Rauch.”

Both paperback and Kindle editions of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” may be purchased from amazon.com. Ajijic outlets that keep the printed book in stock are Diane Pearl Colecciones, Opus Boutique and La Nueva Posada. Guadalajara residents may place orders through Sandi Bookstore.

[This review, by Dale Hoyt Palfrey, first appeared in The Guadalajara Reporter, 18 April 2014]