Sep 082016
 

The Lake Chapala Auditorium (Auditorio de la Ribera), now celebrating its 40th anniversary, was originally scheduled to be formally opened on 25 September 1976 with a piano concert by Manuel Delaflor from Mexico City, who had just played at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In Ajijic, Delaflor was to play a Baldwin grand piano that had been donated to the auditorium the year before by Hilary Campbell, in memory of her sister Elsa. (However, the concert was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns about acoustics).

Hilary Campbell, together with her two sisters, Elsa and Amy, and brother Alan, settled in Chapala in the early 1950s. They first visited Chapala in 1945 but did not retire to the town until 1951. They initially lived in the “Salazar house”, across the street from the plaza. This building, close to Banamex, later became the Allen W. Lloyd offices.

In 1956, the family moved into their own home in Chapala, designed and built by Amy and Alan, at Calle Niza #10, on the hill near the chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes. The family landscaped the grounds and within a few years, the gardens were considered “a showpiece of the area”.

The Campbells were at home on Calle Niza when Life magazine photographer Leonard McCombe arrived in 1957 to document the American community at Lake Chapala. A photo of the eldest sibling, Elsa Cambell, arranging zinnias in the patio, has a caption explaining that the “ex-piano teacher … helps her brother, two sisters and three servants run an elegant household in a home they designed and built for themselves.”

The Campbells were the children of a mining engineer and his wife, Anne, an excellent pianist. Newly-wed, and about to move to Colorado, Anne ordered a Steinway grand piano to be shipped from Germany to the U.S., and then carried up winding Rocky Mountain roads to Gilpin, where the couple planned to set up home. However, the only home they could afford turned out to be quite small. Daughter Hilary later recalled that her mother had chosen to keep the piano rather than have a dining room table. The piano was subsequently inherited by Elsa, who took the piano, her “shining jewelry and faithful ally” from Colorado to New York, Carmel (California) and finally Chapala.

Elsa Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

Elsa Campbell, 1957, in patio of the family home in Calle Niza, Chapala. Credit: Leonard McCombe, Life.

Elsa, who had been born in Ontario, Canada, in 1887 died in a hospital in Guadalajara on 24 May 1971. Her remains were sent to Mexico City for cremation. The only snippet I have managed to locate about Elsa’s early piano playing was from the Boston Evening Transcript for 23 February 1907, when she was about 20 years of age. The newspapers reports that she played a Grieg minuet and Lavalée’s “Butterfly” at the Dorchester Social Club of Women, “pleasing the audience with the delicacy of her nuances and the perfection of her technique.”

Amy Campbell (ca 1889-1966) was born in Denver, Colorado and died in Chapala on 20 February 1966. She lived for several years in Kingston, Ontario, as a child before becoming a faculty member at Simmons College in Boston. When the family was living in New York, Amy became a well-known dress designer. Amy was also a musician and played the violin in several amateur orchestras. Before “retiring” to Chapala, she had lived several years in San Francisco (she is recorded in the 1940 U.S. Census as living in that city with her mother, Anne, then aged 87) and Carmel, California, where she had designed and built houses.

Not content to be retired, Amy went to Taxco and learned silversmithing. She then designed and made silver and gold jewelry, some set with ancient jade found in tombs. Her beautiful jewelry was displayed in galleries in New York and San Francisco. Amy was very active in Chapala social and civic affairs,  including the local Bridge Club and the Lakeside Little Theater.

Hilary Campbell was born in Colorado in about 1891 and lived at least into her mid-80s. At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, she was living in Manhattan, New York City, where she was an editor in the social work sector. The census record suggests that the four siblings may have had an elder brother or half-brother named James Perkin, born in about 1882.

There is evidence that Hilary was also a poet. In 1956 Witter Bynner, the famous American poet who was a long-time Chapala resident from well before the arrival of the Campbell siblings, gifted Hilary one of his volumes of verse, published the year before, with the inscription “to poet Hilary Campbell”.

It was Hilary (who outlived her siblings) who decided that there was “no better way to honor the memory of her sisters and their part in the early cultural efforts around Lake Chapala than by donating a $10,000 dollars [Baldwin] grand piano to the new auditorium.” The first concert on the Baldwin grand was performed by Mexican pianist Manuel Delaflor on 25 September 1976.

Alan Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

Alan Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

The youngest of the four siblings was Alan Randolph Campbell (ca 1893-1967). Born in Colorado, Alan spent part of his youth in eastern Canada and California, where he was in the class of 1915 at Stanford University. He then worked in Boston and New York, but by 1940 had returned to live in Carmel, California, where he is listed in the U.S. Census as a “salesman in the travel industry”. From Carmel, he moved to Chapala. He traveled widely in Mexico and in Guatemala. He apparently made a documentary film for the Guatemalan government tourism department, though I have yet to find any details. Alan died in Chapala on 8 October 1967; his remains are interred in the municipal cemetery.

Like so many other foreign visitors, this multi-talented family clearly found a new lease of life after “retiring” to Chapala!

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 Feb 1966; 28 Oct 1967; 3 May 1975.
  • U.S. Census, 1940
  • Leonard McCombe (photographer). 1957. “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life, 23 December 1957

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 112016
 

John Liggett Meigs (1916-2003) was an American artist and designer who was a student of Peter Hurd.

Meigs sought out Hurd in San Patricio, New Mexico, in 1951, and in 1953 began to assist Hurd on his fresco mural in Lubbock, Texas, at the West Texas Museum (now the Holden Hall at the Texas Tech University). The mural depicts pioneers and influential leaders of West Texas. The two other artists working on the project, which took two years to complete, were Hurd’s wife Henriette and Manuel Acosta.

Meigs became very good friends with Henriette and Peter Hurd. He bought a small adobe house in San Patricio and spent forty years converting it into a 23-room dwelling that Peter Hurd dubbed “Fort Meigs.” In about 1968, Hurd and Meigs jointly bought the home in Chapala previously owned by American poet (and friend) Witter Bynner. Although there is no evidence that Chapala influenced Meig’s work in any way, the artist visited Chapala on several occasions.

Landscape by John Meigs

Landscape by John Meigs.

Born in Chicago on 10 May 1916, Meigs only discovered the details of his interesting childhood when he signed up for the Navy during the second world war, and learned that he had been kidnapped by his biological father as a one-year-old and given the assumed surname of MacMillan. Meigs never knew his real mother, but grew up with his father and his father’s new partner. They moved frequently, but eventually settled in San Antonio, Texas, where Meigs first became interested in art. His father died in 1931 when Meigs was only 15 years old. Meigs and his foster mother then moved to California where Meigs later attended the University of Redlands.

Meigs with his Hawaiian shirt designs. Credit: Dennis Oda, Honollulu Star-Bulletin

Meigs with his Hawaiian shirt designs. Credit: Dennis Oda, Honollulu Star-Bulletin

Meigs worked as a reporter in Los Angeles and Hawaii, and as a designer of houses and clothing. He was one of the earliest designers of Hawaiian aloha shirts, and his shirt designs were the basis of a 1997 exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Prior to taking his art seriously and studying with Hurd, Meigs had also served in the U.S. Navy during the second world war.

Meigs went on to become a very successful artist, producing landscape and architectural images in a variety of media, from ink and oil to watercolor and photography. He held over fifty solo exhibitions, in locations ranging from Santa Fe and Roswell in New Mexico to New York City, Lubbock (Texas) and Honolulu.

In 1960, the Society of California Pioneers, based in San Francisco, commissioned him to paint a series of watercolors of Victorian homes in the city for an exhibition at the Society’s headquarters later that year.

meigs-john-cowboy-in-american-printsIn addition to his art, now found in private, corporate and academic collections, Meigs edited several books about art: Peter Hurd – The Lithographs (1968), Peter Hurd Sketch Book (1971) and The Cowboy in American Prints (1972).

The biography of Meigs by Mark S. Fuller provides chapter and verse of the artistic and social circles in which Meigs developed his career. He could count among his friends the artists Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe and Rolf Armstrong, poet Witter Bynner, oilman and cattleman Robert O. Anderson, and actor Vincent Price.

According to Fuller, the major retrospective show of Peter Hurd’s works in 1964-65 came about because Meigs had visited a museum in 1963 to show them his own canvasses but had then asked the museum purchaser why the museum didn’t mount a show of Hurd’s work.

After Meigs and Hurd bought the Bynner home in Chapala, Meigs visited various times, and gradually brought Bynner’s extensive book collection (included in the sale) back to New Mexico. (By the 1970s, Meigs estimated he had 40,000 volumes in his personal library.) Meigs also regularly brought back select handicrafts and ceramic pieces.

In November 1993, a decade before his death in August 2003, Meigs received The Governor’s Award for Excellence & Achievement in the Arts from the State of New Mexico.

Sources:

  • Mark S. Fuller, 2015. Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs (Sunstone Press)

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 172015
 

Dated 1981, these Georg Rauch designs for a children’s playground demonstrate the versatility of this amazing artist.

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981. Click image to enlarge.

Georg’s widow, Phyllis Rauch, has kindly shared the following recollections related to Georg’s interest in playgrounds, and to these designs in particular:

“Georg designed a number of large playground pieces for a famous park in Vienna. When he arrived in the United States he was still fascinated by the topic and we visited playgrounds wherever we went – especially in New York.

When we moved to Mexico, Georg designed a very large and amazing playground for the town of El Molino, near Jocotepec. At the time there wasn’t even a church there, only a bell. The completed playground, utilizing all things that are freely available and could be replaced, was inaugurated by the then Governor of Jalisco’s first lady.

Sadly the only thing we didn’t take into consideration was upkeep, a fund for replacing tires, ropes etc., and over the years it basically disappeared. But I’m sure there are people in their late 40s and 50s who remember it well and enjoyed playing there.

Georg’s first and only stipulation was that a bathroom first be built and installed.

Sometimes when returning from Guadalajara, I think I can see it still there, among the many homes that have since been built.”

When Georg Rauch later learned that the Lakeside School for the Deaf (now the School for Special Children) in Jocotepec planned to build new play equipment, he gave the designs to Gwen Chan, the school’s director from 1985 to 1994. Some of Rauch’s designs were subsequently incorporated into the deaf school’s play equipment.

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