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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