Aug 212017
 

Orley Allen Pendergraft was born in Arizona on 12 May 1918. He worked as a school teacher for many years and was ordained as a minister prior to deciding to dedicate himself to art.

Even before he completed college, Pendergraft had made several visits to Mexico, usually to Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco) on the Sea of Cortés. He painted in Mexico for the first time in 1940 and spent part of 1951 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. After 1959 he became a regular visitor to the town of Álamos in Sonora, establishing his permanent home there in the mid-1970s and living there for more than thirty years until his death on 22 November 2005.

His first one-person show was apparently in “the Guadalajara area”, but it is unclear whether this refers to a show in Tlaquepaque, for example, or to a location on Lake Chapala.

Pendergraft, “a native Arizonan of Cherokee and Anglo descent”, was born on his father’s dairy farm near Mesa and displayed artistic talent from a young age, winning an Arizona Republic art contest at the age of twelve. He also picked up street Spanish from the farm’s Mexican workers. He graduated from Phoenix Union High School and won an art scholarship to Carnegie Institute, but chose to remain in Arizona and, in 1938, entered the Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University) at Flagstaff.

His mother insisted that he postpone his intended career as an art teacher and instead study for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, so Pendergraft next attended a seminary in Arkansas from which he graduated with a Doctor of Divinity degree. He was ordained as an Episcopal minister on 21 December 1943 by Bishop Block of California in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

By 1949, Pendergraft had been assigned to, and was teaching in, the diocese of New Jersey. In March of that year, he married a French nurse, Eleanor Madeleine Langpoop. This was also the year when he joined the Graphic Sketch Club in Philadelphia and decided to renew his art education by enrolling in the Fleisher Memorial Art School in Philadelphia. At some point in his career, Pendergraft also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia) and at the Art Students League in New York, where he had worked as a free-lance commercial artist for Young and Rubicam Advertising. Pendergraft had also spent a year in Europe, mainly in Paris and Spain.

By 1951, Pendergraft and his wife were living in Mount Hermon, California. The Santa Cruz Sentinel for 28 September 1951 reports that one of Pendergraft’s landscape paintings – Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Mexico – has taken the “coveted silver bowl” at the county fair for gaining first place in the watercolors landscape class, and that one of his oil paintings – a still life – had also won a first place award.

Allen Pendergraft. Ajijic. 1951

Allen Pendergraft. “La Esquina del Carrisal – Ajijic”. 1951. Credit: Figureworks.

This Ajijic painting (above) dates from that time and is currently listed for sale at Figureworks, a gallery in Brooklyn, New York.

From 1953-63, Pendergraft exhibited exclusively with the Artists Guild of America, Inc., both in Carmel and in their traveling exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Pendergraft was also invited to participate in an exhibit entitled “Sixty Living Americans”, held in New York and Miami. Pendergraft’s agent was art patron Joanne Goldwater. [By coincidence, Joanna Goldman used to reside at least part-time in Ajijic, and her father – former U.S. senator Barry Goldwater – exhibited photos of American southwest landscapes at the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA) in January 1998.]

Sadly, in 1959, Eleanor contracted an antibiotic-resistant form of tuberculosis and died shortly afterwards. The church granted Pendergraft early retirement and a pension, giving him the freedom to focus on his art. For many years, he divided his time between studios in Sedona, Arizona, and Álamos, Sonora.

According to the post “Allen Pendergraft” in the Álamos Interviews series published on the Álamos History Association website,

“Immediately after his wife’s death, though, and in a state of depression, he went to Mexico intent on drinking himself to death. Fortunately for him, the drinking only made his sick! He was out of money at a hotel in Southern Mexico, so the owner gave him a job tending the cash register at the hotel bar. While at work he met the playwright Tennessee Williams, who was looking for a location for a play he intended to write. Allen took Williams to Puerto Vallarta, then a small, sleepy fishing village, and Williams proceeded to write “The Night of the Iguana,” putting Allen in the play as the alcoholic priest. Allen was not pleased with the characterization!”

This wonderful story may have some truth to it. Williams completed the play, based on his 1948 short story of the same name, in 1961, and the famous movie version, starring Richard Burton, was released in 1964, so the time frame is about right. However, the Wikipedia entry about the play claims that, “The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon was partly based on Williams’ cousin and close friend, the Reverend Sidney Lanier, the iconoclastic Rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church, New York.” It is of course perfectly possible that the character of the drunken defrocked priest is based on both men. [Note that Williams himself had spent the summer of 1945 in Chapala working on a play provisionally called The Poker Night,.]

Pendergraft’s religious training and art education came together in the mid-1950s. From 1956 to 1967, he worked, in association with his cousin Peter Carroll, on the liturgical arts commission in California, designing stained glass windows, murals and church furnishings in glass, mosaics and wrought iron for churches in many communities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Orinda, Sacramento, Portola Valley, Santa Clara, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Pasadena, Laguna Beach and San Diego.

In addition, Pendergraft was commissioned to paint the portraits of various senior ecclesiastical figures, including Bishop Banyard (whose portrait hangs in the cathedral in Trenton); Bishop Torres (whose portrait is in the cathedral of Ciudad Obregón, Mexico) and Bishop Block (San Francisco).

According to a newspaper piece in 1972, by which time he was becoming very well known as a painter of western landscapes, Pendergraft’s work was being exhibited “in La Posada and the Wesley Gallery in Sedona, Scottsdale’s Blue Flute and Saddleback Inn in Phoenix”.

Pendergraft was a member of the Artists Guild of America and his work won numerous awards in regional shows and fairs in California, as well as a first place in the New Jersey Summer Art Festival (Cape May). His oils and watercolors can be found in museums in New Jersey, Arizona and Massachusetts, and in private collections throughout the U.S.

Pendergraft wrote a family history entitled Pendergrass of Virginia and the Carolinas: 1669-1919, published in Sedona in 1977, and contributed the pen and ink drawings used to illustrate Ida Luisa Franklin’s Ghosts of Alamos, first published in 1973.

Pendergraft sold his Sedona house and moved full-time to Álamos in the mid-1970s. Most of Pendergraft’s paintings in Álamos were small enough to fit in a suitcase, and inexpensive enough ($25) to appeal to the tourists he met on the plaza. He did also paint some large canvasses, one of which is in the town’s Museo Costumbrista de Sonora.

When his failing eyesight brought an end to his painting career in the mid-1990s, Pendergraft was cared for by a local couple. After the husband’s death, and concerned about the financial future of his widow, Pendergraft married her not long before his own death in order that she could benefit from his social security, pensions and estate.

Sources:

  • Álamos History Association. Álamos Interviews: Allen Pendergraft. 21 June 2011.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona). 1939. “Valley Students Placed On Roll” in Arizona Republic, 10 January 1939, p 15; 14 June 1972, p 89.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. Santa Cruz Art League Statewide Art Exhibition Index, First through Twenty-seventh, 1928-1957. (Publications in California Art, No. 12).
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, (California), 28 September 1951, p 5; 7 October 1951.

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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Aug 142017
 

Clark Hulings, an acclaimed American realist painter, visited Mexico on numerous occasions. The precise timing of his visit or visits to Lake Chapala remains unclear, but in 1975 he completed the painting Chapala Fruit Vendor (below). He also painted several other works related to Lake Chapala and Ajijic. The dates of his visits are uncertain because, as his daughter Elizabeth explains:

“he didn’t always produce a painting of a particular place right after a visit. First of all, he concocted compositions in his studio with source material from different locations all the time. Second, he would revisit things, sometimes years later. AND, he most likely went through the Chapala area a few different times.”

Clark Hulings Chapala Fruit Vendor

Clark Hulings. Chapala Fruit Vendor. 1975. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

Hulings was born in Florida on 20 November 1922. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was still an infant and Clark and his sister, Susan, spent the next three years living with their maternal grandparents in New Jersey. In 1925, after their father moved to Valencia, Spain, and remarried, the youngsters joined him and his new wife, the daughter of the local British Consul.

The family relocated to the U.S. in 1928 and settled in Westfield, New Jersey. His father encouraged a love of paintings and Hulings took classes from the age of twelve with Sigismund Ivanowski, a Ukrainian-born portraitist and landscape painter. He also studied at the Art Students League of New York with George Grant Bridgman, the celebrated Canadian-American teacher of figure drawing.

Persuaded by his father to study for a “real” career as opposed to one in art, Hulings attended Haverford College, Pennsylvania, from where he graduated in 1944 with a degree in physics. His recurring ill health (lung issues stemming from infancy) prevented him from taking up a job offer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Instead, he began to make his living by painting portraits (especially of children) and landscapes. He had his first major one-person show (of landscapes) in 1945 at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Pancho-Ajijic donkey.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Pancho – Ajijic donkey. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

The following year, Hulings moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he had a solo show at the Louisiana Art Commission. This show established his credentials as a portrait painter. It was at about this time that Hulings also became seriously interested in design and illustration work and so he returned to the Art Students League in New York from 1948-1951 to take classes with Frank Reilly.

During the early 1950s Hulings became immersed in designing paperback book covers (examples can be seen here, here and here) and drawing magazine illustrations but never lost his love of travel and landscape painting.He also designed album covers including that for Percy Faith’s Viva: The Music of Mexico:

Clark Hulings. Design of Album cover.

Hulings spent four months in Europe in 1954 and returned in 1958 for a trip that lasted three years and took him as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as southern Egypt. In the course of this trip, he studied figure painting in Florence and abstract design in Düsseldorf.

On his return to New York in 1961, Hulings made his living from illustrations while continuing to work on his more serious easel paintings. His career took off when his work was accepted by the Grand Central Art Galleries, which accorded him one-person shows in 1965 and 1967.

Three typical cover illustrations by Clark Hulings

Three typical cover designs by Clark Hulings

Hulings married Mary Belfi in 1966 and their daughter, Elizabeth, was born two years later. In 1972, Hulings took his doctor’s advice and moved away from the pollution of New York and back to Santa Fe.

Hulings had made his first visit to Mexico in 1964, traversing the entire length of the country, with a stop in San Miguel de Allende to visit his artist friend Mort Künstler, and ending up in Guatemala. When he was living in Santa Fe, visiting Mexico was much simpler. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, Hulings made several more visits to Mexico, lasting up to a month at a time, eagerly searching out new places to paint. His daughter, Elizabeth, believes that these visits to Mexico provided her father with the confirmation and validation he sought as a self-styled “backdoor painter”, one who loved to depict the everyday scene, the down-to-earth view of the back door, rather than the more carefully-constructed “curb appeal” view of the front door.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Hot Springs (Mexican Women Washing).

Clark Hulings. Undated. Hot Springs (Mexican Women Washing). (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

Hulings’ realist art has won numerous competitive awards, including The Council of American Artists’ award at the Hudson Valley Art Association, a gold medal from the Allied Artists of America and the first ever Prix de West award at the National Academy of Western Art (NAWA) in Oklahoma City in 1973. He subsequently won several more gold and silver medals at NAWA shows, part of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Following a solo show in 1976 at the Cowboy Hall of Fame (associated with NAWA) in Oklahoma City, Hulings was presented with the Hall’s Trustees’ Gold Medal for his “distinguished contribution to American art”.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Sunlight on Lake Chapala. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Fund)

Clark Hulings. Undated. Sunlight on Lake Chapala. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

In 1978, Huling’s work was the subject of a comprehensive retrospective in Midland, Texas. His work was also shown at the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana (1981). Hulings held several one person shows, including Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bartfield Galleries in New York (2007); Morris & Whiteside Galleries in Hilton Head, South Carolina (2007); and Forbes Galleries, New York (2011).

Hulings’ keen eye for details, especially of people as they engaged in their daily activities, led him to produce powerful, realistic paintings of street and market scenes. In the course of his career, Hulings traveled numerous times to Mexico. Many of his Mexican paintings include a donkey or two, even though he was once told by a New York gallery owner that there was no market for paintings of Mexico or for paintings of donkeys!

Huling’s reputation is such that his works have been acquired by dozens of major museums and collectors and now command high prices when resold.

Clark Hulings died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 2 February 2011. The artist’s daughter, Elizabeth Hulings Diamond, maintains this highly informative website: Clark Hulings and his art. In his honor, the Clark Hulings Fund was established to help professional visual artists with business support, training, and targeted financial assistance.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Hulings Diamond, Director of the Clark Hulings Fund, for her help in writing this profile, and for permission to reproduce several of her father’s works.

Sources:

  • Clark Hulings. 2006. A Gallery of Paintings by Clark Hulings (2nd edition).  White Burro Pub, 2006.
  • Obituary of Clark Hulings.

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 102017
 

Artist and writer Allyn Hunt has lived in the Lake Chapala area since the mid-1960s. Hunt was the owner and editor for many years of the weekly English-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. His weekly columns for the newspaper quickly became legendary. (Hunt’s wife, Beverly, also worked at the Guadalajara Reporter and later ran a real estate office and Bed and Breakfast in Ajijic.)

Hugh Allyn Hunt was born in Nebraska in 1931. His mother, Ann, was granted a divorce from her husband J. Carroll Hunt, the following year. Allyn Hunt grew up in Nebraska before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.

He studied advertising and journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, where he took a creative writing class under novelist and short story writer Willard Marsh. Marsh had known Ajijic since the early 1950s and later wrote a novel set in the village.

At USC, Hunt was associate editor of Wampus, the USC student humor magazine, and according to later bios he also became managing editor of the university newspaper, the Daily Trojan.

After graduating, Hunt worked as public relations representative for Southern Pacific Railroad, and edited its “house organ”, before becoming publicity director and assistant to director of advertising for KFWB radio in Los Angeles. Hunt also worked, at one time or another, as a stevedore, photographer’s model, riding instructor and technical writer in the space industry.

Living in Los Angeles gave Hunt the opportunity to explore Tijuana and the Baja California Peninsula. As he later described it, he became a frequent inhabitant of Tijuana’s bars and an aficionado of Baja California’s beaches and bullfights.

Hunt and his wife, Beverly, moved to Mexico in 1963, living first in Ajijic and then later in the mountainside house they built in Jocotepec. They would remain in Mexico, apart from two and a half years in New York from 1970 to 1972.

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

This portrait of Allyn and Beverly Hunt was painted by Winnie Godfrey who subsequently became one of America’s top floral painters.

In their New York interlude, Hunt wrote for the New York Herald and the New York Village Voice, and apparently also shared the writing, production and direction of a short film, released in 1972, which won a prize at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany and was shown on European television. (If anyone knows the title of this film, or any additional details about it, please get in touch!)

When the Hunts returned from New York, they decided to build a house in Nextipac, in Jocotepec. They moved into their house, “Las Graciadas”, towards the end of 1973. The following year, they agreed to purchase the Guadalajara Reporter. They became owners and editors of the weekly newspaper in 1975 and Hunt would be editor and publisher of the Guadalajara (Colony) Reporter for more than 20 years. Hunt’s numerous erudite columns on local art exhibitions have been exceedingly useful in my research into the history of the artistic community at Lake Chapala.

As a journalist, Hunt also contributed opinion columns to the Mexico City News for 15 years, and to Cox News Service and The Los Angeles Magazine.

As an artist, Hunt exhibited numerous times in group shows in Ajijic and in Guadalajara. For example, in April 1966, he participated in a show at the Posada Ajijic that also featured works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

The following year Hunt’s work was shown alongside works by several Guadalajara-based artists in a show that opened on 15 March 1967 at “Ruta 66”, a gallery at the traffic circle intersection of Niños Héroes and Avenida Chapultepec in Guadalajara.

In March-April 1968, Hunt’s “hard-edged paintings and two found object sculptures” were included in an exhibit at the Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes, A.C., at Marcos Castellanos #15 in Ajijic. (The gallery was administered at that time by Hudson and Mary Rose).

Later that year – in June 1968 – Hunt showed eight drawings in a collective exhibit, the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878) in Guadalajara. That show also included works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson, Eugenio Quesada and Tully Judson Petty.

The following year, two acrylics by Hunt were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara (at Tolsa #300). That show, which opened in June 1969, featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

The details of any one-person art shows of Hunt’s works in the U.S. or Mexico remain elusive. (Please get in touch if you can supply details of any other shows in which Allyn Hunt’s art was represented!)

In the early-1960s, Hunt was at least as keen to become an artist as a writer. Rex Oppenheimer later recalled in an article for Steel Notes Magazine that when he visited his father in Zapopan (on the outskirts of Guadalajara) in 1965,

“Among the first of my father’s friends that I met were Allen and his wife Beverly. Allen was an artist. He looked like a beatnik or incipient Hippie and had a very cool house out in Ajijic near Lake Chapala. After touring the house and taking in his artwork, we went up on the roof. I don’t remember the conversation, but there was a great view out over the lake, and I got totally smashed on Ponche made from fresh strawberries and 190 proof pure cane alcohol.”

Despite his early artistic endeavors, Hunt is much better known today as a writer of short stories. His “Acme Rooms and Sweet Marjorie Russell” was one of several stories accepted for publication in the prestigious literary journal Transatlantic Review. It appeared in the Spring 1966 issue and explores the topic of adolescent sexual awakening in small-town U.S.A. It won the Transatlantic’s Third Annual Short Story Contest and was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Many years later, Adam Watstein wrote, directed and produced an independent movie of the same name. The movie, based closely on the story and shot in New York, was released in 1994.

One curiosity about that Spring 1966 issue of Transatlantic Review is that it also contained a second story by Hunt, entitled “The Answer Obviously is No”, written under the pen name “B. E. Evans” (close to his wife’s maiden name of Beverly Jane Evans). The author’s notes claim that “B. E. Evans was born in the Mid-West and lived in Los Angeles for many years where he studied creative writing under Willard Marsh. He has lived in Mexico for the past year and a half. This is his first published story.”

Later stories by Hunt in the Transatlantic Review include “Ciji’s Gone” (Autumn 1968); “A Mole’s Coat” (Summer 1969), which is set at Lake Chapala and is about doing acid “jaunts”; “A Kind of Recovery” (Autumn-Winter 1970-71); “Goodnight, Goodbye, Thank You” (Spring-Summer 1972); and “Accident” (Spring 1973).

Hunt was in exceptionally illustrious company in having so many stories published in the Transatlantic Review since his work appeared alongside contributions from C. Day Lewis, Robert Graves, Alan Sillitoe, Malcolm Bradbury, V. S. Pritchett, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Ted Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, and his former teacher Willard Marsh.

Hunt also had short stories published in The Saturday Evening Post, Perspective and Coatl, a Spanish literary review.

At different times in his writing career, Hunt has been reported to be working on “a novel set in Mexico”, “a book of poems”, and to be “currently completing two novels, one of which is set in what he calls the “youth route” of Mexico-Lake Chapala, the Mexico City area, Veracruz, Oaxaca and the area north and south of Acapulco”, but it seems that none of these works was ever formally published.

Very few of Hunt’s original short stories can be found online, but one noteworthy exception is “Suspicious stranger visits a rural tacos al vapor stand“, a story that first appeared in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1995 and was reprinted, with the author’s permission, on Mexconnect.com in 2008.

Sources:

  • Broadcasting (The Business Weekly of Radio and Television), May 1961.
  • Daily Trojan (University of Southern California), Vol. 43, No. 117, 21 April 1952.
  • Martha Foley and David Burnett (eds). The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 2 April 1966; 12 March 1967; 27 April 1968; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 5 April 1975
  • The Lincoln Star (Nebraska). 15 August 1932.
  • Rex Maurice Oppenheimer. 2016. “Gunplay in Guadalajara“. Steel Notes Magazine.

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

Jul 312017
 

Watercolorist, etcher and illustrator Elbridge Gerry Peirce Jr., more usually known simply as Gerry Peirce, was born in Jamestown, New York on 3 June 1900 and died in Tucson, Arizona, on 16 March 1969.

Peirce visited Ajijic in the mid-1940s, and may have been there more than once since he is known to have made several trips to Mexico. His visit to Ajijic, believed to be in 1945, was recorded by American author Neill James who had settled in the village a year or two previously: “Gary Pierce [sic], director of an art school in New Mexico, visited our village and executed many delicate water colors and engravings.” (Modern Mexico, October 1945). Despite the misspelling, and the fact that the art school that he directed was actually in Arizona, there is absolutely no doubt that James was writing about Gerry Peirce. Sadly, the whereabouts of his paintings and engravings of Ajijic remain a mystery.

Peirce graduated from the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) in 1925, and also studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City. He married his childhood sweetheart, Priscilla, and the couple moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, where Peirce began to execute etchings and engravings.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

After Canada, Peirce and his wife lived and worked in New Orleans. His time in New Orleans is particularly noteworthy because he was one of the co-organizers and charter members of the New Orleans Art League in December 1929. The other organizers were Harry Armstrong Nolan (1891-1929), Gideon Townsend Stanton (1885-1964), William Weeks Hall (1895-1958) and Henry Costello. By coincidence, Gideon Townsend Stanton also had close family links to Chapala: his maternal grandparents had a holiday home there for several years at the very end of the nineteenth century.

This early dry point, The Cat, is one of several dry points gifted by Peirce to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1934:

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Peirce and his wife lived in various places, including Florida, Cuba, Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where Peirce established a commercial art studio, producing cards for Cartier and Tiffany & Co. Later, the Peirces moved to Colorado and began to spend winters in Arizona, eventually making their home in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-1930s. Peirce opened an atelier (“The Print Room”) in Tucson in 1934 and continued to produce wonderful dry point engravings. He also turned his hand to books.

Writing as “Percival Stutters”, Peirce wrote and illustrated at least two children’s books: How Percival Caught the Tiger (1936) and How Percival Caught the Python (1937), both published by Holiday House. Peirce also drew the black and white illustrations for Plants of Sun and Sand: The Desert Growth of Arizona, which had short texts by Stanford Stevens and was published by The Print Room, Tucson, in 1939. The original edition of that particular book is highly distinctive since it had a plywood cover.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

At about this time, a sketching trip with Stevens turned out to have a momentous impact on Peirce’s subsequent art career. As Peirce later recalled:

One day I was looking at a scene Stan was doing and wondered why he had picked out that particular spot. Why paint that I asked? His reply, “Because it has such a beautiful color,” jolted me right out of everything I’d been doing for the past twelve years. I realized that I was no longer seeing a landscape with its colors, but in terms of the black and white of etchings. I saw that even my etchings were becoming flat no longer suggesting the color of things.”

Though he never stopped producing his exquisite engravings, after Peirce picked up a brush and watercolors, he never looked back. He soon gained recognition as one of the country’s leading watercolorists. He was also a fine teacher and his studio-classroom attracted students from all across the country. In 1947, the Tucson Watercolor Guild was organized to provide a permanent studio and classroom space for Peirce to continue his work. His teaching career was curtailed by a heart attach in 1967.

In later life, Peirce wrote two non-fiction works: Creative You (The Print Room, 1954) and Painting the southwest landscape in watercolor (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1961).

Peirce’s timeless portrayals of the Arizona desert and his tireless efforts to help others see the beauty he saw helped shape Tucson into the artistic center of Arizona.

From Arizona, Peirce made several sorties into Mexico. The wonderful collection of prints, published by The Print Room in 1969 as The drawings of Mexico, included images of San Miguel de Allende; Marfil and La Valenciana (both in Guanajuato); and of Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán). By this time, Peirce was no longer completing watercolors en plein air but was making quick pencil sketches or rapid watercolor impressions in the field to serve as memory aids for his final paintings done back in the studio.

A contemporary reviewer described the collection as “a portfolio of reproductions of pencil drawings made by Gerry Peirce in Mexico, a country he visits frequently and understands. This understanding and his affection for the country and its people are reflected in every sensitive line and shading of these outstanding drawings.”

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Peirce was a frequent exhibitor wherever he lived and a member of the Society of American Etchers, the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the California Print Makers. Note that the oft-repeated claim in contemporary newspaper accounts that Peirce had been awarded an honorary doctorate in art by “St. Andrews University College in London” can not be substantiated since there is no record of any institution of that name, though it is possible that Peirce was granted an honorary degree by St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Peirce’s work is in numerous museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard’s Fogg Museum; the Boston Museum of Fine Art; the Library of Congress; Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the J.P. Speed Memorial Museum (now Speed Art Museum) in Louisville, Kentucky; Denver Art Museum; Arizona Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art; the Mobile Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; University of Arizona Art Museum; and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

In 1980, more than a decade after Peirce’s death, a retrospective exhibition of his watercolors and etchings was held at the Kay Bonfoey Studio and Gallery in Tucson. Bonfoey, one of his former students, had purchased the adobe-and-redwood building that had formerly been Peirce’s studio and classroom space after his death to run her own gallery, and to continue the legacy of the Tucson Watercolor Guild. Interviewed at the time, Bonfoey said that Peirce was:

… a unique human being. He wasn’t just a teacher of art, he was a philosopher, a thinker. No two classes were ever the same, the explorations were always different, always … well, awesome. He constantly looked into the relationship between nature and art. Nature was the base for everything he saw in his paintings, in other people’s work, in life around him.”

A fitting tribute to one of America’s great twentieth-century watercolorists.

Sources:

  • Arizona Highways Magazine. 1945. “Gerry Peirce”. Volume 21, 1945.
  • Art Life magazine. “Biography of Gerry Peirce”. Art Life magazine.
  • Arnold Elliott. 1951. Tucson Festival of the Arts, Exhibition Catalogue, March 25-April 8, 1951.
  • Judith H. Bonner. 2011. “New Orleans Art League.” Article dated 23 May 2011 in Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities).
  • Peter H. Falk (ed). 1985. Who was who in American art, 1564-1975.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • John Peck. 1980. “Late artist Peirce comes home.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), 11 May 1980, p 75.
  • Peggy and Harold Samuels. 1985. Encyclopedia of Artists of The American West. Castle Books.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona). 15 October 1960, p 12; 1 September 1965, p 15; 13 August 1966, p 29; 17 March 1969, p 22 (obituary).
  • Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania), 11 December 1934, p 5; 11 March 1939, p 2; 1 August 1939, p 8; 16 March 1949, p 4.

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 172017
 

Painter, sculptor and print-maker James Steg, who was Professor of Art at Newcomb College, Tulane University, in New Orleans for more than forty years, worked in Ajijic during the summer of 1958.

James Louis Steg (“Jim”) was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1922 and died in New Orleans in 2001. He gained his M.A. degree in Fine Arts degree from the State University of Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army during the second world war and was in a camouflage unit during the D-Day landings.

James Steg. The Picninc Scene. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg. “The Picnic Scene”. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg was art professor at Newcomb College for 43 years. Among his students in an etching class was Frances Swigart, who later became his wife.

Throughout his career, Steg was constantly exploring new printmaking techniques and he developed many innovative methods such as altering Xeerox prints with paint and chemicals. According to Doug MacCash, art critic for The Times-Picayune, age did nothing to diminish Steg’s boundless creativity or artistic output.

Steg spent the summer of 1958 in Ajijic, as evidenced by this brief entry in The Times-Picayune drawing readers’ attention to the opening of his latest art show in New Orleans:

“James Steg recently sold an etching “Bird of Prey” to the New York Public Library collection. This is the 23rd public institution to have purchased one of the artist’s works. Steg is back at the Newcomb art school after a summer stay in Ajijic.”

By lucky coincidence, one of his rare works from this time came up for auction in 2015. The etching, a studio print from the estate of artist and educator George C. Wolfe of New Orleans, is titled “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”.

James Steg. "The Goat Herder (Mexico)". Etching. 1958.

James Steg. “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”. Etching. 1958.

In addition to participating in dozens of group shows, Steg held many solo exhibitions. In New Orleans, these included shows at the IH Gallery at International House, the H. Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University, World’s Fair Expo ’84, and at Marguerite Oestreicher Fine Arts Gallery. He also had one-person shows in New York (the Weyhe Gallery; Associated American Artists), Philadelphia (Philadelphia Art Alliance), Dalls (Dallas Museum of Art; Cushing Gallery), Columbus (Ohio State University), Coral Gables (University of South Florida) and Oxford (University of Mississippi). His only recorded international solo show was at the USIA Exhibition in Ankara, Turkey.

James Steg. The work of five men. Etching. Undated.

James Steg. “The work of five men”. Etching. Undated.

A retrospective exhibition of his work, entitled “Thirty Years of J. L. Steg: 1948-78”, was held at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1978.

Among the many awards he received for his art were the Charles Lea Prize from Philadelphia Print Club, and an award from Lugano, Switzerland. Steg was named a Printmaker Emeritus by the Southern Graphic Arts Council.Steg’s works can be found in the permanent collections of numerous venerable institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum in New York, Dallas Museum of Art. Minnesota Museum of American Art and the Seattle Museum, as well as in 30 university collections and many private collections in the New Orleans area. Overseas, pieces by Steg are in the Museum of Modem Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem.

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.

Jul 102017
 

In Dust on my Heart (1946) Neill James relates several stories about “David Nixon, a New Orleans artist, and his wife June”, who were apparently seriously considering buying property at Lake Chapala until they were informed about various acts of violence that had been perpetrated there. The Nixons never did buy property in Ajijic and we know very little about their time at Lake Chapala, but David Nixon was a multi-talented musician and artist who deserves to be better-known.

David Sinclair Nixon was born 3 January 1904 in Bessemer, Alabama, and died in his long-time home of New Orleans in February 1973. His surname at birth was Burbage but became Nixon when his mother remarried.

Details of his early musical and artistic education remain a mystery though Nixon was apparently a former violin scholarship student of the Birmingham Music Club in Alabama.

nixon-nudes-dancing

David Sinclair Nixon: Nudes dancing

After Nixon married June Prudhomme (a wealthy Louisiana widow and 14 years his senior who had been living in New York City), the couple established their home in Paris where Nixon developed his interest in modern art and continued his concert career. Travel records show that the couple crossed the Atlantic several times in the 1930s between Europe and the U.S.

Nixon studied the violin in Europe for more than a decade, taking classes in Paris, Rome and Berlin, and gave concerts in five countries. Among his teachers was the renowned Czech violinist Otakar Ševčík (1852–1934).

A February 1933 newspaper piece records that the Nixons, “of Paris, France” had been touring America over the previous winter and were currently staying in the St. Charles hotel in New Orleans.

In Europe, the Nixons became good friends with the poet and critic Ezra Pound and his long-time companion, the concert violinist and musicologist Olga Rudge. In the late 1930s, Pound supported Olga’s efforts as she and David Nixon sought to revive interest in the music of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Rudge had studied many of Vivaldi’s original scores in Turin in 1936 in preparation for a series of concerts featuring some of Vivaldi’s lesser-known works. Nixon was also very familiar with many of the pieces. Following Nixon’s performance at a concert in homage to Antonio Vivaldi in Venice in October 1937, Pound wrote that “Nixon [is] trying hard to play well-beautiful tone, no technique, no solfège, and no bluff-the same state she [Olga Rudge] wuz in 15 years ago, but don’t know if he has her toughness.” [quoted in Conover]

With Pound’s help, Rudge and Nixon attempted to organize a Vivaldi Society in Venice. Though that venture proved unsuccessful, Rudge subsequently co-founded the Center for Vivaldi Studies at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and edited a catalog of more than 300 of Vivaldi’s manuscripts that was published by the Accademia just before the start of the second world war.

By that time the Nixons were already safely back in New Orleans. A 1938 newspaper piece confirms that, following “a tour of Europe” and recognizing that war was inevitable, the Nixons had left France to live full-time in New Orleans. In September 1938, they acquired two properties in the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) – 529 Madison Street and 532-534 Dumaine Street – which shared a common boundary and would serve as their home, studio space and exhibition and performance venue.

The Nixons quickly became respected members of the city’s artistic-literary circle. Among their near neighbors was Lyle Saxon, a noteworthy local writer who was also a reporter on the staff of The Times-Picayune.

Nixon’s wide-ranging artistic talents had enabled him to become an accomplished puppeteer. His comical puppet shows for children, put on in a converted warehouse next to his home, became legendary. Nixon designed and created the puppets and the sets, wrote the stories and dialogue and manipulated the puppets, but the star of the show was often his cat, Selassie, who, suitably “costumed and combed”, would make a grand appearance, perform acrobatics and steal the show.

As a painter, Nixon became known for his colorful, often abstract works, and one of his oil paintings was awarded first prize at the 1943 New Orleans Spring Fiesta. In the 1940s Nixon opened the Little Gallery on Royal Street to showcase not only his own work but also that of many other artists. He later opened the David S. Nixon Art Foundation and Gallery on the Madison Street property belonging to his wife.

nixon-david-maypole-1954

David Sinclair Nixon: Maypole. 1954.

The Nixons’ visit to Ajijic came towards the end of the second world war and is described by Neill James in both her article for Modern Mexico (October 1945) and in Dust on my Heart (1946). The article includes a photograph captioned, “Neill James gave a party to show paintings made in Ajijic by David Nixon, fellow southerner from New Orleans”. Sadly, apart from this, little is known about David Nixon’s time in Ajijic.

In 1946, Nixon was invited to give a violin concert in support of the restoration of New Harmony, the historic Indiana town where Welsh industrialist Robert Owen tried to establish a Utopian community in the 1820s. Jane Blaffer Owen, wife of Robert Owen’s great-great-grandson, was the driving force behind the revitalization of New Harmony. In New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir, she writes that:

“I invited David Nixon, a violinist from New Orleans, to share his considerable talents with the community. I rented Murphy Auditorium for a concert on Thursday, June 20, 1946, when children would be out of school and around the time when out family would customarily transfer from Houston to New Harmony. David, a recovering alcoholic, was addicted to sweets, particularly chocolate ice cream sodas, and could be found each morning at our local Ramsey pharmacy, which, in the 1940s and ’50s, was the town’s social center, its ice cream parlor and its dispensary. In the evenings he would play his violin on the streets of New Harmony for whoever wished to listen. His audience kept increasing.”

Despite Nixon going against the wishes of his host and playing only Bach and other eighteenth century music, the concert was a huge success.

During the latter decades of his life, Nixon seems to have become more focused on his painting. In January 1947 he was in a two-person show with Ukranian immigrant artist Ben-Zion at the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans. A reviewer in the Times-Picayune wrote that Nixon’s style was the more primitive and that the artist “paints because it pleases him and his work is entertaining with gay color and instinctive spotting.”

In 1948, the Nixons returned to Paris to live. Almost immediately, David started “The Chamber Music Society in Paris”. A short interview with Nixon appeared in the 11 February 1949 issue of Le Guide du Concert which featured his portrait on its cover.

In addition, according to Irma Sompayrac Willard in her profile of Nixon for The Times Picayune in August 1949, the musician-artist had:

discovered a charming medieval village in Provence which the mayor promptly gave to him on his promise to restore the roofs. He’ll do it, too, just as he restored that Madison st. house with its lovely patio. Now he’s busy forming committees, getting estimates, and lining up first residents for his ancient French village. He talks of summer music festivals there, of puppet shows and exhibitions and maybe the possibility of getting New Orleans to adopt this unbelievably beautiful little town with its apple blossom and hilltop church.”

Just how much of this plan became reality is unknown!

nixon-david-show-flierBy the late 1950s, the Nixons were back in the U.S., where they lived for a time in Carmel, California. When asked about his one-man show of paintings at the Carmel Craft Studios in May 1957, Nixon said that the gallery was similar to the Arts and Crafts Gallery in New Orleans and added that his next major show was due to open in September at the Leveaugh Gallery in San Francisco. He and his wife planned to return to New Orleans in 1959 and would reopen their Madison Street art gallery. The Nixons did indeed return and reopened the gallery on premises that had been rented since 1951 by the Gallery Circle theater.

The building the theater moved to was destroyed by fire the following year. Theater organizers approached Nixon to see if he would allow them to rent their former home again but Nixon declined, saying that he and his wife were definitely home from Europe for good.

June Nixon passed away in about 1963. That same year David Nixon held another one-person show, at 542 Chartres in the French Quarter. A review of the show maintained that “to really appreciate it you need a certain elfish sense of humor”, and that it helped “to have ears that are tuned in to the pipes of Pan” since Nixon’s elongated nymphs “gambol, pipe and play through the paintings.”

During his lifetime Nixon exhibited his art in four countries – the U.S., Mexico, France and Italy – with noteworthy showings in Paris, Mexico City, Rome, and at the Galeria Neuf in New York. A major posthumous retrospective of Nixon’s work, “David Sinclair Nixon (1904-1973): A retrospective of one artist’s work” was held at Byrdie’s Gallery in New Orleans in October 2010.

Note:

  • The original version of this post was published on 17 September 2015.

Sources:

  • Anniston Star. 1943. “David Nixon Honored at New Orleans Fiesta.” Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama), 30 May 1943, p 6.
  • Anne Conover. 2008. Olga Rudge & Ezra Pound. Yale University Press.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Neill James. 1946. Dust on my Heart.
  • Jane Blaffer Owen. 2015. New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir. Indiana University Press.
  • Olga A. Rudge. 1939. Vivaldi, note e documenti sulla vita e sulle opere. Siena: Academia Musicale Chigiana.
  • Irma Sompayrac Willard. 1949. “French Quarter to French Capital”, Times-Picayune 14 August 1949, p 154.
  • Times-Picayune – 26 Feb 1933, p 23; 9 October 1938, p 67; 6 January 1947, p 14; 19 May 1957, p 37; 22 November 1959, p 57; 4 August 1963, p 53.

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.

 Posted by at 6:23 am  Tagged with:
Jul 032017
 

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth, also known after her second marriage as Frieda Mathilda Das, was an accomplished painter, writer, and illustrator, who is perhaps best remembered today for having painted one of the earliest portraits of Mahatma Gandhi.

Hauswirth visited Mexico from August 1944 to early in 1946. While it is unclear if this was her only visit, she definitely visited Ajijic on this trip: Neill James, in her account of Ajijic in 1945, described Hauswirth as “a naturalist from India”.

Actually, Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth was Swiss, but with very strong Indian connections. Hauswirth was born in Switzerland on 8 February 1886 and studied at the Universities of Bern and Zurich for two years before moving to California in about 1905 to attend Stanford University, from which she graduated with an A.B. in English in 1910.

Immediately after graduating she married a fellow Stanford student, Arthur Lee Munger, who later became a doctor. Their unconventional marriage ceremony on 7 August 1910 was held at the Temple Square in Palo Alto. The couple were “in street attire and unattended.” The ritual, “quite unlike that of any other church, in that it minimizes the religious and accentuates the philosophic and social side of marriage”, omitted any suggestion of “the inferiority and submission on the part of the bride”. Each “placed a ring on the fourth finger of the other in token of marriage, repeating the nuptial vows in unison”.

Hauswirth’s liberated approach to matters of the heart became apparent soon after marriage when she became infatuated with an Indian professor (and with India and its complex politics). A short-lived affair brought her marriage to an end and she and Munger divorced in 1916.

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Illustration from Meine indische Ehe (1933)

While studying at Stanford, Hauswirth had become friends with a high-caste Indian student named Sarangadhar Das. Das had studied in Japan, funded by a wealthy patron in India, but turned his back on his patron (and his family) to continue his agricultural engineering studies at the University of California in Berkeley. After he graduated, he worked for several years in a sugar mill in Hawaii. Das and Hauswirth, who had now immersed herself in Indian literature and managed to get several articles published in the Modern Review of Calcutta, had always remained close friends. Hauswirth longed to visit and teach in India but wartime travel restrictions prevented her from realizing this plan. Das had proposed to Hauswirth several times over the years before she agreed to visit him in Hawaii, where they married in 1917.

The marriage made their migration status very complicated. Hauswirth lost her previously-acquired American citizenship even as Das was petitioning the court for his own naturalization. The legal situation was complex. The United States District Attorney opposed the petition “on the ground that the petitioner, being, a Hindu, is not eligible to ‘naturalization under Revised Statutes, section 2169, which limits naturalization to “free white persons” and those of African nativity and descent”, but local Hawaii Second Circuit Judge Edings eventually ruled that Das did indeed have the right to become a U.S. citizen.

Even the couple’s honeymoon was sensationally eventful: they were called as witnesses during the famous Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial in San Francisco where two men were killed in the courtroom.

Frieda and Das then lived in California for a short time, where Frieda took classes with Gottardo Piazzoni (1872–1945) at the California School of Fine Art (now San Francisco Art Institute) in San Francisco.

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

In 1920, following the death of Das’s father, the couple sailed for Calcutta, India, where Das tried to start a sugar factory in Orissa. The prejudices that were rife in the India of that time made life extremely difficult for Frieda. For instance, she was never able to meet her mother-in-law since if she had done so, the elder Mrs. Das would have “lost caste” and would have been reviled by friends and family alike. It also quickly became obvious to Frieda that her presence prevented potential investors from lending her husband the money needed to finance his sugar project. Not surprisingly, Frieda, a staunch feminist, found this situation intolerable and the couple agreed to live apart.

Sarangadhar Das went on to become a nationalist revolutionary who served in the Constituent Assembly of India that was responsible for framing the country’s independent constitution that took effect in 1950. He remained in politics until his death seven years later. A later account of his life and contribution to the Indian independence process, by Jatin Kumar Nayak, credits Hauswirth with having been instrumental in persuading Das that he should “return to India and make use of his expertise to improve the lot of his impoverished fellow Indians.”

Frieda left India and returned to Switzerland to paint and write. She studied art in Paris and divided her time over the next decade between Europe and California, with occasional trips to India. Frieda’s book about her experiences in India, A Marriage to India, was published by Vanguard Press, New York, in 1930. It is a detailed, heartfelt account of her relationship with Das and the difficulties they encountered as an inter-racial couple in India in the 1920s. The book’s frontispiece is Hauswirth’s own 1927 sketch of Gandhi, who was a friend of her husband’s family.

In early 1938, she moved to California for six years. She sought to restore her American citizenship and announced that she was prepared to divorce Das if necessary in order to expedite the process.

In 1944, after building a cabin-studio at 11, El Portal Court in Berkeley, she decided to visit Mexico. The visit lasted from August 1944 to early 1946. As described by Hal Johnson, writing several years later about Hauswirth for the Berkeley Daily Gazette:

Then came the urge to paint in Mexico and to gather material there for a travel book. In August, 1944, she motored south of the border with “Lennie”, a cross between a German police dog and an Airedale, as her sole companion.

Mexican roads were like driving over washboard through which spikes stuck up. Tires were scarce in Mexico then as they were in the United States, but Frieda Hauswirth and her dog, “Lennie”, finally reached Ajijic Lake.

She made her headquarters in Chapala and did in oil some delightful paintings. Followed a sojourn in Mexico City and then a trip to Oaxaca, where she painted from the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, the most intelligent of Mexican Indians. She spent Christmas, 1945, in Monterrey, Mexico.”

There is an as-yet-unconfirmed report of an oil painting, labeled “Ajijic” on the back, by Hauswirth of a Mexican couple at a market which presumably dates back to this time.

Hauswirth flew back to Europe early in 1946 to live in Switzerland and study Italian. She revisited India in 1950, but eventually resettled in Berkeley, California, early in 1951. A contemporary newspaper account describes how she did not have wall space to hang “several of her earlier oil paintings which won prizes in Paris art shows. They are carefully packed away along with her more modern canvases painted in Mexico.”

Hauswirth became well known for the frescoes and portraits she painted. Her major art exhibits included shows at the Salon des Beaux Arts, Grand Salon, Paris (1926); in London; at the San Francisco Art Association (1920, 1925); in Boston; at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City (June 1931); and in Mysore, India.

Frieda Hauswirth wrote and illustrated several books including A Marriage to India (1930); Gandhi: a portrait from life (1931); Purdah, the Status of Indian Women (1932); Leap-Home and Gentlebrawn, A Tale of the Hanuman Monkeys (1932); Into the Sun (1933); Die Lotusbraut (1938); Allmutter Kaveri (1939).

This progressive woman, who had led and enjoyed an extraordinary life, died in Davis, California, in March 1974 at the age of 88.

Sources:

  • Russell Holmes Fletcher. 1943. Who’s who in California, Vol. I (1942-1943).
  • Frieda Hauswirth (Mrs Sarangadhar Das). 1930. A Marriage to India. New York: The Vanguard Press.
  • Edan Milton Hughes. 1986. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Hal Johnson. “So We’re Told”. Berkeley Daily Gazette, 29 October 1951, p 9
  • Maui News. “Judge Edings Grants Citizenship to Das”. Maui News, 4 January 1918, p1.
  • Jatin Kumar Nayak. 2011. “Orissa Whispers – Unsung Hero: Sarangadhar Das is one of the makers of modern Orissa“. The Telegraph, India, 7 March 2011.
  • Oakland Tribune. “Berkeley Woman Balked, by Caste System of India”. Oakland Tribune (California), 30 March 30, p 13.
  • The Plattsmouth Journal. “Murray Department: Former Plattsmouth Young Man married at Palo Alto, California“. The Plattsmouth Journal (Nebraska), 25 August 1910, p 6.
  • The Stanford Daily. “Former Stanfordite To Divorce Hindu”. The Stanford Daily. Volume 93, Issue 26, 31 March 1938, p 1.

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.

Jun 222017
 

George Abend (1922-1976), a jazz musician and prominent figure in the San Francisco Bay Area abstract expressionism movement, studied in Guadalajara in the mid-1950s, at which time he was a frequent visitor to Ajijic.

Born in New York City in 1922, Abend studied at the University of California, Berkeley (1946-47); the 1948–1950 California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (1948-50); and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, France (1951-52), before moving to Mexico to study at the University of Guadalajara (1953-54).

George Abend. Untitled (1950).

George Abend. Untitled (1950).

A decade later, he taught art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Cedar Educational Center in Pittsburgh (1962-66) before moving to California and becoming a visiting artist at California State College (Los Angeles) and a film consultant at the University of Southern California from 1966 to 1969.

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Abend was a close friend of Don Martin, a painter who established his studio in Ajijic in 1954, and of the Beat poet and photographer Anne McKeever who also had links to Ajijic. Don’s widow Joan Martin kindly drew my attention to the photograph (above) used for the cover of the second (Summer 1956) number of Climax, a small-circulation Beat magazine from that time, published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Abend playing the piano in Don Martin‘s studio in Ajijic, with Don’s then girlfriend, Lori Fair, on drums. Abend, an accomplished musician, also played drums, percussion and the clarinet.

Abend’s striking abstract works earned him the honor of having numerous solo shows, including Howard Gallery, San Francisco (1949); Metart Galleries (1950); Lucien Labaudt Gallery (1950, 1952); Galerie de France, Paris (1951); Olivetti Art Gallery, Guadalajara (1954); Batman Gallery, San Francisco (1961); Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania (1963); Howard Wise Gallery, New York (annually from 1963 to 1966); New York Six Gallery (1964); Hewlett Gallery, Pittsburgh (1965); Coast Gallery, Big Sur (1970); Fulton Gallery, New York (1973); and the University of California (1976).

George Abend, 1948. Photo by Harry Bowden.

George Abend, 1948. Photo by Harry Bowden.

His work was also chosen for inclusion in many group shows, including the Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association (later the San Francisco Art Institute) at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1949, 1950, 1960, 1961); Third Annual Exhibition of Painting, California Palace of The Legion of Honor (1949); and the Winter Invitational, California Palace of The Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1960).

Among the institutions in California holding works by George Abend in their permanent collections are The Oakland Museum and the Monterey Museum of Art.

Abend died in Santa Cruz, California in 1976.

Sources:

  • Thomas Albright. 1985. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 to 1980, Univ. California Press.
  • Susan Landauer. 1996. The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionists, Univ. California 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 use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jun 152017
 

José Othón de Aguinaga was born in Guadalajara on 18 February 1873, and died in the city in 1969.

Othón began drawing as a child in 1882 when he was in the Colegio Mariano. From 1887 to 1891, he took classes with Felipe Castro in the Liceo de Varones in Guadalajara. Then he attended San Carlos Academy in Mexico City from 1892 until 1894, where he studied with Santiago Rebull and José Salomé Pina.

The image below (the only available illustration) is a black and white photo showing Othón’s landscape, “The old road to Chapala”. The photo comes from the Historía de Jalisco. The date of the original painting is unknown.

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala.

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala. Credit: Gobierno de Jalisco.

José Othón de Aguinaga spent three years in Europe at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris between 1895 and 1898, where he took classes with Henri Lucien Doucet, Bahet (?), William Bouguereau and León Bonnat. During this time, he traveled and painted, becoming a master of nudes, portraits of elderly people and still lifes.

On his return to Mexico he decided to forgo painting in favor of helping run a family sugar estate in Michoacán until 1909.

In 1909, he moved to Guadalajara and started to give art classes, especially drawing techniques, and focus on his own painting. He gave classes for more than thirty years. He was director of drawing instruction in the government schools in Guadalajara (1915-1917), and taught at the preparatory school of the University of Guadalajara (1916-1921), the preparatory school of the National University (UNAM) (1918-1936) and the Jalisco Institute of Sciences (1925-1930, 1937-1939).

A close friend of Tapatío artist and author Ixca Farias, Othón is best known for landscapes, portraits and still lifes. His portrait of José Palomera is in the collection of the Jalisco State Library in Guadalajara; another of his portraits is held by the Regional Museum in the city. Othón also completed several mural paintings on cloth which decorate Templo de Jesús, the Jesuit church in the city of Zacatecas. Othón served a term as president of the Mexican Society of Artists and Painters.

There is a government primary school named in Othón’s honor in the resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Sources:

  • Anon. José Othón de Aguinaga. (Biography)
  • Ixca Farias 1939. Biografía de pintores jaliscienses, 1882-1940. Guadalajara: Ricardo Delgado.
  • Gobierno de Jalisco (various contributers). 1981. Historia de Jalisco. Guadalajara. 1981.

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.

 

 Posted by at 6:10 am  Tagged with:
Jun 082017
 

The Black American artist Arthur Monroe, born in Brooklyn in 1935, grew up in New York and traveled in Mexico, before settling in California and becoming an integral part of the abstract expressionist movement of West Coast painters and poets. He lived and painted for three years in Ajijic in the early 1960s.

Monroe studied art and first encountered abstract impressionism (and its links to jazz) in New York, where he studied at Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and City College. The East Village at the time was a “caldron of creativity stirred by poets, painters, sculptors and jazz musicians.” Monroe, whose studio was close to that of Willem De Kooning, became close friends with the famous jazz musician Charlie Parker. His love for jazz has never diminished.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games - Skully. 2001.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games – Skully. 2001.

Deciding that he needed to look at less traditional forms of visual art, and determined “to escape American racism and discrimination”, Monroe traveled to Mexico (and later to South America), where he became immersed in the rich spirituality and iconography of the ancient cultures: the Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Zapotec and Mixtec of Oaxaca, and the Olmec of eastern Mexico.

From Mexico, Monroe returned to live in California, first in Big Sur and then in San Francisco, where he quickly became part of the legendary Beat Era of North Beach in the late 1950s. (Other Beat Era artists and authors with links to Lake Chapala include Al Young, Ned Polsky, Alexander Trocchi, Don Martin, Clayton Eshleman, Ernest Alexander, Jack Gilbert, ruth weiss, and Stanley Twardowicz).

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Monroe’s circle of Beat Era friends included painters Michael McCracken and Michael Bowen. The three painters shared a huge loft-studio relatively near Pier 23. Monroe had a Volkswagen Bug and avoided any parking issues by the simple expedient of driving into the elevator and storing his vehicle, when not in use, in the studio. Later, the trio of artists found themselves unable to meet the rent. Monroe put his works into storage and when that bill wasn’t paid, they were auctioned off: many of the paintings ended up in the hands of two Santa Cruz art collectors for a measly $400 in total.

Monroe’s interest in Mexico continued. In the early 1960s, as the Beat Era was drawing to a close, he was back in Mexico, living and painting for three years in Ajijic. It was in Ajijic that Monroe first met the poet and writer Al Young who also lived in California. In a 1969 newspaper interview, Young recalled that,

“At that time, Ajijic (near Guadalajara) was crammed with hippies … Arthur was one of the beatniks who had sort of lasted into the hippie era … The Mexicans loved him. They all called him by one name: Arturo. He was a very romantic figure, wearing the Mexican straw hat that the peasants wore. He was painting, and he was highly respected.”

In 1965, Monroe held an exhibition of his work at the Posada Ajijic, at the invitation of the inn’s manager Peter Spencer. In August 1965, Spencer announced that he would host a series of four solo shows in the hotel, each lasting two weeks, starting with Charles Littler (of the University of Arizona Art Department) and followed by Dick Poole, Arthur Monroe and John Thompson.

Back in California, Monroe continued to paint but took an establishment position as Registrar at the Oakland Museum. In addition, Monroe has taken an activist role in fighting to preserve indigenous petroglyphs scattered throughout California and has researched the history of African-American soldiers in World War II for a future book.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

As a painter, Monroe has always remained an abstract expressionist, preferring to let his ideas emerge gradually on the canvas to having any pre-determined drawing guide what he wanted to portray. Some works have taken up to three years to complete as he continually seeks to convey new “visual truths”. His work was included in a group show at the Cabrillo College Gallery in 1969 to mark Black Culture Week. He has also exhibited at the Richmond Art Center and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Monroe’s many one-person shows include an exhibition of large paintings at the Santa Cruz Art League’s Da Vinci Gallery in January 1991, the Don O’Melveny exhibition in December 2001, and the major show “The Inside of Now”, held at the Wiegand Gallery on the campus of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, in 2006. A newspaper preview of the show described Monroe’s large-scale canvasses as “vibrant with rhythm and color”, “unplanned, improvisational works, created in the moment”. Al Young, then Poet Laureate of California, said of Monroe that, “With playful clarity and depth, he paints his emotional response to the wayward world — and always with loving spontaneity.”

Sources:

  • Judith Broadhurst. 1991. “The beat goes on for artist Arthur Monroe”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 25 January 1991, p 11.
  • Terry St. John. Arthur Monroe (website)
  • East Bay Times, 16 March 2006
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California), 23 February 1969, p 13; 18 January 1991.

Other posts related to Beat artists, poets and writers:

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.

 Posted by at 5:39 am  Tagged with:
Jun 012017
 

François de Brouillette was an artist and poet who was born in Vermont on 22 April 1906 and died in Santa Barbara, California, on 12 February 1972.

It has so far proved impossible to reconstruct a reliable time line for various significant events in his life, but de Brouillette is known to have visited Lake Chapala numerous times over a period spanning more than forty years, and definitely painted the lake, probably on numerous occasions.

A few years ago, two of his oil paintings connected to Lake Chapala – “Lake with Boat San Juan Cosala” and “San Juan Cosala Steeple” were in an auction of paintings belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lucien Lemieux, though it is unclear when these works were painted.

From contemporary newspaper reports, we know that he spent several weeks in Chapala over the winter of 1966-67, a few years before he died. During that visit, Anita Lomax, who wrote for the Guadalajara Reporter, met de Brouillette when she called on another artist, Jesús “Chuy” Alcalá, at his studio in Chapala.

Lomas later wrote that de Brouillette had known the Chapala area since 1926, and was “an artist of great versatility”, though “his forte is restoring fine paintings.” Lomax reported that she had first met de Brouillette in 1962 when he exhibited a selection of his paintings at the Galería del Arte (in Guadalajara) and that de Brouillette was based in Houston, Texas, but continued to travel regularly for work and pleasure. Lomax found that de Brouillette was quite the raconteur, more than willing to talk about his many adventures and misadventures while researching and restoring old paintings.

Francois de Brouillette. Untitled.

François de Brouillette. Untitled portrait. Date unknown.

Precisely where de Brouillette acquired his art knowledge remains something of a mystery, but he was living in Hollywood, California, and described himself as a “portrait painter” when, shortly before his 26th birthday, he married Joanna Catherina Tenneson in Yuma, Arizona, on 9 April 1932. Tenneson,  aged 33, was also living in Hollywood. Sadly, the marriage did not last very long.

In addition to his painting, de Brouillette was also becoming well known as a writer, with poems or articles published in the Honolulu Star-bulletin, Outlook, Town and Country, Wide World News and Harper’s Magazine. He compiled one poetry collection, Peon’s prayer, published in 1933 by the Bella Union Press in Los Angeles (at which time de Brouillette was apparently living in California). While some reports attribute a second book of poetry – Youth is a beggar – to him, its details do not appear in any of the usual bibliographic sources.

brouillette-francois-de-peon-s-prayer-title-page-1933s

de Brouillette married for the second time in 1935. His second wife, Velma Mildred Henard (1912-1968), who preferred Mildred to Velma, later remarried to become Mrs Edgar Taylor. She was an artist and professor of art education who taught at the University of Southern California for 18 years. Mildred became an authority on Mexico’s ancient sculpture and pottery. In the 1940s and 1950s, she and her second husband amassed a large collection of archaeological pieces from the area of Chupícuaro (Guanajuato), later purchased by the actress Natalie Wood for the Fowler Museum of the University of California of Los Angeles.

Mildred’s parents had a ranch near Wellington in the Texas panhandle and in May 1935, de Brouillette, a “nationally known painter-poet”, was invited to give art classes in Wellington and helped reorganize the Wellington Art Club. By this time, de Brouillette had, apparently, already acquired a serious interest in archaeology and the tropics, having spent five years in Florida, Cuba, the West Indies, Mexico and the Hawaiian islands. Advance publicity in the local newspaper said of the artist that, “As an archaeologist his journeys have taken him into Mayan country of Yucatan, Aztec lands, back mountain sections of Mexico, visiting Indian tribes never before visited by the white man. He lived and worked with the last tribe of the Aztecs and the Tonala Indians in Jalisco. His adventures and genius give promise of a great new name in western art and lore.”

Exaggeration aside, de Brouillette had clearly already traveled quite widely in Mexico and was much in demand as a speaker and lecturer. In June 1935, he was guest speaker for the Wellington Kiwanis Club and spoke about the background of the “last tribe of Tonala Indians”. In December, he lectured, exhibited and read poetry at Southwestern University.

In 1936, de Brouillette was director of the Miami Federal Art Galleries in Florida, an institution that had 780 pupils and 30 instructors. At about this time he was responsible for taking “the first exhibit of paintings ever sent abroad by the United States government”, a collection that included 36 water color paintings, for an exhibition in Havana, Cuba.

In September of 1936, de Brouillette, who had already gained a reputation as a fine portrait painter, was in Dallas working on a portrait of John Nance Garner, the U.S. Vice President, for the Washington Press Club. The following year, de Brouillette conducted a two weeks’ art class at Saint Mary’s Academy in Amarillo in March 1937, teaching figure, portraiture and still life.

He and Mildred held a joint exhibition of their recent artwork at the Country Library in Wellington in September of that year. de Brouillette showed various portraits, mainly of local people, while his wife showed mainly scenic works and still lifes. Both painters also had works accepted into the juried show that opened at the Witte Museum in San Antonio in December 1940.

Newspaper accounts list several places (Washington D.C., Miami, California, Texas) as “home” for the de Brouillettes in the 1930s, but it appears that from 1940 to at least 1947, they were living and working mainly in San Antonio, Texas. For at least part of this time, the couple operated an antique shop on Broadway.

de Brouillette had oil paintings accepted into two consecutive major Texas annual juried shows. “The Mine Fell In” was included in the “7th Texas General Exhibition”, which ran from November to December 1945 at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas, Texas, and “The Novice” was accepted into the “8th Texas General Exhibition”, which ran from October 1946 to January 1947, opening at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, before moving to the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio and The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

Somehow, de Brouillette even found time to be the director of the Little House School of Art in San Antonio in 1947, an institution which trained dozens of fine young artists.

Newspapers in the 1950s include very few references to de Brouillette, apart from the occasional mention that he is undertaking a commission to paint a portrait of some then-famous personage.

By the time of his visit to Guadalajara in July 1962 and his exhibit at La Casa del Arte (Av. Corona #72), de Brouillette was billing himself in publicity adverts as “an acclaimed portraitist”, who was “considered to be one of the five finest restorers in the world.”

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter : 21 January 1967; 25 February 1967
  • Molly Heilman. 1940. “New Artists In Witte Exhibition”, San Antonio Light, 15
    December 1940, p 42.
  • Informador (Guadalajara): 9 July 1962; 14 July 1962
  • The Megaphone (Georgetown, Texas). 1935. 3 December 1935: Vol. 29, No. 11, Ed. 1.
  • San Antonio Express (Texas). 1947. “Art School Directors To Address Students”, San Antonio Express, 8 June 1947.
  • The Wellington Leader (Wellington, Texas). 30 May 1935; 6 June 1935, p 8; 1 October 1936, p 1; 1 April 1937, p 9; 23 September 1937, p 1; 6 January 1938, p 9; 23 February 1939, p 3.

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.

 Posted by at 5:26 am  Tagged with:
May 252017
 

Stories about underdogs who rise to the top of their chosen field or profession are always fascinating. So how did Adela Breton, an amateur artist, come to produce some of the finest ever copies of ancient Mexican murals and friezes? In several cases, the originals no longer exist or have become badly corroded, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Adela Breton, Watercolor of the east façade of the ‘Nunnery’ at Chichen Itza. Photo credit: Dan Brown/Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

Breton traveled widely throughout Mexico. While her most significant work in terms of archeology was undertaken in central and southern Mexico, she also made a major contribution to the story of western Mexico by recording the excavation of a shaft tomb near Etzatlán, investigating a nearby obsidian works, and by mapping the circular mounds that were the only surface evidence of Guachimontones, the major archaeological site close to Teuchitlán. Breton also visited Chapala, where she sketched a couple of local people and collected several small archaeological pieces.

Stone mace head, from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Stone mace head from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

We can only speculate as to precisely why she visited Chapala in 1896, but it is more than possible that it was to see if the curative waters would alleviate her rheumatism or arthritis. This is supported by the comment in The Mexican Herald in 1902 that Breton had “for many years spent her winters in Mexico for reasons of health” prior to becoming seriously interested in pre-Columbian civilizations.

It is possible that her introduction to Chapala was at the invitation of Septimus Crowe, a former British vice-consul who had made his home there. It is also very possible that her 1896 visit was a return visit to the lake. The anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons, who visited in the early 1930s, wrote about the earthenware idolos “washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town” and then writes that “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.” Breton is the best candidate for this “English lady”. Assuming that Parsons has the chronology correct, then Breton must have visited Chapala and met Crowe in about 1893, well before her proven visit in May 1896. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure since the whereabouts of Breton’s original diaries are unknown.

Adela Catherine Breton was born in London, England, on 31 December 1849. Her father, William Henry Breton, served in the Royal Navy, had a keen interest in archaeology and regularly brought curios home from his travels. He also authored two travel books, both published in 1835: Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land, during the years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833 and Scandinavian sketches, or, A tour in Norway.

When Adela was 18 months old, the family moved to Bath and established their home in Camden Crescent. This would remain Adela’s home for the rest of her life. Quite how Adela acquired and honed her artistic skills is unclear. Art would certainly have been an essential part of the general education of any well-to-do young English lady at the time but her proficiency, especially with watercolors, strongly suggests that she had some further art training at some point.

After her mother died in 1874, Adela kept house and cared for her aging father. He died in 1887. Adela was never married, and the death of both parents gave her a substantial inheritance (shared with a younger brother) and enabled her to be independent. Almost immediately, she started to travel, perhaps seeking to avoid British winters and find a climate beneficial for her health. She took to spending extended periods abroad, initially in Canada and the U.S., and then later in Mexico and elsewhere. One of her first trips was to Banff and across the Rockies by the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway. She also spent time in Japan (1890) and experienced an earthquake in San Francisco (1891) before visiting Mexico for the first time in 1892, when she arrived at the port of Veracruz aboard a ship from Havana, Cuba.

From Veracruz, she then traveled inland via Tlaxcala, Puebla and Cholula to Mexico City. She was so captivated by Mexico that she submitted the first of several travel pieces to her local newspaper back in Bath as “Your Mexican Correspondent”. Her arrival in Mexico City, to stay at the Hotel Iturbide, was duly noted on 1 April 1892 in a Mexico City daily, The Two Republics.

In December 1893, Breton embarked on an extended adventure in Mexico which lasted eighteen months until mid-1895. She traveled into Michoacán, where she came into contact with a local guide, Pablo Solorio, who she employed as her traveling companion and assistant on this and several subsequent occasions. Pablo looked after the logistics (horses, camp sites, food, contacts to local communities) which allowed Breton to focus on recording the local people, architecture, geology and historical sites through her art.

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

After Michoacán (and possibly Jalisco), they explored central Mexico and the mountains of Puebla and Oaxaca. Breton’s time at Teotihuacan in 1895 was especially productive since it enabled her to make meticulous sketches and paintings of the pre-Columbian murals of Teopancaxco which became a reference point for many later studies. Breton was also very interested in geology and Mexico’s volcanoes, so both 1xtaccíhuatl Volcano and the Pico de Orizaba were on her itinerary.

Photos taken in Bath show that Pablo accompanied Breton back to the U.K. for a visit, though she makes no mention of this in her extensive notes.

In 1896-97, Adela returned to Mexico and Pablo guided her through Michoacán before traveling north into Zacatecas and south to Guerrero. They visited Chapala in May 1896, as shown by the annotation alongside these two small paintings in her sketchbook for that period. The figurine identified as from Chapala was included in “The Remarkable Miss Breton” exhibit at Bath in 2016.

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

By the time Breton left Mexico for New York in April 1897, she had apparently become quite a familiar figure in Mexico City with The Mexican Herald reporting that, “Miss Adela Breton, a young lady of this capital, leaves this morning, contrary to the habits of Mexico, quite alone, for New York on a pleasure trip.”

Over the winter of 1898-99, Breton was back in Mexico, painting in the mining town of Real del Monte, a town which probably has more British connections than anywhere in Mexico. Real del Monte attracted Cornish tin miners, and even today, more than century later, residents still peddle their own, spiced-up version of Cornish pasties. Real del Monte is also the place where soccer was first played in Mexico; the local team, formed in 1901, is the oldest in the country.

Adela Breton. 1896. Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Adela Breton. Watercolor of Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

The turn of the century marked a new and defining chapter in Breton’s life. She made her first visit to Chichen Itza in 1900, at the age of 50. The visit was at the request of archeologist Alfred Maudslay, who asked her to check the accuracy of drawings he had done himself. Breton was able to improve significantly on Maudslay’s efforts and over the course of the next seven years, spent extended periods of time drawing and paintings at several Maya sites. Some, such as Chichén Itzá and Usmal, were well known even at that time while others, such as Labná and Acanceh, were (and to some extent still are) largely unknown.

Among her best-known watercolors are those depicting the frescos of battle scenes in the Upper Temple of Jaguars at Chichen Itza. They were already deteriorating by the time Breton painted them, but her record, compiled over numerous visits, is the only one to show all of them as they appeared at that time and in full color. When color photography made its debut, there was very little color remaining on any of the original frescoes.

Breton was constantly worried about the inherent problems of making accurate detailed drawings of such large objects. Despite being an accomplished photographer, she decided, after some experimentation, that even the best photos lacked some of the contrast and details she could incorporate into her drawings following a prolonged study of the real objects. Over the years, Breton justifiably acquired a reputation as one of the finest copyists of Mexican murals, manuscripts, maps and codices ever known.

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Her success was only possible because Breton had not only acquired some fluency in Spanish but was also able to communicate in several Mayan languages. This was essential, given the remote places where she often worked. As a reporter for The Mexican Herald wrote, Breton had chosen to explore ruins “reached only at the expense of tremendous hardships in the way of travel and accommodations” before adding, appreciatively, “and has done it all at her own expense.”

Her long-time guide-companion Pablo died (possibly of yellow fever) in 1904. Adela did not learn of his death for several months. Even though they had no romantic involvement, Adela was distraught when the news finally reached her, but it did nothing to deter her from continuing to document ancient sites.

By this time, Breton knew all the great names in Mexican archeology, including like-minded foreigners such as Zelia Nuttall, Alfred Tozzer, Fredric Ward Putnam, Alfred Maudslay and Eduard Seler, as well as many Mexicans working in the field.

Archaeologist Alfred Tozzer described Breton as:

“a character … an English maiden lady of much means. Her appearance is typical of an independent, unmarried spinster of fully sixty, tall, thin, and with a long face, grey hair, extremely near sighted but straight as an arrow. She wore a short skirt, a dark blue shirtwaist with straight collar attached, and a brimmed straw hat covered with flowers and planted perfectly square upon her head, but the surprise comes when she starts to talk. She is En-glish, you know, En-glish to the very bone and her speech is as exaggerated as any affected English lady ever heard upon the stage.”

Others who met her were less complimentary. For example, Edward Thompson, who was U.S. Consul to the Yucatán while Breton was working at Chichen Itza, wrote, “To tell the honest truth she’s a nuisance. She is a ladylike person but full of whims, complaints and prejudices.”

Breton certainly had several run-ins with authorities during her trips and appears to have regularly bemoaned the food, especially, once writing that, “The difficulty of going into Mexico is the impossibility of getting any food … I used to live chiefly on air and a few peanuts for the long riding journeys – 30 miles without any breakfast, and then some frijol broth”.

Despite such issues, however, Breton always maintained, like so many other foreign visitors before and after her, that Mexico held a very special place in her heart, so I prefer to assume that her occasional moans were more due to her general ill-health, compounded by repeated bouts of malaria and other diseases, than they were to any genuine dissatisfaction.

Her academic respectability grew as she became ever more involved in the biannual International Congress of Americanistas. At the 1902 Congress, held in the U.S., she exhibited her large copies of Mayan mural paintings found at Chichen Itza. In Vienna at the 1908 Congress, she gave a paper about the survival of ancient ceremonial dances (such as Las Voladores) in Mexico.

During the 1910 Congress, held in Chile and Argentina, she presented a paper (with lantern slides) entitled “Painting and sculpture in Mexico and Central America”. She opened this paper with a fervent plea for the world to recognize the quality of indigenous art and architecture in the Americas:

“Not many years ago it was the custom to depreciate the ancient peoples of America, and to represent them as savages, or as best as semi-civilized, with little knowledge of the arts … The excavations of each season now bring fresh evidence of the high rank reached by some of the ancient races in every line of art, and especially their remarkable skill in painting and sculpture. In their conception of grand and impressive buildings and the decoration of them with painted sculptures and frescoes, and still more in their skillful treatment of the difficult processes of colored relief in stuccoes, they take a foremost place among the nations of antiquity.”

The 1912 International Congress of Americanistas was held in London, England, and Breton was one of the co-organizers.

Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Figurine from Chapala, Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

What makes her trips to Mexico so remarkable is not that she was English, or a woman, or both, but that she was a woman often traveling on her own, riding more than a thousand kilometers side-saddle in the process. This is very different to an earlier Englishwomen, Rose Kingsley (daughter of Charles Kingsley), whose 1872 visit to Mexico (South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico) was as part of a large group led by the influential railroad entrepreneur General William Palmer.

Breton’s last visit to Mexico came in summer 1908 when she went to Mexico City to copy an ancient, and fragile, map for Professor Alfred Maudslay. By 1910, the Mexican Revolution was underway and for most of the following decade foreigners were well-advised to stay away from any off-the-beaten-track places of the kind that most interested Breton.

Major archaeological sites which Breton had drawn or painted include Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Acanceh, Zempoala, Ake, El Tajin, Mitla, Uxmal, Xochicalco, Cholula, and La Quemada. Her keen eye for detail meant that Breton became critical of many of the so-called “restoration” efforts carried out during the late Porfiriato at sites like Teotihuacan, Xochicalco and Mitla.

In 1922, Breton left her home in Bath for the last time, to sail to Rio to attend the Americanists’ Congress. Ill health caused her to stay longer than she anticipated there, to recover from dysentery, before setting off for home via the West Indies and Canada. Unfortunately, she fell ill again, and died in Barbados, at the age of 73, on 13 June 1923.

She left her entire collection to the Bristol Art Gallery & Museum of Antiquities. It includes more than 300 watercolors and 80 printed photographs, as well as 13 sketch books and has not been on public display very often. The major exhibitions include Bristol (1946), Cambridge (1952), the British Museum, London (1973) and one entitled “The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton and the Temples of Mexico”, which began at Bristol Museums in 1989 and then toured the U.K. Two complementary exhibits were held in the U.K. in 2016-2017: “The Remarkable Miss Breton” (in Bath) and “Adela Breton: Ancient Mexico in Colour” (in Bristol). The most significant exhibit in Mexico of Breton’s work was held in 1993 at the National History Museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) in Chapultepec Castle.

Breton’s remarkable drawings and watercolors of landscapes, people, murals and cities remain an invaluable resource and surely more than merit a permanent display somewhere. Come on sponsors: make sure this extraordinary female artist-explorer and her work get the attention they so richly deserve!

Sources:

  • Breton, Adela C. 1892. “A Mexican Sanctuary”. Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1892.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures”, Man, vol 3, 130-133, 1903.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1908. Survival of Ceremonial Dances among Mexican Indians. Proceedings, 16th International Congress of Americanists (Vienna), 531-540.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1912. Painting and Sculpture in Mexico and Central America. Proceedings, 17th International Congress of Americanists (Buenos Aires, 1910), 1, 245-247.
  • Giles, Sue and Jennifer Stewart (eds). 1989. The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton & the Temples of Mexico. City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
  • McVicker, Mary F. 2005. Adela Breton, A Victorian Artist amid Mexico’s Ruins. UNM Press.
  • Pint, John. 2016. “Adela Breton, 19th century British artist and explorer of Mexico feted in England”, Guadalajara Reporter 11 August 2016. Republished as “British archaeological artist visited Teuchitlán in 1896“.
  • The Mexican Herald : 10 April 1897, p8; 25 October 1902.
  • The Two Republics (Mexico City) : 1 April 1892.
  • Townsend, Richard F. (ed) 1998. Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past. Art institute of Chicago.
  • Weigand, Phil C. and Eduardo Williams. 1997. “Adela Breton y los inicios de la arqueología en el occidente de México”. Relaciones (Zamora, Mich.), vol 18, #70, pp 217-255

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.

May 182017
 

Mrs. Clara Lena Thorward (née Schafer) was born in South Bend, Indiana, on 14 June 1887, and lived and worked mainly in New York and Arizona. She died on 16 March 1969 in Phoenix, Arizona. Both her parents were German immigrants and she was one of seven children. Her father died in 1900.

Clara Thorward was a painter, etcher and art teacher who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) before studying as a post-graduate at the Cleveland School of Art, the Grand Central School of Art in New York, the Art Students League in New York, and with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) at the Thurn School of Modern Art in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and with Henry Keller (1869-1949) in Cleveland.

Her painting style ranged from realist to abstract. While she was an excellent copyist, she is best known for her landscapes and still lifes.

Thorward-clara-Postcard-Watercolor057

This black and white postcard (date unknown – early 1950s?) depicts a watercolor of Lake Chapala by Clara Thorward.

In the early part of her career, she was a member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the Hoosier Salon and Hoosier Gallery in Chicago, the Artist League of Northern Indiana, the New York Society of Arts and Crafts, the Arts and Crafts Guild of Philadelphia and the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit.

Clara married George Theodore Thorward (1883-1937) on 23 July 1919 in Syracuse, Indiana. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan in the class of 1906 and became a statistician, before serving for his country during the first world war. The couple lived initially in Michigan but by 1930 were living in the Bronx, New York, where George was working as an economist, while Clara continued to develop her art.

Clara’s husband died in 1937 and her mother passed away a few months later in March 1938. It was probably this unfortunate combination of events that led to Clara taking a trip to Europe later that year. She returned to New York on 25 October 1938, from Boulogne Sur Mer, France, aboard the “Veendam”. The following year, she and her older brother, Carle Herman Schafer, held a joint art exhibition.

Clara Thorward. Village scene, presumed to be American south-west..

Clara Thorward. Village scene, presumed to be American south-west..

In early 1940, she held a solo show of paintings at the Morton Gallery in New York. A reviewer in The New York Times praised their realism, noting that, “Watercolors by Clara Thorward at Morton Gallery, landscapes and flower pieces, display a personal approach to subject matter which makes them appear the record of visual delight in the things seen.” The Indianapolis Star noted that the artist was not only “known for her excellent work in water colors” but had also received recognition for sculptures.

Thorward took part in a group show at the Morton Gallery the following year, with a reviewer for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle calling her “East River” one of “the important works of the show”.

In March 1942, she held a benefit exhibition of her pictures at the entrance to the Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Florida, donating a percentage of all sales to the Sarasota City and County Welfare Board.

In the early 1950s, she became a regular visitor to the art community of Woodstock, as well as heading south to explore Mexico. The April 1952 issue of Mexican Life, Mexico’s Monthly Review gave over its cover to a full-color photo of Thorward’s painting “In the Plaza”. The magazine’s contents included a feature article about her art, written by Guillermo Rivas, which was illustrated by seven black and white reproductions of her paintings: Cuernavaca Landscape, Ahuehuete Tree, Washerwoman in Taxco, Cathedral at Saltillo, Ahuehuete Trees on the Paseo, Washerwomen in Cuernavaca, and Lane in Cuernavaca.

Rivas waxed lyrically about Thorward’s work, writing:

“These are luminous water colors. But their luminosity is not only that of their outer aspects. It issues from their inner substance. The jewel-like brightness of the colors is enriched by the inner luminosity of the artist’s vision, by the artist’s mood articulated in sonorous terms. So while we have here a vista of Mexico, it is, more precisely the vista of fresh individual impact, of fleeting yet keenly penetrating glimpses of a reality which form it into a realm of imagery and song.”

From 1925 on, Thorward’s work was widely exhibited. Her solo shows included the Art League of Northern Indiana (1938); the Lock Gallery, Sarasota, Florida (1939); Morton Gallery, New York (1940); Plaza Hotel, New York (1940); Witte Memorial Museum (1944); Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City (1946); the Academia de Bellas Artes, Guatemala; International Club, San Salvador; and Oklahoma Art Club. Her only major show in Europe was a solo show at Parsons Gallery in London, U.K., in 1954.

Thorward was in group shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art (1925, 1926); Boston Museum of Art; Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; the Sixth Street Gallery, New York; Art League of Northern Indiana (1932); Salons of America (1934); Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey (1939); Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida (1939); Hoosier Salon, Indianapolis (1939); Society of Independent Artists; and the National League of American Pen Women (1950).

Her many awards included a first prize at the Cleveland Museum of Art (1925), the Burke Prize in Cleveland (1926), and prizes from the Artists’ League of Northern Indiana (1932) and the National League of American Pen Women (1950).

Note:

  • This is an updated version of a post first published 8 September 2014.

Sources:

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: 13 April 1941.
  • Peter Falk et al. 1999. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975.
  • The Indianapolis Star: 28 April 1940, p 74.
  • Kingston Daily Freeman: 12 August 1952, p 17: 1 November 1952.
  • The New York Times: 19 February 1940.
  • Sarasota Herald-Tribune: March 26, 1942

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.

 Posted by at 6:56 am  Tagged with:
May 042017
 

American artists Paul Charles Hachten (born 1934) and his then wife Cynthia “Casey” Siddons Jones lived in Ajijic from 1968 to 1969, following their marriage on Valentine’s Day 1968. However, Hachten was still listed in a  local newspaper in April 1971 as having a studio in Ajijic, at Independencia #28.

Peter Huf, who was living in Ajijic at the time, recalls that the Hachtens did not exhibit very much at all, though we do know that Paul Hachten was one of several Lakeside artists whose work was included in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, which opened 5 June 1968, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878, Guadalajara). Allyn Hunt described his works as “subtle excellent prints, the best being “Mr. Fields.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 15 June 1968)

Hachten also participated in the group show that marked the re-opening of La Galeria in Ajijic, a show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art”. The show ran from 13 December 1968 into January 1969. The other artists in this show were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost , Jack Rutherford, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Kenneth Peterson, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw and Joe Wedgwood.

A few months later, one of Hachten’s works, an acrylic entitled “Blue Blue”, was chosen for inclusion in the 1969 Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit – which ran at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco (Tolsa #300, Guadalajara) from 27 June 1969 to 4 July. This juried, group show included works by 42 U.S. artists (94 works in all) from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

At the time, Peter Huf was uncertain about the quality of Hachten’s art, but has since become convinced that it was actually way ahead of its time:

“I remember one time some of us went to his studio and he was putting the paint on some large canvas with a very wet sponge. We laughed about it, but when I think about it now, somehow he was far ahead of us all. I still have an etching of his which is very sensitive.”

One of Hachten’s painting from this time, Parsubin (1970) was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art, and is now in its permanent collection. Parsubin is a color serigraph on aluminum with overall dimensions of 27 x 24 1/4 inches  (68.58 x 61.59 cm). It was included in a companion exhibition to a Jackson Pollock mural (Hornets Nest) at the Des Moines Art Center in 2012 as one representative of works influenced by the Abstract Expressionist (Ab-Ex) movement.

Paul Hachten: Parasubin (1970). Dallas Museum of Art.

Paul Hachten: Parasubin (1970). Dallas Museum of Art.

Amy N. Worthen, the Des Moines Art Center’s Curator of Prints and Drawings, explained in a presentation (reported afterwards by Heath Lee) that the cool and more impersonal 1960s Pop Art eventually came along and quenched some of the fire and heat of the Ab-Ex movement. She thought this was perhaps best illustrated by Paul Hachten’s print, Parasubin (1970), which seems to cage up the energy of Ab-Ex art with its orderly grids. Describing Parasubin‘s colors as “opalescent and unnatural”, Worthen pointed to this piece as an example of the “last gasp” of Ab-Ex style and an example of the inevitable overlap between art movements. In her view, by 1970, “Abstract Expressionism, now subdued and tamed, has lost its sting.”

Hachten’s parents lived in Buffalo, New York, and Hachten studied art at New York University and (from 1958) at the University of California at Berkeley. At the time of his marriage to Cynthia Siddons Jones in Mendocino, California, in 1968, he had a studio in the town, and the couple apparently planned to live there, but chose to move to Mexico instead. They spent the next year living and painting in Ajijic.

We have yet to learn more about Paul Hachten, beyond a report in the New Mexican, a Santa Fe newspaper, in July 1972 that “Paul Hatchen” (sic) was holding an exhibition of “graphics at the opening of his new gallery”. Hachten has rarely exhibited and currently lives in Seal Beach, in San Francisco.

[It appears to be complete coincidence that the surname Hatchen was used by the novelist Ross Macdonald for a married couple, Dr Keith and Mrs Pauline Hatchen, in The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962), a book partially set in Ajijic.]

This is an updated version of a post first published on 21 April 2016. If you can add to this skeleton biography, please get in touch.

Source:

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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Apr 272017
 

The renowned Mexican American artist Eugenio Quesada (1927-2011) lived in Ajijic in the early 1960s. Quesada had a distinguished artistic career and is considered an important figure in the history of Mexican American art.

Eugenio Reynaldo Quesada, usually known simply as “Gene”, was born in Wickenburg, Arizona, on 24 May 1927. He was born into one of the town’s pioneer families, the grandson of Teodoro Mazon Ocampo and Mariana Rodriguez Ocampo, who settled in Wickenburg, about sixty kilometers northwest of Phoenix, in 1860.

Eugene Quesada, 2009

Eugene Quesada, 2009

Quesada graduated from Wickenburg High School in 1945 and then served in the U.S. Navy. After the war, he attended Arizona State University (ASU), from where he graduated with a B.A. degree in May 1952. He continued his art studies in California and New York. In 1951, he was one of several artists who worked with French-born Mexican muralist Jean Charlot on the fresco “Man’s Wisdom Subdues the Aggressive Forces of Nature” in the ASU Administration building.

Early in his career, Quesada found inspiration in the oversized work of other Mexican muralists, including Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. He went on to paint several murals of his own in Mexico between 1963 and 1970, but is better known today for his exquisitely executed charcoal portraits, often of children, ink sketches and small paintings.

He lived in Guadalajara and Ajijic for six years in the 1960s, a key period in his artistic development. In the words of his obituary:

“This long residence in Mexico flavored the stuttering lines, torsos and oblique forms that became the core of Quesada’s body of work. His work deals in the barest essentials in defining his subjects. Texture and color used to define form, rather than specific objects make his paintings appear larger than they are. His drawings suggest brief, but very effective visual statements.”

When he returned to Arizona, Quesada left several small paintings of Ajijic children with the Crump family in Ajijic. The family also owns Quesada’s portrait of Carlos Espiritu which dates from the 1960s. Espiritu was a well-known guitarist who resided in Ajijic and taught guitar for several years.

Eugene Quesada. ca 1964, Portrait of Carlos Espiritu. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Eugene Quesada. ca 1964, Portrait of Carlos Espiritu. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Quesada held his first solo show of paintings in March 1968, at the Casa de Cultura in Guadalajara. It was very well attended. His three sisters from Phoenix flew down for the opening and other guests included fellow artists Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, as well as Booth and Sue Waterbury, the then managers of Posada Ajijic.

At a group show in Guadalajara in June 1968 – First Annual Graphic Arts Show at La Galeria (878 Ocho de Julio, Guadalajara) – Quesada exhibited a portrait of a child entitled “Mire Pa’alla”. Other Lakeside artists with work in this show included Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Allyn Hunt, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson and Tully Judson Petty.

Eugene Quesada. 1964, Sonañdo. Charcoal. (from Quirarte)

Eugene Quesada. 1964, Sonañdo. Charcoal. (from Quirarte)

After his years in Mexico, Quesada taught art at Glendale Community College and was professor of fine arts at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, until his retirement in 1989. Following his retirement, he and his siblings established the Jose Franco and Francisca Ocampo Quesada Research Award Endowment at ASU which funds student research that increases the understanding of the Hispanic community.

Among the other one-person shows held by Quesada in his productive career were
shows in Tempe, Arizona (1970, 1972) and Glendale, Arizona (1980). Group shows included the Annual All-Student and Alumni Art Exhibit in Tempe (1955, 1956); San Francisco, California (1969); Phoenix, Arizona (1970); “Five Chicano Artists” in Paradise Valley, Arizona (1971); League of United Latin American Citizens, Washington, D.C. (1971); Mexican American Art Symposium, San Antonio, Texas (1973), “Chicanos and the Arts”, Phoenix ((1975); Group Exhibit, Yuma, Arizona (1975); Two-man exhibit in Tempe (1976); the Heard Museum, Phoenix (1976); the New Hispanic Exhibit, Washington, D.C. (1978); “Arte Sweat & Tears”, Museo Chicano, Phoenix, (1980); and “Primer Encuentro Cultural: Chicano”, University of Guadalajara, Jalisco (1983).

Gene Quesada. Untitled. 1968.

Gene Quesada. Undated. Untitled. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Quesada’s work featured in two major traveling exhibitions of Mexican American art. The first was “Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano” opened at The Lobby Gallery-Illinois Bell in Chicago in 1976 and then visited Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, Texas; De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; Illinois State Museum, Springfield, Illinois; Mexican Museum, San Francisco, California and ended at the Boise Gallery of Art, Boise, Idaho, in March 1977. The second was “The Latin American Presence in The United States, 1920-1970”, organized by The Bronx Museum of the Arts. This opened in New York in September 1988 and then visited El Paso Museum of Art (1989), San Diego Museum of Art (1989), Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1989) and ended at The Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, Florida (1990).

Gene Quesada. Untitled. 1968.

Gene Quesada. 1968. Untitled. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

A major retrospective of Quesada’s work was held in 2010, entitled “Figurative Impressions by Eugene Quesada, 50 Years: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings – a tribute to the Mexican American Artist”. It opened in San Diego, California, in August of that year.

The following year, on 31 December 2011, following a long illness, Eugenio Quesada passed away in his native Wickenburg. Many of Quesada’s papers are now housed in the Arizona State University Libraries Chicano Research Collection.

These two short YouTube videos feature many examples of his art:

Sources:

  • Raymond Crump – personal communication
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 9 Mar 1968, 15 June 1968
  • Obituary: The Wickenburg Sun (Wickenburg, Arizona), 11 January 2012.
  • Jacinto Quirarte. 1973. Mexican American Artists. Univ of Texas 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.

Apr 202017
 

Anne McKeever (1928-2002) was an artist, model, photographer and Beat poet who spent some time in Ajijic during the 1950s and was a close friend of the painter Don Martin and folksinger Lori Fair. Another of McKeever’s closest friends was Jeonora Bartlet, who lived in Ajijic in 1956-7 and later became the partner of American pop artist Rick Reagan. Many years later, McKeever and her husband, a former bullfighter, started an English-language school in Tapachula, Chiapas, and invited Bartlet to teach there.

Anne McKeever modeling Embassy Shoes. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

Anne McKeever modeling Embassy Shoes. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

McKeever was born in Middletown, Ohio, on 4 September 1928 and was interested in all manner of artistic activities from an early age. She was a bright student and took extracurricular classes in classical ballet, acting, painting and photography, before attending Teacher’s College in Greeley, Colorado.

In her youth she had been a member of a Chicago dance troupe, “The June Taylor Dancers”, and had done some modeling for advertisements. From Colorado, she went to New Zealand, where she studied in Auckland College and modeled for Christian Dior, Embassy Shoes and other firms. The photographer Clifton Firth (1904-1980) shot many of these campaigns. Sixty years later, ten images of McKeever, all taken by Firth in the 1940s, were included in a major 2003-2004 exhibit in Auckland, entitled “A Certain Style: Glimpses of Fashion in New Zealand”.

Anne McKeever modeling pyjamas. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

Anne McKeever modeling pyjamas. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

McKeever returned to the U.S. in 1950 to complete her university studies. She became associate professor in the history department at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, and also taught at Newberg High School. After she graduated from Linfield College in 1951, she moved to New Orleans, where she worked as a teacher and in the photographic labs of Greer Studios.

It was in New Orleans that McKeever first met artist Don Martin, artist and folk singer Lori Fair, and artist and jazz musician George Abend. They would meet up again a few years later in Ajijic. Joan Gilbert Martin alerted me to the photograph (below) used for the cover of the second (Summer 1956) issue of Climax, a Beat magazine published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Don Martin’s studio in Ajijic in 1955/56 with one of his paintings hanging on the far wall. Lori Fair is sitting by the drums and George Abend is at the piano. This image neatly conveys the close friendship of these artistically-talented individuals before their paths, and lives, diverged.

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

McKeever had left New Orleans for Mexico in 1953 at the invitation of the Instituto Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales to give English classes in Guadalajara, where she taught at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Jalisco until January 1955. Newspaper articles describe her jovial personality and list her hobbies at this time as painting (watercolors and pastels) and photography.

Early in 1954, Don Martin and Lori Fair also left New Orleans, to live together in Ajijic. Martin had several very productive months and his first solo show in Mexico opened at the Casa del Art in Guadalajara on 2 August 1954. Both McKeever and Lori Fair attended the gala opening, as did Archie Mayo, the Hollywood movie director; Nicole Vaia Langley, daughter of violinist John Langley; Peter and Elaine Huntington of Ajijic; artists Jose Maria Servin, César Zazueta and Thomas Coffeen Suhl; and Nayarit-born painter Melquiades Sanchez Orozco, who later became a legendary scocer commentator.

In January 1955, Anne McKeever left Guadalajara to oversee English teaching in the smaller neighboring state of Nayarit, as Director of the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Nayarit. She spent six months there, during which time she arranged two art shows featuring the works of Don Martin. The opening night for the first show, at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano in Tepic, in April, included a concert of folksongs sung by Lori Fair. The second show, in May in Santiago Ixcuintla and billed as the “Third Painting Exhibition, Mexican and International Artists”, included a painting by Anne McKeever entitled “The Women”.

Ad for New Orleans show, 1956

Ad for New Orleans show, 1956

McKeever returned to Guadalajara in the summer of 1955. In September, the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Jalisco presented an exhibition of her photographs, described in the local newspaper, El Informador, as a “magnificent collection”. The reviewer praised McKeever an an “American who loves Mexico and its customs” and a “very original photographer”. The photos, taken in Guadalajara and Tepic with a simple camera in natural light, included portraits of people engaged in everyday activities: rotalistas (sign painters), street sellers, children and bricklayers.

A similar exhibition, entitled “Ojos sobre Mexico” (“Eyes on Mexico”) was held in New Orleans the following year at the Climax Jazz, Art and Pleasure Society. A portrait of McKeever on the flyer for her “Eyes on Mexico” series shows her wearing bullfighters’ watches while cradling her camera.

This chronology of McKeever’s life throws some doubt on the very precise time frame claimed by Penelope Rosemont in Surrealist Women: an international anthology that, “A fascinating surrealist-orientated group – including Carol St. Julian (aka Beavy LeNora, the Nevermore Girl) and photographer Anne McKeever – burst onto the scene in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1955.” Though McKeever retained links to the city, and had poems and photographs published there until 1960, she had left the New Orleans scene two years prior to 1955. Perhaps Rosemont is equating McKeever’s presence in New Orleans with the start of the journal Semina, which ran from 1955 to 1964?

Anne McKeever. 1955. "Terminal de Autobusses" - Guadalajara.

Anne McKeever. 1955. “Terminal de Autobusses” – Guadalajara.

After Guadalajara, McKeever moved to Mexico City where she taught English and renewed her friendships with Lori Fair (now married and calling herself Bhavani Escalante), Jeonora Bartlet and Rick Reagan. McKeever was an integral part of the then-vibrant Beat scene in Mexico City which included surrealist poet Philip Lamantia. McKeever and Lamantia were visited in Mexico City in 1959 by jazz poet ruth weiss, near the end of her lengthy trip through Mexico:

“In 1959, ruth returned from traveling the length of Mexico with her first husband, having completed her journal COMPASS, which includes an excerpt of her memorable meeting with two close San Francisco friends in Mexico City -poet and photographer Anne McKeever and poet Philip Lamantia. After talking all night in a café, they decided to climb the Pyramid of the Sun in the Mayan ruins outside Mexico City and catch the sunrise. Neither guides nor other tourists were there in the predawn chill. The climb to the top of the pyramid was easy, but ruth, paralyzed by fear of heights, had to be carried all the way down.” (Brenda Knight, 2009).

In that same year, 1959, weiss included several short poems about “Ana” (McKeever) in her Gallery of Women, a book comprised of poem-portraits of more than a dozen women poets whom she most admired and respected. Other poets whose portraits were painted in verse by ruth weiss included Aya Tarlow and Laura Ulewicz, the partner of Jack Gilbert.

Weiss also refers briefly to McKeever in her poem “Post-Card 1995”, writing “ANNE McKEEVER vanished in Mexico” and later, “ANNE McKEEVER your poems, your voice, your toreador’s baby where are they”. (This poem also describes Ernest Alexander, another artist closely associated with Ajijic.)

McKeever’s own work featured in the 5th issue of the Beat magazine Semina, published in 1959. Her photographic collage, “Musicians”, appeared in the same issue as an extract from “Compass” by ruth weiss, and a poem and translation by Philip Lamantia.

Anne McKeever. 1955. "Parting the Plaza". Eyes on Mexico series.

Anne McKeever. 1955. “Parting the Plaza”. Eyes on Mexico series. Guadalajara.

McKeever’s interest in photography continued unabated in Mexico City and led her to document bullfighters and the many activities occurring near the bull ring. She lived with bullfighters, took their photos, and even fought a young bull herself. This is how she first met matador Humberto Javier, the love of her life, the start of an entirely new chapter. Anne had an infant son (Felipe) and, after the couple married, they left Mexico City by train in 1960 to start a new life as a family in Tapachula, Chiapas. Their daughter Ana Andrea was born a couple of years later.

The newly married couple started an English-language school in Tapachula which is still in operation today. The Instituto Cultural de Inglés Javier McKeever was the first English language school in Chiapas and is now run by McKeever’s grandsons: Oliver and Lester Trujillo Javier, who have English teaching degrees. McKeever taught English there for more than forty years, becoming known locally as “Teacher McKeever”.

In about 1970, McKeever invited Jeonora Bartlet, then living in California, to teach at the school. Bartlet moved to Chiapas and lived there with her partner Rick Reagan for more than a decade, teaching English part-time. Reagan’s artwork was regularly displayed in the school.

McKeever’s daughter, Ana Andrea Javier McKeever, trained as a teacher of classical ballet before starting a school in 1979 for classical ballet, jazz and tap. It is now called the Royal Ballet Center, and is run by Ana Andrea’s own daughter, Andrea Trujillo Javier. The family has also opened a language center for Spanish courses: The Anne McKeever Language Center.

Anne McKeever, “Teacher McKeever”, died in Tapachula, Chiapas, on 14 July 2002, but the family’s numerous contributions to enriching the cultural life of Tapachula will live on for many years to come.

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Jeonora Bartlet, Joan Gilbert Martin and Ana Andrea Javier McKeever for their help in piecing together this profile of a truly remarkable and inspirational woman.

Sources and references:

  • Climax magazine, #2, Summer 1956
  • Miguel Angel González. 2017. “En Memoria: Anne McKeever de Javier (1928-2002)” in Revista Morada Chiapas, March 2017.
  • Informador (Guadalajara) 5 Feb 1955; 15 Sep 1955; 12 Dec 1955; 5 Jan 1956.
  • Brenda Knight. 2009. “Return of the prodigal poet – ruth weiss in San Francisco Poetry Festival July 24“.
  • Anne McKeever. 1959. Photographic Collage (musicians) – in Issue 5 of Semina (1959)
  • Prensa Libre (Tepic), 24 April 1855:
  • Penelope Rosemont, 2000. Surrealist Women: an international anthology.
  • ruth weiss. 1959. Gallery of Women.
  • ruth weiss. 2011. can’t stop the beat: the life and words of a Beat poet. This includes “Compass” and “Post-Card 1995”.

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 062017
 

Painter and batik artist Auguste Killat Foust (1915-2010), better known as Gustel Foust, had lived for twenty years in Mexico before moving to Ajijic, where she lived from 1978 to 1984. Previously she had resided fifteen years in Guadalajara (1963-78) and five years in San Miguel de Allende (1958-1963).

Gustel Foust. Artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. The artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Auguste Killat Myckinn (her birthname) was born in Nemonin, East Prussia, on 15 February 1915 and died 05 October 2010. Even as a child, she was exceptionally talented at sketching and painting. At the age of 17, she entered the Königsberg Kunstakademie (Königsberg Academy of Arts), where she studied art and landscape, under Alfred Partikel (1888-1945) and Fritz Burmann (1892-1945). Foust continued her art studies at Dresden Art School and the University of Berlin Art School.

From about 1940 to 1947, she was married to the meticulous Dr. Wilhelm Graber, an economist of German heritage, who liked everything “just so”, in striking contrast to his wife’s preference to “go with the flow”.

In 1950, a few years after the end of the second world war, Gustel remarried. Viva E. Foust, her second husband, was serving in the U.S. Navy, and the couple settled initially in South Carolina, where Gustel became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Gustel had two children – Marlene and Sabina – from her first marriage and three more children – Barbara, Curtis and Karen – were born in the U.S.

From 1955 to 1958, the Fousts lived between Newport, Rhode Island and South Carolina, with Gustel exhibiting and teaching art in both places. She joined the Provincetown Art Association. In addition to group shows, several of which were in New York, she displayed her paintings in three solo shows and was represented by Sandpiper Gallery in Westport.

After her husband’s retirement from the Navy, in 1958 the couple decided to move to Mexico. While teaching art at the Art Institute in San Miguel de Allende, Gustel found renewed inspiration for her own art in the vivid colors and color contrasts found everywhere in Mexico and in Mexican popular art. Her work sold well at exhibitions in the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende and attracted the attention of several Mexico City collectors who helped arrange for her to hold solo shows in the capital. These, too, proved very successful.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Five years later, the family moved to Guadalajara, where she continued to teach art and became a regular exhibitor in local galleries and further afield. For example, in 1964, she held a solo show of “batiks, portraits and watercolors” at the Castle Art gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Sadly, her husband passed away (in Guadalajara) that same year.

In September 1967, her work was in a group show of paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The following May, her “impressionist landscapes and portraits” were on show at the Tekare penthouse restaurant in Guadalajara. In October 1968 (when Mexico was hosting the Olympic Games), Foust had a show of original batiks at “Georg Originals”, a gallery in Guadalajara near the intersection of Avenida Chapultepec and Vallarta, and was simultaneously showing paintings and batiks at Villa del Lago hotel in Ajijic. Her next showing of paintings, at the Galeria Municipal de Arte y Cultura in Guadalajara was favorably reviewed in an illustrated half-page article by well-known local art critic J. Luis Meza-India.

She then had three oil paintings accepted into a major, juried group show of American Artists at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara in June 1969, and won third place for figurative painting. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

In 1972, part-way through her fifteen years living in Guadalajara, she spent some time in Houston, Texas. Her Houston studio was at 713 Snover, and she held a solo exhibit at the Hotel Fiesta in Houston from 19 to 23 May. The formal invitation for the exhibit featured two paintings: “La Playa en Puerto Vallarta” (Puerto Vallarta Beach) and “Escena del lago Chapala” (Lake Chapala Scene). According to the short artist biography published at the time, Foust had already held eight solo shows in Mexico, as well as one-person exhibits in Santa Cruz, California; Forth Worth, Texas; and New Braunsfels, Texas. (If anyone has details of these exhibits, please share!)

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Foust remained extremely active for many years in the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala art scene. A quick newspaper search turned up several exhibits in 1974-1976, including a joint show with her daughter Sabina in the Hilton Hotel in Guadalajara (January 1974), paintings and batiks at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery in Ajijic (February 1975), joint show with Sabina of batiks and paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala (July 1975) and a group show of Lake Chapala Artists at the ex-Convento del Carmen, Guadalajara (October 1976). Other participants in this last-named show included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Bert Miller; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; and Jim Marthai.

It is obvious that Foust was extremely familiar with the Lake Chapala area well before moving to live in Ajijic in 1978, and no surprise that soon after moving there, one of her street scenes of Ajijic (in the collection of local realtor Richard Tingen) was chosen for the annual, charity fundraising Amigos del Lago greeting card.

Gustel Foust.2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

The last major show in Guadalajara that Foust is known to have participated in was a group show held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in January 1980. This also included works by Daphne Aluta, Evelyne Boren, Taffy Branham, Paul Fontaine, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lokos, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Betty Warren and Digur Weber.

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, Foust exhibited several times in Acapulco, at the city’s Biennales held in a major hotel on the main beach. These shows were fund-raisers to benefit the children of Acapulco. Among the organizers was Ann Goldfarb, a friend of Foust’s. Foust’s son, Curtis, attended one of these shows and recalls that his mother’s paintings quickly sold out, snapped up by visitors from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

In 1984, Foust returned to the U.S., living first in San Diego, California, then (from 2002) in West Virginia and finally (from June 2009) in Petaluma, California, where she passed away, at the age of 95, on 5 October 2010.

Even after her return to live in the U.S., Foust retained some close links to Lake Chapala. In 1992, for example, Judy Eager was able to persuade her to exhibit (with her daughter Barbara) a selection of batiks, oils and watercolors at La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic.

As these illustrations show, Gustel Foust was an extremely talented artist, whether of landscapes, portraits or batiks. She was also a prolific artist, painting almost every day of her life, in a wide variety of styles and using many different media. At different times, she signed her work Gustel K. Foust, Gustel Foust, G. Foust, and sometimes simply G.F. On some occasions, the cross stroke of the “T” in Foust would be omitted or unclear.

Foust’s art can be found in many museum and private collections around the world, including the Centro de Arte Moderno (Museo Miguel Aldana) in Guadalajara and the East Prussian State Museum in Germany.

Private collectors holding examples of Foust’s art include Luis Garcia Jasso, who owned the now-defunct Galería Vertice in Guadalajara, and many prominent families originally from East Prussia.

All four of Foust’s daughters became painters, while her only son, Curtis, maintains an informative website dedicated to his mother’s art.

Illustrations and acknowledgment

All illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of Curtis Foust; my sincere thanks to him for generously sharing details of his mother’s life and work. To see more of her paintings and batiks, please visit the Gustel Foust website.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter : 18 May 1968; 12 Oct 1968; 26 Jan 1974
  • Gustel Foust (website) – http://www.gustelfoust.com
  • Informador 29 September 1967;  17 Nov 1968; 23 July 1975; 25 October 1976; 26 January 1980
  • J. Luis Meza-India. 1968. “Exposición de pintura: Gustel Foust.” Informador, 17 Nov 1968
  • Ojo del Lago, January 1992
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) 8 March 1964,15 March 1964 (p 25)

Plea for help

If you are able to provide more specific details (dates, gallery names) of Gustel Foust’s art exhibitions, especially those in Mexico, Germany and the U.S. please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Mar 232017
 

American-born artist Barbara Jean Zacheisz Elstob painted in Ajijic in the early 1950s. She lived in Ajijic (where she met her future husband, the writer Peter Elstob) for more than two years, from late 1949 or early 1950 to April 1952.

Barbara Jean Zacheisz was born on 22 October 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Chester E. Zacheisz was advertising manager of St. Louis University and only 37 years old when he died in March 1935. His widow, Claudette V. (McGowan) Zacheisz (known in the family as Claudia), was left with two young daughters: Virginia Lee (“Pat”) and Barbara Jean, the latter only ten years of age. Following her mother’s remarriage (to John “Jacky-Boy” K. Morton), Barbara Jean sometimes adopted his surname, calling herself Barbara Jean Morton.

Little is known about her early education but, in about 1947, having worked as a volunteer nurse (in her home town) during the war, Barbara, then 23 years of age, began to study art with Max Beckmann at the Art School of Washington University in St. Louis. Exiled from Germany, Beckmann, one of the most important painters of the first half of the 20th century, worked as an assistant professor in St. Louis for two years (1947-1949), before moving to New York City where he died in December 1950.

In 1949, Barbara, exhibiting as “Barbara Zacheisz”, was one of the talented young artists, all under the age of 26, whose work was shown at the St. Louis Artist Guild. The show opened on 28 February and ran to 7 March.

After St. Louis, she lived for a few months in New Mexico. It is unclear precisely when Barbara first arrived in Ajijic, but it appears to have been in late 1949 or early 1950. It may have been at the suggestion of Perry Rathbone, Director of the St. Louis City Art Museum, who had not only assisted Max Beckmann’s move to St. Louis, but was also a sponsor of the Ajijic summer art program. (The timing of Rathbone’s sponsorship of the Ajijic program is unclear, so it is equally possible that it was Barbara who first told Rathbone about art in Ajijic).

Barbara Jean Elstob: Chamula Indian. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Jean Elstob: Chamula Indian, Mexico. ca 1954.

Certainly, by the summer of 1950, Barbara was living in Ajijic, and had begun an affair with writer, entrepreneur and serial adventurer Peter Elstob. It was not, apparently, love at first sight. Elstob was co-organizing the “Peter Arnold Studios” in the village with his long-time friend Arnold “Bushy” Eiloart. It was Eiloart who, having talked Peter up to Barbara, first introduced them, only to be taken aback when told afterwards by Barbara that “he’s not so hot!”

The participants in Peter Arnold Studios were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed. For most of Elstob’s time in Ajijic, his wife, Medora, remained in the U.K., looking after the couple’s first four children and preparing for the arrival of their fifth.

It is hard to imagine how Barbara’s emotions swung back and forth in 1950. By summer, she was in love with Peter Elstob, and was pregnant. Then, on 27 August, her mother died following a year-long illness. The obituary notice for her mother lists Barbara as living “at home” (i.e. in Missouri), suggesting that Barbara’s visit to Mexico was still being viewed, locally at least, as only a temporary one.

At about this time, Peter Elstob returned to the U.K. for a quick visit to his wife and children. When he returned to Ajijic at the end of September (1950) he was accompanied by his wife, Medora Leigh-Smith (clearly still determined to try to save their marriage) and two of their children: 11-year-old Penelope and 3-month-old Harry. The family lived together in Ajijic until May 1951 when Medora, recognizing that the marriage was over, returned to the U.K.

A few months earlier, in February 1951, Barbara had given birth to Elstob’s son, Peter Mayo Elstob, in Mexico City. Peter Mayo’s younger sister, Sukey, born a few years later in the U.K., recalls that her mother “often behaved as if her ‘real life’ began when she met our father. They were very much in love, right up to her death. He had enormous respect for her art and always supported her fully.”

Barbara Elstob. UNtitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Elstob. Untitled. Date Unknown.

During her time in Ajijic, in addition to painting, Barbara also became a part-time tutor to Katie Goodridge Ingram, who would, much later, open an art gallery in the village, and her brother. The teenage Ingram, whose other tutors included John Upton and John Carson, used to exercise Peter Elstob’s two horses and gave riding lessons to his art studio “guests”. She remembers Barbara living at the “Johnson” house, named for its long-time occupants: Herbert and Georgette Johnson, an English couple who moved to Ajijic just before the second world war broke out. Ingram, who regrets that Barbara never taught her art, adds that Barbara was a heavy sleeper and needed to be woken up every morning. Peter Elstob (and Medora when she visited) lived a few blocks away.

Among Barbara’s artist friends in Ajijic were Ernest Alexander and his partner Dolly, who ran the Club Alacrán restaurant-bar. Through all their subsequent moves, Barbara and Peter Elstob kept several of Alex’s fine photographs of Ajijic and Lake Chapala, which the family still treasure today. Barbara had strong opinions as well as a good sense of humor. One of her Ajijic anecdotes was about when she went to a party and saw a tall, strikingly good-looking Mexican artist across the room. She marched straight over to him, exclaiming “Why, you’re beautiful”, only to be met with the encouraging rebuttal that “No, YOU’RE beautiful… I’m handsome!”

Barbara Elstob. UNtitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Elstob. Untitled. Date Unknown.

In 1952, in order to remain close to his children, and with Peter’s marriage to Medora irretrievably broken, Peter and Barbara moved to the U.K. They arrived at Southampton (from New York) on 14 April 1952. The ship’s passenger manifest lists Peter Elstob as an author. The separate list of “aliens” (non-UK citizens) has Barbara Zacheisz, a 27-year-old artist, and her infant son, Peter. They settled briefly in St. Ives, Cornwall (1952), and married in Fulham, London, in September 1953, before living most of the following year in Tangier, Morocco.

Barbara Elstob. Preliminary sketch for painting. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Elstob. Preliminary sketch for painting. Date unknown.

Barbara Jean Elstob, as she was now known, continued to draw and paint, taking her sketchpads and painting gear with her wherever the family traveled. One of several unusual techniques she employed was to sketch out preliminary drawings for her paintings using newspaper text and columns to provide a ready-made grid within which to work out the best composition.

Barbara found inspiration for her art in the works of Joan Miró and she also admired the work of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. She rarely painted landscapes, preferring to paint portraits and groups of people. Her faces are distinctive and she painted several strikingly-powerful portraits of family members. The backgrounds in her work often feature repeating patterns, an effect achieved in some instances by applying spray paint using paper doilies as a mask. Like many other artists who found inspiration at Lake Chapala, many of her paintings use strongly contrasting colors and large, bold shapes.

Catalog, Arthur Jeffress (Pictures), 1955

Catalog, Arthur Jeffress (Pictures), 1955

In 1955, twelve of Barbara’s works were shown at Arthur Jeffress (Pictures), a gallery that had opened the previous year at 28 Davies Street, London. They included paintings from Mexico, St. Ives (1952) and Morocco (1954). Barbara also took part in a group show at the American Embassy in London.

In 1956, at the British Industries Fair at Earl’s Court in February, one manufacturer (possibly Lady Clare) was displaying a “range of glass dishes, tablemats and trays” featuring color “bull-fighting lithographs from Mexico drawn by Mrs. Barbara Elstob, who for some years ran a hotel in that country”. (Scenes of London painted by one of Barbara’s friends, American artist Judith Bledsoe, were used by the same manufacturer for a similar range of products.)

Barbara Jean Elstob: The Old Woman of St. Ives. ca 1973. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Jean Elstob: The Old Woman of St. Ives. ca 1973.

Prior to the birth (in 1957) of their daughter, Sukey, Peter and Barbara lived for a short time in St. Ives, Cornwall (1952) and about a year in Tangier, Morocco (1954). They spent part of 1957 in Venice and returned to Tangier in 1958 when Sukey was a baby.

In the mid-1950s, Barbara Elstob renounced her U.S. citizenship in protest at McCarthyism and became a British citizen.

The family eventually settled in a large maisonette (multi-level apartment) on Belsize Park Gardens in London. Barbara’s studio was at the top of the building and she completed a steady stream of paintings, more than sufficient to hold an exhibit at The Basement, a small gallery near Regent’s Park in September 1973.

Barbara Jean Elstob: Tuscan Mountain Village. (Painted left-handed ca 1985). Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Jean Elstob: Tuscan Mountain Village. (Painted left-handed ca 1985).

Sadly, shortly afterwards, and at the very young age of 48, she suffered a massive stroke from which she never fully recovered. She completely lost the use of her right arm, her painting arm, but refused to stop painting. “Amazingly,” explains daughter Sukey, “she taught herself to draw and paint again with her left hand and although it was not quite the same, her wonderful style was completely recognisable.”

Peter Elstob remained devoted to his wife throughout the remaining twenty years of her life. The couple was able to enjoy traveling together and, among other trips, revisited Ajijic to see how it had changed. In 1980, a trip to Kenya turned into a real-life drama when they were stripped and robbed while strolling on a secluded beach. Only days later, they were dining in the restaurant of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi when a bomb exploded, killing 20 people and injuring 80 others.

Barbara Zacheisz Elstob died in Hampshire, U.K., at the age of 67, on 17 September 1992.

Illustrations / Credits / Acknowledgments :

  • The Old Woman of St. Ives is reproduced by kind permission of Ellie Elstob-Wardle (Barbara’s granddaughter). All other illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob (Barbara’s daughter).
  • Sincere thanks to Sukey Elstob and Steve Wardle, Katherine Goodridge Ingram, and Adele Heagney, Reference Librarian at the St. Louis Public Library.

Sources:

  • Howard Derrickson. 1949. “Art and Artists: Young Painters in Guild Show”. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, 28 February 1949.
  • The Panama American. “New British Pottery has American Look”. The Panama American, 12 Feburary 1956, p 6.
  • Sedalia Weekly Democrat from Sedalia, Missouri, 1 September 1950, Page 2 : “OBITUARIES Mrs. Claudette V. Morton”
  • Regina Shekerjian. 1952. “You can Afford a Mexican Summer: Complete Details on how to Stretch your Dollars During an Art Trek South of the Border” in Design, Volume 53, 1952, Issue 8, pp 182-197.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri, 30 March 1950, p 12; 31 March 1935, p 51.

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.

 Posted by at 5:00 am  Tagged with:
Mar 162017
 

We looked in a previous post at the life and work of multi-talented German artist Paul “Pablo” Huf who spent his early childhood in Ajijic. Huf, born in Guadalajara in October 1967, is the elder son of two professional artists closely associated with Ajijic – Peter Paul Huf and Eunice Hunt. The family lived in Ajijic until Paul was six years old, at which point they moved to Europe, where they lived for a couple of years in southern Spain before eventually settling in Kaufbeuren in Bavaria, Germany.

After working as a car mechanic, social worker and educator, Paul Huf switched to art in his thirties and studied in Munich and Spain. After finding a box of his parents’ photos and mementos of Mexico while visiting them in Kaufbeuren, Paul Huf decided to research their courtship and revisit their old haunts. He returned to Mexico at age 40, for the first time since he had left as a child, and spent three months traveling to places where his parents had been more than forty years earlier, including San Blas, Ajijic, Zihuatanejo, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

The story of his parent’s romance is the basis for Huf’s fascinating contribution (“40 Años”/”40 Years”) to a group exhibition of work by German artists entitled Vistazo, La transformación de lo cotidiano, (“Glance, The transformation of everyday life“) held at the Museo Carrillo Gil in Mexico City from 15 March to 10 July 2007. During his travels, Huf wrote ten short texts that became the thread linking photographs and drawings recounting his parents’ love story. Here, for the very first time in English, are the ten short texts that Huf wrote for the exhibition.

1. San Blas

In January 1965 the Lions Club of San Blas organized a dance. Everyone attended. It had been a wonderful warm day, it grew dark early. The entrance was decorated with colored lanterns. Among the many guests who made their way to the party was a 25-year-old German.

Peter, who left Germany as a young man, had arrived a few weeks before from Texas and rented an apartment in the small fishing village to work on his art.

Eunice was 32, recently divorced after ten years of marriage. She had traveled to Mexico to rethink her life. She came from Canada, where she had studied art. Since she was the daughter of migrants from Banat, in Romania, she understood German.

Peter saw Eunice, and immediately liked her, but it was difficult to reach her because all the other men had also noticed this young woman. Peter pretended to know only German, so he managed to get some special attention. After the dance, they met every day in the square and took long walks with Eunice’s dog, Klara.

Eunice was impressed by an installation Peter had set up in his apartment. He darkened a room and hung a cord with an empty coconut from the ceiling. Inside the coconut was a candle. When the candle was lit, the cord swayed. Only with this flickering and unstable light could the black shapes be seen on the walls.

It was the beginning of a great love. In March, the couple moved to a large house on the square, where all rooms, except one, were uninhabitable due to spiders, dust accumulated over many years and piles of antique furniture.

Part of Paul Huf's 2007 exhibit in Mexico City. Credit: Paul Huf.

Part of Paul Huf’s 2007 exhibit in Mexico City. Credit: Paul Huf.

2. Desertion

In May of 1965 they were on a bus on their way to Mexico City; Peter had to go to the German consulate because his passport had expired. On arrival, they told him that his name was on a list of deserters, because he had ignored his call to military service. By the time more call-up letters arrived, he was already abroad. Nothing had kept him in his hometown.

Peter’s father had written a letter to the recruiting office, informing the relevant people that he was unable to communicate with his son. He himself had participated from the first day of World War II and had been a prisoner of war in France. He could not understand then, wrote his father, the behavior of his son.

Peter told the consul that he would stay in Mexico if they did not renew his passport. They renewed it.

3. Dogs and first class

A dog is an animal and animals travel with peasants and Indians in third class, thought the inspector. I am the inspector of the first class and these strange gringos have a dog with them. Animals should travel in the luggage compartment, but by no means in first class! You have to get him out, he has no right to be here, but the stupid gringo, overbearing, shows me a ticket, telling me that they have bought one for the dog! Who, what asshole, at the station, sold them a ticket for the dog?! A train ticket for dogs in first class! The dog even has a name, who has seen something like that?! A dog with a female name! The woman repeatedly caresses the black dog and calls him Klara. What nonsense! But I am the inspector of the first class and with me animals do not travel, even if they have a ticket, let alone when they have a name! Now, the guy tells me, to make matters worse, that Mexico is a democracy! Democracy, who cares? Mexico may be a democracy, but there is no democracy on this train; here I am in charge!

Halfway there, the train gradually slowed, until finally it stopped. The compartment door opened, the inspector stood in front of the couple, accompanied by two soldiers armed with machine guns readied for use. Accompanied by the soldiers, the inspector, and the machine guns, the pair got off the train. Klara was on a leash, as it should be. The other travelers watched the small group with curiosity. They walked on granite ballast under the hot sun until they reached the end of the train. They reached the luggage compartment, where they had to tie up the dog. They did not untie it until they reached Oaxaca.

4. Do You Know Arthur Rimbaud?

“I know him,” thought Peter, “that narrow guy, with his long hair hanging in his face, his tight, striped suit!” Then it occurred to him that they had often seen each other in Paris in the discos where they sat, listened to the latest discs of John Coltrane, and smoked cigarettes. Over the music the Frenchman had asked him: “Do you know Arthur Rimbaud?”. But when he wanted to answer, a woman had come up to them and interrupted the conversation. That had been a few years ago.

Now here was the guy standing in a bar in Oaxaca. Peter went up to him and said, “Of course I know Arthur Rimbaud!”

5. Dance

Jean was with a group of friends, mostly American women. Eunice and Peter joined them for cocktails, the atmosphere was good-humored. It was a pleasant night in Oaxaca, the flowers had a sweet smell. Afterwards they wanted to go dancing and the bartender directed them to a small street around the corner. They searched for a while until they found a house with a neon sign that said Love. The men there had opted to sit idly in a ragged room. When the volume of music rose, the Americans began to dance freely. At first, the regulars were surprised, but the atmosphere became hot as everyone wanted to dance with a gringa! The men were then offended when any of the women refused an invitation to dance, while the others continued dancing. More and more men rushed to join the dance, for the news quickly spread that there was a lively party in the former brothel.

Peter was the first to catch on, bringing chairs from all sides so that the women could sit, but as soon as a chair was vacated, the regular customers took it immediately.

It became late. By dawn, the women were completely exhausted and Peter accompanied them to the hotel. One by one they said goodbye. When only four of them remained, they clapped hands and promised to return the following night.

6. In Paradise

Mr. Campos was very happy to have rented the small house behind his barn. In Zihuatanejo, before the rainy season, it was always very hot, so very few tourists came.

Eunice woke up the first night because of a noise: she could hear hundreds of little feet walking nearby. When she got rid of the big mosquito net hanging over her bed, she turned on the light and found nothing unusual. However, she had the impression that lots of small pairs of eyes were watching her curiously from all sides.

They got up at five and went to the beach for a swim. On the way back they went shopping in the market. Afterwards, it was too hot to be outside. Eunice grabbed a tame iguana, which belonged to a fisherman’s child. The boy had taken the animal home and put it on the table. There it stood, paralyzed, for hours, while Eunice drew him.

They became friends of the inhabitants of the town and, as their house was the only one with a stone floor, they all liked to visit them to dance. Paradise is a beautiful place. One night they awoke because of a loud noise. A fat rat had fallen into the stone tank they used as a sink. The rat was swimming continuously in circles so as not to drown. Peter grabbed a towel and put it in the sink. The rat grabbed it, climbed up, quickly reached the edge, shook himself like a dog, and disappeared.

7. MS Orinoco

Every day Peter would go down to the port and ask if there was work. The wonderful days in paradise soon ended, and after three months he had returned to San Blas. Apparently, all the insects there who knew how to sting had come out at the same time. And then to complicate matters further, a guy arrived who went to Vancouver by car, taking Eunice with him. He was alone again, and without money.

He traveled to Veracruz in third class. He had once worked on a ship and knew that it was a large port. In a bar he met Harald, a German who, like him, had no documents but wanted to work on a ship. They got together and asked every day from boat to boat. They were told that, perhaps, once they could have worked on a ship without papers, but not now. Their money was running out. They moved from a decadent hotel to a worse one. Peter wrote letters to Vancouver, but received no reply.

One morning the rusty Norwegian cargo ship MS Orinoco received a large load of watermelons, which had to be taken to Portland and the crew needed immediate reinforcement. This was the chance the two Germans had been waiting for. The MS Orinoco was a ship that did not follow a fixed route but traveled to whichever ports had goods to be loaded. So they reached Portland, then Jamaica, then sailed for a long time in the Caribbean. The sea in the Caribbean is so lovely, says Peter, that one feels it is calling you. One of the sailors, Peter says, threw himself into the water and never came back up.

8. Toothache

The MS Orinoco had left the Caribbean and gone to Newfoundland; From there it carried dry fish to Jacksonville, Florida. Peter wrote letters to Vancouver. At every port the packager brought mail for the crew, but there was never anything for Peter. In Jacksonville, he began to have toothache: one of his fillings had fallen out and he had pus. It felt like the foreman of the ship was pounding his nerve with a giant hammer. On the way to Pensacola, Florida, the pain grew worse.

Before reaching New Orleans, in the Gulf of Mexico, the captain realized that they were facing a hurricane. The ship could not dodge it because it was too old and slow, so the MS Orinoco continued on its way into the storm. Hurricane Betsy broke on the rusty boat, struck it hard, shook it, destroyed the antennas and radar, and flooded the bridge. The ship and its crew fought for ten hours; miraculously they did not sink.

When they entered the port of Pensacola, Florida, Peter remembered he had toothache. The dentist in the harbor said to him: This molar looks horrible, the pain must have been awful. Peter replied: Yes, it was excruciating!

9. American Express

The rusty MS Orinoco had defied the hurricane but was heavily damaged. Another cargo was delivered in the Caribbean, then the ship crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Rotterdam. Here the crew was laid off and the Orinoco sent to the dry dock for a general overhaul.

Harald and Peter took their wages and went up to Amsterdam. They settled in a cheap hotel on the Damrak, shaved and showered, and went to the city to get their bearings.

When they crossed the Rembrandsplein, they passed an American Express office. Peter paused and said, “Wait a moment, Harald, I’ll just take one last look to see if any letter has arrived.”

Harald replied, “There’s nothing for you, you can forget that.”

But there was a letter: Eunice had written to him saying she had booked a flight to Amsterdam.

10. Return

In January 1967 Eunice and Peter boarded a cargo ship in Rotterdam bound for Veracruz. The cargo ship had five cabins for the numerous passengers, but they were the only guests on board.

Eunice had received all his letters and loved them. She had answered them but, because she always enclosed a few dollars in the envelopes, her replies had been lost along the way.

The ship left the great port. The couple looked back, toward Europe, which seemed smaller and smaller, as they hugged each other. After fifteen days of travel on the high seas, calm as a mirror, they were back in Mexico.

Eunice and Peter Huf, ca 1967. Photo courtesy of Eunice and Peter Huf.

Eunice and Peter Huf, ca 1967. Photo courtesy of Eunice and Peter Huf.

Note:

  • Sincere thanks to Paul Huf for granting his permission to reproduce the photo and texts of his exhibition in this post, and to Eunice and Peter Huf for permission to reproduce their photograph. All translations by Tony Burton.

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 092017
 

John Kenneth Peterson, known in his family as “Kenny”, was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, on 24 September 1922, to Andrew Gustof Peterson (1886-1957) and Edith Anna Danielson (1892-1973). He passed away in Ajijic, Mexico, in 1984, at the age of 61, and is buried in San Diego.

Peterson was active in the Ajijic art community, for some twenty years, living from sales of his art and teaching from when he first arrived in the village in the mid-1960s.

John K. Peterson. "Lago Chapala" (1973)

John K. Peterson. “Lago Chapala” (1973)

As a child, Peterson began painting at the age of five, while recuperating from a serious illness. He graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego in 1941. Two years later, he began a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy. On 24 June 1944, a year after entering the Navy, Peterson, 5′ 11″ tall with blond hair and blue eyes, married Josephine Ornelas. They had met in Bangor, Maine, and married in Orlando, Orange County, Florida. Ornelas was born in 1926 in El Paso, Texas, into a family originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. After an early career in modeling, she became one of the first female police officers in Richmond. The couple had three children: two girls and a boy, but separated and divorced in the mid-1960s.

After the war, Peterson, who had completed a few murals and portraits on his own time during his stint in the Navy, tried a succession of jobs, before opting to use his G.I. Bill entitlement to study at the Coronado School of Fine Arts in Coronado (near San Diego), California. He studied there four years (1948-1952), spending several summers (1949, 1950 and 1952) in Guadalajara. His tuition was covered by G.I. funds and scholarships.

John K Peterson. Self-portrait. ca 1952. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Porter.

John K Peterson. Mirror image self-portrait. ca 1952. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Porter.

He stayed on at the Coronado School of Fine Arts to teach watercolor techniques and engraving until 1954. During his time in the San Diego area, he completed seven murals in Coronado, and one – “Tahitian Dancers” – in 1952 at the Navy Fleet Sonar School. Peterson’s self-portrait from this time remains a prized family possession.

His art teachers included Monty Lewis, José Martinez [Guadalajara] and Dan Dickey (oils and frescoes), Donal Hord (sculpture), F. Robert White (drawing and etching), Eloise Bownan (portraiture), Frederick O’Hara (wood block cutting) and Rex Brandt, James Cooper White, Doug Kingman and Noel Quinn (watercolors). By coincidence, Kingman had also taught another long-time Lakeside artist, Eleanor Smart.

Throughout his life, Peterson was always ready to play a part and a San Diego newspaper from 1952 has a photograph of him lounging in fancy dress at the “Third Annual Costume Arts Ball”, held in Hotel del Coronado. More than twenty years later, he won first prize at the 1973 Halloween Costume Dinner Dance organized by the Tejabán restaurant in Ajijic. In the mid-1970s, Peterson was persuaded by hotelier Morley Eager, the newly-arrived proprietor of the Posada Ajijic, to dress up as Santa Claus to distribute presents bought by the Eagers for the village children. He may have been the first Santa the village kids had seen. According to Terry Vidal, who reviewed hundreds of paintings done over the years by young artists in the Lake Chapala Society’s Children’s Art Program, the earliest children’s art to feature Santa Claus dates back to about the same time.

Peterson’s two most noteworthy artistic achievements during his few years in Coronado were opening his own gallery, The Sidewalk Studio (131, Orange Ave.) in 1953, and winning the “People’s Choice” award at the 2nd annual exhibition of San Diego county artists in that same year, for a watercolor entitled “Red Can”.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

In December 1954, Peterson moved to the San Francisco Bay area and entered the commercial art world, establishing the family home five years later in Point Richmond. He worked as an illustrator-engraver at Fiberboard & Co. in San Francisco, and also opened a gallery, the Triangle Art Gallery (TAG), in partnership with fellow artists Herbert Wasserman and Richard Godfrey. TAG (at (267 Columbus Ave.) opened in June 1956 with a showing of works by the three partners. Two months later, a show of drawings, lithographs and etchings by Richard Diebenkorn, James Budd Dixon, Walter Kuhlman, Edwin Durham and Frank Lobdell, together with sculpture by Sargent Johnson opened at TAG.

TAG hosted a North Beach Artists Group Show in December 1956, followed by an exhibit of paintings by Toshi Sakiyama in February 1957. A month later, a one person show of works by Peterson opened at TAG. The original TAG (another gallery of this name operated in San Francisco from 1961 to 2011) held its 1st Annual Exhibition from 16 June to 13 July 1957.

Peterson was accepted into the San Francisco Art Association (one of oldest in the U.S., and the oldest in California) in 1958, his work having been “previously exhibited in several of the SFAA annual shows”.

After about a decade in San Francisco, Peterson moved to Los Angeles in about 1962 and took a position as art director and illustrator at the Sterling Die Co. After two years in this position, Peterson, now separated from Josephine Ornelas, moved to Guadalajara. He lived and painted in the city during 1964 and 1965 before deciding to improve his prospects by moving to the village of Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Within months, he had opened a studio-gallery and was giving private art classes to help make ends meet. Apart from vacation trips and a spell in San Diego Veterans Affairs hospital, he lived in Ajijic for the remainder of his life.

Living in Ajijic proved to be a wise decision. Peterson found time to focus on his art and participated in an extraordinary number of exhibits during his time in the village.

He was a founding member of both Grupo 68, an Ajijic art co-operative that was active from 1967 to 1971, and Clique Ajijic, the loose collective that succeeded it in the mid-1970s.

Other members of Grupo 68 included Peter Huf, his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack Rutherford and Don Shaw. The members of Clique Ajijic included Sydney Schwartzman, Adolfo Riestra, Gail Michaels, Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom Faloon and Todd (“Rocky”) Karns.

The earliest show I’ve found recorded for Peterson in Mexico was in a group show by the four main members of Grupo 68 and friends at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January 1968. (Other artists on that occasion included Gustavo Aranguren, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Rodolfo Lozano, Gail Michael, Hector Navarro, Don Shaw and Thomas Coffeen Suhl.) This was the start of regular Friday exhibits at the store.

From early in 1968, Peterson exhibited regularly (most Sunday afternoons) in Grupo 68 shows at the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, and in many group shows in Ajijic, some at Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery, and (later) in “La Galería”, the collective gallery the artists co-founded at Zaragoza #1, Ajijic.

Confusingly, “La Galería” was also the name of an existing gallery in Guadalajara (at Ocho de Julio #878) where the Grupo 68 artists and others (including Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Allyn Hunt, Tully Judson Petty and Gene Quesada) participated in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show of prints, drawings, wood cuts in June 1968.

The following month, Grupo 68 was exhibiting in the Tekare penthouse in Guadalajara (16 de Septiembre #157, 10th floor). That show was very favorably reviewed by Allyn Hunt in his “Art Probe” column in the Guadalajara Reporter, 27 July 1968). Concerning Peterson’s work, Hunt wrote that, “John Peterson displays several mosaic-like watercolors, the best of which are his ferris wheel pictures and “Butterfly”.”

Laura Bateman’s gallery in Ajijic, Rincón del Arte, “re-opened” in September 1968 as an artists’ co-operative, nominally headed by Grupo 68 artists, with a group show featuring works by Tom Brudenell, Thomas Coffeen Suhl, Alejandro Colunga, Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John K Peterson, Don Shaw, Jack Rutherford and Joe Wedgwood. Grupo 68 joined with Guadalajara artist José María Servín the following month for a show at Galería del Bosque, Guadalajara, sponsored by the Organizing Committee of the Cultural Program for the XIX Olympics, being held in Mexico City.

Peterson held a solo show at Rincón del Arte, Ajijic, in November 1968, mainly comprised of pastels and watercolors, with Allyn Hunt, in his review, describing Peterson as “probably the area’s most provocative artist when dealing with conventional nudes.”

Naturally, Peterson was also involved in the month-long group show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art” that marked the re-opening of La Galería in Ajijic (at Zaragoza #1) in December 1968. The artists on that occasion were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José María de Servín, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons, and Joe Wedgwood. Only a few days after that show opened, Peterson was in Guadalajara for the opening of a Collective Christmas Exhibition at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728) which also featured works by Thomas Coffeen, Gustel Foust, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf and several famous Mexican artists: David Alfaro Siqueiros; Alejandro Camarena; José María Servín and Guillermo Chávez Vega.

Peterson’s pastels and paintings in a group show at La Galería, Ajijic, in April 1969 hung alongside works by Charles Henry Blodgett, John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, Jack Rutherford, Don Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

All four Grupo 68 regulars – Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth Peterson and Don Shaw – held a show at the Instituto Aragón (Hidalgo #1302, Guadalajara) in June. At the end of that same month, Peterson won 3rd prize in the abstract painting category in the juried show, “Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit”, marking “American Cultural Week” in Guadalajara. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

This was about the time when pulp fiction writer Jerry Murray first arrived in Ajijic and he later recalled how Peterson, “a jovial bearded guy” and “local resident artist” had helped him find a place to rent. Peterson’s studio, says Murray, was “cluttered with half a dozen easels with paintings on them and uncounted half-filled rum, brandy, and soft drink bottles.” Peterson and some of his exploits are also described in Henry F. Edwards’s The Sweet Bird of Youth (2008). In this thinly described, fictionalized autobiography about life in Ajijic in the 1970s, Edwards devotes an entire chapter to “George Johannsen”, a “General Custer lookalike”.

An Easter Art Show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970 saw Peterson exhibiting alongside Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Peterson, John Frost, Don Shaw, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie Sherratt.

In the summer of the following year, Peterson was one of the many artists with works in the Fiesta de Arte held on 15 May in a private home in Ajijic. (Among the artists involved in this show were Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.)

An advert for Peterson’s exhibit in June 1972 at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery says that after the show ends, Peterson is headed to New York for a one-man show. The details of this show remain unclear. It is also referred to in a Guadalajara Reporter profile of Peterson written by Joe Weston in July 1972. Weston describes Peterson as “a blonde, red-bearded Viking giant”, and quotes him as saying that, “I’m not owned by people or money or time… I dance and I drink and I like women and I talk loud and I shout with enthusiasm….” Asked why he likes Ajijic, Peterson responds that, “I like it here, the people, the colors, the general ambience, the way of life, the economics. That’s why I stay. But I’m not tied here. There are probably other places in the world as good or better. When I want to find them, adios!”

Local art critics were invariably impressed by the high quality of Peterson’s work. For example, Allyn Hunt, reviewing Peterson’s solo show at the Camino Real Hotel in Ajijic in September 1972, praised this “dexterous draftsman”, his “excellently-rendered pastels” and his “nimbly-produced sketches”. A year later, Hunt described Peterson’s exhibit at the Tejabán restaurant-gallery: water colors of Mexican street scenes created by slashing pointillist patchwork of pastel color, as well as carnival merry-go-rounds and “a deftly executed series of glowing nudes done in chalk”. Hunt found that the street-scapes were “at once delicate in their filigree form and vigorously bold in their deep overlaying hues”. Novelist and Hollywood screenplay writer Ray Rigby wrote that “John Peterson combines strength and violence with a forgiving hand. His flair for fantasy intermingles with reality… John Peterson’s work is fun.”

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

Peterson’s ability to capture a scene with rapid brush strokes was remarkable. Earl Kemp’s Efanzine of July 2002 (Vol. 1 No. 3) includes the following description of Peterson’s painting of a funeral held in Ajijic: “It [the funeral] was so big, in fact, it inspired local Impressionist painter John K. Peterson to immortalize the event on canvas. His picture shows a street scene looking right down the middle of the street to where, three blocks away, the Cathedral stands. From every doorway the townspeople are pouring, as if on cue, and forming a funeral procession down the center of the street to the church where the ceremony in honor of the passing of Pepe’s father would take place.”

John K Peterson. Chapala Pier. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Pattison.

John K Peterson. Chapala Pier. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Pattison.

Alan Pattison, who knew the artist well, describes a Peterson painting (above) that he owns and loves: “It is the old marina and pier in Chapala. The guys on the pier are bringing in a net full of fish. … Note the circular movement around the boat – John told me that the guy (whom John knew) was so hungover he could not get the boat out of the marina and was just going in circles. Note also the black sun – John told me that he too was hungover when he was painting the scene and the morning sun was in his eyes and it “pissed him off” hence, he painted it black!”

During the lifetime of the Clique Ajijic collective, Peterson exhibited in their group shows at Villa Monte Carlo in Chapala (March 1975); Galería del Lago, Ajijic (Colón #6; August 1975); the Hotel Camino Real, Ajijic (September 1975); Galería OM, Guadalajara (October 1975); Club Santiago, Manzanillo (October 1975); Akari Gallery, Cuernavaca (February 1976) and the American Society of Jalisco, Guadalajara (February 1976).

Besides these shows, Peterson participated in the “Nude Show” that opened at at Galeria del Lago in Ajijic in February 1976. Other Lakeside artists in this show included John Frost, Synnove (Schaffer) Pettersen, Gail Michel, Dionicio, Georg Rauch and Robert Neathery.

In June 1976, Peterson’s watercolors and engravings featured in a two-person show with the drawings and graphics of Kuiz López at the Villa Monte Carlo in Chapala.

Alan Pattison recalls that the artist’s studio in the early 1970s was on the second floor of a building on the west side of Calle Colón, part-way down towards the lake from the square. Earlier in his life, Peterson had met Ella Fitzgerald and had painted her a couple of times. One of the paintings was “especially whimsical, musical and alive”. He continued to love blues music throughout his life, and usually had blues music playing in the background while he worked.

In the late 1970s, Peterson suffered a serious accident, falling from his studio onto an outdoor sink below. The resultant head trauma caused Peterson to forgo his previous palate of darker tones and his paintings became brighter. He moved away from abstract and impressionist works towards pastels whose predominant colors were bright yellow, green, orange, blue and turquoise.

During his lengthy and prolific artistic career, Peterson had painted murals in San Diego and Los Angeles, and exhibited in New York, Cleveland, Youngstown, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego and in many other major cities.

John K. Peterson was one of a kind. His artistic versatility extended to stained glass, fresco, sculpture, water colors, oils and wood blocks. According to Weston, in the small casita near the lake which he rented for $25 a month, he worked six hours a day and completed an average of 30 paintings a month. His generosity to friends and admirers of his work was legendary. In Weston’s words, he “might – and often does – give one of his works to somebody who likes it and can’t afford to buy it.”

In 1978 and again in 1979, Peterson applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to undertake an artistic study of indigenous Indian life “to capture the richness of vanishing Indian culture” in Latin America. He was not successful on either occasion.

Peterson’s partner in later life was sculptor Margo Thomas (ca 1917-2011), fondly recalled by his daughter, Monica Porter, as “a very kind and wonderful woman”. Porter and Peterson’s sister, Marion Lee, met Thomas on several occasions in Ajijic. The artist’s relationship with Thomas was not all smooth sailing. On one occasion, after he had completed a large mural for her, the couple had a spat and so he refused to sign it. The couple traveled in Europe together but drifted apart as Peterson began to require more medical care in his final years.

John Kenneth Peterson, one of Ajijic’s larger-than-life characters, made invaluable contributions to the village’s cultural and artistic life and continued to paint until 28 August 1984, when he died of a brain aneurysm in his sleep. [1] A retrospective exhibition of his works was held at “El Lugar”.

Notes:

[1] CR 15 Sep 1984 erroneously gives John K. Peterson’s date of death as 2 September 1984; his Jalisco death certificate states that he died on 28 August 1984.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Karen Bodding, Michael Eager, Tom Faloon, Alan Pattison for sharing with me their memories and knowledge of John K Peterson. Special thanks to Dani Porter-Lansky for providing me with copies of reviews, exhibit invitations, and other published and unpublished documents pertaining to her grandfather’s life, and Monica Porter.

This is an updated version of a post first published on 21 July 2014.

Sources:

  • Efanzine – July 2002 – –e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002, published and copyright 2002 by Earl Kemp.
  • Coronado Eagle and Journal: Number 26 (28 June 1973).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968 ; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 14 Sep 1968; 28 Sep 1968; 24 October 1968; 9 Nov 1968; 16 Dec 1968; 19 April 1969; 26 April 1969; 21 Mar 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 3 June 1972; 1 Jul 1972; 23 Sep 1972; 9 Jun 1973; 10 Nov 1973; 21 June 1975; 15 August 1975; 31 Jan 1976;
  • El Informador : 20 April 1969
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram. 1976. “Lake Chapala Riviera”, Mexico City News, 20 June 1976, p 13.
  • The San Diego Union : 9 March 1952

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