Oct 302017
 

Pedro Castellanos Lambley is one of several distinguished Mexican architects who designed and built the fine old homes in Chapala that now give the town its architecturally-eclectic appeal.

Castellanos was the architect of Villa Ferrara, at Hidalgo 240, in Chapala. This elegant dwelling was photographed in the mid-1930s by American photographer-architect Esther Baum Born during her travels across Mexico documenting the rise of Mexican modernist architecture.

Castellanos was born in Guadalajara on 15 January 1902 into a high society family that excelled in literature and politics. His grandmother was the poet Esther Tapia de Castellanos. His father was Luis Castellanos Tapia who was governor of the state of Jalisco, 1919-1920, and his mother was Carolina Lambley Magaña.

The young Castellanos completed his basic education in the U.K. and at a military school in the U.S. before returning to Guadalajara to enter the city’s Escuela Libre de Ingenieros, then run by Ambrosio Ulloa. Fellow students in the engineering school included several other noteworthy Guadalajara architects including the internationally renowned Luis Barragán Morfín.

By the time Castellanos graduated in 1924, Barragán was working on projects with his brother, Juan José Barragán, who was a prominent builder. When Luis Barragán left the partnership to start his own architectural practice, Castellanos succeeded him as Juan José Barragán’s lead designer.

Several years later, in about 1931, Castellanos and fellow architect Luis Martinez Negrete started their own practice – Castellanos and Negrete – which quickly gained a enviable reputation for appealing and successful designs representative of early Modernism.

Villa Ferrara, Chapala. ca 1950. Architect: Pedro Castellanos Lambley. Postcard: González.

Villa Ferrara, Chapala. ca 1950. Architect: Pedro Castellanos Lambley. Postcard: J. González.

Among Castellanos’ most famous designs from this time are Villa Ferrara in Chapala and several stately family homes in Guadalajara, as well as the city’s old San Juan de Dios market (which was replaced in the 1950s).

Between 1935 and 1940, Castellanos partnered with Juan Palomar y Arias to propose an ambitious plan they referred to as “El Plan Loco” (“The Mad Plan”) for a utopian, visionary and futuristic Guadalajara. It called for the creation of a 120-meter-wide ring of circulation around the city. Districts would be divided by broad boulevards and linear parks and walkways would link to a massive green space in the center to produce a genuinely ecological city. On the city’s northern edge, they proposed the creation of a Parque de la Barranca.

Castellanos had become one of Guadalajara’s most successful and highly respected architects when he switched tracks in 1938 and entered the Franciscan order in Aguascalientes, after which he focused exclusively on designing ecclesiastical buildings. Castellanos was on the diocesan Art Commission from 1940 and designed the chapel at Ciudad Granja, the Templo de Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Rosario in Guadalajara and several other temples in small towns. He also designed the tower and entrance to the church of San Miguel Arcángel in La Manzanilla de la Paz south of Lake Chapala.

Pedro Castellanos Lambley died in his native Guadalajara on 25 September 1961.

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.

Oct 162017
 

Architect George Heneghan lived in Ajijic with his wife, Molly, and their two young sons – Eric and Adam – from 1971 to 1975.

George Edward Heneghan Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 30 April 1934 and died on 6 August 1999. He graduated from St. Louis University High School, studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and received his B. Arch from Washington University in St. Louis in 1962. Heneghan was an active member of several athletics and sports-related clubs.

In the 1960s he worked alongside his childhood friend (and later partner) Daniel Gale in Fritz Benedict’s practice. Benedict had been a gardener at Frank Lloyd Wright’s estates – Taliesin Easdt and Taliesen West – prior to training as an architect. The two young men were considered “Benedict’s protégés”. Heneghen was greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright (as was another long-time Lake Chapala resident, Russell Seely Bayly). As a result, Heneghan’s architectural style is best described (to borrow a phrase from his son, Eric) as Wrightian/Organic.

When George Heneghan married Molly Duane at St. Mary’s Church in Aspen, Colorado, on 12 June 1965, Dan Gale was his best man. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Mexico and then returned to live in Aspen.

In 1966 Heneghan and Gale joined forces in an architectural partnership, which lasted until 1969. During that time they designed many of the larger buildings in Aspen, including the Hannah Dustin commercial building (300 S. Spring), the Aspen Interfaith Chapel of the Prince of Peace on Meadowood Drive, and the Cottonwoods Condominium. They also designed homes for the Guggenheim, Horowitz and many other families. The partnership ended when Gale left Aspen for California in 1969.

George Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

George Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

The Heneghans first visited Ajijic in 1970 to spend Christmas with Molly’s parents who usually spent the winter there. They liked what they saw and rented a house in Rancho del Oro for several months. George commuted back and forth to Aspen until mid-1971 when, with the assistance of Gerda and Jim Kelly, they bought property on Calle Zaragoza to remodel as their family home. (In May of 1971, according to the Guadalajara Reporter, George Heneghan is planning to build his retirement home in Ajijic.) According to local legend, because the architect was not a very tall man, the home, now known as Casa Flores, was designed with relatively low ceiling heights.

Danza del Sol hotel, Ajijic. Credit: TripAdvisor.

Danza del Sol hotel, Ajijic. Credit: TripAdvisor.

The architecture of the family home was admired to such an extent that the architect retained by the wealthy and influential Leaño family to build the Danza del Sol hotel in Ajijic asked George Henghan to collaborate on the design. The hotel, about ten blocks west of the village plaza, has remained a landmark ever since. The international promotion of the new hotel, shortly after it was completed, featured photographs taken by village photographer Beverly Johnson. Local sales for Danza del Sol were handled by realtor Mary Bishop, wife of Dick Bishop.

[Dick Bishop was one of Ajijic’s more colorful characters in the 1960s and 1970s, forever associated with riding his large Arabian horse through the village. Loy Strother, as a child, was the jockey on Bishop’s horse in a race along the dirt road between San Antonio Tlayacapan and Ajijic. He recalls that Bishop “bought a saddle for that horse that had a bar in it. Yep, the pommel of that saddle was raised on a square structure (covered in carved leather as part of the saddle) that opened and held glasses, small bottles of booze and even a little ice bucket… and a tiny martini shaker.” Those were the days!]

While living in Ajijic, Molly Heneghan put her graphical design talents to work. She drew and published the first edition of “Sunny Ajijic”, an informative poster-map of Ajijic, in about 1973.

The couple was active in local theater and in November 1973 acted together in a show at the Little Lakeside Theater.

The family took some exciting vacations during their time in Mexico. For example, in 1973, the local press reported that Molly Heneghan had left for Disneyland with both sons, and that George would soon join them for “a chartered sail in the Atlantic.”

The Heneghans did not occupy their “retirement” home on Calle Zaragoza in Ajijic for very long. By 1975, their former home, described for a House and Garden Tour as “an architect’s fantasy dream home” had become a  vacation home jointly owned by Dr. Bob Peyton, chief surgeon of Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, Dr. Harry Huffaker, “the swimming dentist” who made many spectacular long distance swims, and Tom Held, founder of Aloha Hawaii Travel.

When they returned north in 1975, the Heneghans spent a few months in New Mexico before relocating to Hawaii, where Heneghan established an award-winning architectural practice. He specialized in designing private residences, but his commercial work included building his own offices, designed to obviate the need for air conditioning, relying instead purely on air movements resulting from the natural diurnal breezes.

Heneghan was not only an architect on Hawaii but “an accomplished athlete, teacher and coach” who coached cross-country and track at Parker School from 1992-1998. After he died in Hawaii in 1999, a fun run was established in his memory in Kamuela, Hawaii.

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Molly Leland for sharing memories of her time with her family in Mexico. I am also grateful to Tamara Janúz for permission to reproduce the photograph taken by her mother, Beverly Johnson.

Sources:

  • AspenModern website. George Edward Heneghan, Jr. (1934-1999).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 May 1971; 22 Sep 1973; 29 Nov 1975.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri): 13 June 1965, page 113.
  • Monica Geran. 1986. “In Hawaii: the design offices for and by George Heneghan Architects in Kailu-Kona”, in Interior Design, 1 August 1986.

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 092017
 

The American photographer-architect Esther Baum Born is known to have visited Chapala in the mid-1930s in order to photograph the modernist architecture of Villa Ferrara.

Esther Baum was born in Palo Alto, California, in 1902. She attended the Oakland Technical High School before entering the University of California, Berkeley, in 1920 to study architecture under John Galen Howard. After graduating in 1924, she began graduate studies, spent a year in Europe studying languages and art history, and then (in 1926) married fellow architect Ernest Born. The couple visited Europe before settling in New York City.

Portrait of Esther Born

Portrait of Esther Born

During the Great Depression, Esther Born studied photography. She took an intensive course in architectural photography with photographer Ben Rabinovitch in 1933 and later showed her work in a group exhibition and solo shows at the Rabinovitch Gallery.

While living in New York, Born and her husband had become friends of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. This friendship piqued their curiosity about Mexican art and architecture and Esther Born traveled to Mexico for about ten months in 1935-1936, primarily in order to compile a portfolio of photographs related to Mexico’s modernist architecture. Rivera and Kahlo accompanied her on many of her visits to see the latest examples of buildings designed by Mexico’s cutting-edge architects: Juan O’Gorman, Luis Barragán Morfín, José Villagrán García and others.

Photo by Esther Born.

The Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Huipulco, Mexico City. Architect: José Villagrán García. Photograph ca 1935 by Esther Born.

Born’s archives related to this trip now reside in the Center for Creative Photography at The University of Arizona. They include a photograph entitled “Castellanos and Negreste–House at Lake Chapala”. This picture shows the Villa Ferrara at Hidalgo 240 in Chapala. The villa’s architect was Pedro Castellanos Lambley (1901-1961), whose career and links to Lake Chapala we will consider in a future post. Castellanos formed an architectural partnership in the early 1930s with Luis Martinez Negrete. Born’s portfolio of Mexican photographs includes several of Luis Martinez Negrete and Francisco Martinez Negrete and the ‘Negreste’ in the title of the Chapala photo in her archives is clearly a typo for Negrete.

Following the trip, and now living in San Francisco, Born (with help from her husband and the Mexican art critic Justino Fernández) wrote The New Architecture in Mexico. This was initially published in Architectural Record in April 1937 but subsequently expanded and turned into a book of the same name. This book is now a highly-prized collectible volume about Mexico’s modernist art and architecture. It helped draw global attention to developments in Mexican design and architecture.

Diego Rivera's studio. Architect: Juan O'Gorman. Photo by Esther Born.

Diego Rivera’s studio, ca 1935. Architect: Juan O’Gorman. Photo by Esther Born.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Born documented the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940), which was held on Treasure Island near San Francisco, and photographed homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other famous architects.

Note that other artists associated with both the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940) and Lake Chapala include Orville Goldner (of “King Kong” fame); John Langley Howard; painter and muralist Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988); abstract painter Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008); painter and muralist Ann Sonia Medalie (1896-1991); etcher Max Pollak (1886-1970); and print maker Charles Frederick Surendorf (1906-1979).

During the second world war, Esther Born worked for the San Francisco Housing Authority on the acquisition of properties for housing war industry workers. She continued to have photographs published in several architectural journals throughout her career.

In 1945, immediately after the war, Ernest Born founded his own architecture practice in San Francisco. Esther helped run this firm for almost thirty years until her health began to deteriorate in 1971. Among the firm’s major projects were a plan for Fisherman’s Wharf, housing in North Beach, signage for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and the couple’s own oceanfront house at 2020 Great Highway.

In the mid-1980s, they moved to San Diego to live closer to their daughter. Esther Baum Born died in that city in 1987.

Sources:

  • Esther Born and Justino Fernandez. 1937. “The New Architecture in Mexico,” in Architectural Record, April 1937, V. 81, pp. 1–86.
  • Esther Born and Justino Fernandez. 1937. The New Architecture in Mexico. New York: W. Morrow and Co.
  • Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson. Finding aid for the Esther Born collection, 1935-1937.
  • Nicholas Olsberg. 2015. Architects and artists: the work of Ernest and Esther Born. San Francisco: Book Club of California.
  • Kathryn E. O’Rourke. 2012. “Guardians of Their Own Health: Tuberculosis, Rationalism, and Reform in Modern Mexico”, in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 71 No. 1, March 2012; (pp. 60-77)

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 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.

Jul 242017
 

Architect Jean Taylor Strange moved to Chapala with her husband William Strange in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) and resided there for more than forty years.

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Besides the fact that she worked with her husband on researching his radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Jean Strange has a significant additional claim to fame since she was one of the first women in Canada to graduate with a degree in architecture.

A short profile of Jean Strange, who graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1948, is included in Joan Grierson’s For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. The profile includes some photographs of her work and quotes Jean Strange as saying that, “My architectural training has enriched my life immeasurably. I cannot claim that any of these years had been dull.”

Jean was educated in the U.K. and Switzerland and then enrolled in the architectural course at Brighton Art School and Technical College in 1937. Two years later, part way through her studies there, she visited Canada on what was meant to be a six week trip as a student member of the Overseas Education League. The second world war broke out while she was in Canada, preventing her from returning home. She enrolled at the University of Toronto and was placed in the second year of the program of the class of 1943.

In 1943, she had completed all formal studies but still lacked the one year of experience required to be awarded her degree.

Since the war was still ongoing, she joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, working in operations and base planning. This included a spell as assistant to Captain William Strange in the Directorate of Naval Information.

Discharged from the Naval Service after the war, she worked for the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in Ontario under architect Sam Gitterman, gaining the year’s experience required to complete her B. Arch degree in 1948. The following year she transferred within the CMHC to the publications section under Humphrey Carter.

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Carver, in his memoir, Compassionate Landscape, writes that “I was also very lucky that through this whole period Jean Strange worked for me, with her meticulous sweet patience for the small-scale problems of housing design and the page-by-page layout of the publications that issued from our office. I had first known Jean as an English school-girl and wartime-evacuee who came to the Toronto School of Architecture in 1939. Later, she joined the Navy, married Captain William Strange, historian and broadcaster, and now they live in Mexico.”

Jean Taylor married Captain William Strange in 1950. She continued to work for the CMHC until 1959 when her husband was working in Jamaica, training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. In Jamaica Jean was a volunteer researcher and her husband’s assistant.

In 1962, the Stranges took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas.

Jean Strange assisted her husband with the research and writing of further documentaries about Mexico for the CBC, including a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico, entitled “The Bold Ones” and one about Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota.

Jean Strange continued to live in Chapala after the death of her husband in 1983.

Sources:

  • Humphrey Carver. 1975. Compassionate Landscape. University of Toronto Press.
  • Joan Grierson. 2008. For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. Toronto: Dundurn.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6.
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.

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

Jan 262017
 

Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen were an artistic couple who had a long connection to Mexico. The certainly visited Mexico prior to 1938, and first visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala in 1950. They became regular visitors to Lake Chapala from then until the 1970s. The work of both artists was included in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

The couple grew up in the small city of Benton Harbor in Michigan, which has a street named after Eugene Nowlen’s paternal grandfather, A. R. Nowlen.

Eugene Pratt Nowlen (aka Gene Nowlen) was born on 4 November 1899 and became an architect, completing his education at the school of architecture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lillian Marjorie Poundstone, who usually went by her middle name, was born on 31 March 1901. An accomplished pianist, she studied at the University of Michigan (class of 1924) and became a music and dance teacher. While still in high school she won second place in a state local history competition. Her essay, along with other winning essays, was published in 1917 in “Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17”.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie’s musical accomplishments also started at an early age. She receives Regular mentions in the local press as a pianist. In November 1925, for instance, a short piece in Central Normal Life said that she played the “Blue Danube” waltz by Strauss and “To a Toy Soldier” by Clarence Warner with “great technical skill and fine interpretative ability.” It is clear from these and other references that both Marjorie and Eugene were in the social elite of Benton Harbor.

On 11 February 1928 they were united in marriage, a marriage that was to last until Gene’s death in 1977.

In their first years of marriage, Eugene Nolen practiced as an architect in his native city (remodeling the building occupied by the Peoples Savings Association and designing new homes), while Marjorie gave piano and dance lessons at their home at #758, Pearl Street.

The couple had two children: Barbara Jean (possibly Barbara Gene) and Richard, usually referred to in press reports as “Dick”. The children performed Mexican dances at local shows, and in more than one report, it was stated that “their parents have visited [Mexico] and bought authentic costumes”. At age 7, another report describes “Barbara Gene Nowlen taking several bows after her dance in a gorgeous costume brought back from Mexico by her parents”. The family’s love for Mexico was evident. For instance, following another concert, Marjorie Nowlen was going to show “Mexican motion pictures”.

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown.

A lengthy newspaper piece in 1942 reports that “Mrs Marjorie Nowlen” was working as a Red Cross nurse in Berrien County and had organized dozens of home nursing classes.

In 1943 the family left Benton Harbor and relocated to California, to Pasadena and Laguna Beach, where Eugene worked in real estate. The circumstances that led them to visit Ajijic in 1950 are unclear but, by the early 1950s, Eugene had retired in order to paint full-time. The couple promptly set off on an 18-month-long trip around the world, allowing plenty of painting time along the way.

On their return, Eugene Nowlen’s watercolors were shown at the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, in an exhibit, held in 1955, which also featured oils by Carl Schmidt of San Bernardino. The press report for this event says that Nowlen had won an award at the annual Madonna festival in Los Angeles for a watercolor entitled “Mexican Mother.” According to the Laguna Beach Art Association, Nowlen had several solo exhibits during his artistic career.

As an artist, Gene Nowlen developed his techniques by studying with several well-known artists, including Sueo Serisawa, Paul Darrow, Hans Burkhardt, and Leonard Edmondson.

In 1960, Nowlen’s “Market Day” was exhibited at a showing at a private home in Los Angeles, alongside works by many other artists, including one who also had close ties to Lake Chapala. One of the other paintings in the show as Priscilla Frazer’s “Mosaic Gate”. Frazer had a home in Chapala Haciendas for many years and her work will be subject of a future post.

The Nowlens were active in the Laguna Beach Art Association through the 1960s. For instance, in 1968, they co-organized a December art bazaar. According to a Los Angeles Times article in 1970, during Marjorie Nowlen’s chairmanship of the Exhibitions Committee at the Laguna Art Museum, she brought in experienced judges and the membership more than doubled from 300 to 640. The article describes her as “a soft spoken leader” and says that this “gracious, girlish grandmother with a gentle sense of humor” is “a doer.”

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972.

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie Nowlen exhibited at the Many Media Mini Show, Redlands Art Association, in 1970.

A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) included works by both Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen. (Other artists represented in this small volume include Luis Avalos, Antonio Cárdenas, Marian Carpenter, Jerry K. Carr, Tom Faloon, Priscilla Frazer, John Frost, Arthur L. Ganung, Virginia Ganung, Lona Isoard, Antonio López Vega, Luz Luna, Robert Neathery, José Olmedo, Hudson M. Rose, Mary Rose, Eleanor Smart and Jack Williams.)

Marjorie Nowlen also showed a work which received an honorable mention, in La Mirada’s Fiesta de Artes in Long Beach, California, in May 1974.

Gene Nowlen died on 27 September 1977 at the age of 77; Marjorie Nowlen passed away on 1 April 1998, at the age of 97.

Note:

While the 1940 US Census suggests that the Nowlens’ son, Richard, was born in about 1932, elsewhere it seems that he was actually born in 1929 and is the same Richard Nowlen who was murdered along with a female friend in the Mojave Desert, California in 1959, while on the run from Chino men’s prison.

Sources:

  • Central Normal Life, 25 November 1925, p1.
  • A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Jan 1964, 7.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California: 29 May 1955, p 51; 10 April 1960, p 57; 1 December 1968, p 149; 12 May 1974, p60.
  • Independent, Long Beach, California, 11 September 1959, p5.
  • Lael Morgan. 1970. “Art Exhibition Chairman Brings Changes to Laguna”, in Los Angeles Times (16 October 1970), E2.
  • Mirror News, Los Angeles, Monday, September 14, 1959 page 12.
  • The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan: 2 August 1917 p 2; 21 December 1923, p17; 28 July 1925, p4; 1 January 1938, p41; 22 June 1938, p 3; 11 May 1939, p3; 13 May 1939, p3; 23 June 1939, p 4; 16 March 1940, p4; 30 April 1940, p4; 31 December 1941, p120; 3 December 1952, Page 4; 23 May 1953, p 4.
  • The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, 22 September 1959, p2.
  • Michigan Ensign, Volume 25, UM Libraries, 1921.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. 2015. Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972. (Dustin Publications: Publications in California Art No. 11).
  • Cornelia M Richardson; Marjorie Poundstone; Edward Morris Brigham, jr.; Russell Holmes; Michigan Historical Commission.. 2017. Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17. (Lansing, Mich.: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co.).
  • San Bernardino County Sun, October 4, 1970, page 36.
  • The Tustin News, Tustin, California, 14 November 1963, p14.

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.

Jul 302015
 

John Macarthur (“Jack”) Bateman was a painter, author and architect who was born on 9 October 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on 15 March 1999. Bateman moved to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and three young children in 1952; the couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene.

The Batemans were living in New York City prior to moving to Mexico. They responded to an advert in The New York Times which offered a home in Ajijic, together with five servants and a boat, for the princely sum of 150 dollars a month.

Jack Bateman studied architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), prior to be called up for military service in January 1942. He served in the U.S. Navy from 21 January 1942 to 22 September 1945 at various Naval Air Stations, including a spell in North Africa flying submarine-hunting dirigibles. After the war, he completed his studies and then set up an industrial design studio in New York to produce, among other things, molded architectural elements made of plaster.

According to a blog post by Jack’s son-in-law Tom Vanderzyl, this led to Bateman having an unexpectedly significant impact on the work of the great German-born abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann who was living on the floor below:

…the painter/architect John MacArthur Bateman had a studio just above Hans Hoffmann (sic). In his studio, John poured large heavy 55-gallon drums of plaster into molds for architectural elements. It seems one day a plaster mold broke and sent 55 gallons of plaster pouring across his wooden plank floor that was also the ceiling of the studio under him, and the plaster dripped through the ceiling of the studio below. At the time, Hans had all of his paintings out looking them over for his upcoming show. Hans shouted upstairs in German for it to stop and that he needed help covering his work from the dripping plaster. Bateman along with his klutz brother-in-law, who had dropped the mold in the first place, came down to help. They used blankets and canvas in an attempt to cover the paintings, but it was too late. The plaster was setting up and the damage was done. Bateman put the best spin on it by telling Hans that his paintings needed that texture made by the pressed fabric and wet plaster and that the new tactile surface was in many ways more interesting. Now, he only needed to paint over the white plaster to get a far more interesting surface. Hans Hoffmann’s show was a success, and he would pop up to borrow plaster from time to time and talk with Bateman about materials.

bateman-book-coverFor the first few years in Mexico, Jack Bateman commuted back and forth to New York, spending about one week a month in the U.S. At home in Mexico, he spent time on his art and began to write. He authored five books including Loch Ness Conspiracy (New York: R. Speller & Sons, 1987), as well as a play, Caldo Michi, first performed in Ajijic in early 1999.

When the Lakeside Little Theater needed a new home in the mid-1980s, Bateman was a strong supporter of a plan to build a purpose-built facility on land donated by Ricardo O’Rourke, and acted as architect. The theater opened in 1987 and became the permanent home of Mexico’s most active English-language theater.

At various times sailor, artist, pilot, architect, writer and marketing consultant, whatever he turned his mind to, Jack Bateman made many unique contributions to the world.

For her part, Laura Bateman was a patron of the local arts scene in Ajijic, opening the village’s first purpose-built gallery, Rincón del Arte, at Hidalgo #41, Ajijic in about 1962. (For a couple of years prior to that, she had arranged shows in her own home). Rincón del Arte, which ran for many years, had monthly shows, featuring dozens and dozens of artists.For example, Whitford Carter exhibited at Rincón del Arte in both February 1967 and August 1968, while Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf held a joint exhibit there in December 1967 .

Jack and Laura Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice M. Bateman, studied in Guadalajara, London (U.K.), New York and Italy before becoming a successful professional artist-sculptor based in Forth Worth, Texas.

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.

Mar 192015
 

Jaime López Bermudez (Mexico City 1916-) is a Mexican artist and architect who lived and worked for at least several months in Ajijic in the mid-1940s. His stay there is briefly described in an article published in 1945 by American author Neill James, who had moved to Ajijic a couple of years earlier. Jaime López Bermudez, “a surrealist from the Capital, occupied a huertita overlooking the lake and worked for several months with his charming wife, Virginia, and a Mexican cat for company.” It seems more likely that Virginia was a girlfriend, since López Bermudez’s status is listed as “single” on the certificate of his marriage to American-born Josephine Blanche Cohen Soholski in Mexico City in December 1949.

Portrait of Jaime Lopez Bermudez, ca 1951, by Elizabeth Timberman.

Portrait of Jaime Lopez Bermudez, ca 1951, by Elizabeth Timberman.

López Bermudez exhibited some of his painting in a group show in 1944 at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala, alongside paintings by Betty Binkley, Ernesto Butterlin (“Lin”), Otto Butterlin, Ann Medalie, Sylvia Fein and others.

In the early 1950s, López Bermudez gained reputation as an architect. He was considered one of Mexico’s more important “modernist” architects, and featured in a special August 1951 issue of Arts and Architecture devoted to Mexican architecture. That issue includes photos of a one-bedroom home designed and built by López Bermudez (for himself) in the Santa Fe district close to Mexico City. The design is a modernist, steel-framed one bedroom house, with garage underneath, which could be completed for under 1500 dollars. According to the accompanying text, “Jaime López Bermudez is a painter as well architect, this duel role being a commonplace among young and old of his profession in Mexico. The  mural on the front of the house is his.”

Though the precise dates are unclear, López Bermudez opened and ran an art gallery, Galeria Coyote Flaco, in upscale Coyoacán, in the southern part of Mexico City, for several years. In the early 1960s, López Bermudez was the first to recognize the artistic talent of British-American photographer Jon Naar. He persuaded Naar to exhibit his photographs of Mexico City street scenes in the Galeria Coyote Flaco in 1963. The exhibit, entitled “El Ojo de un extrañjero” (“The eye of an outsider”) launched Naar onto a hugely successful career as an artist-photographer.

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

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