Jun 062016
 

Witold, later Vitold, de Szyszlo (1881-1965), was born in Warsaw but lived part of his early life in Paris, where he studied natural sciences and became a member of the Paris Society of Geography.

His first visit to the U.S. is recorded as taking place in 1904. The passenger list says he was 23 years old, single, of “Polish-Russian” nationality, and a book-writer. He lived in Mexico for almost twelve months, from 1909 to 1910, making astute observations on the eve of the Mexican Revolution.

szyszlo-a-travers-le-mexique-1909-1910-vitold-de-szyszloShortly after the Revolution began, he moved to Peru. By 1925, he was married to Rosa Valdelomar; had a young son, Fernando; and was functioning as the Polish Consul in Lima. Rosa came from a distinguished Peruvian family. Her brother Abraham Valdelomar (1888-1919) was, briefly, a Peruvian diplomat in Italy, besides being one of his country’s most famous authors, crafting everything from short stories and novels to poetry, essays and theater plays.

De Szyszlo’s son, Fernando, clearly inherited some of the family’s artistic genius since he has become one of Peru’s best known modern artists. In an interview in 2005, Fernando attributed his success to the inspiration of Picasso and Mexico’s Rufino Tamayo. He recalled that his father considered painters to be drunks and impoverished, and had been disillusioned when he had abandoned formal studies of architecture to dedicate himself to painting. Fernando’s recognition by the art world came too late to be appreciated by his father, who died in Lima in 1965. (Some sources suggest 1963.)

Besides Dix mille kilomètres a travers le Mexique, 1909-1910, Vitold de Szyszlo also wrote La Naturaleza en América Ecuatorial (1955), a book based on forty years of research and exploration in the Amazon rainforest. He was a remarkable man, described in promotional material as a “geographer, biologist, zoologist and pioneer.”

Dix mille kilomètres a travers le Mexique, 1909-1910 contains excellent descriptions of some parts of Mexico, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca and Baja California, which were decidedly lesser-known at the time Vitold de Szyszlo was writing.

Despite including some poetic descriptions of Lake Chapala and towns like Ocotlán, de Szyszlo was somewhat disappointed with the reality of the lake, since he felt that the available maps had made the surrounding scenery seem much more Alpine. Vitold de Szyszlo reported on the progress of the major drainage scheme at the eastern end of Lake Chapala, and had first-hand experience of the party scene at Lake Chapala during Holy Week:

Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Diaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

After commenting on the various attractions of Chapala, including its hot springs and the opportunities that Lake Chapala offered for bird-hunting, he describes his return visit in 1909 to Chapala for Holy Week, only a few months before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution:

I returned to Chapala in April to attend the Holy Week festivities. While all the other Mexican towns are absorbed by Lent, a large number of visitors flock to Chapala for that period. Under the auspices of President Diaz, then in power, regattas were organized in small canoes reserved for the young ladies of the best society.

The president, in a navy blue suit and wearing a panama hat, was accompanied by his wife, dressed all in black, and his daughter Luz, in an elegant outfit. Among the other representatives of the smart set, come to Chapala for the occasion, were: the eminent finance minister Mr. Yves Limantour, to whom the country owes the consolidation of its foreign credit; Mr. Braniff, a railroad king, of working class origins, and Sr. Moreno, whose revenue reached a fabulous figure. It is said, not without malice, that just the wool from his sheep’s tails could be worth one million piastres. Also present were Mr. Landa, governor of the state of Mexico, Mr. Ahumada, governor of the state of Jalisco, Mr. Escaudon, governor of the state of Morelos, Messrs. Corcuera, Cuesta, Cosio, Hermosillo, Malo, Del Valle, etc.

Mexican millionaires make up the so called national aristocracy, but their doors are little accessible to strangers or even to their less fortunate compatriots. It is a very vain and proud circle where no one will speak to you without inquiring about your personal situation. The ladies, who make generous use of makeup, are rarely beautiful. Their annual budget for jewellery, toiletries, trinkets and trips to Europe amounts to hundreds of thousands of piastres. Some families own private hotels on the Champs Elysées, villas in Switzerland, on the Côte d’Azur, and at popular beaches and the fancy resorts of the good life.”

Source:

This post is based on chapter 55 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

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May 302016
 

Tom Carmichael was a U.S. Army veteran who lived and wrote in Ajijic for six years in the late 1960s. When he first arrived at Lake Chapala, Carmichael, accompanied by his wife Marcelle and their 10-year-old son, stayed in the Posada Ajijic. The family later made its home on Calle Guadalupe Victoria.

Thomas Carmichael. Credit: Life magazine, 1953

Thomas Carmichael. Credit: Life magazine, 1953

During his time in Ajijic, Carmichael wrote The Ninety Days (Bernard Geis, 1971) which detailed how five battles in a three-month period turned the tide of the second world war. The book was highly acclaimed by historians, became deservedly popular, and remains in print today.

Thomas Nicholas Carmichael was born in about 1920 and grew up in a family where military service was a given. His father had been an officer in the Canadian Grenadier Guards in the first world war and then served in the U.S. Air Corps, reaching the rank of colonel, during the second world war.

Tom Carmichael graduated from Princeton University in 1942, and immediately entered the U.S. Army. He served in North Africa and then Italy. While rescuing a colleague at Anzio, he took machine gun fire in his leg but was unable to be evacuated for another three days. He lost his leg but gained a wife – it was during his rehabilitation in an Atlanta hospital that he first met Marcelle Tessendorf, a hospital nurse.

carmichael-tom-ninety-days-book-coverIn 1946, after retiring from the Army, Carmichael started work for Life Magazine. He remained 22 years at Life, becoming its military affairs editor during the Korean War and one of the magazine’s senior administrators.

Among the pieces he wrote for Life is a feature article in its 11 June 1965 edition commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The introduction says that,  “Tom had 4,500 toy soldiers by the time he was 10, got tangled up in his father’s Napoleon books when he was 12, and that was that… His knowledge of the art and science of war is extensive. He gave us a fine report on Assyrian tactics for our special Bible issue, and he is the co-inventor of a strategic war game in our Civil War series in 1961 (if North plays it wrong, General Lee wins)…”

In Ajijic, Carmichael not only wrote but also pursued his passion for soccer. He loved to watch the local Ajijic “Union” soccer team, and even went so far as to pen a heartfelt tribute to them in the Guadalajara Reporter in October 1967 for their “Cinderella” success. After playing mostly local teams and thrashing them, Union had stepped up into a higher and much more competitive league, and were playing, and often beating, teams from much larger cities, including Zapotlanejo, Cd. Guzmán and Guadalajara.

At the time of his death, from a heart attack at his home in Ajijic on 24 October 1972, Carmichael was writing a definitive biography of Napoleon. His obituary in the Princeton Alumni Weekly described him as a “distinguished scholar, author, wit, soldier, intellect, [and] trenchant observer of the human scene.”

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May 262016
 

Catalan artist and writer Avel-lí Artís-Gener, who often signed his art simply “Tisner”, left Spain for exile in Mexico following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He lived in Mexico for 25 years, and visited and painted Lake Chapala in the early 1940s.

Tisner was born in Barcelona, Spain, on 28 May 1912 and died in that city on 7 May 2000.

Tisner. 1953.

Tisner. Untitled. 1953.

Artís-Gener exhibited numerous times in Mexico City. His work was included in a group show for the 4th National Floriculture Exhibition in May 1945, and a painting entitled “Chapala” featured in his third solo exhibit in Mexico City in the first half of September 1946, in the vestibule of the Cine Mageriti.

Artís-Gener has another interesting link to Chapala. One of his students for watercolor classes was Conrado Contreras, who has since produced, among other works of art, numerous fine watercolors of the Lake Chapala area. Contreras and his wife (poet, writer and educator Zaida Cristina Reynoso) moved to Chapala with their two young children in 1975, and have lived here ever since.

As a young man in Spain, Tisner had articles and cartoons published in a variety of media, including El Be Negre, Mercantil, l’Opinió, La Rambla, Esport i ciutadania and La Publicitat.

At the start of the Spanish Civil War, Tisner received death threats and fled to Paris. Soon after, he joined the Republican Army and returned to fight. During the war, Tisner edited Meridià, Amic and Vèncer, magazines written for the combatants.

During his time in Mexico (from 1940), Tisner worked as a journalist, cartoonist and scenery designer for Mexico City’s Channel 4, as well as working in publicity and as an editor. He retained close links with other exiles from the Catalan community. His cartoons appeared in Full Català, Quaderns de l’Exili, Revista de Refugiats d’Amèrica, Lletres, Pont Blau, Tele-revista, La Nostra Revista (founded by his father), and its successor La Nova Revista, founded by the artist himself.

Tisner took particular interest in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past, which was the motivation behind his best known book, Paraules d’Opòton el Vell (1968). Other works written by Tisner (he almost always wrote in Catalan), include 556 Brigada Mixta (1945); Prohibida l’evasió (1969); L’Enquesta del Canal 4 (1973); Les nostres coses (1978); Els gossos d’Acteó (1983); and Ciris trencats (La Campana.

tisner-portraitIn 1965, Tisner returned to Catalonia, where he worked initially as a journalist for the daily El Correo Catalán, and later became deputy director of the Catalan weekly Tele/Estel. In 1970 he translated Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad into Catalan. During his later years, he worked for a large number of different newspapers and magazines, including Avui, El Periódico, Catalunya Informació, L’Avenç, Serra d’Or, Canigó, Cultura, El Triangle, El Món, Presència, and Espais mediterranis.

Tisner was politically active in the 1980s, and in 1988 received the Creu de Sant Jordi, one of the highest civil distinctions awarded in Catalonia. He also won a City of Barcelona prize for Catalan prose. He was a founding member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers, and the group’s president from 1990 to 1994.

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Apr 252016
 

Diego José Abad (1727-1779) was a Mexican poet and author, born in Jiquilpan, Michoacán (then on the shores of Lake Chapala). His birthplace appears to be the only direct connection that he has to Lake Chapala.

abad-diego-joseAbad, born on 1 June 1727, was the eldest son in a wealthy ranch-owning family. At twelve years of age, he entered the Colegio de San Idelfonso in Mexico City, where he took classes in grammar, poetry, rhetoric and philosophy, before joining the Jesuit order two years later in 1741. After ordination in 1751, Abad taught rhetoric, philosophy, canon law and civil law in Jesuit seminaries in Mexico City, Zacatecas and Querétaro. He was in poor health for much of his life and spent his free time translating Virgil into Spanish.

In 1767, when King Charles III of Spain ordered all Jesuits out of New Spain, Abad entered exile in Italy, where he died twelve years later. Abad wrote many works, some in Latin, others in Spanish, including: El más embrollado problema de las matemáticas resuelto; De deo deoque homine heroica (1769; the 2nd edition of which was published under the pseudonym of Jacobus Josephus Labbè); El cursus philosophicus (1775); Disertación cómico seria acerca de la cultura latina de los extranjeros (1778); Geografía hidrográfica general, a work about the world’s major rivers.

Abad died in Bologna, Italy, on 30 September 1779.

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Apr 182016
 

Ruth Ross-Merrimer and her husband Robert Merrimer first lived in Ajijic in 1986 and she returned there in 1999, shortly after her husband’s death in Tucson, Arizona. In 2004, she moved to Palm Springs, California, where she died on 6 June 2011, at the age of 86.

While living in Ajijic, Ross-Merrimer wrote and self-published Champagne & Tortillas (2001) which is set in a retirement community that seems surprisingly like Lake Chapala and Ajijic, despite the disclaimer at the start that:

Champagne & Tortillas  is not a roman a clef. To all who may believe they recognize one or more of its characters, I can only say that your imaginations are working overtime. This is a work of fiction, and the characters who cavort through its pages are figments of my own imagination.

Just as the place called Lake Azul will not be found on any map of Mexico, the characters in Champagne & Tortillas were conceived from bits and pieces of all the people I have ever known..”

The back cover blurb for Champagne & Tortillas describes it thus:

“In a blend of fiction and historical fact, the novel chronicles the lives of a tightknit group of mainly U.S. expatriates, living in a town in Mexico called Lake Azul. They spend lazy days loving, hating and backbiting; their passion for one-upmanship exceeded only by their unrelenting interest in each other and each other’s lives. But when one of them is mysteriously murdered by two others in the colony, it becomes a recipe for the perfect crime.”

ross-merrimer-ruth-coverRuth Ross (later Ross-Merrimer) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 26 May 1925. She studied at St. Louis University and worked as a professional singer on tourist boats on the Mississippi River.

She moved to Southern California in 1962 where she was invited to record a song for a documentary film being made by Robert Merrimer (1908-1999) of Keystone Productions. She and Bob married and first visited Ajijic in 1966 after the film company was asked to produce seven documentary publicity films for the Mexican National Tourist Department, ahead of the Mexico Olympics of 1968.

The couple traveled all over Mexico shooting the Tourist Department movies, with Ruth working as a researcher and scriptwriter, and from 1968, established their home in Puerto Vallarta, where they lived for about a decade.

After her return to Ajijic in 1999, Ross-Merrimer reported on local news for the Guadalajara Reporter (1999-2003) and other English language publications, including El Ojo del Lago. She was a founder member of the Ajijic Writers Group.

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.

Apr 112016
 

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis (1894-1966) was a sports writer, publicist and painter who lived in Ajijic during the early 1960s and penned an article about the area entitled “Lotus Land”.

mcginnis-lotus-land-s“Lotus Land” was written initially in 1964 as an open letter to friends in the U.S., but McGinnis subsequently sold copies in the Lake Chapala area in 1965, and it was published, much later, as a series of nine article, in El Ojo del Lago, from June 1994 to February 1995 inclusive.

The original typescript had 21 pages and was priced at 10 pesos (then about US$0.12).

“Lotus Land” was subtitled: “Being a faithful, factual and informative account of life among the American Colony on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, with some comments on the way of life of our Mexican friends and neighbors, and a description of some of the amazing phenomena on this Costa Brava of Mexico. Designed to entertain the local residents, or to be used as an open letter to friends in the United States.”

The following brief extracts will give readers some idea of the style and range of material included in “Lotus Land”:

This is Lotus Land, the land of the colonels and the afternoon cocktail, the land of the mozo and the extra maid and rum at a dollar a bottle. This is the Costa Brava of Mexico, where Mexicano and Americano meet and mix, like oil and water. And it is the land of un momento.

This is Ajijic, Chapala, Chula Vista and their environs where some hundreds of American families have built their luxurious lairs among the adobe houses of the Mexicans. The three pueblos nestle between the shore of lake Chapala and the mountains. Chapala is built on a spit of land projecting from the north shore of the lake, and was a famous watering place for the rich and poor of Guadalajara long before the gringos came….

Chula Vista sprawls on the slopes of a crescent of mountain about two miles west of Chapala on the lake shore. Chula Vista, with one or two exceptions, is exclusively Americano. Its luxury homes make a slight and condescending bow to the Mexican way of life by adding patios and walls, but it is essentially transplanted California. It is said that its inhabitants look down their noses at their unfortunate compatriots living in Chapala and Ajijic, albeit it is all in fun. Chula Vista sports a nifty golf club and most of the homes have pools, electric kitchens, and poodles.

Ajijic, a mile and a half west of Chula Vista along the lake, is the den mother of the three communities. Discovered by a group of impecunious artists soon after World War II, It was then a sleepy Indian village given over to the pursuit of Lake Chapala sardines and the bucolic crafts of animal husbandry, maize cultivation, and wood cutting. The artists fell among the natives like a drop of water in a mill pond – there was a slight ripple and the two became one – frijoles, no bathrooms, tacos, no sewers and no barbers.

Then the States-side newspapers and magazines, on a wave of nostalgia, began to thump the tub for the Shangri-la aspect of this Mexican paradise. Soldiers retiring after the war got wind of it, and the invasion was on. The adobe houses were bought and leased, white washed, a shower and bath added. The newcomers clamored for light and water, and the Mexican government, awakening after four hundred years of somnolence, tapped a mountain spring and brought the water into the pueblo….

The more affluent of the invaders built new homes or made elaborate changes in the old houses. They hired the women and girls as cooks and maids, the men as gardeners and handy men. Wages, from thirty pesos a week at the beginning, climbed to fifty, sixty, and on up to ninety and a hundred….

The typical Lakeside male awakens just before nine o’clock, yawns, stretches, sneezes and goes to the bathroom, where he finds that the toilet doesn’t work. He cusses the Mexican plumbing and his arthritis and has his breakfast served in the patio by the maid. He them bedecks himself for the golf course, and joins a trio of his friends for nine holes, winning a peso by a stroke of good luck. He will then repair to the game room at the club, and may win another peso at gin. It is now one o’clock, he has had three rums and feels prepared for the steak (at 60 cents per T-bone) which will be served at home. He has his comida, yawns, stretches, and seeks a quiet, dark corner for a siesta.

At five or thereabouts comes the cocktail hour….

The housewife is the chief exponent of the vocal arts in Mexico. Whereas the men rarely sing except when stimulated by tequila, in love or for a living, the housewives sing all day long. The chorus is well under way by five o’clock in the morning, and continues far into the night. One gets accustomed to these symphonic decibels and after a while they go in one ear and out again.

Under fine arts must come acting and entertaining. Frustrated actors and entertainers, as well as retired professionals, could not be held in check forever. Under the able direction of Mrs. Betty Kuzell, a theatre group suddenly blossomed into a lively and amazing organization. Musicals, burlesque, light drama, and variations of old-time vaudeville draw crowds to the redecorated waiting room of the old railroad station. Latent talent has been developed and the old pros leaven the amateur efforts. While there has been the customary pulling-and-hauling and displays of artistic temperament and professional jealousy, everybody is having a good time. Many people are keeping out of mischief as their energies are dissipated on the Thespian boards….

The Lakeside has had bad press in the States, bad because it has exaggerated conditions, especially the cost of living. While it is true that one can get a haircut for twenty-five cents and a good bottle of rum, gin or brandy for a dollar, a can of corned beef costs $1.25 US. Cranberry sauce and canned asparagus are equally high, and Campbell’s soup, made in Mexico, is 32 to 45 cents a can. Tailoring is cheap but the cloth is expensive. The fruits of the country, citrus, melons, mangos, avocados, bananas, pineapples are cheap and good. There are no frozen foods, no TV dinners for the quick snack, and only a limited and inferior variety of canned fruits and vegetables. Residents who go to the border load up with US goodies to tide them through.

The family budget is stretched by the absence of the monthly telephone bill. There is one telephone in Ajijic, two available in Chapala and one in Chula Vista. This is both a blessing and a curse. You save money, but should an important guest be lost at the airport, there is no way to catch up with him until he arrives by taxi some hours later….

One saves on gas and wear-and-tear by shunning night driving. Unless its an emergency, only the daring drive at night. The highways are open range, and cattle, horses, burros and other livestock wander at will, blend into the pavement, and won’t budge. Many of the trucks, of ancient US vintage, have no tail lights, and when there is a breakdown it remains where it stops, with a fine disregard for life and limb. It is a serious offense to kill an animal and if caught you may expect a turn in jail. This encourages a hit-and-run policy on the part of both the foreigners and the Mexicans….

Many of the Mexican elite of Guadalajara maintain elaborate summer or weekend homes in Lakeside. These people are seldom seen in public, do not cotton to the foreigners and could teach anybody in the world how to live in the grand manner. A poor Mexican is generous, a rich Mexican is unbelievable. He knows how to spend money and keeps in practice both in his home, at his club and where ever his well shod, perfectly tailored persona happens to be. Should you be invited to his home you will be entertained within an inch of your life and if he calls you “friend” a host of his connections are at your service.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bill Atkinson of Chapala for graciously giving me a copy of “Lotus Land” as originally published in 1964.

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.

Apr 042016
 

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis (1894-1966) was a sports writer, publicist and painter who lived in Ajijic during the early 1960s and penned an article about the area entitled “Lotus Land”. “Lotus Land” was written initially in 1964 as an open letter to friends in the U.S., but McGinnis subsequently sold copies in the Lake Chapala area in 1965, and it was published, much later, as a series of nine article, in El Ojo del Lago, from June 1994 to February 1995 inclusive.

We will take a closer look at “Lotus Land”, a tongue in cheek account of the area, in a separate post.

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis was born in Kingston, Ohio, on 13 November 1894 and died in Ajijic on 4 June 1966. He grew up in an artistic family; his brother was the famous artist and illustrator Robert E. McGinnis.

mcginnis-gold-old-daysRalph McGinnis was the author of many articles and at least two books. His articles included “The Wimodausians”, in Farm Quarterly 6 (1951), while his books included The History of Oxford, Ohio, from the earliest days to the present, 1930 (Stewart Press, 1930) and The good old days: An invitation to memory (F. & W. Publishing Company, 1960). The latter book is about farming life and includes photos and some “primitive-style watercolors” by the author.

McGinnis is also credited with having come up with the nickname “Redskins” for the Miami University (Ohio) sports teams previously known as the Big Reds. McGinnis had been a star halfback and track athlete in the class of 1921 at Miami University in Ohio. At university, he was associate editor of the student magazine Recensio, and athletic editor and eventually editor of The Miami Student. In articles dating from 1919 and 1920, McGinnis used phrases such as, “sturdy warriors,” “pow wow on the commons,” and “Big Red Warriors Go on Warpath.”

In 1928, McGinnis joined the staff of Miami University as a publicity advisor, and later as a teacher of English and journalism. By 1930 the tagline Redskins was being regularly used for university teams. According to McGinnis, he first came up with the attention-grabbing name in 1928.

Ralph McGinnis married twice. His first wife was a fellow student Erma Kőenig, born in Kentucky; they had two children, Albert and Marsue. After a divorce, McGinnis married Edith R. Matthew.

McGinnis and his second wife were living in Ajijic in the summer of 1965, as evidenced by a mention in the Guadalajara Colony Reporter for 19 Aug 1965. Edith McGinnis was an author, whose pen name was Edith Shepherd, and apparently the author of several crime stories and articles, though I have no further details of these. In August 1965, she was working on a commissioned travel article. (There is an Edith Shepherd who wrote Geography for Beginners (Rand McNally, 1924) but it is unclear whether or not this is McGinnis’s wife).

McGinnis’s daughter Marsue has her own claim to fame, dating back to when she was teaching as a 21-year-old on the island of Hawaii in 1946. On 1 April 1946, she was swept out to sea by a massive tidal wave, along with several fellow teachers and many of their students. She clung on to a piece of driftwood for an amazing nine hours prior to being plucked to safety by her fiancé who had borrowed a motorboat to help find survivors. Her first-person account of that harrowing day won a major Reader’s Digest prize in 1959. Her astonishing story is one of those retold by Rita Beamish in Perils of Paradise (Bess Press, Inc., 2004). Marsue also retold the story in this oral history interview.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bill Atkinson of Chapala for graciously giving me a copy of “Lotus Land” as originally published in 1964.

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.

Mar 282016
 

Stephen Schneck was born 2 January 1933 in New York and died on 26 November 1996 in Palm Springs, California. He led a varied life, including stints as a novelist, author, actor and screenwriter, among other pursuits.

schneck-nightclerkSchneck studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then spent several years traveling around Mexico, where he lived in the Lake Chapala area from about 1954 to 1957) and Central America. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Schneck claimed “to have written some of his best short stories and spent the better days of his youth while there”.

In 1960, Schneck apparently founded the American Beauty Studios, on 42nd Street, New York. It was during the 1960s that Schneck worked as a reporter for such “underground” periodicals as Ramparts and Mother Jones.

He subsequently moved to San Francisco, where he wrote his first, and best known, novel, “The Nightclerk” (Grove Press, 1965). The novel’s hero is an overweight hotel clerk (weighing 600 lbs), described by one reviewer as “the fattest man in American literature”. The hotel is a seedy San Francisco establishment. The clerk whiles away the long night hours reading erotic paperbacks, cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his beautiful and corrupt wife, Katy. The clerk’s real life lies in his “erotic, pornographic, sado-masochistic, orgiastic, unnameable” fantasies. This somewhat surrealistic novel became an international counterculture favorite, and won the $10,000 Formentor Novel Prize.

schneck-nocturnal-vaudevilleSchneck followed this with a second novel, Nocturnal Vaudeville (E. P. Dutton, 1971), but then turned to non-fiction works and screenplays.

In the second half of the 1970s, he wrote several non-fiction books for pet lovers, including The complete home medical guide for cats (Stein and Day, 1976) and, with Nigel Norris, The complete home medical guide for dogs (Stein and Day, 1976). The two authors co-wrote A. to Z. of Cat Care (Fontana Press, 1979) and A-Z of Dog Care (Fontana, 1979).

By that time, Schneck was gaining success as a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote Inside Out (1975); Welcome to Blood City (1977), which won first prize at the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival; High-Ballin’ (1978), which starred Peter Fonda; and Across the Moon (1995), in which he also played the part of a prison chaplain.

TV credits included two episodes of The Paper Chase (1985-1986), an episode of In the Heat of the Night (1992), as well as episodes of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Cheers.

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.

Feb 152016
 

Mary Blanche Starr MacNicol was the fourth wife of Roy MacNicol, an American artist who in 1954 bought and remodeled the D. H. Lawrence house in Chapala. From spending time in Mexico, she became interested in local Mexican cuisine, especially that involving flowers, and later wrote Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967).

macnicol-mary-flower-cookeryMary Starr was born in Georgia in about 1896. According to a post on a genealogy site, she graduated from the University of Georgia and then taught for some years in Hartwell, Georgia, where she became close friends with Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, before moving to Florida.

Her first marriage, in 1935, to Bassett Washington Mitchell, a real estate investor of Palm Beach, Florida, ended on his death in September 1946. The following year, on 27 March, she married artist-writer Roy MacNicol, who had been married twice previously, in Palm Beach. MacNicol had been a Palm Beach regular since at least the mid-1920s.

In 1949 Mary Starr MacNicol requested Federal Court help with paying her debts, presumably in order to wind up her husband’s estate. She told the Court that she had assets of $371,580 but was unable to pay her debts as they matured. She listed debts of $224,346 and asked the Court to make arrangements for her creditors to be paid.

In 1954, Roy MacNicol bought, and began to remodel, the historic house in Chapala which D. H. Lawrence had rented in 1923. After this point, Mary and Roy MacNicol seem to have divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including to Europe. (In November 1956, for example, the couple arrived back in Palm Beach, from Europe, aboard the Queen Mary.) Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) until Mary MacNicol’s death in about 1970, was at 100 Sullivan Street.

A short piece about Mary MacNicol’s book Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967) in the San Antonio Express and News in 1973 mentions that,

“Mrs. MacNicol began exploring the possibilities of cooking with flowers when she was the lessee of D. H. Lawrence’s house at Lake Chapala.”, adding that “Mrs. MacNicol researched Aztec methods of flower cookery and once attended a six-course flower supper in Morelia. Lilies, yucca, roses and jasmine are ingredients in Mrs. MacNicol’s recipes. So are clove-carnations or gilly flowers and marigolds the flavor provider for Dutch soups.

Mrs. MacNicol tells of Dwight Eisenhower’s custom of adding nasturtium blossoms during Ihe last minutes of vegetable soup cookery, She also gives Queen Victoria’s mother’s formula for violet tea: 1 cup of boiling water 1 tsp. of fresh violets Steep ten minutes, then sweeten with honey.”

Here is a Chapala-related recipe from that book:

Chapala Cheer

  • 10-12 squash blossoms
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 tbsp. water
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup oil

Wash blossoms and remove stems. Drain dry on paper towels. Mix other ingredients to make a smooth batter. Dip blossoms in batter and fry in oil until brown. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

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.

Feb 082016
 

Elsie Worthington Clews Parsons (1875-1941) was a woman way ahead of her time. Variously described as a “relentlessly modern woman”, “a pioneering feminist” and “eminent anthropologist”, she was all of these and so much more.

parsons-elsie-clewsParsons, born to a wealthy family in New York City on 27 November 1875, became one of America’s foremost anthropologists, but also made significant contributions as a sociologist and folklorist. She is best known for pioneering work among the Native American tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, including the Tewa and Hopi.

Parsons visited Mexico numerous times, and had spent extended periods in Mexico prior to her visit to Chapala in December 1932. On that occasion, she spent at least 10 days there; it is unclear if she revisited the lake area at any point after that.

She gained her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1896, and then switched to Columbia University to study history and sociology for her master’s degree (1897) and Ph.D. (1899).

The following year, on 1 September 1900, she married lawyer and future Republican congressman Herbert Parsons, a political ally of President Roosevelt, in Newport, Rhode Island. She lectured in sociology at Barnard from 1902 to 1905, resigning to accompany her husband to Washington.

Her first book, The Family (1906) was a feminist tract founded on sociological research and analysis. Its discussion of trial marriage became both popular and notorious, leading Parsons to adopt the pseudonym “John Main” for her next two books: Religious Chastity (1913) and The Old Fashioned Woman (1913). She reverted to her own name for Fear and Conventionality (1914), Social Freedom (1915) and Social Rule (1916).

parsons-elsie-clews-2In 1919, she helped found The New School for Social Research in New York City and became a lecturer there. In that same year, Mabel Dodge Sterne (later Mabel Luhan), a wealthy American patron of the arts, moved to Taos, with her then husband Maurice, to start a literary colony there. Luhan sponsored D.H. Lawrence‘s initial visit to Taos in 1922-23 and helped Parsons with her research into local Native American culture and beliefs.

For more than 25 years, Parsons conducted methodical fieldwork and collected a vast amount of data from the Caribbean, U.S., Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, much of which she would eventually synthesize into major academic works. These include the widely acclaimed works about Zapotec Indians in Mexico: Mitla: Town of the Souls (1936), Native Americans in Pueblo Indian Religion(2 volumes, 1939), and Andean cultures in Peguche, Canton of Otavalo (1945).

She also published a number of works on West Indian and African American folklore, including Folk-Tales of Andros Island, Bahamas (1918); Folk-Lore from the Cape Verde Islands (1923); Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina (1923); and Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English (3 volumes, 1933–43).

Parsons served as associate editor for The Journal of American Folklore (1918-1941), president of the American Folklore Society (1919-1920) and president of the American Ethnological Society (1923-1925). At the time of her death, she had just been elected the first female president of the American Anthropological Association (1941).

Parsons’ visit to Lake Chapala in December 1932 is noteworthy for several reasons.

She was traveling with fellow anthropologist Ralph Beals (1901-1985). They had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. [Parsons, incidentally, was responsible for introducing Beals, who founded the anthropology and sociology departments at UCLA, to her anthropological fieldwork techniques. He employed similar techniques to great effect when he built on Parsons’ prior work at Mitla, and expanded it into his 1975 work, The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico.]

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon)

Parsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure. Parsons was not favorably impressed by Lake Chapala’s small villages, calling them “unattractive, as squalid as Spanish towns”, and concluding that, “They must have been settled by Spanish fishermen, and god knows what became of the Zacateca population.” [quoted in Deacon]

They spent ten days at Lake Chapala, during which time, according to Zumwalt, Parsons worked on an early draft of Pueblo Indian Religion.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Several years later, Parsons published a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, in the May 1937 issue of The Scientific Monthly. This article included several mentions of Lake Chapala, with Parsons casting doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected there by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers.

Parsons describes how ever since the 1890s, there has been,

“at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow did not impart to the ethnologist.”

While Parsons is not sure what became of Lumholtz’s collection, she says that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr, and which are now in the Peabody Museum in Cambridge (Harvard University), are definitely genuine and not faked.

The “Mr. Crow” referred to by Parsons is Septimus Crowe (1844-1903). [For more about Septimus Crowe and about the Lumholtz and Starr trips to Lake Chapala in the 1890s, see my Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales.]

One real mystery stemming from Parsons’ description above is the identity of the “English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago”. Just who was she? Clearly, she must have visited Chapala in the period 1895-1898. There seem to be two likely candidates. The first is The Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, who returned from a trip to Mexico in March 1896, coincidentally on the same train as Lumholtz. The only known article by Pauncefote relating to Chapala is “Chapala the Beautiful”, published in Harper’s Bazar (1900). It is very likely that she may met and knew Crowe, since he had been a British Vice Consul in Norway, though she makes no mention of him in her article. The second candidate is Adela Breton, a British artist who visited (and painted) several archaeological sites in Mexico in the years after 1894, though her connection to Septimus Crowe is less clear.

The bulk of Parsons’ paper is devoted to her argument that the Lake Chapala miniatures are prayer-images, similar to those used in Oaxaca and elsewhere:

“All the Chapala offerings are either perforated or of a form to which string could be tied. They may have been hung on a stick, a prayer-stick, just as the Huichol Indians hang their miniature prayer-images to-day.”

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Parsons describes how some figurines of a dog (she actually had a faked copy of such a dog on her table at Chapala) had something in their mouth and a container on their back. The container, Parsons argues, was to carry humans across the river after death. Pet-lovers everywhere will rejoice to learn that:

“The dog ferryman belief is that if you treat dogs well a dog will carry you across the big river you have to cross in your journey after death… but if you have maltreated dogs, beating them or refusing them food, you will be left stranded on the river. The river dogs are black for an Indian, and the Zapotecs, and white for a Spaniard; white dogs will not carry an Indian lest they soil their coats – unless you have a piece of soap with you and promise to wash your ferryman on the other side. The burden or carrying basket of the Chapala Lake region, the ancient basket carried in the ancient way, by tumpline, is the exact shape of the object on the back of the dog figurine, narrow and deep and flaring toward the top.”

On 19 December 1941, after an amazingly productive and full life, Elsie Crews Parsons left New York City and was ferried across the river into the after-world.

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.

Jan 252016
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the multiple achievements of Emma-Lindsay Squier, an extraordinary woman who visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1926.

In this post we take a closer look at just how Squier described her visits to Lake Chapala and Jocotepec in her autobiographical Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934).

squier-emma-lindsay-gringa

Her initial impressions of Lake Chapala were, frankly, not that positive:

“About twenty miles east (sic) of Guadalajara is the famous Lake Chapala. It is by way of being the Mexican Riviera; one which lacks, however, the Continental touch. It tries hard to be sophisticated, but I did not find the purple and pink stucco castles of the millionaires either interesting or in good taste. Mexico is at her best when she caps herself with red tile, bougainvillea vines over her painted adobe panniers, and smilingly challenges the world to produce anything more pictorial.” (Gringa, 145)

However, she was fascinated by the possibility that the Aztecs had lingered at Lake Chapala for several hundreds of years, during their migratory wanderings:

“Today, the blue waters of the lake and burial mounds on the the surrounding hills are constantly yielding up primitive, distorted little clay images that are thought to be mementos of that far-gone time. The Indians say that these small people of barro (clay) are those of the Aztec tribe who would not desert Chapala, and for their disobedience were turned into soulless effigies. They say, too, that the fireflies one sees at night, drifting up from the marshy shores in clouds of golden stars, are the spirits of those repentant ones who are belatedly trying to follow their kinsmen to glories that have long been swallowed up in the tragedies of the past.” (Gringa, 145-146)”

From Chapala, she was then driven by Dr. William Walker to Jocotepec:

“We drove from the village of Chapala along a narrow sandy road that follows the lake. Now and then through the interlaced greenery of trees and shrubbery we could see long primitive fishing boats scooped out of logs propelled by triangular orange-colored sails, skimming across the blue water. The smell of nets drying on the beach mingled with the fragrance of lime blossoms. On the other side of the road, in fields, bounded by fences made of piled stones, small but powerful-looking cattle grazed, and white-garmented peons dozed in the shade of coral-flowered tavachin (sic) trees.”

The farther we drew away from the town of Chapala with its rococo castles and its air of pseudo-sophistication, the closer we came to a Mexico unspoiled, untainted by self-consciousness.

And when we bumped along a cobblestoned road that led to the plaza of Jocotepec, a wave of color and movement and music engulfed us. It was if we stepped out of the twentieth century into the life of a hundred years ago.” (Gringa, 146)

They arrived during a fiesta and she describes the people thronging the plaza:

“… the central square was an almost compact mass of peons in freshly white garments, shirts that were stiff with starch, and long, wide cotton trousers that had been pleated in diagonal lozenges by the patient application of heavy charcoal-heated irons.

The sombreros they wore lacked the high crowns I had seen elsewhere. But the brims made up for the lack of height. They were tremendously wide, curved upward at the edges just the least bit, and two long black cords came down from the shallow-crowned hat and held it under the owner’s chin or dangled down the back of his neck–al gusto.

Few of them wore shoes. Their brown feet were encased in finely woven sandals. But every mother’s son of them in that bobbing, undulating throng was carrying a sarape over his shoulder, the kind you see only in this remote Indian village, one with a dark background of well-carded wool and a woven border of vivid flowers. The boca (mouth) is ornamented thus as well. When the wide opening is slipped over the owner’s head, he is wearing a fringed brown cloak, decorated with flowers, so closely woven that the tropical rain can scarcely seep through.” (Gringa, 147).

Squier goes on to describe the mariachi bands, and being invited to a local bullfight by the mayor – presidente – of the town, an invitation she was unable to pass up. Fortunately, it turned out to be a bloodless bullfight in which the bulls were not killed.

Some time later, when she was listening to a mariachi band in Mexico City with her husband John Ransome Bransby, Squier was delighted to see that some members of the group were wearing sarapes identical in design to those she had seen in Jocotepec. Sure enough, several of the band’s members were indeed from that village on Lake Chapala.

Source:

  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

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 182016
 

Emma-Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) was a nature and travel writer who lived much of her life in California. She visited and wrote about Lake Chapala in the 1920s, while spending several months in Guadalajara.

Known as “Emily” to family and friends, she was born in Marion, Indiana, on 1 Dec 1892. Her father, Russell Lafayette Squier, was a salesman, and her mother, Helen Ada Lindsay (Squier) was a teacher and an elocutionist. The family was not well off but Emily became a significant source of income at a very early age. At four years of age, Emily proved to have a natural talent for reciting poems and readings from memory and began making public appearances on the Chautauqua circuit, promotional materials billing her as “Baby Squier”.

Recalling her first visit to Mexico, at age ten, to give a dramatic recital in English in Ciudad Porfirio Diaz (now Piedras Negras), across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, she later wrote, “I fell in love with Mexico when I was ten years old. It was love at first sight.” (Gringa, 3)

After classes in the Sacred Heart Academy in Salem (Oregon) and Bremerton High School (Washington), Emily studied journalism for two years at the University of Washington. She dropped out of university when the family moved to Glendale (California) in 1915, where she became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She was later appointed an assistant editor of California Life, a monthly periodical published in Pasadena.

She became a prolific writer of short pieces, published in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Hearst’s and The American Girl. A series of articles about wildlife interacting with people, often with a degree of fantasy, proved especially successful with readers, and a collection of such stories was published as The Wild Heart (1922),with illustrations and decorations by Paul Bransom. The book “captured the imagination of readers from coast to coast…”

Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

Emma-Lindsay Squier (then Mrs George Mark), ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

She spent the latter part of 1919 in Nova Scotia, Canada, collecting stories for a future book, and then in 1920 and 1921, she attended Columbia University in New York, studying drama and literature. She returned to the Seattle area to collect the legends of the Indians of the Puget Sound tribes.

Her writing fame and fortune continued to grow, Emily’s second collected work about animals, On Autumn Trails and Adventures in Captivity (1922) was heralded as “a grown-up book for children and a children’s book for grown-ups”. Squier’s other book-length works included The Red Palanquin (1924); Children of the Twilight: Folk-Tales on Indian Tribes (1926); and The bride of the sacred well, and other tales of Ancient Mexico (1928).

Her first marriage was to a distant cousin George Mark, whom she had met in New York. After their marriage in 1922, they initially lived in New York, but soon relocated to San Diego, where Emily joined the San Diego Players and first met John Bransby. They quickly became a couple and by 1926 Emily had separated from George and decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to travel in Mexico.

In 1926, Squier was offered the opportunity to spend several months in Mexico collecting local folk stories and legends. Her many adventures from this and subsequent trips are told with color and relish in Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). She traveled on a freighter, the S.S. Washington, down the west coast, met and danced with ex-President Obregón in Culiacán, and then spent several months at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara. In Guadalajara, she became such good friends with poet Idella Purnell and her father that he lent her his car whenever she wanted.

On one occasion, the car had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and Emily was helped by the unexpected arrival of a man on a black horse:

“He was wearing an elaborate charro suit. The black, tight fitting trousers glinted with silver ornaments from thigh to ankle. His silken blouse was embroidered in festive colors, and his sombrero was the fanciest I had yet seen. It was of white felt, richly embroidered with silver, and had a painted medallion of the Virgin ornamenting the exaggerated crown. A sarape of the diamond-shaped Saltillo pattern was strapped across his saddle”. (Gringa, 131)

Safely back at the Purnells, she discovered his picture was on wanted posters and that she had been helped by the notorious ‘El Catorce’, “the bloodthirsty bandit who had attacked and set fire to a passenger train!” (More than 100 people were killed in this incident which took place in April 1927).

She also relates the story told by Idella’s father, Dr. George Purnell, about being kidnapped by bandits and released only after a ransom of $200 was paid. (This event actually occurred in April 1930).

Squier and Idella Purnell befriended a group of Huichol Indians in Guadalajara and after much confusion successfully bartered some ribbons and jewelry for Huichol arrows and woven bags. In a letter back home to her then fiance John Bransby, Squier wrote,

“We noticed that two of the Indians carried tiny, crudely made violins. The strings were of wire, the bow was of gut. Upon these weird little instruments they sawed with primitive vigor, and drew forth unmusical wailings as of cats on back-yard fences.”

The violins were home-made, but Squier never did find out how the Indians had first come into contact with the instrument. She did, however, have the opportunity to learn more about some of their stories and legends.

Among the legends she collected on this trip was one related to Lake Chapala. Her version, “The Little Lost Stars of Chapala”, was published in the August 1928 issue of Good Housekeeping.

The introduction makes for very interesting reading…

We had spent the day at Lake Chapala, that lovely blue body of water that is set like a jewel into the barren ring of Mexico’s mountains. It is a gay place, a meeting place for the old world as represented by the primitive Indian life about it, and the new world with its motor boats and motor cars and its air of naive sophistication. A curious place in a way, for you will find there that mingling of childlike simplicity and vague menace that is the essence of all things Mexican. Quaint little stucco castles shaded by palms and mangoes dot the shores of the lake, and are pointed out zestfully as being the homes of millionaire, and poets, and artists – this being the order of their importance. There is a plaza where the band plays on Sunday afternoons, and the sophisticates sit at tables and sip “refrescos“, watching with tolerant amusement the paseo of the Indians and humbler folk, who walk round and round in couples, enjoying themselves in solemn, aloof silence. Out upon the blue waters of the lake long black canoes come gliding, their sales huge and square-cut like those of Chinese sampans. Sometimes the sails are made of colored cloth, and make bright patches of blue or red or orange against the vivid background of sky and shore. They thread their way serenely through scattered flotillas of trim white modern craft, and there is always a drifting confusion of laughter and song mingled with the splash of oars and the subdued chugging of motor-boat engines.

In the center of the lake, a long, scorpion-shaped island lies. It is seldom visited, for there is little to be seen upon it, and the menace of the alacran for which it is named, and which it resembles, is not to be lightly disregarded.

Across the lake the mountains rise up sharp and grim, like the upturned teeth of some great prehistoric monster. And in these mountains, only a short journey from civilization as represented by the florid gaiety of Lake Chapala, are tribes of Indians among whom no white man would dare to venture unless under the specific protection of some priest of padre known to them, and capable of speaking their barbarous tongue. It is said that these savage Indios are the remnants of the once powerful Alcohuas, whose king, Cozoc, held in bondage the mighty tribe of Azteca for a long and irksome period.”

Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier

Gordon Coutts: Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1925

In Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934), Squier describes visiting Lake Chapala and, in particular, Jocotepec, an account we will look at in a separate post.

In 1928, Squier divorced George Mark and married John Ransome Bransby (1901-1998), an actor and movie producer, whose fine photos illustrate Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). The couple were living in New York, but within a week of marriage were traveling in opposite directions: Bransby was starting a theatrical tour while his wife was headed to Guatemala to collect legends for a new series. In 1929, Bransby was still touring when Squier was sailing even further south, to Peru.

Squier had taken a movie camera with her during her trip to Mexico in 1926 and the resulting reels helped Squier and Bransby win the opportunity (in 1930) to film an educational travelogue entitled Mexico (finally released in 1937). This trip is described in some detail in the second half of Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico.

The Bransbys spent time in southern Mexico before returning via Veracruz to Mexico City (where they socialized with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Frances Toor, among other notables). They also spent six weeks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where they filmed a traditional wedding ceremony, before returning to New York by October 1930.

Their resulting 60-minute film was divided into three 20-minute “episodes”: “Modern Mexico,” “Mexico of yesterday” and “Land of chewing gum.” The highlights included Diego Rivera painting murals, the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the Passion Play in Ixtapalapa, and some of the earliest known footage of chewing gum (chicle) production.

Squier and Bransby later spent time touring the Caribbean, and Squier also visited Africa, always looking for more legends and animal stories. Squier’s work became the basis for two motion pictures: the Academy Award-nominated Dancing Pirate (Pioneer Pictures, 1936), based on her story “Glorious Buccaneer” (Colliers, December 1930) and billed as “The first dancing musical in 100% new Technicolor”, and The Angry God (1948), based on a story by Squier about how the god Colima tries to win the love of a beautiful young Indian maiden, who won’t betray the man she loves.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Emma-Lindsay Squier was forced to slow down in her final years. Her incredibly productive life came to an end on 16 September 1941 in Saranac Lake, New York.

Sources:

  • Aileen Block. 1995. Emma-Lindsay’s Scrapbook: A Biography of Emma-Lindsay Squier (Privately printed)
  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

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.

Aug 102015
 

The Honorable (Selina) Maud Pauncefote (1862-1919) was the author of what is believed to be the earliest English-language travel article dedicated exclusively to the town of Chapala. Entitled “Chapala the Beautiful”, it was published in Harper’s Bazar in December 1900. The article includes what may well be the first published photographs of the village of Chapala. One, taken from the wharf, shows the lakeshore with the church in the background, while another shows a diligence (stage coach) in the high street, with the lake forming the backdrop. These brief extracts paint the scene as she saw it:

On the western slope of mountainous Mexico is a beautiful lake resembling in size and surroundings the Lake of Geneva. It is called the Lake of Chapala, and as it is out of the beaten track, many visitors who feel that they have seen Mexico quite thoroughly fail to see that interesting place.

To reach charming Chapala one must either take a steamer from the end of the lake, or leave the train at the station called Atiquiza, thirteen miles across the mountains. Then comes a drive over a road so full of bowlders and holes, hills and valleys, that the wonder is one has a bone unbroken in one’s body at the end of the journey….

Chapala is 400 feet lower than the city of Mexico. The lake is surrounded by mountains, which in that lovely atmosphere, so high and rarefied, take every shade of violet and pink and blue. The coloring is magnificent, and the sunsets and starlight nights are things to dream of. The Southern Cross is seen, and every star seems brighter and bigger and nearer, and the sky more filled with gems than one ever imagined.

The little village of Chapala nestles down below the mountains on the shore of the lake. There is a small foreign settlement there whose members have discovered the charm and have built villas on the borders of the lake, the air being very good for the lungs. But the native Indians are not inclined to sell their homesteads, so it is difficult to procure land on the water’s edge.”

The Hon Maud Pauncefote, ca 1893

The Hon Maud Pauncefote, ca 1893

The details of Maud Pauncefote’s life have proved disappointingly elusive, despite her being the eldest of the four daughters of Sir Julian (later Lord Julian) Pauncefote, who was the British Minister in Washington (and subsequently the British Ambassador) from 1889 until his death in 1902. Sir Julian was senior British delegate to the First Hague Conference, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

[Aside: Sir Julian’s major claim to fame was the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty signed in November 1901, by which time Roosevelt had succeeded the slain McKinley as U.S. President. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty mapped out the role of the U.S. in the construction and management of a Central American canal, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The treaty led to the agreement in 1903 between the U.S. and the newly established republic of Panama that the U.S. should have exclusive canal rights across the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for Panama receiving financial reimbursement and guarantees of protection.]

Maud Pauncefote was born in Dresden on 1 June 1862, shortly after her father (a lawyer) had lost almost all his private fortune due to a bank collapse. The family sailed to Hong Kong later that year, where they remained for a decade before returning to England. Following her education in England, Maud was presented at court. In 1889, the Pauncefotes relocated to Washington D.C., where Maud, who loved the U.S., acted as hostess, alongside her mother Selina, at the British embassy.

Curiously, Maud Pauncefote did not attend the huge society wedding in February 1900 of her younger sister Lillian to Mr. Robert Bromley, of the embassy staff. Among those attending “this brilliant affair” were President McKinley, members of his cabinet and the “entire diplomatic corps”.

Besides “Chapala The Beautiful”, Maud Pauncefote also wrote the non-fiction piece, “Life in Washington” (1903), an article about diplomatic life, in which she offered some timeless advice for improving trans-Atlantic understanding: “In England there is still a vague notion that Americans are almost English. If that impression were thoroughly eradicated we should comprehend the American nation much better.”

Pauncefote also wrote several short stories, including the (fiction) pieces entitled “The Silence of Two” in Munsey’s (1908) and “Their Wedding Day”, published in The Cavalier in 1909.

Source:

This post is an updated version of the biography that appears in my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

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.

Aug 032015
 

Clement Woodward Meighan (1925-1997) was an archaeologist who undertook field research in southern California, Baja California and western Mexico. His main link to the Chapala area is that he was the lead author (with Leonard J. Foote as co-author) of the monograph, Excavations at Tizapán el Alto, Jalisco (University of California Los Angeles, 1968).

Tizapán el Alto is the largest town on the southern shore of Lake Chapala. Foote led two fieldwork seasons at the site, and among the research students and volunteers helping on the dig was painter and muralist Tom Brudenell.

Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan

Photo from cover of Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan

Born in San Francisco, Meighan also lived in Phoenix, Arizona, (to recover from double pneumonia contracted before he was five years old) and in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

He first visited Mexico at age 17, when he spent several months in the country, traveling by the cheapest means he could find, which included 4th class trains. The following year, at age 18, he was drafted into the U.S. military. He was severely wounded while on active service in the second world war and spent three years in and out of military hospitals, before finally being discharged, still with a permanent limp. After the war ended, he used G.I Bill funding to study at the University of California, Berkeley, gaining undergraduate and doctoral degrees in anthropology, in 1949 and 1953 respectively.

In 1952, Meighan was appointed instructor in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He remained at UCLA for close to forty years before retiring from that institution in 1991. His contributions to UCLA (and to archaeology) were considerable. He founded the university’s archaeological survey, chaired its anthropology department, and played key roles in several regional and national organizations.

In addition to his work in California and Mexico, Meighan also undertook archaeological fieldwork in Utah, Arizona, Belize, Costa Rica, Chile, Guam, Nubia and Syria.

Meighan made important contributions to the fields of faunal analysis, rock art studies, and obsidian hydration analysis. He was one of the first modern archaeologists to recognize the importance of scientifically excavating sites in western Mexico. Since Meighan’s early work, several archaeological sites in Western Mexico, including El Ixztepete and Guachimontones have been partially restored and opened to the public.

Among his more noteworthy students at UCLA was writer Carlos Castaneda (The Teachings of Don Juan; a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 1969). Taking Meighan’s class “Methods in Field Archaeology”prompted Castaneda to undertake a deeper study of Shamanism.

Meighan accompanied the 1962 expedition funded by mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner to record painted rock shelters in central Baja California. That expedition led to Gardner writing an article for Life and the book The Hidden Heart of Mexico (1962) as well as Meighan’s later academic account of the paintings in a 1966 journal article.

Meighan’s books on archaeology include: Californian Cultures and the Concept of an Archaic Stage (1959); A New Method for Seriation of Archaeological Collections (1959); Archaeology: an Introduction (1966); Prehistoric Rock Paintings in Baja California (1966); Indian Art and History. The Testimony of Prehispanic Rock Paintings in Baja California (1969); The Archaeology of Amapa, Nayarit (1976); Messages From the Past: Studies in California Rock Art (Monograph XX) (1981); Archaeology for Money (1986). Meighan was also co-author of numerous works including Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico: A Catalogue of the Proctor Stafford Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (University of New Mexico Press, 1989) and Discovering Prehistoric Rock Art: A Recording Manual (1990).

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 272015
 

Dr. George Carpenter Barker  (1912-1958) was an anthropologist, author, editor and translator.

What makes Barker a worthy inclusion in our series of mini-biographies of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala is his editing and translation of a copy of a manuscript found in Chapala in 1948 after a performance of a nativity play on Christmas morning in the village churchyard. The manuscript was apparently committed to paper, from older oral sources, by Aristeo Flores of El Salto, Jalisco, around 1914.

Barker’s 167-page translation was published as The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).

This work was described in a review by Frank Goodwyn in Western Folklore (1954, p 220):

This is an unusually full and well-written version of the nativity play traditionally given on Christmas morning in Spanish-speaking countries…. Barker has made a close translation of the play and presented it in parallel text, thus making it intelligible to the English-speaking reader without losing the flavor of the original tongue. Barker concludes that “this version is more Mexican than Spanish”. “There is also a description of the play’s presentation on Christmas morning, 1948, at Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, from the manuscript which Barker subsequently obtained and reproduced.”

It is unclear whether Barker personally visited Chapala in December 1948, or was sent the manuscript by an informant. (As always, we would love to learn more about his connections to Chapala – via our comments function or e-mail.)

Barker’s parents were California artist and art teacher George Barker (1882-1965) and his wife Olive Carpenter. the younger Barker gained a degree in history from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and an MS degree in journalism from Columbia University, before completing his masters and doctorate degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

carpenter-george-cHe received his PhD in 1947 and then worked as a research associate in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona from 1947 to 1948. From 1950, until his death, he was a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at UCLA.

At UCLA, his research focused on Mexican-American youths in the Los Angeles area, though he never lost his interests in folklore and the religious ceremonies of various Southwest Indian tribes, including the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico.

Barker was the author of a number of articles in scholarly journals, and of the short studies entitled Pachuco: An American-Spanish Argot and its Social Functions in Tucson, Arizona (Univ. of Arizona Social Science Bulletin (1950) and Social Functions of Language in a Mexican American Community (Univ. of Arizona Press, 1972).

He was a member of various professional societies in several fields, including the American Anthropological Association and the Asociación Española de Etnología y Folklore (Madrid).

The Papers of George C. Barker now reside in the Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries.

Jul 092015
 

Phyllis (Porter) Rauch, born 28 October 1938, is an American artist, writer and translator who has lived in Jocotepec for more than thirty years. Her husband was the internationally-acclaimed artist Georg Rauch (1924-2006). The couple lived in Guadalajara from 1967 to 1970, before moving to Laguna Beach, California for six years. They returned to Mexico in 1976 and established their permanent home in Jocotepec.

Phyllis Rauch grew up in Ohio and received her bachelor’s degree in English at Bowling Green State University and her master’s degree in library science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She studied German at the Goethe Institute in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and then worked at German libraries, including the Internationale Kinderbibliothek in Munich and the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek in Berlin. She met Georg Rauch in Vienna in 1965 and they were married in Ohio, September of the following year. Phyllis’ own highly-entertaining account of this love story was published on MexConnect in 2006 as “Not your usual wedding – a Valentine’s Day story.

rauch Phyllis-pablito

Phyllis Rauch: Pablito.

As a writer, Phyllis has written non-fiction and poetry, mainly for English-language magazines, newspapers and websites. She has also worked as a Spanish-English translator. During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Phyllis was a trilingual guide (English, Spanish, German) for the cultural events associated with the 1968 Olympics that were held in Guadalajara. She enjoyed very much squiring around the city the likes of the Berlin Opera and Duke Ellington’s band. Phyllis has never forgotten that after his last concert he kissed her on the cheek and said, “Shuugar.”

Her best-known translation is that of her husband’s wartime memoirs, which were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, in hardback and audio versions, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army.

Somewhat late in life, and encouraged by her husband, Phyllis began to paint. Her charming, somewhat naif paintings of rural scenes and Mexican life have received deserved acclaim for their universal appeal.

The Rauchs opened their home and studios, on a one-acre property overlooking Lake Chapala on the outskirts of Jocotepec, as the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas in the 1990s. Phyllis continues to welcome visitors there today, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.

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.

May 182015
 

American artist and author Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) was a frequent traveler to Mexico who developed an obsession with Mexico’s ancient haciendas. Bartlett devoted years of his life to studying and documenting these haciendas (the mainstay of the colonial-era economy), gradually compiling an artistic record covering more than 350 of them throughout the country.

While it is not entirely clear precisely when Bartlett lived in the Chapala region, during his time there he painted and drew exquisite pen and ink drawings, such as this one of the Hacienda de Zapotitán, a short distance north of Jocotepec.

bartlett-hacienda-zapotitan

Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Bartlett explored Mexico with his wife, poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple first met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett (born in Mexico City and now a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy) subsequently accompanied them as they roamed all over Mexico looking for photogenic and noteworthy haciendas.

Steven Bartlett recalls that the family definitely lived for some months in the Chapala-Ajijic area in the early 1950s. He remembers that his father knew author Peter Lilley (who, with first one writing colleague and then another, used the pen-name of Dane Chandos to craft, among other works, Village in the Sun and House in the Sun, both set at Lake Chapala). The Bartlett family also revisited the Chapala area several times in the 1970s, during the time they were living in Comala, Colima. During these later trips, his father gave lectures about haciendas while his mother gave poetry readings.

Bartlett eventually compiled the beautifully-illustrated book The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, first published in 1990 and readily available now as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub. The book has more than 100 photographs and illustrations made in the field from 1943 to 1985 and is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of Mexico’s colonial haciendas. For a brief review of this book, see The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record on the Geo-Mexico website.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College and Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70).

Bartlett had dozens of short stories and poems published in magazines such as Southwest Review, Crosscurrents, Antenna, Etc, Greyledge Review, Prospice, and Queen’s Quarterly, and also wrote the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960). Free online editions of several of his books are available via his author page on Project Gutenberg.

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Steven Bartlett for sharing his memories of the family’s time in Mexico.

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.

Apr 162015
 

Robert Penn Warren, the great American poet, novelist and literary critic, was born in Kentucky on 24 April 1905 and died in Vermont on 15 September 1989. Warren lived and wrote in Chapala for several months in the summer of 1941.

Warren entered Vanderbilt University in 1921, where he became the youngest member of a group of Southern poets known as the Fugitives. Other members included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson and Merrill Moore. Warren’s first poems were published in The Fugitive, the magazine published by the group from 1922 to 1925.

From 1925 to 1927, Warren taught at the University of California, while earning his master’s degree. He also studied at New College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After marrying Emma Brescia (nicknamed “Cinina”) and returning to the U.S. in 1930, he taught at Vanderbilt, Louisiana State, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University.

2005 U.S. stamp commemorating Robert Penn Warren

2005 U.S. stamp commemorating Robert Penn Warren

Warren was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935. He and Brooks also co-wrote a textbook Understanding Poetry (1938), which would prove to have a profound influence on the study of poetry in American colleges.

Warren, accompanied by his wife Cinina, visited Chapala in 1941, two years after the publication of his acclaimed first novel Night Rider.

Relatively little is known about their stay at Chapala, or their motivation in choosing to go there. However, Warren did have a family connection to the nearby city of Guadalajara. In Portrait of a Father, published in 1988, the year before his death, Warren wrote about the similarities between his father’s life and his own. Among the family members recalled in the book is Warren’s uncle Sam, who had worked in mining and lived in Guadalajara. Warren adds that he had often been there “during a long stay at Chapala”.

A few tantalizing snippets of information can be gleaned from the correspondence between Warren and his colleague Cleanth Brooks, published by the University of Missouri Press in 1998.

In a letter dated 17 July 1941, and signed “Red” (Warren’s nickname on account of the color of his hair), he wrote, from the Hotel Nido in Chapala, that Chapala was “a tiny town on a lake, surrounded by mountains, with a fine climate”, before providing some details of his living arrangements:

We have rented a little house, new and verminless, for which we pay six dollars a month, though getting it screened raised the rent several dollars more. A cook is a dollar a week, and food is cheap. The place beautiful, smelly and picture-postcardy. There are some Americans about, including Witter Bynner – who, in fact was about, very much about, with a palatial establishment, but he left yesterday for Colorado. But we have led a pretty isolated life here. Cinina was pretty busy for a few days getting the domestic machinery in motion, and I’ve been working and studying Spanish and swimming and going to the can more often than usual. Not that I’ve got a bug in me yet, but the complaint seems to be usual here upon first arrival…” (Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: A Literary Correspondence, p 55)

He bemoaned his lack of access to American magazines,

We’ve seen one copy of Time, Latin America edition, but you can’t buy it here at Chapala, and we don’t go to Guadalajara, thirty miles away, but once a week…”

Chapala did offer him, though, a good space in which to think and work:

I’ve got some ideas for new poems, but haven’t done anything on them since arrival. The novel occupies most of my thoughts.”

“The novel” is presumably his second novel, At Heaven’s Gate, first published in 1943.

The following month, August 1941, he wrote that he had mailed a manuscript from Guadalajara to The Southern Review, but had to go to the city by bus because he was temporarily without his car:

We still like Chapala, but are getting awfully anxious for Baton Rouge. It seems that our car may be ready within a few days–though one can’t be too sure. I saw the body work the other day in Guadalajara, and you can’t even tell that the thing had taken a beating. But it has shore [sic] God played hell with what passes for the Warren budget.”

warren-robert=penn-at-heavens-gate

Warren also referred in this letter to “the unexpected arrival of the Albrizios”, friends from the U.S., whom “Cinina just happened to see”, “on the street at Chapala”. He excused his relative lack of work progress as being due to “matters of weather, stubbing toes, catching colds, having hangovers, and such…”

By coincidence, the house rented by Warren was later the home in 1952/1953 of Willard Marsh, author of the novel Week With No Friday (set at Lake Chapala), and his wife George. The owner of the house remembered “Red” as “a nice person with “red” hair who drank a lot – and gave wonderful parties!”

Warren’s marriage to Cinina ended in 1951; the following year, he married Eleanor Clark. He received numerous awards for his work, including the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for The Novel for All the King’s Men (1946), as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in both 1958 and 1979. Warren is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. He was appointed as the first poet laureate of the United States (1986 -1987).

Two of Warren’s works were subsequently turned into movies: All the King’s Men (1949) and Band of Angels (1957).

Source:

Apr 022015
 

Georg Rauch was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 14 February 1924, and lived thirty years in Jocotepec, on the mountainside overlooking Lake Chapala, prior to his death on 3 November 2006.

Rauch had an adventurous early life. His memoirs (translated from their original German by his wife, Phyllis), described his wartime experiences. They were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. The memoirs are based on 80 letters sent home from the Russian trenches telling how Rauch, despite being officially classified as one-quarter Jewish, was drafted into Hitler’s army at age 19 in 1943 and sent to the Russian front. He was captured and spent 18 months in a Russian POW camp, where he contracted bone tuberculosis. After the war, Rauch spent two years recovering in Stolzalpe, an alpine sanatorium.

Rauch studied architecture for two years and life drawing with Professor Bőckl at the Akademie der bildenden Kűnste in Vienna, and was encouraged by his mother to pursue a career as an artist. He was awarded travel scholarships by the Austrian government. He exhibited and became a member of the prestigious artists’ association, Wiener Secession, and soon was showing his paintings in Vienna, Paris, London, Germany and Scandinavia.

rauch-georg-in-studio5

In 1966 Rauch married his soul mate Phyllis Porter in Ohio. The couple, who had met in Vienna, lived briefly in New York before returning to Vienna in the winter of 1966/67, because Georg had been commissioned to produce the main sculpture for the Austrian Pavilion at the upcoming Montreal World Expo (1967).

In summer 1967, the Rauchs, together with fellow artists Fritz Riedl and his girlfriend (later wife) Eva, spent two months driving through Mexico, as far south as Tehuantepec. On their return trip north, the group stopped off in Guadalajara to visit the Austrian consul. The consul, an architect, purchased several watercolors completed during the trip, as well as 4 or 5 oil paintings that Rauch had with him. In the fall of 1967, the Rauchs returned to Guadalajara when the consul commissioned a sculpture for a shopping center being built in the city. The Rauchs remained in Guadalajara until 1970.

rauch-georg-red trees-s

In 1968, Rauch was invited to do a series of posters for the Guadalajara Committee of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Mexico City had commissioned its own Olympics posters, but Rauch was responsible for all the posters produced in Guadalajara). One of these Olympics posters is mentioned in Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, during a description of a living room in Ajijic. Another Rauch poster (not of the Olympics) would later feature in the movie 10 (1979) starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, shot on location at the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo. And yet another Rauch poster was once shown in an episode of the TV series Ironside.

It was during their stay in Guadalajara, that Rauch first met artist and photographer John Frost, who had a studio in Jocotepec and would later introduce Rauch to some of the finer points of silk-screening.

rauch-georg-Dream House-s

The Rauchs spent most of the next six years (1970-1976) in Laguna Beach, California, where Phyllis headed the San Clemente Public Library and Georg participated in the city’s famous Pageant of the Masters. Georg made several yearly visits to Puerto Vallarta, where his work was regularly shown in Galeria Lepe, the resort town’s only art gallery at the time. (This is where Rauch drew portraits of both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as Liz’s son Christopher Wilding.)

In 1974, the Rauchs purchased property in Jocotepec and began to build their future home and studio. They moved into their (as-yet unfinished) home, designed by Georg, in October 1976. Rauch had finally found a place he could call home, and he would remain here for thirty years, painting a succession of expressionist oils, watercolors and silk screens, as well as building several extraordinary kinetic sculptures. Rauch was a prolific artist (completing more than 2000 oils in his lifetime), driven to paint, and to paint “only that which he needed and wanted to express.”

His clown-faced self-portraits bored deep into his soul. The influence of Lake Chapala was clear in many of his haunting and sensuous Mexican landscapes. On the other hand, his watercolors revealed his particularly keen sense of observation and his delicate touch. (Of course, I’m biased because I chose a Georg Rauch watercolor of Ajijic as the cover art for my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, first published by Editorial Agata in 1993).

Georg Rauch was a consummate professional artist, one who was sufficiently successful throughout his career to live by his art alone. In conversation, he would sometimes interject a truly outrageous statement, but his wry sense of humor masked a considerable political perspicuity and an intense desire to interrogate the world around him.

In the 1980s, Georg and Phyllis Rauch expanded their home and opened the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas, where Phyllis continues to welcome visitors, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.

Georg Rauch’s work can be found in the collections of many major international museums. His numerous exhibitions include:

  • 1952 Konzerthaus in Vienna (first solo exhibition); and the Kűnstlerclub, Vienna.
  • 1953 to 1968 : London; París; Stuttgart; Vienna; Dusseldorf.
  • 1968 New York (Gallery York)
  • 1968, 1970 Galería Lepe, Puerto Vallarta
  • 1973 Toronto; Los Angeles
  • 1975 Guadalajara: Galería Pere Tanguy
  • 1977 Ajijic (Galeria del Lago)
  • 1979 Mexico D.F. (Alianza Francesa)
  • 1980, 1989 Puerto Vallarta (Galeria Uno)
  • 1982 Tucson, Arizona (Davis Gallery); Acapulco Convention Center
  • 1983 Guanajuato (University of Guanajuato)
  • 1984 Mexico City (Galeria Ultra)
  • 1986 Aarau, Switzerland
  • 1987 San Miguel de Allende
  • 1988 Guadalajara (major retrospective at Instituto Cultural Cabañas)
  • 1990 Munich (2)
  • 2000 Guadalajara (Ex-Convento del Carmen)
  • ???? Guadalajara (Galería Vertice) year-long traveling show, called Austrian Artists in Mexico, including works by Rauch, Fritz Riedl, Ginny Riedl and others.
  • 2007 Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)
  • 2014-2015 Guadalajara (Palacio del Gobierno del Estado); Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)

For more images of works by Georg Rauch, see Georg Rauch: Artist in Mexico gallery.

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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