Jan 262017

Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen were an artistic couple who had a long connection to Mexico. The certainly visited Mexico prior to 1938, and first visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala in 1950. They became regular visitors to Lake Chapala from then until the 1970s. The work of both artists was included in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

The couple grew up in the small city of Benton Harbor in Michigan, which has a street named after Eugene Nowlen’s paternal grandfather, A. R. Nowlen.

Eugene Pratt Nowlen (aka Gene Nowlen) was born on 4 November 1899 and became an architect, completing his education at the school of architecture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lillian Marjorie Poundstone, who usually went by her middle name, was born on 31 March 1901. An accomplished pianist, she studied at the University of Michigan (class of 1924) and became a music and dance teacher. While still in high school she won second place in a state local history competition. Her essay, along with other winning essays, was published in 1917 in “Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17”.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie’s musical accomplishments also started at an early age. She receives Regular mentions in the local press as a pianist. In November 1925, for instance, a short piece in Central Normal Life said that she played the “Blue Danube” waltz by Strauss and “To a Toy Soldier” by Clarence Warner with “great technical skill and fine interpretative ability.” It is clear from these and other references that both Marjorie and Eugene were in the social elite of Benton Harbor.

On 11 February 1928 they were united in marriage, a marriage that was to last until Gene’s death in 1977.

In their first years of marriage, Eugene Nolen practiced as an architect in his native city (remodeling the building occupied by the Peoples Savings Association and designing new homes), while Marjorie gave piano and dance lessons at their home at #758, Pearl Street.

The couple had two children: Barbara Jean (possibly Barbara Gene) and Richard, usually referred to in press reports as “Dick”. The children performed Mexican dances at local shows, and in more than one report, it was stated that “their parents have visited [Mexico] and bought authentic costumes”. At age 7, another report describes “Barbara Gene Nowlen taking several bows after her dance in a gorgeous costume brought back from Mexico by her parents”. The family’s love for Mexico was evident. For instance, following another concert, Marjorie Nowlen was going to show “Mexican motion pictures”.

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown.

A lengthy newspaper piece in 1942 reports that “Mrs Marjorie Nowlen” was working as a Red Cross nurse in Berrien County and had organized dozens of home nursing classes.

In 1943 the family left Benton Harbor and relocated to California, to Pasadena and Laguna Beach, where Eugene worked in real estate. The circumstances that led them to visit Ajijic in 1950 are unclear but, by the early 1950s, Eugene had retired in order to paint full-time. The couple promptly set off on an 18-month-long trip around the world, allowing plenty of painting time along the way.

On their return, Eugene Nowlen’s watercolors were shown at the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, in an exhibit, held in 1955, which also featured oils by Carl Schmidt of San Bernardino. The press report for this event says that Nowlen had won an award at the annual Madonna festival in Los Angeles for a watercolor entitled “Mexican Mother.” According to the Laguna Beach Art Association, Nowlen had several solo exhibits during his artistic career.

As an artist, Gene Nowlen developed his techniques by studying with several well-known artists, including Sueo Serisawa, Paul Darrow, Hans Burkhardt, and Leonard Edmondson.

In 1960, Nowlen’s “Market Day” was exhibited at a showing at a private home in Los Angeles, alongside works by many other artists, including one who also had close ties to Lake Chapala. One of the other paintings in the show as Priscilla Frazer’s “Mosaic Gate”. Frazer had a home in Chapala Haciendas for many years and her work will be subject of a future post.

The Nowlens were active in the Laguna Beach Art Association through the 1960s. For instance, in 1968, they co-organized a December art bazaar. According to a Los Angeles Times article in 1970, during Marjorie Nowlen’s chairmanship of the Exhibitions Committee at the Laguna Art Museum, she brought in experienced judges and the membership more than doubled from 300 to 640. The article describes her as “a soft spoken leader” and says that this “gracious, girlish grandmother with a gentle sense of humor” is “a doer.”

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972.

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie Nowlen exhibited at the Many Media Mini Show, Redlands Art Association, in 1970.

A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) included works by both Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen. (Other artists represented in this small volume include Luis Avalos, Antonio Cárdenas, Marian Carpenter, Jerry K. Carr, Tom Faloon, Priscilla Frazer, John Frost, Arthur L. Ganung, Virginia Ganung, Lona Isoard, Antonio López Vega, Luz Luna, Robert Neathery, José Olmedo, Hudson M. Rose, Mary Rose, Eleanor Smart and Jack Williams.)

Marjorie Nowlen also showed a work which received an honorable mention, in La Mirada’s Fiesta de Artes in Long Beach, California, in May 1974.

Gene Nowlen died on 27 September 1977 at the age of 77; Marjorie Nowlen passed away on 1 April 1998, at the age of 97.


While the 1940 US Census suggests that the Nowlens’ son, Richard, was born in about 1932, elsewhere it seems that he was actually born in 1929 and is the same Richard Nowlen who was murdered along with a female friend in the Mojave Desert, California in 1959, while on the run from Chino men’s prison.


  • Central Normal Life, 25 November 1925, p1.
  • A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Jan 1964, 7.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California: 29 May 1955, p 51; 10 April 1960, p 57; 1 December 1968, p 149; 12 May 1974, p60.
  • Independent, Long Beach, California, 11 September 1959, p5.
  • Lael Morgan. 1970. “Art Exhibition Chairman Brings Changes to Laguna”, in Los Angeles Times (16 October 1970), E2.
  • Mirror News, Los Angeles, Monday, September 14, 1959 page 12.
  • The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan: 2 August 1917 p 2; 21 December 1923, p17; 28 July 1925, p4; 1 January 1938, p41; 22 June 1938, p 3; 11 May 1939, p3; 13 May 1939, p3; 23 June 1939, p 4; 16 March 1940, p4; 30 April 1940, p4; 31 December 1941, p120; 3 December 1952, Page 4; 23 May 1953, p 4.
  • The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, 22 September 1959, p2.
  • Michigan Ensign, Volume 25, UM Libraries, 1921.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. 2015. Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972. (Dustin Publications: Publications in California Art No. 11).
  • Cornelia M Richardson; Marjorie Poundstone; Edward Morris Brigham, jr.; Russell Holmes; Michigan Historical Commission.. 2017. Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17. (Lansing, Mich.: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co.).
  • San Bernardino County Sun, October 4, 1970, page 36.
  • The Tustin News, Tustin, California, 14 November 1963, p14.

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

Jan 192017

Allen Wadsworth, born in about 1939, had at least two exhibitions in Ajijic in the 1970s and honed his carpentry and painting skills in the village prior to embarking on a long and distinguished career in Hollywood as a set painter and scenic artist for major movies and TV shows.

Wadsworth and his wife Diane are natives of Minnesota and grew up in the Montevideo area of that state. He was always good at art but only decided to pursue his talents in that field after a stint in the U.S. Navy. He spent time in the 1960s and early 1970s studying and painting, including spells in both England and Mexico. A 2014 newspaper piece says that Wadsworth also “enjoyed a stint as the general manager of an art gallery in the smokestack on the Queen Mary.”

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

While his precise dates in Ajijic remain unclear, Wadsworth held two exhibitions in the village. The earlier show was held at the gallery-restaurant known as El Tejabán (at Zaragoza #1), then run by Jan Dunlap. That show opened on 20 May 1973 and featured acrylics and oils. The newspaper account described Wadsworth as a watercolorist who had studied at several art schools in the U.S. and exhibited in many galleries.

Three years later, Jan Dunlap had a new gallery in Ajijic, at 16 de Septiembre #9, the Wes Penn Gallery, named for her former artist husband. The exhibit that opened on 21 February 1976 was a two-person show, combining photos by Sylvia Salmi with 14 of Wadsworth’s oil paintings. (It was followed by a solo show of works by Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen.)

A newspaper interview in 2014 quotes Wadsworth as saying, in relation to Mexico, that “I taught in an art gallery and made frames and after I got back from Mexico a friend hooked me up with the studios as a scenic artist.”

From Ajijic, Wadsworth was apparently thrown into the deep end as a set painter with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. His first project was the 1976 film, A Star is Born, which won Barbra Streisand an Academy Award for Best Original Song. After that, Wadsworth worked on The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, and released later that year. Working in the era before CGI (computer-generated imagery), all special effects had to be achieved through craftsmanship and skilled painting.

Wadsworth worked on numerous other major movies including Arthur (1981), Protocol (1984), The Goonies (1985), Dick Tracy (1990), Hook (1991), Casper (1995), Eraser (1996), Men in Black (1997), Viva Rock Vegas (2000), Scary Movie (2000), Dragonfly (2002), Hidalgo (2004). He also worked on several well-known TV shows including Roots mini-series (1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), Hotel (1983-1988), Falcon Crest (1981-1990).

Of all these projects, Wadsworth’s favorite Hook (1991), the cast of which featured such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. In addition to painting the Lost Boys’ treehouse in Neverland, Wadsworth painted the sky and clouds on the nursery walls and the huge, menacing crocodile that falls on Captain Hook in the movie’s final scene.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboki magazine.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboji magazine.

Away from his work on movies (for which he rented accommodation, as and when needed, in Los Angeles) Wadsworth and his wife, Diane, lived with their children in the northern California town of Alturas. Between movies, Wadsworth continued to paint, with occasional gallery shows to sell paintings in northern California, Idaho, Nevada and Washington.

After painting sets and scenery for 25 years, Wadsworth retired with his wife Diane to Iowa where he has a studio at Spirit Lake. Paintings spanning 45 years of work were exhibited in his solo show of 21 watercolors and 51 oils, “Paintings by Allen Wadsworth,” at The Pearson Lakes Art Center in Iowa which ran for two months from 17 July 2014.


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

Jan 052017

The renowned western artist John A. Bruce, best known for his portraiture, visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala, probably in the 1960s. His name was recalled by long-time Ajijic visitor Dr. Jim Vaughan when I interviewed him in 1990. Vaughan said that Bruce had drawn a sketch of him, but that it had required several sittings, because Bruce “liked his tequila”. It is unclear how long Bruce stayed in Ajijic or whether he visited more than once.

John Bruce. Self-portrait. Credit: John Bruce / website

John Bruce. Self-portrait. Credit: John Bruce / website

John A Bruce was born in Los Angeles, California, on 8 April 1931. He served in the U.S. Army from 1949 to 1952, including 18 months as an infantryman in Korea. Following military service, Bruce began a long career as a commercial artist in California. He worked as Art Director at the Field Service Department, North American Aviation in Downey from 1952 to 1957. He then worked as an illustrator at Aerojet General Corp., in Sacramento, for three years, before starting his own company, Cal Graphic Advertising in 1960. Cal Graphic lasted three years until 1963 when he became Art Director at Barnes/Chase Advertising, in Santa Ana, a position he held until 1967. Following Barnes/Chase, he became Vice President of Gil Franzen Art Studio, in Los Angeles (1967-1969) and then Art Director at the Independent Press Telegram, in Long Beach (1969-1973) before once again seeking his independence by becoming a free-lance artist working on Disney’s EPCOT project in Burbank.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

Bruce studied art at the Art Center School in Los Angeles and the Chouinard Art Institute, and gained a B.A. in Psychology (with a Minor in Art) from California State university in Los Angeles in 1965.

After the 1970s, Bruce focused more on his own art, as a partial list of his solo and group exhibitions confirms. His solo shows include Ghormley Gallery Los Angeles (1964); Les Li Art Gallery Los Angeles (1969); Upstairs Gallery in Long Beach (1971); and Christine’s of Santa Fe Gallery in Laguna Beach (1993). Invitational. Bruce’s group shows include: Laguna Beach Art Festival Laguna Beach, (1962-1965); Butler Institute of American Art Youngstown, Ohio (1970); Newport Invitational Art Show, Newport Beach (1975); Death Valley Art Show in Death Valley, California (1979-1982); American Indian & Cowboy Artist’s Show in San Dimas, California (1987-1995); El Prado Gallery Sedona, Arizona (1989); Prairie Fire Show Wichita, Kansas (1990-1992); Pepper Tree Art Show, Santa Inez, California (1991 to 1996);  San Bernardino Museum, California (1992); AICA (American Indian & Cowboy Artists) at the Autry Museum, Los Angeles (1996-1998); and Wind River Gallery in Aspen, Colorado (1997).

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

Bruce has won numerous awards for his art, including “Best of Show” at Vision 99 – Chicago Windy City Artists (1999), at American Indian & Cowboy Artists (1992; Autry Museum Masters of the American West (1996) and Festival of Western Arts, San Dimas (1996). Artworks by Bruce were adjudged “People’s Choice” at American Indian & Cowboy Artists (1988) and Art of the West Magazine (1992). At American Indian & Cowboy Artists, Bruce won Eagle Feather Awards in 1988 and 1989, and a Gold Medal for Oil Painting in 1992. At the Prairie Fire Art Show in Wichita, Kansas, he won Gold Medals for Drawing in 1990 and 1991 and for Oil Painting 1991. He also won a California International Artist of the Year award in 1975 and the John Grayback Award for Oil Painting at the American Artists Professional League (New York) in 1988. A number of lithographs by Bruce are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Bruce has resided in Mariposa, California for many years and continues to find reward in his art.

In a 2010 blog post, David Lemon, a fellow member of the American Indian & Cowboy Artists, and friend of Bruce, explains that Bruce suffered serious health set-backs following a fight against cancer and an incident in the V.A. hospital which damaged Bruce’s back and right shoulder. Bruce responded to Lemon’s comments saying that he was not yet able to paint “due to the limited range of motion of my arm” but that he had begun working in charcoal and that it “feels great! I can’t imagine what my life would be like without some art in it.”


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.

Dec 152016

Dorothy Goldner (1906-2005) and her husband Orville Goldner (1906-1985) spent some time in Ajijic in the early 1970s, as evidenced by Dorothy’s participation in the large group show “Fiesta of Art” held on 15 May 1971 at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic).

Other artists at that show included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; 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.

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

Dorothy Goldner. From the Great Seal of Elizabeth.

Dorothy (“Dot”) Thompson Goldner was born in Seattle, Washington, on 10 March 1906. After graduating from Modesto Senior High School in California, she studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley (now California College of the Arts) where she met fellow artist Orville Goldner. The couple married in October 1925 and moved to Hollywood shortly afterwards. In the late-1920s, they were members of a traveling Shakespeare Theater Group and a peripatetic marionette show, before Orville became actively involved in the film industry in the 1930s. (We will profile Orville’s artistic career in a later post).

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

Dorothy Goldner. 1974. January Thaw.

After the second world war, the Goldners went to Europe. The family lived in France for several years before returning to San Francisco. They moved to Chico in 1966 when Orville was appointed as director of Audiovisual Education and Mass Communications at Chico State College.

Dorothy Goldner partnered her husband to form the film production company Visual Americana (1968 to 1971) which made various documentary film strips as well as the award-winning ethnographic film Three Stone Blades, about the Inupiat (Eskimo) people of Point Hope, Alaska, the farthest northwest village in North America, and an area now abandoned because of flooding by melting ice.

While the details of the Goldners’ time in Ajijic are unclear, Dorothy was clearly an accomplished artist. She was a member of the National Organization of Women Artists and had held solo shows at the Berkeley League of Fine Arts (1927), the San Francisco Art Association (1938), the Springville Museum in Utah (1974) and Chico State University (1982). She also illustrated Ripples along Chico Creek, an account of early Chico published in 1992 by the Butte County Branch of the National League of American Pen Women.

Orville Goldner died in 1985 and Dorothy passed away at the age of 99 on 15 August 2005.


  • Chico Enterprise-Record. 2005. Obituary of Dorothy Goldner. Chico Enterprise-Record, 18 August 2005.
  • Orville Goldner & George E. Turner. 1975. The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind A Film Classic. South Brunswick, NJ: A.S. Barnes/Tantivy Press.
  • Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.

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 2:51 pm  Tagged with:
Dec 082016

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

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

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

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

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

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

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

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

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


  • Various authors. 1964. Artists of the Rockport Art Association. A pictorial and descriptive record of The Oldest Art Organization on Cape Ann. (Rockport Art Association, Massachusetts, 1964).
  • cincinnati.com Undated. “Uncovering the murals” [http://local.cincinnati.com/community/pages/murals/tablet/index.html – viewed 8 Dec 2016, no longer active]
  • Jac Kern. 2016. “UC artists revisit Union Terminal worker murals with modern mission and materials”. University of Cincinnati Magazine, 11 Aug. 2016

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.

Dec 012016

Robert Clutton (1932-2016) lived in Ajijic from about 1959 to 1961. His time in Mexico introduced him to the pantheon of ancient Aztec and Maya gods which so strongly influenced much of his later art. He revisited Ajijic several times after this initial extended stay in the village.

“Bob” Clutton, “Roberto” to his Mexican friends, was born in Wales on 5 June 1932 and passed away in San Francisco earlier this year, on 15 August 2016 at the age of 84.

He left Wales in 1949. Six years later, in October 1955, he was one of numerous artists exhibiting in the The Artists’ Union of Baltimore annual show. By 1959 he was living and working in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Several of his paintings from this time can be seen on this Facebook page of the San Francisco Senior Center:

Former Ajijic gallery owner Katherine Goodridge Ingram remembers Bob Clutton as a lovely man, who was well-liked by everyone in the community. Clutton became increasingly fascinated by the “gods of ancient Mexico” and images of these gods became a frequent theme in his later paintings.

When he decided to leave Ajijic in 1961, he chose to move to San Francisco because that was where “all the interesting people he met in Mexico” were from. He continued to make his living as a professional artist in that city for more than fifty years.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic. (Image from San Francisco Senior Center page)

A newspaper feature in 1968, entitled “Art by the Foot” described how Clutton, “a bronzed, bearded, no-nonsense British artist” was making “made-to-measure bas-reliefs” in his Divisdaero Street studio. The bas-reliefs, “designed to be decorative indoors and architectural assets outdoors”, used Aztec symbols and colors, and relied on the interplay of sun and shade to emphasize the materials, relief and texture.

Clutton was still producing “formal paintings” which also showed the influence of Mexico, and was represented by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. A solo show of his oils and acrylics at that gallery in 1969 brought a wider audience for his work. Clutton also exhibited in Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where a show of his oil paintings opened at Galeria Uno (Morelos 561) in Puerto Vallarta on 23 March 1993.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli. (Vorpal Gallery)

In 1988, Clutton designed the poster for the 1988 Haight Ashbury Street Fair. He enjoyed social events, garden parties and dinners and surrounded himself with creative people, making for lively and entertaining discussions. In his final years, Clutton was active as an artist at the San Francisco Senior Center.


  • Jane Clutton; personal communication, October 2016
  • San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, California Living, Week of March 31, 1968: “Art by the Foot” [copy supplied by Jane Clutton]
  • San Francisco Chronicle. 2016. Robert Clutton – obituary, San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7, 2016
  • Vorpal Galleries. Robert Clutton. 1969. San Francisco: Vorpal Galleries

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 5:58 am  Tagged with:
Nov 172016

Richard Smith Robbins (1863-1908) was a Chicago-based artist who painted Lake Chapala in 1898. According to a short piece in The Mexican Herald (12 December 1898): “Richard Robbins, the Chicago artist, who is at present in Guadalajara … has secured a number of sketches of the most picturesque points some of which he proposes to finish and exhibit in the States. One, a sunset on the lake, will be certain to attract attention.”

Given the date, it is tempting to suggest that Robbins possibly visited Chapala in 1898 in order to see for himself the Hotel Arzapalo, inaugurated earlier that year and the work of architect Guillermo de Alba, who had trained at the Chicago School of Architecture.

Richard Smith Robbins was born in Solon, Ohio, on 3 February 1863. In 1890, he applied for a passport to visit Europe for “two or three years”. The application states that his father was a native citizen of the U.S., and that Robbins was an artist, living in Brooklyn, New York, who was 5′ 53/4″ tall, with dark blue eyes, a small nose, and hair turning gray.

In Europe, he studied at the Académie Julian, in Paris, France, with three great French artists of that time: Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, and Henri Lucien Doucet.

On his return from Europe, Robbins lived several years in Chicago, where he was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club.

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

Richard Smith Robbins. The Potato Farmers.

In 1895, he was on the Jury of Selection for Painting for the 13th Annual exhibition of the Palette Club at the Art Institute of Chicago. Six of his own paintings, priced between $50 and $100, were in the main exhibition: The Boat; Evening Star; Pine Lake Willows; Indiana; Blue and Silver; Winter Mist; Morning, Giverny, France.

In 1896, Robbins exhibited at the 13th Annual Exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis, held in May, and later that year was on the “Advisory Committee of Artists” for the Art Institute of Chicago’s Annual Exhibition of Water-Colors, Pastels and miniatures.

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

Richard Smith Robbins. Portrait.

The following year, an art critic writing in The Chicago Tribune (24 March 1897) about The Third Annual Exhibition of the Arche Club, noted that although not a prize-winner, “Richard S Robbins has shown a delicate appreciation of light and color in “A Pleasing Tale”, an interior showing a young girl reading near a white-curtained window. Several good landscapes by the same artist are shown.”

Later in 1897, The Chicago Tribune (19 September 1897) reports that, “Richard S, Robbins has charge of an outdoor sketching class of pupils of the Art Academy. As long as the weather permits the class will go on expeditions to picturesque points in the vicinity of Chicago three days of each week.”

Among Robbins’s students in Chicago was the extraordinary Chicago landscape artist Guy Martin Chapel (1871-1957). Chapel lost his sight at age 62, and turned his talents to making braille greetings cards, using zinc sheets and a press made from an old clothes wringer. He was still a productive artist well into his 80s.

In 1898, Art Notes, Brush and Pencil noted that Robbins’ work is listed in a collection of about 150 pictures to be sold at auction in April by “a group of Chicago artists”. Robbins work was included in various exhibitions that same year, including the Chicago Art Exhibition; the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska (where Robbins exhibited a painting entitled A January Thaw; and the Louisville Art League.

Richard Smith Robbins died on 22 February 1908.


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 Posted by at 6:16 am  Tagged with:
Nov 072016

Betty Binkley, a painter mainly associated with Santa Fe, New Mexico, lived and painted in Chapala in the mid-1940s. In 1944, she exhibited her work at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in a group show that also included works by Jaime López Bermudez, Ernesto Butterlin (“Lin”), Otto Butterlin, Ann Medalie and Sylvia Fein.

Betty (sometimes Bettie) J. Binkley, also known as Betty Binkley Farrar, was born in Long Beach, California, on 5 September 1914 but spent most of her early years in El Paso, Texas. She died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at age 63 on 25 August 1978.

Binkley’s parents were James B. Binkley and Bee Binkley (1889-1968). Following their divorce, in the early 1930s, Bee Binkley moved to Santa Fe and built a house on land that had previously been part of the Hacienda de San Sebastian.

Betty Binkley attended Radford School for Girls in El Paso before moving with her mother to Santa Fe, where she took art classes for many years with local Santa Fe landscape painter Fremont Ellis (1897-1985).

In 1936, the El Paso Herald-Post was already referring to Betty Binkley as a “well known Santa Fe artist”. According to the newspaper, Binkley, who was in town visiting her grandmother, had “recently returned from two months’ stay in the Navajo country of Arizona, where she sketched and painted Indians and scenes of Indian life.”

Three years later, in January 1939, the same newspaper was extolling the virtues of Binkley’s art, examples of which were on display for a couple of days at Radford School for Girls, her former high school. The report explains that Binkley had recently taken up portrait painting and had chosen “childhood playmates” Teddy Bear and Raggedy Ann as her first subjects:

“Teddy is yellow and fuzzy and wears a blue bow around his neck. Annie, as the artist calls the doll, has button eyes, a smile that never leaves her face and a cutout heart that insists on slipping out of place–because of the sawdust filling. She wears a white apron. Miss Binkley has done a series of 10 portraits of the toys for children. Each picture depicts an incident of Spanish or Mexican life. There is a cockfight where the toys are spectators.”

In September 1939, Binkley’s work was included in the Twenty-sixth annual exhibition of painters & sculptors of the Southwest, a group exhibition held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

The following month, Binkley, then a student at the University of New Mexico, was elected “draughtsman” of the New Mexico Anthropologist, the student publication of the university’s Anthropology Department.

Betty Binkley: Self portrait. 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Farrar.

Betty Binkley: Self portrait. 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Farrar.

Binkley had been married at least once prior to being married (briefly) in 1940 to Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator Urbici Soler (Urbici Soler i Manonelles, 1890–1953). The couple held a joint exhibit of terra cottas at the College of Mines Museum in El Paso in July 1940, before leaving the city for a trip to “The East” in August. In November 1940, Binkley accompanied Soler when he opened a School of Sculpture at 214-216 East 34th street in New York City. Soler planned to teach clay modelling, stone cutting, woodcarving, life drawing, terra cotta and casting, as well as run a summer school in Glacier Park in Montana.

After the couple separated, Binkley moved to Texas in 1942 to attend the University of Texas at Austin. She spent the early part of the summer of 1943 at a University of New Mexico summer school in Albuquerque, and then spent August with her mother in Santa Fe, before returning to Austin.

It is unclear precisely how long Binkley lived at Lake Chapala, but Sylvia Fein, who lived in Ajijic between 1943 and 1946, has clear memories of Binkley living in Chapala at about the same time. Certainly, Binkley spent the winter of 1944/45 in Chapala, as evidenced by her exhibition at the Villa Montecarlo in late 1944. She became friends with poet Witter Bynner who owned a home in Chapala; Bynner gave her a hand-written poem, “Breakers” in March 1945, with a note that read, “Let this be your other home, too – Chapala, where I came to know you and Laotzu”. (Bynner’s The Way of Life According to Laotzu had been published the previous year). Binkley and Bynner may well have encountered each other again later in their overlapping social circles in Santa Fe.

Binkley held a solo exhibition of paintings at the art gallery of the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City from 27 April to 11 May, 1945. Despite her participation in the earlier 1944 group show at Villa Montecarlo in Chapala, this Mexico City show was reported in the local press as Binkley’s first ever show in Mexico.

Betty Binkley. Woodlands chief wearing peace medal. Date unknown.

Betty Binkley. Woodlands chief wearing peace medal. Date unknown.

By 1946, Binkley was back in New Mexico and was exhibiting her art more frequently. Reporting on a group show, the Santa Fe New Mexican said that “… we come upon Betty Binkley’s more precise San Miguel Allende with its intersecting pattern of black-swathed women ascending the stairs to the sanctuary. Note the scavenger dogs in the foreground relieving the tension, whimsically.” Included in the same show was work by artist Peter Hurd who would later also have a close connection to Chapala.

It was at about this time that Binkley took classes with the distinguished art educator Hans Hofmann. Hofmann had at least two additional Lake Chapala connections. The first was via another of his former students, Clara Schafer Thorward (1887-1969). The second connection was via fellow artist Jack Bateman,  who had lived in New York in an apartment one floor above Hofmann and whose accidental spillage of plaster through the ceiling onto unfinished paintings below had led to a productive friendship between the two men.

Binkley’s work was included in numerous group shows over the next decade, including two in 1947: An exhibition of oils, tempera and watercolors by Ivan Bartlett, Betty Binkley and John Langley Howard (also associated with Lake Chapala),  held from 5 February to 1 March, at the Rotunda Gallery, City of Paris, California; and “6 Southwestern States: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana”, held at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 15 June to 14 September 1947. Binkley showed an oil painting entitled “Beach”. Peter Hurd was also exhibiting. In 1951, Binkley was one of the artists included in “New Mexico Artists: An Exhibition”, held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Among the other artists exhibiting there was Alfred Rogoway, yet another artist closely associated with Lake Chapala.

The following year, she held a joint show with ceramicist Warren Gilbertson, exhibiting 12 oils, described as “a collection of fresh work, primarily non-objective” at the Plaza Art Gallery in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1950, she took a solo trip to Europe for several months. She left New York on 7 April, one of only four passengers aboard the SS Marengo bound for Hull, England, and flew back from Paris France to New York on a “special” flight operated by The Flying Tiger Line on 31 July.

Binkley had a solo show at the Willard Hougland Gallery in Hermosa Beach, California, in March 1951. (Houghland had strong Santa Fe connections, and had previously operated the La Quinta Gallery at Los Poblanos, near Albuquerque) .

Binkley continued to visit Mexico. She spent the winter of 1954/55 painting and sightseeing in and around the city of Guanajuato, before returning north to her studio at 552, Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

The summer 1955 group show of New Mexico artists at the Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, included her work, as did a group showing of Santa Fe artists in Albuquerque in November 1955, and a November 1956 exhibit of “nine of New Mexico’s most famous women artists” at the Sandia Base Library in Albuquerque.

In July 1973, one of Binkley’s paintings received special mention in the Santa Fe New Mexican review of a show of “vigorous, contemporary art” organized by The Artists Co-op:

“The most astounding painting, however, was painted by Betty Binkley. Using absolutely horrible blues and muddy earth colors which were most depressing in themselves and in combination, she “nonetheless managed to paint a portrait of a woman seated at a table which for some inexplicable reason does not produce a depressing effect on the whole. Rather, after one gets used to it, it turns out to be an interesting, mood-provoking piece.”

At some point, probably in the 1950s, Betty Binkley married Charles H. Farrar (1906-1963) of California; the couple’s daughter, Jane Farrar, was born in August 1957.

Binkley’s death certificate lists her residence as Cuna de Allende #7 in San Miguel de Allende. That building is now the Maria Xoconostle restaurant.


Sincere thanks to Jane Farrar (Betty’s daughter) for drawing my attention to the fact that there was a second, unrelated, painter named “Binkley”, who  is believed to have painted “Sunlit Daisys”, mistakenly included in a previous version of this post as being the work of Betty Binkley.


  • Albuquerque Journal. 1956. 10 November 1956, p6
  • El Paso Herald-Post, 2 November 1936, p 6; 5 January 5, 1939, p 6; 7 June 1943, p 6.
  • Barbara Spencer Foster. 2010. Fremont Ellis (Sunstone Press)
  • Los Angeles Times, 11 March 1951, p 112:
  • New Mexico Lobo [Publication of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico] 1939. 3 Oct 1939.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican. 1946. 31 August 1946, p 6; 29 July 1973: p 50.

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 11:17 am  Tagged with:
Oct 272016

Among the more innovative artists experimenting in Ajijic during the 1950s is one almost-forgotten American painter: Don Martin.

Don Martin in Mexico. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Don Martin in Mexico. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Donald Theodore Martin (1931-1989) lived in Ajijic from early in 1954 until late summer, 1961. As Joan Gilbert Martin points out, on the website she established as a tribute to her late husband, his “long stay” in Ajijic proved to be “a most creative period.”

Donald Theodore Martin was born in Akron, Ohio, on 17 June 1931 and died on 6 November 1989.

Martin studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City (1948), where his teachers included German-born abstract painter Carl Holty and Sidney Laufman, and at the Akron Art institute in Ohio (1949) with Leroy Flint. He also took classes in New Orleans, in 1953, with Charles Campbell.

It was during his time in New Orleans, that Martin met artist and folk singer Lori Fair, Beat poet and photographer Anne McKeever, and artist and jazz musician George Abend. McKeever left New Orleans to take up an English-teaching job in Guadalajara in 1953, and was instrumental in arranging several exhibits of Don Martin’s work shortly after he arrived the following year.

Martin moved from New Orleans early in 1954 to live with Lori Fair in Ajijic in a house she bought on Calle Nicolas Bravo/Galeana. He remained in the house even after the couple separated in about 1958, at which point Lori moved to Mexico City. Lori subsequently married and changed her name to Bhavani Escalante. Now well into her nineties, she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Moving to Mexico brought Martin the self-confidence to experiment and explore different media. In the words of Joan Gilbert Martin, his widow,

“On arriving at the Mexican border, he told the authorities he was an artist and, to his surprise and delight, was treated with honor; in the states he would be told to get a job. He fell in love with the people, the animals (the bulls, the roosters, the stray dogs), the lake, and the mountains. And he found a home as an artist. His work was appreciated in the village, it was a productive time.”

By selling the occasional painting in the Posada Ajijic, he was able to keep afloat prior to his first major solo exhibition, held in Guadalajara, at the Casa del Arte (Av. Corona # 126) in August 1954. The show opened on 2 August and was a major success. Martin exhibited 35 works – 10 paintings and 25 engravings on paper – and sold 32 within half an hour, 31 of them to a single collector from California: Hollywood movie director Archie Mayo. (The other painting was bought by a local resident: U.S.-born interior decorator Alberto Dubin.)

Local critics applauded the originality of Martin’s work. The engravings demonstrated a “method of expression at once so modern and at the same time so primitive.” Guests at the opening included Lori Fair, Nicole Vaia Langley, Anne McKeever, Jose Maria Servin and Thomas Coffeen Suhl.

Later that year, Martin sent some of his engravings north to a restaurant-store in Sausalito. A note in the 31 December 1954 edition of the Sausalito News (California) says that “some unusual paintings by an artist named Don Martin” in Ajijic are about to go on show in the Glad Hand restaurant. They are described as “etchings on cardboard with colors ‘rubbed’ into the cardboard” that “realistically depict scenes in Mexico.”

For the first half of 1955, Martin’s friend Anne McKeever was the director of the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Nayarit, A.C. During her time there, she arranged two art shows featuring his work. The first, in April 1955, was held at the Institute (Lerdo Oriente #85) in the state capital of Tepic. Martin displayed crayon and ink rubbings over woodblock prints. The opening night included a folk singing concert by Lori Fair.

The following month, many of the same works were included in the “Third Painting Exhibition, Mexican and International Artists” at the “Traditional Spring Fair” in the Public Library of Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit. Works by several stellar Mexican artists were on display including lithographs by Clemente Orozco, José G. Zuno, Raul Anguiano and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and drawings by Dr. Atl and Diego Rivera. The international side of the exhibition was a painting by Anne McKeever entitled “The Women”, and about 20 works by Don Martin.

Many years later, Martin’s widow, Joan Gilbert Martin, reflected that Martin’s first show in Guadalajara turned out to have a significant negative impact on the artist’s desire to exhibit his work. Initially buoyed that his paintings and engravings had received such acclaim, Martin was devastated on hearing that an appraiser in Los Angeles had dismissed his work as derivative of Paul Klee. Martin did not know Klee’s work. Though he eventually found the comparison flattering, this critical appraisal gave the artist a decades-long aversion to exhibiting more of his work.

Joan Gilbert Martin has also drawn my attention to the photograph (above) used for the cover of the second issue of Climax, a Beat magazine published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Martin’s studio in Ajijic 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.

In 1956, Don Martin spent about six months in the remote coastal village of Yelapa (near Puerto Vallarta) where he built a palapa house. The house itself no longer exists, but its foundations survived and are now used for the Yelapa Oasis resort‘s wellness center. Martin abandoned Yelapa when he realized that the climate was not conducive to works on paper.

Jeonora Bartlet, a mutual friend of Anne McKeever and Lori Fair, lived in Ajijic in 1957, as the partner of John Langley, and was photographed by Leonard McCombe for his December 1957 Life magazine article about Americans at Lake Chapala. While Bartlet was not part of the village art scene, she knew Martin and greatly admired his work. Bartlet, incidentally, later became the long-time partner of American pop artist Richard Hay Reagan (1929-2002) who disliked exhibitions just as much as Martin.

Coincidentally, this same Life magazine article was the reason why Joan Gilbert, Don Martin’s future wife, first visited Ajijic, and first met Martin. Gilbert and her first husband had been vacationing at the coast, “sweltering and miserable” in a “dank hotel”. On reading the article, they “immediately took off for the storied enticements of Ajijic.”

Don Martin. Untitled. 1960.

Don Martin with untitled painting. 1960. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Martin left Ajijic in late summer, 1961, following a fall while painting a mural in a local gallery. The following year, an “International Exhibition”, a group show at the Alfredo Santos gallery in Guadalajara (Avenida Vallarta #1217) from 21 May to 20 June 1962 included some of his work. (Alfredo Santos himself lived in Ajijic for several years, but is best known for his evocative murals in the San Quentin prison in California: see Inside job: Alfredo Santos, muralist and painter.)

After leaving Ajijic, Martin moved first to New Orleans, where he was helped by gallery owner Larry Borenstein, and then to Venice, California. There, he re-met, and married, Joan Gilbert Martin and became friends with Beat artists Wallace Berman and George Herms.

He also renewed his friendship with author Steve Schneck, who had been living in Ajijic in the mid-1950s. In 1963, Schneck showed some of Martin’s artwork to artist Muldoon Elder, who had just opened the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. Elder was sufficiently impressed to travel immediately to Venice to find out more about the artist. The reclusive artist eventually agreed to a solo exhibit at the Vorpal entitled “Magic – like art – is hoax redeemed by awe”, the title of a painting that Elder particularly admired.

Don Martin. "Magic-like art is hoax redeemed by awe". 1960.

Don Martin. “Magic – like art – is hoax redeemed by awe”. 1960. (Credit: Muldoon Elder).

“I particularly admired a strange little painting set in a wine-colored velvet mat tucked into what-should-have-been-a-garish (but wasn’t) deep orange thin frame, especially after he explained that it was the recreation of an architectural drawing he had seen in an ancient manuscript that delineated the cross section, both above and below the earth, of a sacrificial temple and the surrounding courtyard. The ancient priests that had built it had found a way to inspire awe and wonderment by having the temple doors attached to rotating poles that flung the doors open as if by magic as the result of an ingenious underground device that only functioned after a large brazier in the courtyard had been ignited. The heat of the fire was devised to enter a tube that then inflated a large animal skin into a balloon-like shape that in turn tightened the ropes attached to the rotating poles and thus, as if by some mysterious force, the temple doors opened on their own and the ceremony could then begin.”

Don Martin. "He." 1970. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Don Martin. “He.” 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

That painting has an interesting story but another painting by Martin, called “He” (torched spray paint & acrylic on board), is among the most reproduced paintings of its time. It was used on the cover of What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop, edited by Gary Gach (Parallax Press, 1998), which won an American Book Award in 1999.

In the 1970s, the Martin family settled in Santa Cruz, California, where Martin continued to experiment with different media and techniques. He rarely used oils, preferring acrylics and spray paint. A series of lacquer paintings in the early 1970s depicted spiritual subjects including “Buddha shapes, mandalas, guardians, heaven above and earth below, and the river as an emblem of time.” They were made by applying up to thirty layers of lacquer on a base before scraping back the layers to reveal the final image, a technique Martin had perfected during his time in Ajijic.

Don Martin. Twin works. “The Fish Putter”. Original in collection of Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Ogden, Utah. Image used by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Influenced by his time in Mexico, Martin studied “the Codex Borbonicus, a pre-Columbian pictorial manuscript, and was inspired to produce one of his own”, in which he expressed his “personal cosmology” through a series of more than one hundred ink and wash drawings. At one time or another, Martin also explored collage, assemblage, found object art, wax rubbings, and producing “twin” pictures by blotting a painted image on another sheet before the colored ink dried.

In 1972, Don Martin’s drawing, “Magic – Like Art – is Hoax Redeemed by Awe”, was included in a group show at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery in Kentfield, California. Art critic Ada Garfinkel described the drawing as “irrepressible, Rube Goldberg-like”.

Don Martin also held a solo show in September 1975, “Don Martin Paintings and Drawings”, at the Cooper House Gallery in Santa Cruz, California.

Since his death in 1989, several one-person shows have highlighted this artist’s extraordinary talents. An exhibition entitled “Don Martin Memorial Exhibition” was held at the Santa Cruz Art League in November-December 1991, and also at the Canter Art Center in Healdsburg, California in March-April 1992. “Something to come home to”, a February 1995 show at the Pacific Grove Art Center, featured Martin’s paintings in lacquer and ink-wash drawings.

A major retrospective, “Don Martin: Chasing That Kite'”, was held at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, California, from May to August 1998. This show revealed the “eclectic, mystical and experimental” nature of this shy, “primarily self-taught”, artist who was reluctant to show or sell his work. “Chasing that kite” was Don Martin’s way of describing his lifelong artistic quest.

Several group shows have also included Martin’s work posthumously. These include The Pope Gallery, Santa Cruz (1994); the Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California Santa Cruz (1994); the ReBeat Art Exhibit at the Somar Gallery, San Francisco (1996); San Francisco Center for the Book (1997); San Jose Museum of Art, California (2003-2004); the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah (2007-2011; 2015).

Martin’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the San Jose Museum of Art and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, both in California, and the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah.

For more images of Martin’s work, see Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989, the website that is a tribute to his life and work.


My heartfelt thanks to Joan Gilbert Martin for so generously sharing her knowledge of her husband’s life and work. A special thanks, too, to Jeonora Bartlet, Geoffrey Dunn and Muldoon Elder for their helpful input to this profile.


  • Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), 20 October 1972, p 20.
  • Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989 [website]
  • Julia Chiapella. 1998. “Catching ‘That Kite’ – a peek into the mind of the late Don Martin.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1 May 1998, p 53.
  • Prensa Libre, Tepic, 24 April 1855.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3 February 1995, p 47
  • Sausalito News, Number 52, 31 December 1954, p 3


This Don Martin is not the same person as the cartoonist Don Martin (also born in 1931) who was closely associated with MAD 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.

 Posted by at 6:23 am  Tagged with:
Oct 202016

Richard D. Yip is included in the large group of artists associated with Lake Chapala on the strength of a painting entitled “Facade, Chapala, Mexico” which he exhibited in the All Southern California Art Exhibit in Long Beach, California in 1952. Sadly, beyond that, I have managed to find nothing more relating to his visit or visits to Lake Chapala.

Yip was born in Canton, China, in 1919. He emigrated from China to the U.S. in 1931. After completing high school, he studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. After serving as a gunner and radioman on a B-24 in the U.S. Air Force during the second world war, he returned to California and settled in Stockton, where he studied at the College (later University) of the Pacific in Stockton for his B.A. and at the University of California at Berkeley for his Masters degree. Yip was the first Chinese person to receive American citizenship because of military service.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

By early 1947, Yip was living and working with fellow artist Craig Sharp on a yacht, the Lassen, in Sausalito harbor. Yip was already working in watercolors and held solo shows which attracted positive reviews. Later that year he left California to return to China to see his family and study art there. He visited various cities and amassed a body of work that he brought back to California with him in 1948.

While in China, Yip married a girl named Lae. The couple’s first child, daughter Pak Mui (“White Blossom”), named after a boat Yip had admired in Sausalito harbor, was born aboard ship en route back to San Francisco. Perhaps not surprisingly, U.S. immigration officials initially denied entry to the mother, who spoke no English, and daughter, but they were eventually allowed to remain and were able to join Yip and other members of his family in Stockton.

Yip hoped to show some of his work at the state fair in Sacramento in September 1948.

Presumably, it is at this stage of his career that Yip spent some time in Mexico, including a visit to Chapala where he painted “Facade, Chapala, Mexico”.

Yip taught art at the University of the Pacific in Stockton for many years and led many plein air painting workshops. By 1955, the promotional material for one of these workshops describes Yip, the instructor, as a “California watercolorist who has studied, painted and exhibited throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe and China.”

Yip maintained links to Sausalito and spent many summers painting in Marin, where he was a member of, and gave talks to, the Marin Society of Artists. He was also a long-time member of the California Water Color Society.

By 1961, the build-up to a talk by Yip on “some of the trends in contemporary art” says that Yip “has conducted painting classes at the College of the Pacific, Stockton College, the annual Monterery Peninsula Painting Tours, Death Valley Tours, Marin County, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, the East Bay, Phoenix, Arizona, Sacramento, San Jose and other places for the past 12 years.” By that time, his work had appeared in several national publications, and his watercolors had won various national and international awards. Yip was also elected a Life Member of the International Institute of Arts and Letters of Switzerland.

It appears that Yip retired from college teaching at about this time, though he continued to lead painting tours, including at least one to Mexico in 1963. (In January 1964, another Stockton artist, Marjorie Tanner, gave a talk to Lodi Art Club about the tour, led by Richard Yip, she had undertaken in Mexico.

Richard Yip died in 1981. Several works by Yip have been sold at auction in recent years, including ‘The Red Church’ sold at Bonhams, Los Angeles, in 2011.


  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 9 March 1952, Page 8.
  • Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. “California Watercolors 1850-1970”.
  • CalART.com. Richard D. Yip (Biography from CalART.com), based on interview with Roy Yip, 1985.
  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 21 February 1955, Page 8
  • Sausalito News, 3 June 1948; 11 May 1957
  • Lodi News-Sentinel, 11 Feb 1961; 13 Jan 1964

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

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.

Oct 062016

The artist John Langley Howard (1902-1999), known to friends as “Lang”, is considered one of the finest painters of his time in the San Francisco Bay are.

In 1934, he was one of the group of artists commissioned as part of the New Deal Public Works Art Project to paint murals in the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill overlooking the city. Howard chose to depict his Marxist-inspired view of industrial society. While this was the only mural he ever painted, it became not only his most viewed work, but is also considered to be “one of the finest examples of social idealism in San Francisco art”.

John Langley Howard. Detail of mural in Coit Tower, San Francisco.

John Langley Howard. Detail of mural in Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Howard is one of several San Francisco artists with links to Ajijic. Allan Temko, author of an obituary of Howard on the SFGate website, writes that,

“Mr. Howard was a wanderer. He lived in more than 20 different places in the course of his long career, ranging from several periods in San Francisco, north and south of the Bay Area from Calistoga to Monterey, from Santa Fe, N.M., to Brownsville, Texas, from Ajijic in Mexico to Greece, as well as New York and London.”

While the duration and circumstances of his visit to Ajijic in 1951 are unclear, it was presumably in the company of his second wife, the sculptor Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1979), and marked a turning point in his career.

John Langley Howard. Mountain and Air. Date unknown.

John Langley Howard. Mountain and Air. Date unknown.

“Lang” was born into a family of architects and artists in Montclair, New Jersey, on 5 Feburary 1902. His father was the architect of the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, and many other major buildings in the state. John Langley Howard studied engineering at Berkeley (1920-23) before taking art classes at the Art Students’ League in New York (1923-24) and in Paris, France. In 1924, he left art school and married Adeline Day. He held his first solo exhibition, at The Modern Gallery, San Francisco, in 1927.

During the second world war, Howard worked as a ship drafter and air raid warden. He divorced Adeline in 1949 and the following year was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts. He married Blanche Phillips, a sculptor, in 1951 and moved to Mexico that same year.

Prior to Mexico, Howard had experimented with Abstract Expressionism. Back in San Francisco by late 1951, Howard’s art took on a much more eco-activist stance with a painting called The Rape of the Earth. The three panels of The Rape of the Earth “successively portray the stormy formation of the planet amid lightning flashes, its spoliation by machines in a tremendous scene of technocratic destruction, and, finally, the ravaged land returning to a natural state, still befouled by mechanical wreckage, but eventually to be healed and cleansed.” [Temko, 1999]

From 1953 to 1965, Howard illustrated numerous covers for Scientific American magazine, and also taught for a year at the Pratt Institute Art School in Brooklyn, New York. Howard lived in Europe during the late 1960s, returning to California in 1970. John Langley Howard passed away in 1999 at his home in San Francisco at the age of 97.

“I think of painting as poetry and I think of myself as a representational poet. I want to describe my subject minutely, but I also way to describe my emotional response to it… what I’m doing is making a self-portrait in a peculiar kind of way.” – John Langley Howard

Examples of Howard’s art, which won numerous awards, are in the collections of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; the City of San Francisco; the IBM Building, New York; The Oakland Museum; The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Security Pacific National Bank Headquarters, Los Angeles; the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts; and the University of Utah.

His major exhibitions included Modern Gallery, San Francisco (1927); Beaux Arts Gallery and East-West Gallery, both in San Francisco (1928); the San Francisco Art Association (1928-1951); Paul Elder Gallery, San Francisco (1935); Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio (1936); Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (1936, 1939); 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Treasure Island (1939); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1941, 1952); Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C. (1943); M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA (1943); 1946-47 Whitney Museum, New York (1946-1947); Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1956); Capricorn Asunder Gallery, San Francisco (1973); Lawson Galleries, San Francisco (1974); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery (1982); California Academy of Sciences (1983); Monterey Museum of Art, California (1983); Martina Hamilton Gallery, New York (1987); Tobey C. Moss Gallery, California (1989, 1992, 1993); M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco (1991).


The U.S.-born John Langley Howard described in this post should not be confused with the U.K.-born violinist, John Langley. The latter was a long-time resident of Ajijic and was photographed for Leonard McCombe’s 1957 Life magazine article about the village.


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.

Sep 222016

Lothar Wuerslin and his wife, Ann, lived in Ajijic in the late 1950s, from 1956 to about 1959. They stayed until their savings ran out and then returned to New York.

Their time at Lake Chapala changed their lives in more ways than one. First, their eldest son, Christopher (who late in his life became a chef, writer and photographer) was born in Mexico on 21 March 1956. Then, Lothar, who had been busy preparing enough paintings for a solo show on his return to New York, discovered sculpting. Thus began an entirely new chapter in his artistic career. Ann was also an artist, as well as a poet.

Lothar Hellmut Wuerslin was born in Auggen, Germany, on 3 March 1927 to a French father and his German wife. Before Lothar’s third birthday, the family emigrated to the U.S. (1929). He served in the U.S. Army from July 1945 to November 1946. In 1951 he entered the University of New Hampshire to study art, and met Ann. Lothar also studied at the Boston Museum school of art. The young couple moved to New York where a succession of part-time jobs (including painting fire escapes) enabled them to save a few dollars and try their luck in Mexico.

Lothar Wuerslin. Frescoes on wall of Ajijic home, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar Wuerslin. Frescoes on wall of Ajijic home, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

In 1956, they took up residence in Ajijic, paying the princely sum of $5 (dollars) a month for a 4-room adobe house that lacked a tub. Within months, Lothar had executed an interesting series of frescoes on the foyer walls (above) as well as begun to paint in earnest.

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin playing chess, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin playing chess, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

The Wuerslins were photographed by Leonart McCombe for his 1957 Life article about Americans at Lake Chapala. McCombe not only photographed their home (and murals), but also took pictures of the young couple playing chess and (their home lacking a tub) taking a bath, surrounded by flowering water hyacinths, in Lake Chapala.

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin taking a bath in Lake Chapala wster hyacinths, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin taking a bath in Lake Chapala water hyacinths, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Years later, this is how a local Vermont newspaper described how Mexico and Ajijic had changed the direction of Lothar’s art for ever:

“A chilly night in Ajijic, Mexico, changed artist-painter Lothar Wuerslin’s life. … Once a painter, Wuerslin switched arts when he was given some firewood on a chilly evening in Mexico where he and his wife had gone in 1956. He had by this time painted murals on most of the adobe walls of their small rented house. He picked up a piece of the redwood and began carving it.” – (Bennington Banner, 24 July 1965)

In about 1959, the Wuerslins moved back to New York. By April 1960, they were sufficiently well established there for Lothar to have already held an exhibition of his paintings on Madison Avenue and to be renting a loft studio on the Lower East Side to continue his new-found love: sculpting. About a year later, their second son, Hasso, was born. In 1963, the Wuerslins moved to a farmhouse in Sandgate, Vermont, where Lothar could have a larger studio and more room to develop his sculptures. Their third son, Tristan, was born in Vermont in May 1965. The Wuerslins also had a daughter, Joan, the eldest of their four children, who had been given up for adoption.

Lothar Wuerslin. 1957. Painting of wife and child. Digitally derived from photo by Leonard McCombe, Life.

Lothar Wuerslin. 1957. Painting of wife and child. Digitally derived from photo by Leonard McCombe, Life.

Lothar exhibited in local shows in Manchester and Bennington and examples of his work (in wood and cast cement) were included in a 1967 collective exhibition of Vermont Artists. In February 2005, both Lothar (by then deceased) and Ann were represented in an exhibition of Sandgate artists at The Canfield Gallery.

Several younger Vermont artists, including Anna Dribble and Chris Miller, took community college classes with Lothar and have paid public tribute to his influence on their art.

Lothar Wuerslin died at Sandgate, Vermont, at the age of 55, on 25 November 1982.

Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin (1930-2009)

Lothar’s wife, Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin was born in New Hampshire on 14 October 1930 and died in Sandgate in 2009. She had been the town clerk of Sandgate for 13 years prior to her retirement in 2008.

In addition to her art, Ann Wuerslin wrote poetry and was, after 1967, designed and made jewelry, sold not only locally, but also in “Primitive Artisans” on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Late in life, Ann became a published author with a book called In the Child’s Voice (Shire Press, 2008). The book is a poignant and expressive memoir, comprised of vignettes about living in a succession of foster homes in New Hampshire during her childhood.

To listen to Ann Wuerslin reciting one of her own poems (later used in her obituary notice), see this YouTube video clip. The poem starts at minute 2:00 of the video.


  • Bennington Banner, Bennington, Vermont, 24 July 1965, p 5
  • Madeleine B. Karter. 1960. Undaunted and Un-beat (with photographs by Ted Russell). Pageant, April 1960, p 148 on.
  • Leonard McCombe (photographer). 1957. “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life, 23 December 1957

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

Aug 292016

The multi-talented African American poet, novelist and artist Clarence Major spent some time at Lake Chapala in 1968.

Major was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936 and grew up in Chicago. In the early 1950s, Major studied drawing and painting under painter Gus Nall (1919–1995) and attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Addis Osborne (1914–2011). Coincidentally, the enigmatic African American artist Ernest Alexander, who lived for several years in Ajijic in the early 1950s, had also studied in Chicago and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago shortly before Major took classes there.

In 1966, after two marriages which both ended in divorce, Major moved to New York to begin a distinguished teaching career. Over the next 30 years, he taught creative writing and/or literature classes at Brooklyn College, Queens College, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Washington, Howard University, University of Maryland, University of Colorado, Temple University, and the State University of New York (Binghamton). In 1989, Major moved to California, where he taught until his retirement in 2007 at the University of California at Davis.

In 1968, Major left New York and visited Mexico for several months in the company of his then girlfriend Sheila Silverstone. During the trip, Major was revising his first novel, All Night Visitors, published in 1969. Major’s first collection of poems, Swallow the Lake, was published the following year and won a National Council on the Arts Award.

Clarence Major. Self-portrait. Image reproduced from wikimedia (Creative Commons license)

Clarence Major. Self-portrait. Image reproduced from wikimedia (Creative Commons license)

In Mexico, the couple spent some time in Puerto Vallarta but also visited Lake Chapala, which became the basis for at least two poems published in Symptoms & madness: poems (1971).

The first poem is entitled “IN CHAPALA, JAL” and describes them sitting, reading, in “a red mud / colored 30 pesos per day hotel room”.

The second poem, entitled “EIGHTEEN-DOLLAR TAXI TRIP TO TIZAPAN AND BACK TO CHAPALA” was later included in the collection Configurations: New & Selected Poems, 1958-1998, published in 1999 and a finalist for a 1999 National Book Award. This poem tells how their taxi driver (“with a good life / who has four children, / a pregnant wife, / and who lives in Guadalajara”) drives them, “radio going / cha-cha-cha” through a storm around the south side of the lake.

Major’s poetry and short stories have been published in dozens of literary magazines and anthologies. Major has won dozens of major awards and served as a judge for many important literary contests including the the PEN/Faulkner Award (1997-1998), the National Endowment for the Arts Awards (1987) and the National Book Awards (1991). Major helped edit several literary periodicals, including Caw! and The Journal of Black Poetry. He was a regular columnist for American Poetry Review and the first editor of American Book Review.

In 2015, Major was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award in the Fine Arts,” by The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Major’s novels include All-Night Visitors (1969); No (1973); Reflex and Bone Structure (1975; Emergency Exit (1979); My Amputations (1986); Such Was The Season (1987); Painted Turtle: Woman With Guitar (1988); Dirty Bird Blues (1996); and One Flesh (2003).

His poetry works include Swallow The Lake (1970); Symptoms & Madness (1971); Private Line (1971); The Cotton Club (1972); The Syncopated Cakewalk (1974); Inside Diameter: The France Poems (1985); Surfaces and Masks (1988); Some Observations of a Stranger at Zuni in The Latter Part of The Century (1989); Parking Lots (1992); Configurations: New and Selected Poems 1958–1998 (1999); Waiting for Sweet Betty (2002); Myself Painting (2008); Down and Up (2013); and From Now On: New and Selected Poems 1970–2015 (2015).

His nonfiction books include Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970); The Dark and Feeling: Black American Writers and Their Work (1974); Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang (1994); Necessary Distance: Essays and Criticism (2000); Come by Here: My Mother’s Life (2002); Configurations (2010) and Myself Painting (2011).

In his parallel career as a visual artist, Major’s first solo exhibition of paintings was at Sarah Lawrence College in 1974. Other galleries that have hosted one-person shows of Major’s art include First National Bank Gallery, Boulder, Colorad (1986); Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan (2001); Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, Plantation, Florida (2003); Exploding Head Gallery, Sacramento CA (2003, 2004, 2006); Blue Hills Gallery, Winters, CA (2005); Phoenix Gallery, Sacramento CA (2006); Hamilton Club Gallery, Paterson, New Jersey (2007); Pierre Menard Gallery, Harvard Square, Cambridge (2010); and University Art Gallery, Indiana State University, Terre Haute (2011). His work has also featured in numerous group shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Davis, California.

His paintings now hang in many private and public collections, including those at Indiana State University, Terre Haute; Passaic County Community College Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art; the Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, Plantation, Florida; and The Linda Matthews MARBL Collection at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

The covers of several of Major’s books, including Myself Painting, Waiting for Sweet Betty, and Down and Up feature his own paintings.

Works about Clarence Major

His life, art and literature are described by Bernard Bell in Clarence Major and His Art: Portraits of an African-American Postmodernist (1998), by Nancy Bunge in Conversations with Clarence Major (2002) and by Keith Eldon Byerman in The Art and Life of Clarence Major (2016).

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

Aug 252016

Eleanor Smart (1909-1993) was an American artist who lived with her husband Douglas in Chula Vista, Lake Chapala, from the late 1960s until shortly before her death. The couple had visited the Lake Chapala area several times before purchasing the “Radke house” (Calle del Redondo #122, in Chula Vista) in 1968. She worked in a variety of media (oil, acrylic, watercolor and collage and was a regular exhibitor during her time in Mexico.

Eleanor Smart. Women with Green Hair. ca 1971.

Eleanor Smart. Women with Green Hair. ca 1971. (Cover of Ajijic Cookbook)

An example of Smart’s work, “Women with Green Hair” was used as the cover illustration for the locally-produced A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Gráficas, 1972).

Smart’s maiden name was Eleanor Frances Storm. She was born on 6 June 1909 in Michigan, either in Washtenaw County (listed as her place of birth in the 1910 U.S. Census) or Grosse Pointe (quoted in later articles), where she lived most of her life. She died on 9 February 1993 in St. Clair Shores, Macomb, Michigan.

Smart graduated from Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan, in 1927 and entered Sullin’s College, an all-girls Methodist junior college in Bristol, Virginia.

In 1929, the 20-year-old Eleanor Storm married Douglas Levering Smart, a 26-year-old electrical engineer with the Ford Motor Company. The couple married on 25 June 1929 at North Woodward Congregational church in Wayne County, Michigan, and subsequently had two sons: Addison (born 1931) and Richard “Dick” Levering (1932-1994).

Though the precise timing is inclear, Smart trained at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (under Sarkis Sarkisian, Walter Midener and Guy Palazzola) and at the University of Michigan, studying under Robert Brackman and Dong Kingman. She also studied, at one time or another, with Emil Weddige, Gerome Kamrowski, Hughie Lee-Smith and Kraig Kiedrowski, as well as with José Gutiérrez of Mexico City in 1951. Smart’s travels included trips to Japan, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, France, Turkey and Greece.

Smart was a member of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors and the Grosse Pointe Artists Association. Her works can be found in many private and corporate collections including that of Monsanto Chemical Company and Detroit Bank and Trust. Smart was a regular exhibitor in the Michigan Artists Annual, the Michigan State Fair, and numerous other regional exhibitions.

These exhibitions included the annual meeting of the Grosse Pointe Artists’ Association in 1949 and again in 1957. Smart’s work was featured in numerous group shows, including the Galleries Raymond Duncan, in Paris, France (1959), the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors in Grosse Pointe (1962), Les Galleries de Kenee, Grosse Pointe (1963), the  Grosse Pointe Garden Center and Library (1966) and the Grosse Pointe Artists’ Association (1967).

By 1967, Smart had held eight one-woman shows in all, including one at the Ligoa Duncan Galleries in New York in 1959.

Smart continued painting after moving to Mexico and was one of the numerous artists invited to exhibit at the “Fiesta of Art” held in May 1971 at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham, alongside 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) Huf; 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; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Smart’s work was shown in a group show at the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara in January 1980, which also featured works by Paul Fontaine; Daphne Aluta; Georg Rauch; Betty Warren; Richard Lapa; Stefan Lokos; Evelyne Boren; Digur Weber; Gustel Foust; Taffy Branham.

In 1988, one of Smart’s paintings was chosen for the “Help Save Lake Chapala” exhibit which was shown in Mexico City. Other artists in that show included Daphne Aluta, Nancy Bollembach, Luisa Julian, Conrado Contreras, Rick Ledwon, Georg Rauch, Enrique Velázquez and Laura Goeglin.


  • Anon. 1986. Portrait of the Artist: Eleanor Smart, in El Ojo del Lago, Oct 1986, Vol III, No 1.
  • Detroit Free Press, 9 April 1949, p 11;  5 May 1957, p 38
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 14 December 1968
  • Informador, 26 January 1980

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 6:48 am  Tagged with:
Aug 182016

Bernard Oulie, born in Bordeaux, France, in 1943, painted at Lake Chapala in about the year 2000, before wanderlust carried them away in search of new painting locales. Since 2008, Oulie and his wife Rita have lived on a secluded island off the coast of Belize, where they are co-owners of the Huracan Diving Lodge whose guest rooms are adorned by his work.

Oulie’s paintings of Lake Chapala include works entitled Chapala-Mexico, On the road of Chapala and Chapala Al Terminar El Dia (Chapala at the end of the day), as well as “Chapala Lakes” (image).

Bernard Oulie. Lake Chapala. Gallery publicity photo.

Bernard Oulie. “Chapala Lakes”. ca 2000. Gallery publicity photo.

Oulie briefly attended the School of Fine Arts in Algiers before completing his education at the University of Bordeaux. For many years he was a professional wine-maker before deciding to focus on his art. He considers that his artistic influences were the post-Impressionists such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin.

This 3-minute YouTube video shows some of Oulie’s artwork:

Bernard Oulie moved to Canada in 1982 to seek locations where he could dedicate himself to his art. This drive for inspiring destinations with clarity of light and vibrant colors subsequently led him to southern Florida in 1994, and to Mexico. He has also been “artist in residence” on various cruise ships.

Oulie’s subject matter, includes natural landscapes, seascapes, historic architecture and local customs and “reflects a lifelong affinity for nature”. His paintings are characterized by brilliant colors and bold shapes. Throughout his art career, Oulie has experimented with “subtle variations of tone and form, layering constructive brushstrokes to create dimension on the canvas.”

Oulie’s artwork has been widely exhibited. His exhibitions include Burdigala Gallery, Bordeaux, France (1976); Paris, France Gallerie d’Anjou, Paris (1978); Guy Favreau Center (1983); Bancusi Center (1987),Troisieme Vague Galley (1989), Randez Gallery (1990) and  Canada Revolution Gallery (1991), all in Montreal, Canada; Caesarean Gallery, Boca-Raton (1994); Kennedy Gallery, Miami (1995); Agora Gallery, New York (1996); Artcetera Gallery, Delray Beach (1996); La Jolla Gallery, San Diego (1997); West End Gallery, Hollywood (2000); Galeria Vertice, Guadalajara, Mexico (2000); Museo Cerro de Torreón, Aguascalientes (2000); Museo de la Ciudad, Irapuato (2000); Museo Diego Riviera, Guanajuato (2000); Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida (2003); Biennale Internazionale, Florence, Italy (2003); ArtRageous Gallery, Coral Gables, Florida (2012).

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 6:55 am  Tagged with:
Aug 112016

Florentino Padilla, who lived from about 1943 to 2010, regularly featured in the pages of the Guadalajara Reporter in the mid-1960s because he was “largely responsible for the bright, charming paintings” that were being produced by youngsters in weekly art classes at the Lake Chapala Society’s “Biblioteca”.

Florentino Padilla. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Hector Hinojosa

Florentino Padilla. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Hector Hinojosa

Padilla, described as a personable young man, was then in his early 20s and an accomplished painter in his own right. He had begun painting at the age of 15 and his talent had been recognized by Neill James, the American writer who had resided in Ajijic from the mid-1940s. With her help, Padilla received a scholarship to San Miguel Allende where he studied art from 1960 to 1962.

Ajijic resident Hector Hinojosa recalls that Padilla lived in Ajijic until the late 1970s, but then lived in California, where he painted a mural in San Francisco.

According to an account of an exhibition of his paintings (Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1965) one particularly keen art lover bought three of his works within minutes.

Padilla’s niece, Lucia Padilla Gutierrez, is also a gifted artist who benefited from art classes given at the Lake Chapala Society; her son is now following in her footsteps.

We would love to learn more about this artist’s life and work. If you can add to this all-too-brief biography, then please get in touch!


  • Guadalajara Reporter, 1 October 1964
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1965

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

Aug 042016

Artist John Maybra Kilpatrick, who painted a WPA mural in Chicago in 1947, retired to Ajijic with his wife Lucy in 1964 and resided there until his death on 27 August 1972.

While living in Ajijic, Kilpatrick exhibited in the “Fiesta de Arte” group show held in May 1971 at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33). More than 20 artists took part in that event, including 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) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; 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.

John Maybra Kilpatrick was born in Illinois (in either Vandalia Fayette County or Centralia Marione County) on 2 October 1902. He apparently studied at the School of the Chicago Art Institute under portraitist Hubert Ropp, the school’s then dean. Ropp is recorded as visiting friends and former students, the Kilpatricks and Al and Janet Zimmerman in Ajijic in 1971.

In 1947, Kilpatrick took part in the WPA murals project. Together with Hungarian artist Miklos Gaspar, Kilpatrick painted a mural entitled “The Children’s Hour” in Oak Terrace School, 240 Prairie Avenue, Highwood, Chicago. The mural is listed as still extant in 2001 when Mary Lackritz Gray’s book A Guide to Chicago’s Murals was published.

Kilpatrick worked as a commercial artist for the H. D. Catty Corporation of Huntly, Illinois. In 1952, the corporation applied for copyright for colored Christmas wrapping paper designed by Kilpatrick, entitled “Merry Christmas (Snow scene with 3 figures in front of houses)”.

John Maybra Kilpatrick became engaged to be married with Lucy Margaret Legge in December 1926. The couple had two children, a daughter born in 1931 and a son born two years later. After Kilpatrick’s passing in Ajijic in 1972, Lucy Kilpatrick is regularly mentioned in local newspapers as helping with ceramics classes in the village.

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 282016

We know disappointingly little about the life and work of artist Emanuel(e) Mario Aluta. Aluta moved to Ajijic with his second wife Daphne Greer Aluta (born 1919) in the late 1960s. It is unclear whether or not Mario remained in Ajijic after 1974 when Daphne married Colin MacDougall in a small ceremony at the home of Sherm and Adele Harris, the then managers of the Posada Ajijic.

Mario Aluta. Untitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Mario Aluta. Untitled. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Mario Aluta’s artwork, described in a review by Hannah Tompkins as a “series of male figures … vigorously painted with strong emphasis on planal design”, was included in a 1970 exhibition at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. The show opened on 6 June 1970 and featured a long list of Lakeside and Guadalajara artists. Among the other Lakeside artists in the show were Daphne Aluta, Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, John Frost, Bruce Sherratt and Lesley Maddox.

Both Mario and Daphne Aluta also showed work in the “Fiesta de Arte” in May 1971 at the home of Frances and Ned Windham at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33 in Ajijic. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including 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) Huf; 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.

Emanuel(e) Mario Aluta was born in Constantinople, Turkey, on 3 January 1904, but (also?) had Italian citizenship. He died in California on 22 September 1985.

I know nothing about Aluta’s early life, education or art training, but believe his first wife was Charlotte Maria Richter, who was born in Vienna, Austria, in about 1911. The couple seem to have first entered the U.S. in about 1936. In November 1937, they are recorded as crossing the border from Mexico back into the U.S.. The following year (1938) they applied to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Their application was finally approved in August 1943.

At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, the couple was living in Los Angeles. According to the census entry, they had been living in Nice, France, five years earlier in 1935.

Mario Aluta was 56 years of age when he married 41-year-old Daphne Greer in Clark County, Nevada on 25 May 1960.

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 5:49 am  Tagged with:
Jul 212016

This early impressionist painting of Lake Chapala by Donald Cecil Totten was offered for sale on eBay in 2015, though it remains frustratingly unclear when the American artist actually visited Chapala.

Donald Cecil Totten. Lake Chapala, Date unknown.

Donald Cecil Totten. Lake Chapala, Date unknown. 13.5″ x 9.5″.

Totten was born in Vermillion, South Dakota, on 13 August 1903, but lived most of his adult life in Los Angeles, California. He died in Long Beach, California, on 29 October 1967.

Totten graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, and then studied journalism for a year at the University of Southern California. He then studied art for about three years at the Otis Art Institute, where his teachers included Edouard Vysekal and E. Roscoe Schrader. In the late 1920s, early 1930s, he took classes at the Art Student League of Los Angeles, where he was especially inspired by American artist Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973).

In the mid-1920s, prior to studying at the Art Student League, Totten did some international traveling. He is known to have visited Fiji, Australia and Hawaii and is recorded on a ship’s passenger list as returning to Honolulu, Hawaii, from Sydney, Australia, on 11 March 1927, aboard the SS Ventura. His trip to Mexico may well have been at about this time. While Totten’s son recalls that his father enjoyed speaking Spanish, he has no recollection of him ever talking about Mexico.

At the time of the 1930 US Census, Totten (then aged 26) was living with his parents at their home on Colorado Avenue, Long Beach, and working as a clerk in a grocery store (probably the store owned by his father).

During the late 1930s, Totten worked on murals for the Federal Art Project in Pasadena’s Grant School and the Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, assisted James Redmond on the “Early California” mural (1936) in the Compton Post Office, and co-designed (with Helen Lundeberg) the mural “History of Transportation” (1940) in Centennial Park, Los Angeles. Later in life, Totten would reflect that working on large murals in his early life had led to his enthusiasm in later years for producing large abstract paintings, which he called “portable murals.”

Partial view of mural in Compton Post Office. Photo courtesy of Julia Armstrong-Totten

Partial view of mural in Compton Post Office. Photo courtesy of Julia Armstrong-Totten

Between 1938 and 1940 Totten directed the Art Students League in Los Angeles. A later exhibition about the League, entitled “A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-1953”, was held in Pasadena in 2008 and co-curated by art historian Julia Armstrong-Totten, the artist’s daughter-in-law.

After spending a year in Washington in 1942, Donald Totten married and began a career which combined painting and exhibiting his own work with art education. He taught for a decade at Barnsdall Arts & Crafts Center in Los Angeles, before joining the faculty at Marymount College in Palos Verdes in 1961 to give studio and art history classes. Totten also taught at the University of California at Los Angeles Extension, and at Inglewood Adult High School.

Totten’s work was exhibited at Younger Painters of Los Angeles (1929-30); Barnsdall Center (1944); Pasadena Museum (1960); Paul Plummer Gallery, Hollywood, Los Angeles (1960-62); the Long Beach Museum of Art (1961, 1962); Marymount College Girard Library (1962); the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles (1962).

Group shows towards the end of his career included one at the Palos Verdes Art Gallery, with Mel Anderson and Marilyn Prior, in 1963. In December 1963, Totten at a Holiday Art Festival group show at a private home, sponsored by the Mother Butler Mission guild of Marymount College, Totten exhibited alongside Redondo Beach artist Robert Neathery who subsequently lived at Lake Chapala for more than thirty years.

Totten’s final solo exhibition was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1964). A retrospective of Totten’s art, organized by Leslie Baird, was held at the Esquire Theatre Gallery in Pasadena in November 1964, shortly after the artist had suffered a severe stroke. A second retrospective,“Don Totten Los Angeles Modernist”, was held at the Palos Verdes Art Center in 1997.

Totten’s mural work can be seen in the Holliston Methodist Church, Pasadena; his paintings are in many private collections.


  • Betty Hoag. 1964. An interview of Donald Totten conducted 1964 May 28, by Betty Hoag for the Archives of American Art, at the artist’s home in Los Angeles.
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • El Sereno Star, Number 44, 29 October 1964.
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula News, 24 August 1961; 12 October 1961; 4 January 1962; 15 February 1962; 13 September 1962; 5 December 1963; 12 December 1963.
  • Rolling Hills Herald, Number 18, 28 February 1963.


My thanks to Julia Armstrong-Totten, the daughter-in-law of Don Totten, for helping to sort out the likely period when this painting was completed, via an exchange of emails and messages in January 2016.

Related posts:

Other Lake Chapala artists with links to the Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA; 1935-1943) include:

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 5:57 am  Tagged with:
Jul 142016

During a month-long trip to Chapala with his wife in June 1975 to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, Walden Swank painted a prize-winning picture of the lake. The painting, which won best-of-show and a purchase award in a show entitled Two Flags Festival of the Arts in Douglas, Arizona, now hangs in a museum south of the border in Agua Prieta. Swank later did a second painting of the lake, shown here, as a gift for his wife.

Walden Swank. Lake Chapala. 24 x 48". 1975

Walden Swank. Lake Chapala. 24 x 48″. 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Walden Swank was born in Kansas on 2 June 1933, but the family moved to Colorado when he was in his teens. Swank attended Littleton High School in Colorado and then served in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1955. While in the Navy,  he designed the insignia for Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron Eleven. This proved to be the start of a long career in design and fine art.

After leaving the service, Swank studied Graphic Design and Illustration at the Colorado Institute of Art, from where he graduated in 1956. His first regular job was at The American Greeting Card Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Swank then worked for a series of advertising agencies and graphic design firms, before forming his own company, Design Studios, Inc., in 1964.

In 1988 he began a career in fine art after additional training at the Art Student’s League of Denver. He retired completely from commercial art and design in 1995.

His work has been in numerous group and solo exhibitions across the U.S., and won numerous awards. His shows include University of New Mexico; Two Flags Festival of the Arts; Lake Worth 47th Anniversary; Taos Connections Art Gallery; Poudre Valley Art League’s 29th Annual Art Exhibition; La Ventana Art Gallery; Colorado State Fair; The 10th Annual Pikes Peak Watercolor Society Exhibition; The Heartland Exhibition, Merriam, Kansas; Westbank Art Gallery, Austin, Texas; Marks & Marks Art Gallery, Denver, Colorado; Taos National Exhibition of American Watercolor VIII; Taos Art Museum at the Fechin House; and Bold Expressions, Northern California Arts, Inc., Sacramento Fine Arts Center.

His work has been published in Southwest Art magazine and is in several corporate collections including Johns Manville and The Motorola Corporation.

Walden Swank sells his work via his Waldens Fine Art store on ebay.


My thanks to Walden Swank for permission to reproduce his painting of Lake Chapala, and for information contained in an exchange of emails in May 2012.

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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