Dec 082016
 

Alan Horton Crane, aka Alan Crane (a name also used by his artist son), was an American artist, illustrator and lithographer who spent most of his life in New England, but who visited Mexico several times in the 1940s and 1950s.

Crane was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1901 and died in 1969. (His son, Alan Crane, best known for his magical realism paintings, died in 2015.)

Crane senior studied at the Pratt Institute with Winold Weiss and with Richard Boleslawsky at the American Laboratory Theater. He also worked with  Boleslawsky and at various other theater venues.

Weiss later used Crane as the model for one of the heads depicted in his Union Terminal mosaic mural in Cincinnati, which commemorated the broadcasting pioneers of the city. For aesthetic reasons, Weiss felt he needed someone with wavy hair to replace the head (but not the body) of radio engineer Charlie Butler, who had straight, slicked-back hair. When the Union Terminal concourse was demolished in 1974, the mural was moved to Terminal 2 at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. When that building in turn was removed, the mural was relocated to the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Crane exhibited widely from about 1941 to 1956 and his art won numerous awards. He also undertook illustrations for books and magazines, and wrote and illustrated several books of his own, including Pepita Bonita (1942); Gloucester Joe (1943); and Nick and Nan in Yucatan (1945). In 1956, he illustrated Elizabeth Borton de Trevino’s book A Carpet of Flowers.

Crane was a member of numerous art groups, including the Salmagundi Club, Audubon Artists, Society of American Graphic Artists, Philadelphia Water Color Club, Guild of Boston Artists, Rockport Art Association and the North Shore Arts Association.

Crane’s work can be found in the collections of the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, Carnegie Institute, American Society of Arts and Letters, Brooklyn Museum, Pennsylvania State College and the Princeton Print Club.

It is unclear precisely what motivated Crane to first visit Mexico, but he visited the country several times, as witnessed by a succession of superb, finely detailed, lithographs (in editions of between 40 and 50) of Mexican scenes, including “Haunted Garden, Mexico” (1947); “Indian Laurels, Chapala” (1948); “Clouds and Spires, San Miguel Allende” (1949); “The Mirror, Camecuaro” (1952); “Shadows at Noon, Patzcuaro” (1952) and “Morning Catch, Puerto Vallarta” (1959).

Sources:

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Sep 152016
 

Artist William (“Bill”) Gentes (1917-2000), who specialized in lithographs and linocuts, lived and worked at Lake Chapala for thirty years.

William George Gentes was born in Brooklyn, New York on 21 June 1917 and died in Chapala on 26 July 2000. Gentes graduated from Hobart College in 1938 and then studied at the Art Students League of New York. He later gained masters degrees from New York State University and from the University of Guanajuato.

Williaml Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

William Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

He worked for a time as editor of the Suffolk-Nassau Labor News, and began a lengthy career as a sign painter and an art teacher. With time, he became a sensitive and accomplished printmaker (lithographer) who found in Mexico and its working people the perfect subjects through which to express his exceptionally warm and affectionate outlook.

Gentes first visited Mexico in the summer of 1966 when he drove overland with his wife Adele and their two children (Gaye and Bill Jr.) from New York to Mérida and back. In 1968, the artist took a sabbatical year. The family lived in San Miguel de Allende and Gentes studied at the Instituto San Miguel.

In 1970, at the age of 55, Gentes retired after thirty years teaching in New York and two months after he had been injured while cycling to work. The family moved to Mexico the following year and settled in Colonia Seattle, Guadalajara, where the children went to local schools, while Gentes devoted himself to his art, taking regular trips to unlikely places on the extensive network of local buses to sketch and find inspiration for his drawings, paintings, woodblocks and (later) linoprints.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

Gentes’ links to Lake Chapala started at this time. From about 1974, the family spent most summers in San Pedro Soyutlán on the south side of the lake.

In 1979, with both children now studying in the U.S., Gentes and his wife sold the family home in Guadalajara and moved to Lake Chapala. They lived near the former railway station in Chapala for about four years, then moved to a house overlooking Ajijic and later to Calle Manglar in Las Redes. With each move, Gentes acquired bigger and better presses, allowing him to make larger print runs without sacrificing quality, and enabling him to employ up to eight colors in his work.

Gentes’ genre art was regularly included in group exhibits in Ajijic. His solo shows included an exhibit in February 1989 at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. In the 1990s, Gentes was one of the founder members of the group of Ajijic artists who helped launch the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA).

His impish sense of humor is evident in many of his linocuts, but Gentes also had an intensely serious side and used his art to engage with social and political injustices. Some of his strongest works feature characters he had encountered while traveling around western Mexico. It is always worthwhile to look carefully at the wording on a Gentes linocut. The one below translates literally to “The old woman who dances raises lots of dust”, meaning that people who do age-inappropriate things can make themselves look ridiculous.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Each of the Gentes family homes in Mexico had a sauna, and it is no coincidence that many of Gentes’ prints depict nudes having a sauna. Having been excused military service during the second world war on account of his poor eyesight, the artist quickly put younger, attractive sauna guests to his home at Lake Chapala at ease by declaring he was so blind he couldn’t see anything. His Mexican-themed parties for fellow artists and art lovers were well-attended and legendary. Generous and fun-loving, Gentes lived life to the full. His son, Bill Jr, recalls that his father was especially delighted when he realized that his years enjoying retirement had exceeded the length of time he had worked in New York.

The 1980s was Gentes’ most prolific period as a printmaker. In 1992, the loss of his wife of 27 years was a severe blow, but Gentes eventually overcame his grief by producing a series of prints depicting his loneliness before restarting his long series of humorous prints. His local solo shows at Lake Chapala included one at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Gentes was especially generous to many fellow artists, not only in terms of encouragement, but also in conducting workshops and allowing them to use his printing presses. When painter Pat Apt first arrived in Ajijic in 1992, Gentes invited her to share his studio at Calle Independencia #5. Apt worked alongside him for six years and the two remained close friends thereafter.

Apt’s abiding impression of Gentes is how he refused to let his deteriorating eyesight prevent him from completing some of his finest work, work that was more colorful than earlier, with bolder, thicker lines. As his sight failed, Gentes relied on his extraordinary spatial memory to painstakingly draw pictures, one square inch at a time, despite being unable to see virtually anything of the piece he was creating.

Gentes’ work is in private collections all over the world. His children inherited more than 700 original artworks and several thousand lithographs. Several linocuts by Gentes were used as illustrations in Don Adams’s book, Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide (Trafford, 2003).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Bill Gentes Jr. for information about his parents’ life in Mexico and his father’s career, and to Pat Apt.

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 212016
 

American artist Peter Hurd (1904-1984) spent most of his life in New Mexico, but also had connections to Lake Chapala. In about 1968, together with  fellow artist and former student John Liggett Meigs, Hurd bought the home in Chapala previously owned by poet Witter Bynner. Although there is no evidence that Chapala influenced Hurd’s work in any way, the artist visited Chapala on several occasions, and presumably was accompanied on some of these trips by his wife, artist Henriette Wyeth.

Peter Hurd: Country Scene (undated)

Peter Hurd: Country Scene (undated)

Hurd had life-long ties to New Mexico. He was born on 22 February 1904 in Roswell and died there on 9 July 1984. His parents named him Harold Hurd Jr., but called him “Pete” and, in his early 20s, he legally changed his name to Peter.

In 1918, he studied at New Mexico Military Institute, and three years later entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1923, he left West Point to study at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Soon afterwards, Hurd settled in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, so that he could study art under the illustrator N.C. Wyeth. He worked for a decade as Wyeth’s assistant and, in 1929, married Henriette Wyeth, Wyeth’s eldest daughter.

The couple moved back to Hurd’s native New Mexico and established the family home and studios on a ranch in San Patricio. Henriette Wyeth later became very well-known for her own portraits and still life paintings, “considered by many art scholars to be one of the great women painters of the 20th century”. Two of the couple’s children, Ann Carol Hurd and Michael Hurd, also became professional artists and continue to live on the family ranch in San Patricio.

Many of Peter Hurd’s works are set in Southeastern New Mexico, in and around the ranch in San Patricio and in the Hondo Valley:

In the 1930s, during the depression, Hurd focused on producing inexpensive lithographs for a larger audience. Convinced of the need for gallery representation in New York, he drove there with a portfolio and quickly convinced several gallery owners to display his lithographs.

During the second world war, Hurd was a war correspondent for Life. He became a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1942. Hurd’s wartime works varied from quick plein air sketches to watercolors and egg temperas (his preferred medium). After the war, Hurd traveled in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

From 1953 to 1954, Hurd, together with Henriette and two of his students – Manuel Acosta and John Meigs – painted a fresco 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, and includes a self-portrait of Hurd himself, sketchpad in hand.

A later Hurd mural, “The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It”, was saved from destruction when its original location, the Prudential Building in Houston, Texas, was about to be demolished. It was rehoused in 2011 in the Artesia Public Library in New Mexico. The story of how the mural was moved makes for interesting reading.

Cover of Folkways record

Cover of Folkways record

Hurd was also an accomplished musician. In 1957, he collaborated with Folkways Records to release an album, Spanish Folk Songs of New Mexico, on which Hurd played the guitar and sang the lyrics (Spanish and English) of various ranchera songs.

From 1959 to 1963, at the invitation of President Eisenhower, Hurd served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

Hurd’s first major retrospective exhibition, in 1964/65, was held at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The catalog for the exhibit, entitled Peter Hurd : A Portrait Sketch from Life (1965) was written by Paul Horgan, a lifelong friend.

A 1967 portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson by Hurd, meant to be the president’s official portrait, did not find favor with its subject, but remains in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The debate about the painting generated plenty of press coverage, which brought Hurd’s art to a much wider public.

Hurd illustrated several books, including The Story of Siegfried by James Baldwin (1931), and the same author’s The Story of Roland (1957); Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (1932); Deep Silver. A story of the cod banks, by Nora Burglon (1939); Great Stories of the Sea and Ships, edited by N.C. Wyeth (1940); Murder and Mystery in New Mexico by Erna Fergusson (1948); Sky Determines by Ross Calvin (1948); Montana: high, wide, and handsome, by Joseph Kinsey Howard (1974). Hurd’s portrait of Charles C. Tillinghast, Jr. for the cover of Time (22 July 1966) was featured in a 1969 National Portrait Gallery exhibit of the magazine’s cover art.

Books about Hurd’s work include The Peter Hurd Mural (1957); Peter Hurd. The Lithographs, edited by John Meigs (1968); Peter Hurd sketch book, edited by John Meigs (1971); Peter Hurd: Insight to a Painter, by James K. Ballinger and Tonia L Horton (1983); My Land Is the Southwest: Peter Hurd Letters and Journals, edited by Robert Metzger (1983); Peter Hurd: A Memorial Exhibition, by Walt Wiggins (1984); The Art of Peter Hurd from the Permanent Collection, Roswell Museum (1985);

Hurd’s work can be found in many major museums and collections, including the Metropolitan Museum; Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Roswell Museum, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico, and the National Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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 email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

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