Dec 292016
 

Just who was Janet M. Cummings? I’ve managed to find out very little about this photographer despite the fact that she was one of the earliest female photographers to have several of her photographs published in National Geographic and she also had photos accepted by such august newspapers as the New York Times.

Janet M. Cummings. Water carriers at Lake Chapala. 1916. Credit: Janet M. Cummings / National Geographic.

Water carriers at Lake Chapala. 1916. Credit: Janet M. Cummings / National Geographic.

One of her National Geographic photos, published in July 1916, is entitled “Water sellers and their donkeys on the shores of Lake Chapala“. It appears to have been taken in Ocotlán (near the then-famed Ribera Castellanos hotel) and shows  people collecting water from the lake to sell. The photo has a long bridge in the background, hence the suggestion that it was taken near Ocotlán.

Janet M. Cummings stamped many of her photos with the address of her studio at 70, Fifth Avenue, New York City, and was most active as a photographer between 1915 and 1920.

She took an iconic image in 1915, published in the New York Times of the beach at Southampton in England, of “German prisoners captured in the recent British offensive in France”. The same newspaper also published photos taken by her captioned “Veterans of the London National Guard, Composed of Business Men Organized for Home Defense, Giving a Parade at Brighton, England’s Noted Seaside Resort” and “German Soldier Putting a Keener Edge on His Sword” (both published in the 25 April 1915 edition).

In 1916, besides photographing Lake Chapala, she took other photos in Mexico, including one of the Rio Grijalva in southern Mexico. In 1917, she was working in Australia, taking pictures of the state of Victoria and elsewhere. She is also known to have photographed Beirut and several other locations.

Sadly, beyond this, I have yet to learn more about the life and work of this early female photographer who brought Lake Chapala to the attention of the American public almost thirty years before the lake was visited by another pioneering female National  Geographic photographer, Dorothy Hosmer, who visited Ajijic in 1945.

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

Dec 222016
 

Orville Charles Goldner (1906-1985) was an art director, puppeteer and special-effects artist who visited Ajijic with his wife Dorothy Goldner in the early 1970s.

Goldner was born in Toledo, Ohio, on 18 May 1906 and died on 28 February 1985. He studied at the Toledo Museum School of Design in his native town before moving to Oakland, California, to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley (now California College of the Arts). Here, he met Dorothy (“Dot”) Thompson Goldner (1906-2005); the couple married in October 1925 and had two children.

Soon after their marriage, the young couple moved to Hollywood. In the late-1920s, they were members of a traveling Shakespeare Theater Group and peripatetic marionette show (1926-1930). Goldner’s long and varied career in the movie business began in 1927 when he worked at Kinex Studio in Hollywood as a technical director, designer, and creator of animated films and special effects.

In the early 1930s, Goldner worked for RKO Studios on such films as The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and King Kong (1933). Orville Goldner later co-authored (with George E. Turner) The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind A Film Classic (1975).

In the late 1930s, Goldner and his wife made many educational films for the state of California. One of his lasting legacies is an astonishingly powerful collection of photographs of migrant farm workers in California and their children. He spent the first few months of 1940 documenting families on behalf of the California Department of Education and later also photographed Hupa Indian students and their lifestyles on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Humboldt County. See Picturing California’s Migrant Children: Orville Goldner’s Photographic Trek of 1940 for more details.

In 1935, Goldner had worked as an art director at the California-Pacific International Expo and he was given a similar role at the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940.

A series of four short, silent, color movies taken at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco (1939/40), by Orville Goldner, can be viewed online via this web page. The movies comprise the “Dorothy Goldner Collection“, now housed in the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive.

From our perspective, the most interesting by far is that relating to the “Art in Action” exhibition which includes footage showing Diego Rivera painting the Pan American Unity Mural at that event. It also portrays several other artists demonstrating their techniques in sculpture, mosaics, printing, doll making, weaving, pottery and axe carving. The Mexican pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition is shown in the film entitled “Pavilions, parades & soap box derby at Golden Gate Exposition“.

Other artists associated with both Lake Chapala and the Golden Gate International Exposition include John Langley Howard (1902-1999), Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988), Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008), Ann Sonia Medalie (1896-1991), Max Pollak (1886-1970) and Charles Frederick Surendorf (1906-1979)..

When the U.S. entered the second world war, Goldner joined the U.S. Navy, where he headed the U.S. Navy’s Training Films and Motion Picture branch from 1942 to 1946. His work in this position won him a Commendation Ribbon from the Secretary of the Navy, as well as the award of the Order of the British Empire from the U.K. government for his work with the British Armed Forces.

After the second world war, the Goldners went to Europe and lived for several years in France before returning to San Francisco. For the remainder of his career, Goldner focused on the production of documentary films and visual material for educational purposes. He was Director of Production (1946-49) and later an overseas film producer (1949-52) for Curriculum Films in New York.

Goldner then directed the Audio-Visual Center at San Francisco State University from 1954 to 1960, before returning to commercial film making as Director of Audio-Visual Services for the Panorama colorslide program at Columbia Record Club. Panorama series included “Guided Tours of the World,” “Adventures in Nature and Science” and “Guided Tours of the World’s Great Museums.”

Orville Goldner worked with his wife on numerous documentary film strips including A Colorslide Tour of Mexico Land of Sun and Laughter South of the Border (1961). This publication, with 32 color slides and a 33 1/3rpm record narrated by Cesar Romero, was edited by Darlene Geis and published by Columbia Record Club, New York in 1961.

The Goldners also made Doña Rosa: Potter of Coyotepec, a 10-minute color film released in 1959, which shows Doña Rosa de Nieto, from San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca making a pot (olla) and firing her creations in an underground kiln.

From 1967 to 1971, Goldner was a professor of Mass Communications and Director of the Audio-Visual Center at Chico State College.

In 1968, Orville and Dorothy Goldner formed the film production company Visual Americana. Their best-known collaboration from this time was on the award-winning ethnographic film Three Stone Blades, for which Ira Latour was cinematographer and Valerie L. Smith was anthropology consultant. The film was awarded a bronze medal at the New York Film Festival. It recreates a folktale of the Inupiat (Eskimo) people of Point Hope, Alaska, the farthest northwest village in North America, about the fate of a widow and her children in the Arctic. The Port Hope area has now been abandoned because of flooding by melting ice.

[Ira Latour, a student of legendary photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, was, coincidentally, also at the Golden Gate International Exposition. He had been commissioned by the National Railways of Mexico to paint an 18-foot mural for the Mexican Pavilion at the 1939–1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in the Bay Area.]

It was very shortly after completing Three Stone Blades that the Goldners visited Chapala:
“Goldner, head of Visual Americana, is visiting friends here prior to putting the finishing touches on his latest film, a study of an Eskimo legend filmed in Alaska. After  preparing the film for distribution, Goldner and his wife, Dorothy, will go to Chapala, Mexico, for an extended stay.” (Amarillo Globe-Times, 12 November 1970).

Sources:

  • Documents relating to Orville Goldner’s career can be found in two university archives. Parks Library at Iowa State University houses a collection of his papers from 1926-1982 while California State University, Chico, has materials relating to the period between 1935 and 1957 (mainly related to his photographic study of migrant farm workers in California and their children).
  • Amarillo Globe-Times, Amarillo, Texas, 12 November 1970, p 43

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.

Nov 242016
 

Dutch-born photographer Jacques Van Belle, who died in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2012 at the age of 88, took several black and white photographs of Ajijic used for postcards.

The postcard views, presumed to date from the mid-1960s, included at least two of the “Hotel Laguna” (Posada Ajijic) as well as one of the bee hives in Neill James’s residence, Quinta Tzintzuntzan (now part of the Lake Chapala Society complex), and one of Ajijic taken from the north side of the plaza.

van-belle-ajijic-pc

In addition to his photography, Van Belle was a real estate broker in Hawaii. Van Belle and his wife Helen Aro Van-Belle had a son, Jacques, Jr. and were definitely living there by July 1972.

Copyright registrations for 1973 show that Van Belle produced, and copyrighted, a pen and ink drawing entitled “With aloha from Jacque Van Belle’s Little Eurasia” (Little Eurasia was the name of his company in Hawaii], together with a matching envelope, and the “Royal Hawaiian Birthday Calendar”. The calendar had color photos by Van Belle on its six pages (two months to a page), with each page dedicated to a different member of Hawaiian royalty. The calendar also signposted famous births, deaths, and other significant events for Hawaii. Copies of this calendar still occasionally appear for sale online as collectibles.

Source:

  • Honolulu Star-Advertiser Obituaries: 30 March 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.

Sep 012016
 

Bertram (“Bert”) Miller was a supremely talented amateur photographer who retired to Chapala and spent several years documenting the town and its inhabitants in the 1970s and 1980s. After his passing, a significant number of his photographs were donated by his youngest daughter, Norma, to the Chapala archives. The archives, open to the public, are currently housed next to the town hall (presidencia municipal).

Prior to his time in Chapala, Miller had been a prominent New York pediatrician: Dr. Bertram W. Miller of 33-20, 16th Street, Flushing, New York. Most, if not all, of his photographs of Chapala have this address stamped on their reverse side.

Miller, born in New York on 27 September 1915, was a graduate of Columbia University and gained his M.D. at New York University in 1939. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1967 and loved what he saw. In 1969, he retired from his medical practice, after 22 years, and moved to Chapala with his wife, Gertrude (“Gerry”), and their then 4-year-old daughter Norma.

Miller was a passionate photographer, whose excellent eye for a striking image was complemented by exceptional technical skills in both black and white and color photography. He spent years researching and developing a unique method (the Miller Method) of making high quality color prints, which he patented in 1977. It allowed him to tweak the settings of each of the three sensitive layers in color film to achieve neutral colors, so that the grey, for example, exactly matched the grey on a standard reference card.

Writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, Joe Weston described Miller as a perfectionist, who studied things “because they are there”, whether they involved calculus, designing electronic equipment, photography or color development. At the time of Weston’s article, the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara was exhibiting 70 of Miller’s photographs. Weston quotes Miller as saying that he planned to photograph much of Mexico, its people and its way of life “before it disappears in industrialization”.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos. date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos (ca 1975). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

In addition to conventional views (above) and portraits, Miller also experimented in more artistic photography (below).

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work; date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work (New York, 1967). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Miller’s photographs were exhibited on various occasions, including the large group show, “Fiesta del Arte” held at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33) in Ajijic in May 1971. Other artists in that exhibition included: 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 HufEunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

In October 1976, Miller’s photographs were in a group exhibition in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen, organized by the Jalisco State government and entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” (Art and Handicrafts of the shores of Lake Chapala”. On that occasion, other artists who participated included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Gustel Faust; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; Jim Marthai.

Miller and his wife were close friends of photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost; of artist Harry Mintz and his wife Rosabelle; and of architect-designer Russell Bayly.

Miller’s daughter, Norma, in the short biography that accompanies her gift of his photographs to the Chapala archive, writes of her father that “With great artistic sensitivity and enormous humanity, Dr Miller captured images that he turned into prints in his darkroom that showed the profound and authentic faces and landscapes of Mexico. The photos in this exhibit portray Chapala and its people with honesty and love.” Indeed they do. Miller’s photographs are a unique record of bygone Chapala, and one which deserves to be valued and preserved for future generations.

Bert Miller passed away on 16 October 2005, three weeks after his 90th birthday.

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Ricardo Santana for introducing me to Miller’s work, and to Chapala archivist Rogelio Ochoa Corona who, by a happy coincidence, showed me many more of Miller’s fine photographs the following day, and shared his personal knowledge of the photographer and his family. Thank you, too, to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for providing valuable additional information about her father and the family’s time in Mexico.

Sources:

  • Norma Louise Miller Watnick. “Biography of Dr. B.W. Miller” (unpublished document in the Chapala town archive).
  • Joe Weston. Lakeside Look. Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1972.

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 182016
 

John Lee (1931-2013) and his second wife, novelist Barbara Moore, spent a freelance year in Ajijic in 1962-63 and then returned for three months almost every summer for the next decade.

Lee was a prolific writer, photographer and educator who penned thousands of newspaper articles, several non-fiction books and a dozen novels, including two NY Times best-sellers, and a Book-of-the-Month Club choice. During the 1950s, his award-winning photographs were published in most of the major newspapers and magazines of the time. The portrait of Willard Marsh on the dust jacket of his novel Week with No Friday, set at Lake Chapala, was taken by Lee.

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

Lee and his wife thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Lake Chapala. In retirement, using the name Bestjonbon, he compiled several YouTube videos about his trips to Mexico, the most interesting of which, for our purposes, is Ajijic Artists 50 years ago, a video which includes photographs related to the life and work of the following authors and/or artists: Gina Dessart Hildreth, Willard Marsh, James Kelly, Tink Strother, Carlos López-Ruíz, Ernesto Linares [Ernesto Butterlin], Eric ____, a former USAF pilot, John Lee, and Barbara Moore.

Other short YouTube videos compiled by Lee include Ajijic 50 years ago; Small Town Bullfight I; Small Town Bullfight II; and Fiesta Ajijic – 45 Years Ago.

Born in Oklahoma on 12 March 1931, Lee was raised and educated in Brownsville, Texas. After earning a B.A. at Texas Tech in 1952, he immediately began work as a journalist. While at Texas Tech, he married fellow student Jeane Womack; the couple had a daughter, but the marriage ended in 1956.

The following year, Lee married a fellow reporter, Barbara Moore, who later became a novelist. The couple lived in Spain for a year, and then worked in Denver and Ohio before moving to Mexico in 1962 to focus on writing fiction. Lee earned a masters in Journalism at West Virginia University with a thesis about English-language newspapers around the world.

John Lee at a book-signing

John Lee at a book-signing

Lee’s teaching career included stints at West Virginia University; the American University in Washington, D.C., where his students included Tom Shales, who later won a Pulitzer for TV criticism; the University of Arizona (1968-1972); New York University; California State University in Long Beach (where he undertook work towards a PhD); the University of Idaho; and at the University of Memphis (then known as Memphis State). He retired from teaching in 1997.

Lee wrote or co-wrote several non-fiction books including two for journalism students: Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines (1988) and Modern Mass Media (1990). Both books enjoyed several editions, and the latter was translated into Spanish in 1993.

Earlier works include The Diplomatic Persuaders: New Role of the Mass Media in International Relations (1968); and (with wife Barbara Moore Lee) Monsters Among Us: Journey to the Unexplained (1975) and Learning to Judge the Doberman Pinscher (1982).

John Lee’s first novel was Caught in the Act (1968) set in Spain. He followed this with Assignation in Algeria (1971); The Ninth Man (1976); The Thirteenth Hour (1979); Lago (1980); Stalag Texas (1990); Olympia ’36 (2011); and Old Spies Never Die (2011).

In The Ninth Man, his best-known book, a Nazi spy enters the White House and attempts to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lee also used the pen names of “James Lake” for stories in men’s magazines and “Joy Beverlin” for two romance novels: Whisper the Wind (Createspace 2011) and Bells of San Blas, which was never published. In later life, Lee also dabbled in art, and held several one-man shows in Texas.

Following the death in 2002 of Barbara Moore, Lee married Shirley Miller in 2004. The couple lived on a ranch in Texas, painting, writing and raising racehorses, until Lee’s own death in 2013.

Sources and acknowledgment:

  • John Lee’s website
  • I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to talk and correspond with John Lee several times in his final years. He was an enthusiastic supporter of this project to document the authors and 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.

Jul 072016
 

Photographer Michael Heinichen (born ca 1944) is best known for his portrait of Dave Sheridan, used on the cover of the first issue (June/July 1972)] of The Rip Off Review of Western Culture, published in the summer of 1972. The Rip Off Review of Western Culture was a short-lived underground comics magazine from San Francisco that featured the work of many noteworthy underground artists and writers.

Cover of "The Rip Off Review of Western Culture", Vol 1 #1 (June/July 1972). Photo by Michael Heinichen

Cover of The Rip Off Review of Western Culture, Vol 1 #1 (June/July 1972). Photo by Michael Heinichen

Heinichen lived in Mexico for some time, certainly more than he originally intended. Some of his work was included 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 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 HufEunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; 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.

By summer 1972, Heinichen had amassed a significant body of work from his travels around Mexico and was apparently living in Jocotepec with his girlfriend Laura Katzman.

In September 1972, Allyn Hunt, writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, reviewed a month-long, two-man show at El Tejabán in Ajijic of work by Heinichen and young Mexican artist Adolfo Riestra. Hunt clearly liked the “sharp, many-toned photographs of Michael Heinichen featuring Mexican beach- and mountain-scapes.” Heinichen had taken his camera all over Mexico, “seizing those images one always hopes for but seldom gets…. The delicate range of greys in these pictures is proof of Heinichen’s discerning eye and technical nimbleness.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 23 September 1972)

The following year, it seems that Heinichen and Katzman visited Columbia. On their return to Mexico City, they were arrested at Mexico City international airport and charged with possession of a kilo of cocaine between them. They were each sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.

Heinichen was one of 68 American and 7 Canadian prisoners at the American wing of Lecumberri men’s prison who held a 13-day hunger strike in 1974, which drew press attention. Described at the time as aged 30 and “a photographer from Kingsville, Texas”, Heinichen argued in the press that the couple had been coerced into making statements and had not been allowed to contact the U.S. embassy. He said that the couple were planning to get married, but that judicial authorities kept stalling the process. [The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C. – Aug 7, 1974]

It is unclear exactly what became of Michael Heinichen and Laura Katzman, though a record exists of a divorce, in May 1984 in San Francisco, between a Michael Heinichen and his wife Laura.

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.

Jun 092016
 

Photographer and illustrator Haig Witwer Shekerjian was born 3 November 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, and finally laid his camera to rest at the age of 79 on 21 August 2002 in Schenectady, New York. He and his wife, Regina, were regular visitors to Ajijic from 1950 on, and spent several months each year in the village during the 1970s and 1980s.

Haig’s parents were Haig Rupen Shekerjian, a rug salesman originally from Constantinople, Turkey, who became an art lecturer at the Art Institute in Chicago, and Frances Louise Witwer, a concert pianist from Chicago. His cousins included Brigadier General Haig W. Shekerjian.

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig attended Oak Park and River Forest Township High School in Oak Park, Illinois. His interest in photography started at an early age and, as a teenager, he was an avid member of the school’s Camera Club. After high school, he studied at the Eastman School of Photography in Rochester, New York, and at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. A 1943 yearbook entry shows that he was not only handsome, but also an accomplished actor, and member of the University Dramatic Club.

On leaving university, Haig joined the U.S. Navy in November 1943. In early 1944, before leaving to serve for the remainder of the second world war in the Pacific, Haig married Regina deCormier, his lifelong love.

Working as a Navy photographer, Haig Shekerjian was in the first landing party at the Battle of Iwo Jima (1945), saw action elsewhere, and photographed the Japanese surrender. He was the recipient of several military decorations. Haig’s return to the U.S. was noted in a poignant local newspaper entry in December 1945 which stated that Haig, “was one of 11,382 High Point Navy veterans returning from Guam on the U.S.S. Cowpens.”

Regina DeCormier Shekerjian (1923-2000) was a well-known author, translator and illustrator of children’s books. The couple, and their two sons (Tor and Jean-René), lived for many years in New Paltz, New York, where Haig was Art Director of the Media Services Center at the State University College for over 30 years, until the age of 75.

Taking a sabbatical break over the winter of 1950-51, Haig and Regina spent several months living in Ajijic. (Regina later published an article about why Ajijic was an excellent choice for anyone seeking an inexpensive art-related summer). They returned several times until the late 1970s and early 1980s, often staying a few months.

shekerjian-haig-photo-ca-1970-2

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig was apparently never very interested in the commercial aspects of photography, though his work appeared in many books, publications and literacy works, and his work was rarely exhibited or sold, though he gave away a few photographs as treasured gifts. His peers recognized the quality of his photographs and in 1977, one of his photos was included in the inaugural exhibition of the Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock, New York.

Together with Regina, Haig Shekerjian illustrated several books, most of them written by Nancy Willard and aimed at young readers. They included The Adventures of Tom Thumb (1950); Life in the Middle Ages (1966); The boy, the rat, and the butterfly (1971); King Midas and the Golden Touch (1973); Play it in Spanish : Spanish games and folk songs for children (1973); The merry history of a Christmas pie : with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974); All on a May morning (1975); How Many Donkeys? A Turkish Folk Tale (1971); and The well-mannered balloon (1976).

The Shekerjians also co-wrote, with close relative Robert deCormier, A Book of Christmas Carols (1963); and A Book of Ballads, Songs and Snatches (1965).

Michael Eager, owner of La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic, remembers the couple well: “Haig had short gray hair with a goatee and was rarely without his Greek sailor’s cap. Both he and Regina dressed casually, Haig with jeans, checkered shirt, and somewhat “beatnik” looking. He was never without his camera.” Both Haig and Regina loved the local people, music and traditions.

The dining room of La Nueva Posada in Ajijic has a permanent exhibition of Haig’s evocative photographs of what the Lake Chapala area was like years ago—clear evidence, if any were needed, of the couple’s immense enthusiasm for the area and its people.

Sources:

  • Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York: 19 February 1944, p5;  23 August 2002, p 4B.

Other photographers 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.

Apr 142016
 

Dorothy Hosmer, born in about 1911, spent much of her life combining adventure and photography. She visited Ajijic with her mother for a short time in 1945, where she met, among others, artists Otto Butterlin and Sylvia Fein. Fein recalls that Hosmer was planning to write an article about the area, with the intention of submitting it to National Geographic.

Otto Butterlin and Dorothy Hosmer, ca 1945. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Otto Butterlin and Dorothy Hosmer, ca 1945. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Hosmer first received public attention in November 1938, when the National Geographic published her article, “An American Girl Cycles Across Romania: Two-wheel Pilgrim Pedals the Land of Castles and Gypsies, Where Roman Empire Traces Mingle With Remnants of Oriental Migration” (National Geographic, November 1938, 557-588).  The article was illustrated by photographs Hosmer had taken during a solo bicycling ride in Europe.

Her initial break-through came about only because Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the National Geographic editor at the time, overruled an associate editor who claimed that respectable “girls” didn’t take foreign trips alone! Hosmer had written to the magazine from Florence in 1937 asking them if they would care to publish an “account of her trip with illustrative photographs.” She was paid a miserly $300 for each article, well below the rates normally offered to male contributors. (Hosmer had apparently given up her secretarial job and paid $89 for a third-class steamer ticket in order to reach Europe)

Hosmer was one of the first female photographers to have her work published in the National Geographic, and wrote two more articles for the magazine, also illustrated with her own photos, in the next few years.

  • “Pedaling Through Poland: An American Girl Free-wheels Alone from Kraków, and Its Medieval Byways, Toward Ukraine’s Restive Borderland” (National Geographic, June 1939, 739-775)
  • “Caviar Fishermen of Romania: From Vâlcov, “Little Venice” of the Danube Delta, Bearded Russian Exiles Go Down to the Sea”, (National Geographic, March 1940, 407-434)

In 2000, Hosmer was featured in the National Geographic book Women Photographers at National Geographic. The National Geographic magazine issue of November 2000 includes two pictures of Hosmer. The first (from the March 1940 issue) shows her lunching with Romanian caviar fishermen, the second shows Hosmer in later life, aged 89.

After her travels in Europe, Hosmer returned to U.S. and married a Wall Street banker. After her husband  died, Dorothy Hosmer-Lee worked for the US Air Force until 1971, after which she started traveling again.

Following her own death in about 2009, relatives donated a substantial collection of her photographs and negatives to the Sweeney Art Gallery. The collection includes more than 40 publications and 6000 photos and negatives. It is unclear whether or not any these items relate directly to Hosmer’s visit to Lake Chapala.

One additional curiosity about Hosmer is that in 1960 she copyrighted words and music for an English-Spanish piece entitled “Tampoco”. If anyone knows this work, please let us know the details!

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.

Mar 032016
 

Leonet (“Leo”) Matiz Espinoza was a Colombian photographer and caricaturist who lived and worked in Mexico in the 1940s. In 2011, eight gelatin silver prints in a series called “Fishing on Lake Chapala” came up at auction with an estimate of 8000 Euros; one of these eight images appears below.

Matiz was born on 1 April 1917 in Aracataca, Colombia, coincidentally the birthplace of novelist Gabriel García Marquez. He left his native Colombia for Mexico City in 1939, hoping that his artistic talents would enable him to find success there. He traveled overland from Panama via Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

It was in Central America that Matiz met and immediately proposed to Celia Nichols, the daughter of a British diplomat; he was 23, she was 40. They were only able to marry after Matiz had seen off a rival in a dawn shooting duel. According to La metáfora del ojo, Matiz claims he responded to Celia’s concern about the age difference by pointing out that, “I don’t see your age. I’m as interested in you, as you are in me.”

Matiz, whose long black hair, and gangster-like mustache complemented his mischievous sense of humor and absurdly colored jackets, would eventually have seven marriages in all.

Leo and Celia arrived in Mexico in 1941 as newly-weds and Leo quickly established himself as a caricaturist and photographer, claiming to have chosen the latter more for its economic rewards than because it was his first love as an artist.

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1940)

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1942)

Matiz held several exhibitions of his work in Mexico City in the early 1940s. The first, entitled “Fotos y Dibujos” (“Photographs and drawings”), opened at the Museo de Bellas Artes (Opera House Museum) in Mexico City in 1941 with a speech by the Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda.

In June of the following year, “El Pueblo de México” (“The People of Mexico”) in Mexico City’s Galería de Arte y Decoración showcased 59 photographs taken in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. The Mexican images included portraits, scenes of everyday life and artistic shots taken in Veracruz and elsewhere. Photograph #6 in the catalog was “Cabezas, Chapala” (“Heads, Chapala”).

In 1943, Matiz arranged another exhibit, entitled ““Tipos y Costumbres de México” (“Characters and Customs of Mexico), at own photo studio on Avenida Juárez in downtown Mexico City.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

While the precise dates of his visit, or visits, to Lake Chapala are unknown, Matiz sent a special photo-report on the lake to the magazine Así. The report, entitled “Chapala, mar jaliciense” (“Chapala, Jalisco’s Sea), was based on several outstanding examples of Matiz’s photos, and was published in Así on Valentine’s Day in 1942 (Así # 66, 14 February 1942: 31-35). One photo in that article shows the main church and beach in Chapala as viewed from the lake, but most depict fishermen going about their work. Several views of fishermen tending their nets are taken close to the lake shore and show masses of lirio (water hyacinth), though this is not commented on in the accompanying text which focuses, instead, on the superior eating quality of the lake’s fish, especially the highly prized whitefish.

Matiz was not only a photographer. In Mexico, he also honed his skills as a caricaturist, influenced by the work of Guadalupe Posada and others, transferring these same skills of keen observation and astute choice of angles to his photography. As a result, his work regularly featured in the pages of magazines such as Así, Life, Reader’s Digest, Harpers Magazine, Look and Norte. He was also active in the world of cinematography.

As Matiz’s fame grew, so did the invitations and commission he received. In 1944, he held a solo show of “Watercolors and Paintings” at the Advertising Club of New York in New York City, and, in 1947, his work was included in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Solo shows of his work have since been held in numerous countries, from Switzerland, France, Italy, and Austria to Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Australia.

Leo Matiz was completely enamored with the extraordinary diversity of Mexican geography:

“The magazine Así launched me as a graphic reporter in Mexico. I began to look for themes and discovered the old and deep Mexico, eternal and fleeting. There before my eyes was the baroque architecture, the paintings, the murals, the Maria islands and the poignant histories of its presidents, the starving coyotes in the desert, the day of the dead, the sacred temples and the purity of Yucatan, the red ants in the desert, the women of Pancho Villa, the dead trees, the divas in the movies, the cemeteries, the colour of the folk crafts, the peasants and the remote hope of their redemption.” [quoted in Leo Matiz: The Eyes of Time]

The indefatigable Matiz traveled widely across the country. In the mid-1940s he accompanied Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl) to watch the birth of Paricutín, the volcano that erupted in a farmer’s field in Michoacán. On another occasion, he visited the infamous Islas Maria penitentiary, off the coast of Nayarit, documenting the lives of its prisoners.

Throughout the 1940s, Matiz was in great demand in Mexico City. He  considered José Clemente Orozco to be his mentor and father figure. At one time or another, all the major celebrities of the day, from stars of stage and screen such as Mario Moreno (“Cantinflas”), Dolores del Río, Agustin Lara and María Félix (with whom he had an amorous relationship) to artists such as Orozco, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Alfaro Siqueiros, looked into the lens of Matiz’s Rolleiflex. Matiz also photographed Janice Logan, Luis Buñuel, Marc Chagall, Louis Armstrong, Álvaro Mutis, Pablo Neruda and Walt Disney. His portraits show sensitivity, intimacy, the product of what one admirer called a “profound psychological penetration”.

He collaborated with Siqueiros to document his murals, though the two men later had a very public disagreement. When Siqueiros mounted an exhibition of paintings derived from his photographs in 1947, Matiz claimed some of the works were plagiarized. Siqueiros retaliated by calling Matiz an enemy of muralism and a North American imperialist. Things really escalated out of control when Siqueiros arranged for Matiz’s studio to be set on fire, forcing the photographer, concerned for his safety, to flee with his family to Venezuela. It would be almost fifty years before he returned to Mexico.

Matiz lived the remainder of his life in various countries, dividing most of his time between Colombia and Venezuela. Besides his art, he also started newspapers and opened art galleries. In 1951, a gallery he owned in Bogota staged the first exhibition of the Colombian painter Fernando Botero.

Matiz regularly claimed to miss Mexico, but did not return there until 1995, and was then profoundly shocked when he learned that the building that had housed his studio had been totally destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. He remained active, despite failing eyesight, traveling through Mexico in 1997 taking pictures of rural workers for “Los hijos del campo”, the last book he illustrated.

Matiz’s photographic work is considered to be some of the finest of the twentieth century, demonstrating remarkable versatility, composition and technical ability. In 1948, he was named one of the world’s 10 best photographers. Examples of his work can be found in many major museums, including the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, U.K.

Leo Matiz died in Bogota, Colombia, on 24 October 1998. His images and artistic legacy are conserved and promoted by the Leo Matiz Foundation.

Acknowledgment:

  • Sincere thanks to Alejandra Matiz, the photographer’s daughter, and President of the Leo Matiz Foundation, for providing details of her father’s photo-account of Lake Chapala.

Sources:

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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.

Dec 102015
 

Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott was born in Galesburg, Michigan on 15 July 1863 and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 January 1942.

Early advert for Scott's Views

Early advert for Scott’s Views

Scott spent six months in Mexico in 1888, and then lived in the country, with occasional breaks in California, from 1895 to 1924.

From 1890 to 1894, he was working in Oakland, California. In 1894, he spent a weekend in jail when an aggrieved ex-colleague, unhappy about the terms of a business deal, denounced Scott for taking and possessing “indecent” photographs. A contemporary news report described them as “obscene photographs of semi-naked young Chinese girls” between 10 and 14 years of age. Scott was freed and exonerated because it proved impossible to find any such photos in his possession.

This may well have been the stimulus, if any was needed, that prompted Scott to move to Mexico in 1895 and settle in Silao, Guanajuato, where he undertook photographic commissions for the Mexican Central Railway (Ferrocarril Central Mexicano) and, from January 1897, for the the National Railways (Ferrocarriles Nacionales). He is known to have photographed the famous Guanajuato mummies. He also sold some photos in 1896 to the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago.

His railway-related images include photos of canyons, stations, rural landscapes, and everyday life of the people living close to the tracks. By 1897, an advert in Modern Mexico (January 1897) claimed that he had amassed “the largest and most complete collection of scenes of Mexico and Mexican life”. In that same year, Wilson’s photographic magazine called him a pictorialist photographer and publicized his hundreds of images of Mexico and the U.S., with 5×8 prints on sale by mail order for $3 a dozen.

On 21 October 1898, now 35 years of age, Scott married 18-year-old Edna Browning Cody in the city of León, Guanajuato. Edna was from Lakeview, Michigan, but lived with her parents in the mining camp of  Mineral de Cardones in Guanajuato.

By 1900, he and his wife (now known as Edna Cody Scott) lived in Ocotlán, Jalisco, on Lake Chapala, where he advertised the sale of “true portraits of the life and landscape of this country of unparalleled picturesqueness.”

Scott-Chapala-Sonora-News-Co

Several of his photos, including a panoramic view of Chapala, were used to illustrate A tour in Mexico, written by Mrs James Edwin Morris (The Abbey press, 1902).

A 1903 list of Scott’s Views of Mexico (published in Ocotlán, Jalisco) has 2486 numbered titles for Scott’s Mexican photographs, together with a testimonial attesting to their quality from Reau Campbell, of the American Tourist Association, author of Campbell’s New Revised Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Mexico (1899).

scott-winfield-water-carrier-lake-chapala-1909-2

Scott: A Water Carrier (Lake Chapala) , 1909

Scott’s photographs were in wide demand for postcards. Three small photographs of Chapala, all by Scott, were used on the first postcard published by Juan Kaiser (with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor San Luis Potosí y Guadalajara”) in about 1906.

Scott’s specialty was the portrayal of women and children, as well as landscapes, and Mexico’s national photographic archive holds no fewer than 223 female portraits taken by Scott. Many of his portraits are exceptional in composition. Scott was one of the first of Mexico’s commercial photographers to pay as much attention to the context and surroundings as to the subject. His success in this regard is partly attributable to his rapid adoption of smaller and lighter cameras.

scott-lake-chapala-ca-1908-

Scott: Lake Chapala, ca 1908

In 1908 Scott’s photographs were used to illustrate an account in Modern Mexico about the Colima-Manzanillo railway, then under construction but due to be completed in time for Mexico’s centenary celebrations in 1910.

During his time in Mexico, Mexico Scott collaborated with fellow photographer Charles B. Waite. The two photographers offered, in the words of photographic historian Rosa Casanova, images specially chosen to appeal to an English-speaking audience: “a ‘costumbrista’ vision of the landscape, monuments, and people of the country, producing an imagery that was also adopted in Mexico, thanks to their widespread circulation in the form of postcards produced first by the Sonora News Company and later on by La Rochester.”

Winfield Scott’s daughter Margaret/Margarita (aged 15 in 1921) was born in Mexico in about 1906. Witter Bynner and others say that Scott’s wife (Margaret’s mother) was Mexican, but do not offer a name. Was this the same Edna Cody Scott whom Scott had married in 1898? Equally unclear is the precise timeline when Scott was managing a hotel in Ocotlán, the source of stories Scott shared with D. H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, Witter Bynner and others in 1923.

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Scott moved to California, but returned in 1912, and then divided his time between California and Mexico until 1924. When applying in 1921 (in the U.S.) for a new passport so that he can return to Ocotlán, he described himself as 5′ 5″ tall, with light blue eyes and brown hair.

scott-winfield-hotel-arzapalo-chapala-2

Scott: The Hotel Arzapalo, early 1900s.

By 1923, Scott had been widowed and was manager of the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, living there with his daughter Margaret in rooms on the west wing facing the lake. D. H. Lawrence used Scott as the basis for the hotel owner Bell in his novel The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence’s traveling companions Witter Bynner and Willard “Spud” Johnson stayed at the hotel, which was conveniently close to the house that Lawrence and his wife Frieda had rented.

In his memoir Journey with Genius (1951), Witter Bynner devotes chapter 16 to the Hotel Arzapalo and chapter 22 to Mr. Winfield Scott. He includes a detailed account of Scott telling them about how, while managing an hotel in Ocotlán, he narrowly escaped from bandits on one occasion. (Bynner, pp 110-114)

Elsewhere, Idella Purnell, a Guadalajara poet who spent time with Lawrence, has written about how she and Margarita Scott accompanied the Lawrences by boat to the railway station (presumably at Ocotlán) in mid-July 1923, when Lawrence and his wife Frieda left Chapala to return to Guadalajara and then New York.

Later that year, when Lawrence and Kai Gøtzsche visited Guadalajara in October 1923, they chose to stay at the Hotel García because Winfield Scott had now moved from Chapala and was managing that hotel. Scott did not remain at the Hotel García for long. By the end of the following year, he had moved back to California, where he lived until his death in 1942.

Sources:

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Oct 192015
 

Famous American photographer and photojournalist Horace Bristol lived in Ajijic from 1967 to 1976.

Born in Whittier, California, on 16 November 1908, Bristol studied architecture at the Art Center of Los Angeles, before moving to San Francisco in 1933 to work as a commercial photographer. By chance, Ansel Adams lived near Bristol’s studio and the two became friends. Bristol was introduced to other leading photographers and artists including Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham.

In 1936, Bristol became one of Life Magazine‘s founding photographers. He went on to produce half a dozen Life covers. His photos also appeared in the pages of Time, Fortune, Sunset, and National Geographic.

In 1938, Bristol worked with John Steinbeck to document the plight of migrant farmers in California’s central valley during the Great Depression. Life turned down the story and Steinbeck opted to write his findings as a novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Bristol’s photographs from this time were later known as “The Grapes of Wrath” collection.

When the U.S. entered the second world war in 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. He traveled to Africa and Japan, helping to document the invasions of North Africa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

bristol-book-coverAfter the war, Bristol settled in Tokyo, Japan, sold photographs to magazines in Europe and the U.S. and became the Asia correspondent for Fortune Magazine. Bristol published several books (on Japan, Korea and Bali) and established the East-West Photo Agency.

This productive period of his life came to an abrupt end in 1956 with the death by suicide of his first wife, Virginia, following a hysterectomy. Bristol was so distraught, he burned many of his negatives, packed his photos away and retired from commercial photography.

The following year, he married Masako, a Japanese librarian 20 years his junior. A decade later, the couple moved with their young daughter, Akiko, to Lake Chapala, where their second child, Henri, was born. During their years in Ajijic (1967-1976) Bristol worked as an architect, designing and building several lakeside houses.

In 1976, the family moved to Ojai, California, because Bristol and his wife decided that they did not want to bring up their two children as expatriates. Almost a decade later, Henri, then 15 years old, had a high school assignment to read The Grapes of Wrath. This prompted Bristol to look through his photo archive and he began to regret his decision all those years earlier to put away his camera. He brought his surviving negatives out of storage and resumed his photography career.

In later years, his work was the subject of several retrospective exhibitions.

Bristol continued to make his home in Ojai, California, until his death on 4 August 1997 at the age of 88. Bristol’s photographs will not be forgotten, since Bill Gates now owns the digital rights to most of Bristol’s 16,000 negatives.

Bristol’s work is included in many major collections, including those of the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and is the subject of the 2006 documentary, The Compassionate Eye: Horace Bristol, Photojournalist, written and directed by David Rabinovitch.

Artistic success clearly runs in the family. In 2006, son Henri Bristol opened East/West Gallery in Santa Barbara, California.

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 102015
 

Hugo Brehme was born in Eisenach, Germany, 3 December 1882, and died on 13 June 1954 as a result of an auto accident in Mexico City. Brehme certainly visited and photographed Lake Chapala on more than one occasion. Images of the lake and its environs appear in his work from around 1920.

Hugo Brehme: Fishermen in Lake Chapala. ca 1925.

Hugo Brehme: Fishermen in Lake Chapala. ca 1925.

Brehme studied photography in Erfurt, completing his studies in 1902, and then opened his own studio. He took several trips to the then-German colonies in Africa.

He first visited Mexico in 1906, strongly influenced by having read Mexiko: Eine Reise Durch das Land der Azteken (“Mexico, a journey through the land of the Aztecs“) by Oswald Schroeder (published in Leipzig 1905).

On 14 August 1906, Brehme, then 23 years old, left Hamburg for Veracruz, Mexico, on board the SS Fürst Bismarck, traveling 3rd class. The ship called in at Dover (U.K.), Le Havre (France), Santander (Spain), A Coruña (Portugal) and Cuba, en route to Mexico.

He clearly liked what he found in Mexico, and saw a future there, since he returned to Germany, married his sweetheart Auguste Hartmann, and soon afterwards, in August 1908, the couple were on their way back there. They traveled on the SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie, but this time in the relative luxury of 2nd class!

By 1910, Brehme had a studio in Mexico City and rapidly gained popularity among the wealthier residents. The following year, he joined Casasola’s Agencia Fotográfica Mexicana. He documented many of the key events of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20),  including the Decena Trágica of 1913, Emiliano Zapata’s activities in Morelos, and the 1914 U.S. intervention in Veracruz.

Brehme quickly established himself as an outstanding commercial photographer, specializing in black-and-white postcard views. For more than 40 years, he roamed the country, using excellent photographic technique and composition to capture all manner of scenes. Some of his images are hauntingly beautiful, reminding us of a bygone age that we can never hope to regain.

The 1927 edition of Terry’s Guide to Mexico recommends Brehme as having “the largest, most complete and most beautiful collection of artistic photographs (views, types, churches, etc.) in Mexico.”

Brehme’s best-known photographic book is México pintoresco (“Picturesque Mexico”) which was published in 1923. A second volume Picturesque Mexico: The Country, The People and The Architecture appeared in 1925 (in English, French and German). These are among the masterpieces in the history of photography in Mexico.

Hog Brehme. Boats at Lake Chapala.

Hugo Brehme. Boats at Lake Chapala. ca 1925?. (From Marian Storm’s Prologue To Mexico)

Brehme, who is also credited with having introduced the first photographic Christmas cards into Mexico, was granted Mexican citizenship shortly before his death. His son Arno, born in Mexico in 1914, also became a photographer and worked in his father’s studio. Of the relatively small number of photos attributed to Arno (Armando Brehme), perhaps the most interesting are those of the eruption of Paricutin Volcano in 1943.

There is no question that some images signed by Brehme were actually taken by other photographers, and there are doubts about others. For example, see this analysis (in Spanish) of some of his photos. Equally, there is no doubt that many Brehme photos were used, without adequate attribution, by other authors.

These issues aside, Brehme was clearly a master of publicity, and helped to foment an interest in Mexico, and travel in Mexico, that extended far beyond its borders.

Sources:

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

Sep 032015
 

We had thought that perhaps the earliest known published photograph of Lake Chapala was that signed “A. Briquet” which is included opposite page 224 in Chapter XVI of Thomas L. Rogers’ book Mexico? Sí, señor! in 1893. The photo (below) is titled “On the Lake Shore” and shows a small settlement of humble fishermen’s huts.

briquet-on-the-lake-shore-pre-1893

Similar huts were certainly found on the shores of Lake Chapala, as evidenced for example by this early postcard:

Early postcard of Lake Chapala showing typical fishermen's huts

Early postcard of Lake Chapala showing typical fishermen’s huts

In general, all the photos scattered through Rogers’ book appear to be positioned so as to relate to the text near them, which led us to assume that the photo most likely showed Lake Chapala. The chapter is about the “Guadalajara division of the Mexican Central Railway” and includes a detailed description of Lake Chapala (a short distance south of the line). Rogers visited Lake Chapala in 1892 and a Chapala-related extract from his book appears in chapter 36 of my Lake Chapala Through The Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008).

However, kudos to alert reader Yvonne Lauterbach (see comments following this post) who has pointed out that the identical photograph in the Abel Briquet Photographic Collection of the University of Texas at Austin is entitled “El Lago de Cuitzeo”.

El Lago de Cuitzeo (Lake Cuitzeo) is never mentioned by Rogers in his book, and is located a significant distance away from the the Mexican Central Railway. However, there seems little doubt that the photo shows Lake Cuitzeo since the title appears to have been chosen by Briquet himself, when he included it in his series Vistas Mexicanas (“Mexican Views”).

How did a photo of Lake Cuitzeo come to be included in a book that makes no mention of the lake? Presumably Rogers’ publisher decided they needed an illustration of Lake Chapala but, in the absence of locating a suitable image, chose to substitute this photo of Lake Cuitzeo, editing its original title to mask its true location.

The other photos included in Chapter XVI of Thomas L. Rogers’ book Mexico? Sí, señor! are located correctly. The chapter includes a small photo of Ocotlán (on the lake, though the lake is not shown), and one of the Atequiza hacienda, as well as full page images of the Río Lerma and the famous Juanacatlán Falls. It also includes various line drawings, such as that of the Lake Chapala steamboat “Chapala”.

Who was Abel Briquet?

The commercial photographer Alfred Saint-Ange Briquet, better known as Abel Briquet, was born in Paris 30 December, 1833 and died in Mexico in 1926. He began his photographic career in Paris in 1854, and taught photography at the French military academy of Saint Cyr. He seems to have visited Mexico several times prior to establishing residence here.

The precise date he began working in Mexico is uncertain, but he closed his Paris studio in 1865. Eleven years later, in 1876, he was commissioned to record the construction of the Mexican National Railway line between Veracruz and Mexico City.

Assisted by the patronage of President Porfirio Díaz (who loved all things French), Briquet spent the next 30 years undertaking commissions, such as one in 1883 to photograph Mexican ports for the shipping firm Compagnie Maritime Transatlantique. He also produced a series of commemorative photographic albums about Mexico, including Vistas Mexicanas, Tipos Mexicanos and Antiquedades Mexicanos. These works make him one of the earliest commercial photographers to work in Mexico, and one of the most prolific.

Briquet’s photographs evoke a spirit of discovery as he traveled the length and breadth of Mexico recording the landscapes, flora and fauna, “typical” everyday scenes, buildings and monuments. His images of factories, railroads and other technological advancements show the extent of economic progress during Diaz’s ill-fated regime.

Briquet’s photographic career stalled with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, in part because of his close ties to the former government.

Meanwhile, the search for the earliest published photo that really shows Lake Chapala continues!

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 132015
 

Ernest Walter Knee was born in Montreal, Canada, on 15 May 1907 and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico on 7 October 1982.

He is most often associated with the Santa Fe art community, but also traveled widely on assignment. Knee was a talented photographer who first visited Santa Fe in 1931; he fell in love with the location, and eventually became part of the flourishing art community there. Knee’s friends included a wide circle of famous artists and photographers, including Edward Weston, Gustave Baumann, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe and Laura Gilpin.

knee-mexico-coverOver 100 of his powerful black and white photographs were the subject-matter for Ernest Knee in New Mexico: Photographs, 1930s-1940s, by his third son Dana Knee, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in 2005. One of these photographs, dated 1941, depicts a lone sail boat on Lake Chapala, though it is unclear how much time he spent in Chapala.

A photograph of Chapala is also included in his Mexico: Laredo to Guadalajara (Hastings, New York, 1951). This book showcases more than 100 of his photographs, documenting a pictorial tour from Laredo to Monterrey, Linares, Villagran, Tamazunchale, Jacala, Venta de Carpio, Toluca, Morelia, Patzcuaro, Zamora, Chapala and Guadalajara.

Three of his images of Chapala can be seen on artworld.

Among Knee’s many other claims to fame is that he was, for a time, Howard Hughes’ personal photographer. He was also the first cameraman to record Angel Falls in Venezuela. His landscape and documentary photographs appeared in Life and National Geographic.

Institutions which have displayed Knee’s work include The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame; George Eastman House, Rochester New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Center For Creative Photography, Tucson; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; California Museum of Photography, Riverside; Princeton University of Art, Princeton; The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Kansas; New Orleans Museum of Art New Orleans; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee; University of Oklahoma Museum of Art; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; New Mexico State University, Las Cruces; Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; The Harwood Foundation, Taos.

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 232015
 

Professional photographer Jack Weatherington, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 12 October 1933, moved to Ajijic in 1988 and resided there, continuing to take magnificent photographs, until his death in Guadalajara on 20 Feb 2008.

Soon after relocating to Ajijic, he became fascinated with Mexican masks, “especially the hauntingly beautiful, and sometimes simply haunting centuries-old masks native to the indigenous peoples of Mexico.” (Mexconnect.com).

Jack Weatherington: Burro carrying firewood, Ajijic. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

Jack Weatherington: Burro carrying firewood, Ajijic. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

Weatherington is quoted as saying, “I know the power of the mask. When I am preparing to photograph them, often it is as though the person who created it is there with me. Sometimes, for the briefest of moments, the veil of time lifts and I can see and feel the power of the centuries old moment of its creation. It is this power. This passion. Indeed, the majesty, I have tried to capture in my photographs.”

Jack Weatherington: Huichol mask. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

Jack Weatherington: Huichol mask. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mexconnect.com

On leaving high school in the U.S., Weatherington joined the U.S. Navy, and served as a medical corpsman. After his military service, he worked as a professional photographer most of his career.

During his twenty years in Ajijic, he was an active member of the Ajijic Society of the Arts, and his photographs, especially those of floral and woodland scenes, regularly won awards in local shows. He also took exquisite portraits of some of the Lake Chapala region’s most famous residents, including the travel writer-entrepreneur Neil James. (James bequeathed her property, including its extensive gardens, to the Lake Chapala Society).

Weatherington also held a solo show of his photographs at the Mio Cardio Gallery in the Chapalita district of Guadalajara.

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.

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

Jun 042015
 

One of the more interesting characters that made Ajijic a lively place to be in the early 1950s was the black American artist Ernest Alexander, known to most people simply as “Alex”. Alex was a painter and photographer who, from about 1950 to 1952, ran the Club Alacrán (Scorpion Club), a restaurant-bar in Ajijic, the hang-out of choice for the resident artists and writers of the time.

Ernest Alexander: Untitled (Shop front and doors). Image credit: Richard Norton Gallery

Ernest Alexander: Untitled (Shop front and doors). Image credit: Richard Norton Gallery

Relatively little is known for certain about Alex, though he is the subject of a fascinating memoir written by Sean Wilder. Wilder first met Alex in 1958, when the latter was living on handouts in the North Beach area of San Francisco. Wilder, now a practicing psychoanalyst, was only a teenager at the time but spent much of the following two years trying to comprehend Alex, while simultaneously questioning his own motives and desires. Wilder’s book, Alex, provides some telling insights into Alex’s charismatic, almost guru-like personality. In an epilogue to the book, Wilder sketches out what little biographical information he has gleaned about Alex, either from Alex himself, or from a select handful of people who knew Alex both in Ajijic and in San Francisco.

Wilder recalls the first time he met Alex in the Co-existence Bagel Shop (noted for its fine breakfasts, the Co-Existence Bagel Shop was a social center for the North Beach Beats until it closed in 1960):

Alex was the man sitting in the corner seat, a long, lean, handsome, “black”… with alert, mischievous, seductively heavy-lidded eyes, probably wearing a khaki army surplus shirt and blue jeans with frayed cuffs, and badly scuffed brown leather shoes, but no socks. No rings, either, no watch, no jewelry of any kind decorated him.”

Alex intimated to Wilder that he had spent his childhood in Long Branch, New Jersey, and that there was, or had been, money in the family. Wilder describes how Alex spoke “educated Eastern Seaboard English”, with an impressive vocabulary, and used language colorfully, as a form of “oral poetry”. Alex was a verbal gymnast, giving quick retorts and enigmatic responses.

Following a period of military service in a communications unit in the Pacific, Alex returned to civilian life after the second world war, with a metal plate in his head, and used his G.I. Bill funding to take art classes at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago. Alex’s magnetic appeal helped foment the nascent jazz and poetry scene of the Art Circle (a housing community for artists) on the near north side of Chicago. Among the poets that Alex became close to were Bob Kaufman, Gwendolyn Brooks and ruth weiss, who would herself visit Ajijic in the late 1950s.

Alex’s influence on ruth weiss was profound. He is credited with persuading her to read her poetry to live jazz for the very first time:

In 1948 weiss took a room at the Art Circle on the near north side of Chicago. She began listening to Bop and reading her poetry to audiences there. In 1949 an African American painter named Ernest Alexander asked her to read with the Art Circle jazz ensemble. She accepted the invitation and has been reading to jazz ever since.” (Blows Like a Horn: Beat Writing, Jazz, Style, and Markets in the Transformation of U.S. Culture, by Preston Whaley, Harvard University Press, 2009)

Ernest Alexander: Sketch of Gwendolyn Brooks (frontispiece of Annie Allen)

Ernest Alexander: Sketch of Gwendolyn Brooks (frontispiece of Annie Allen)

Gwendolyn Brooks, a close friend of Alex, became the first black writer to win a Pulitzer when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 for her second collection, Annie Allen, published the year before. The frontispiece of Annie Allen is Alex’s simple, yet powerful, portrait of Brook’s head, an illustration also used on the book’s dust jacket.

According to George E. Kent, the author of A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, Brooks’s poem “A Lonely Love”, published in 1960, is entirely about her intense personal relationship with Ernest Alexander.

In 1949, the same year that his illustration was used for Annie Allen, Alex had a painting chosen for inclusion in the “53rd annual showing by artists of Chicago and vicinity”, a major exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. This was a significant achievement for a painter who was apparently largely self-taught. The painting in question, entitled “Shop Front and Doors”, was priced at $350.

Among the other artists included in the exhibition were George Buehr (a professor of art for many years at the Art Institute of Chicago) and his wife Margo Hoff. Buehr, and possibly Margo, had spent some time in Ajijic a few years previously, and may well have provided the inspiration for Alex’s decision to transfer his G.I. Bill funding to the Fine Arts school of the University of Guadalajara later that year.

In Mexico, Alex studied painting, sculpture and photography, and also met Dorothy Whelan, a Canadian whose husband was serving seven years in a Mexican jail for passing bad checks. Alex and “Dolly”, as she was known, set up house in Ajijic, where Dolly, at least for a time, was a cook at the Posada Ajijic. Among their close friends were painter-potter David Morris and his wife Helen, a former dancer. San Francisco Bay area sculptors Robert McChesney and his wife Mary Fuller were also both in Ajijic at this time.

Dorothy Whelan in Bar Alacrán, Ajijic, ca 1952. Photo in collection of Katie Goodridge Ingram; reproduced with kind permission.

Dorothy Whelan in Alex’s studio in Club Alacrán, Ajijic, ca 1952. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

In Ajijic, Alex opened a restaurant-bar named Club Alacrán (Scorpion Club), which was in operation from about 1950 to 1952. The club attracted locals and expatriates alike. Alex instituted a two-tier pricing system, charging Mexicans less than Americans for their drinks.

Katie Goodridge Ingram remembers the building well, because it had previously been the studio of her step-father, the artist and sculptor Mort Carl. The Club Alacrán, on Calle Constitución at its intersection with Ramón Corona, “was set up in a small two-room house with a patio and kitchen area. Alex was a very jolly, welcoming and bright host. It briefly became “the” place.” Ingram also recalls that Alex was a fine cook with a penchant for hosting massive barbeques on the beach.

While he was running Club Alacrán, Alex was visited by the ethnomusicologist Sam Eskin. The second part of Eskin’s sound recording entitled Mexican firecrackers: a prayer and a festival (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001) was recorded from the patio of the Scorpion Club and features a religious festival in Ajijic, complete with church bells and pre-dawn firecrackers.

Eskin is quoted in the cover notes as recalling that,

I was rudely awakened at three or four in the morning. The uproar was really deafening. I reached out from my bunk and flipped the tape machine on, set level and dozed off again. Fifteen minutes later firecrackers started going off, and sleep was no more that night…. Strangely enough, El Escorpion’s patio was infested with black widow spiders.”

Ernest Alexander: Photo of typical lane in Ajijic, ca 1949. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Ernest Alexander: Photo of typical lane in Ajijic, ca 1949. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Ernest ALexander: Photo of Lake Chapala fishermen and nets, ca 1950. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Ernest ALexander: Photo of Lake Chapala fishermen and nets, ca 1950. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Little is known about the whereabouts of Alex’s artwork from this time, though in the late 1950s he showed Sean Wilder some small masks that he had sculpted and some photos of paintings. Wilder describes one of Alex’s paintings, almost certainly of Lake Chapala:

His paintings were as calm and meditative as his sculpture was full of violent vitality. One of them made a particularly strong impression on me: what appeared to be a fisherman’s shack (I recall a net and floaters hung out on a wall to dry) in the full golden blast of a sun-drenched late afternoon, while above and behind it the sky was blue-gray with ominous storm clouds.” (Alex, p 173)

Unfortunately, the good times for Alex did not last long. In December 1951 or early in 1952, a serious altercation broke out in the bar during which he almost strangled one of his patrons. Even the birth of Alex and Dolly’s son Luke a few months later was only a temporary respite for the couple. Soon afterwards, Dolly’s husband (John Thomas Babin), having escaped or completed his sentence, returned to Ajijic demanding his wife back. Another huge scene ensued. Alex was forced to give up the Club Alacrán. By April of the following year (1953), he had been expelled from Mexico under the infamous Artículo 33, that section of the constitution which allows Mexican authorities to expel “undesirable” foreigners without due process. Dolly and Luke accompanied him to San Francisco. (Coincidentally, their friends David and Helen Morris returned to the San Francisco Bay area at about the same time.)

In 1953, Ernest Alexander was one of 14 artists (with Robert McChesney, Lenore Cetone and others) exhibiting in Sausalito, California, at the annual Spring Art Show at the Sausalito Art Center from 29 March to 12 April 1953. A Sausalito News piece in June 1953 refers to Alex and his wife as “the Ernie Alexanders of Marin City”, when listing the artists who attended an art show at the Tin Angel on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. In August 1953, the same newspaper list Ernest Alexander, of “208 Second Street”, as the chairman of the exhibition committee for the second annual Sausalito Arts Center Fair to be held at Shell Beach in mid-September, alongside the annual Regatta.

By 1955, Alex’s world began to unravel. In February 1955, police were called to a “fracas” at the annual Sausalito Artists Ball. According to a press report:

“Charles Carmona, an employee of St. Vincent’s School for Boys north of San Rafael, was given first aid by the Sausalito fire department to check the bleeding from severe facial cuts. He told police that Ernest Alexander, former Sausalitan now living in San Francisco, hit him in the face with a beer bottle after he had danced with Alexander’s wife. Carmona claimed the blow splintered the bottle and police said the injured man had deep cuts on his forehead, nose, chin and both cheeks. Alexander denied he hit Carmona with the bottle and witnesses to the fracas said they did not see Alexander wield the weapon.” No charges were laid because “Carmona refused to sign a complaint against Alexander”.

At some point in 1955, Dolly died in hospital while undergoing a second mastectomy. Alex, distraught, began to fall apart. As Alex slid towards insanity (perhaps due to general paresis caused by late-stage syphilis), Luke was cared for in Sausalito by David and Helen Morris.

For the remaining 15 years or so of his life, Alex was never the same. He stopped painting, spent time in state mental institutions, developed paranoia, and lived for extended periods on hand-outs. It is at this stage of his life that Sean Wilder first met him. Wilder recalls that while Alex no longer painted, he enjoyed listening to the music of Billie Holiday and loved cookbooks, reading and valuing them like other people read poetry or novels.

The final chapter in the tragic story of Alex’s final years ended in February 1974. The precise date is unknown because he died alone in his apartment at 138-6th St, San Francisco, and his body was not found until four months later. He was buried in Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, on 25 July 1974.

While Alex’s contributions to the Ajijic art scene have been largely forgotten or ignored, his place in the Chicago art scene has been recognized by the inclusion of his paintings in two major group exhibitions:  “Black on Black: The Works of Black artists from Chicago Black Collectors” (University of Illinois at Chicago, 1983) and “The Flowering: African-American Artists and Friends in 1940s Chicago: A Look at the South Side Community Art Center”, (Illinois State Museum, 1993).

Reference:

  • Sausalito News. 19 March 1953, p 7; 2 April 1953, p 7; 25 June 1953, p3; 27 August 1953, p 5; 25 February 1955, p 1.
  • Wilder, Sean. 2011. Alex (self-published via Lulu.com).

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.

Nov 202014
 

Frederick (sometimes Federico/Fritz/Fredrick/Friedrich) Wilhelm Butterlin was born in Cologne, Germany, in about January 1905, and was the middle of three brothers (Otto was older, Ernesto younger).

Frederick was a well-known photographer and seems to have been the owner of what was almost certainly one of the first art galleries in Ajijic.

Frederick had not yet celebrated his third birthday when his parents brought him to Mexico in 1907. The family had a first class cabin on the “Fürst Bismarck” of the Hamburg-America line, which departed Hamburg on 14 October 1907 for Veracruz, via Southampton, Santander, Coruna and Cuba. The passenger list duly records the ages of each of the family members. Frederick was 2 years and 9 months of age, his older brother Otto was 6 years and 6 months. Their father Hans Butterlin was 37 and his wife Amelie 26. The family settled in Guadalajara but so far I have been able to find out nothing of substance about their whereabouts during the next twenty years which includes the Mexican Revolution.

Girls belonging to the Old Colony (Saskatchewan) Mennonites moving to Mexico. Photo by Frederick Butterlin ca 1948

Girls belonging to the Old Colony (Saskatchewan) Mennonites moving to Mexico. Photo by Frederick Butterlin ca 1948

What is known is that in 1929, Frederick was a witness to his older brother Otto Butterlin’s marriage in California. In the 1930 U.S. census, Frederick W. is listed as 25 years old, single, and is said to have immigrated to the U.S. in about 1920. His occupation is listed as “sugar operator”. It is unclear how long Frederick remained in the U.S. but by 1934, he had become a noteworthy photographer.

Among other achievements as a photographer, he contributed to the Amateur Competitions in the January 1934 and February 1934 issues of Camera Craft, (A Photographic Monthly). He was also active as a photographer in Mexico, though precise dates are lacking. For example he is mentioned (albeit with an incorrect nationality) in Olivier Debroise’s Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico (University of Texas, 2001): “Perhaps the most interesting contributor to Foto was the Frenchman F.W. Butterlin, another devotee of pictorismo (as he called it), whose interesting composition entitled “Railroad Wheels” recalls the early work of Paul Strand.” (p 65).

In November 1935, “Fritz Butterlin” gave a keynote address on pictorial art in photography, based on observations made on “his long trips”, at the Club Literario de Inglés in Guadalajara.

In 1936, Frederick, then aged 32, married 26-year-old Bertha Eimbcke Ferreira from Mazatlan, Sinaloa. She was a languages teacher, and was president of the Mexican Association of English Teachers from 1963 until at least 1971.

Frederick seems to have continued his photographic career for several decades. His published photos include some evocative portrait photographs of Mennonites in Mexico published in the Mennonite Life editions of October 1949 and January 1952.

In 1956, Butterlin, working for “Exclusivas Jimenez SA de CV” placed a series of advertisements in El Informador recommending the use of “ADOX” film for photography.

In earlier adverts in the same daily (eg 27 February 1951), “Federico W. Butterlin” was offering his services as a translator (English, German, French, Spanish) of all kinds of books, brochures, manuals, letters, etc., so it appears that photography alone was never lucrative enough to satisfy his financial needs.

There are also references to Frederick having owned one of the earliest galleries in Ajijic in the 1940s. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet “Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey”, “Frederick owned the first restaurant and gallery in Ajijic in the 1940s, and was a painter in the classical style.” Hargraves appears to be misidentifying the photographer brother, Frederick, with his elder brother Otto, who was indeed a well-known painter.

[Last update: 1 May 2016]

As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

Related posts:

Nov 062014
 

While researching the history of the artists associated with the Lake Chapala region, I came across more and more references to the “two Butterlin brothers”. The problem was that different sources, including otherwise reputable art history sites, gave them quite different first names: Ernesto and Hans? Hans and Frederick? Linares and Otto?

There was very little evidence and it seemed impossible to tell which source was accurate, and why different accounts gave such different names, ages and details. They were usually described as “German”, but it was unclear whether they had been born in Germany or were the sons of German immigrants to Mexico.

Eventually, I compiled enough evidence to prove conclusively that there were not two Butterlin brothers, but three! Two had been born in Germany and were brought by their parents to Mexico. Safely ensconced in Guadalajara, the parents then had a third son, several years younger than his siblings.

The picture was complicated by the fact that two of the brothers used different names at different stages of their life, with the older brother rarely using his first name on his art once he arrived in Mexico, while the youngest brother adopted a surname for much of his artistic career that had no obvious connection to his family name.

Small wonder, then, that confusion reigned about the Butterlin brothers on many art history sites, some of which even failed to identify correctly the country of birth of each of the three brothers.

The three brothers (in order of birth) are:

There are still great gaps in my knowledge of this family, but the picture that finally began to emerge showed that the Butterlins deserved wider recognition as an artistic family of some consequence.

In future posts, I will show how all three Butterlin brothers contributed significantly to the development of the artist colony in the Lake Chapala area, albeit it in rather different ways.

Mar 222012
 

Artist and photographer John Frost was born 21 May 1923 in Pasadena, California. John and his wife Joan Frost, an author, lived for more than forty years in Jocotepec, before returning to California in 2012.

John is the son of John and Priscilla (Morgrage) Frost and grandson of the famous American illustrator A. B. Frost. [1]

John became interested in photography and the magic of the darkroom at age 14. He attended Midland School, a small boarding school near Los Olivos, California, and later earned a degree in Graphic Art following military service in the Pacific during the second world war and then settled into artistic and commercial photography in the mid-1950s.

John’s first solo exhibition, of mixed media pieces, in which drawings were photographed, enlarged and chemically treated to transform colors, was in Bobinart Gallary in Los Angeles in the early 1960s. This exhibition moved to Purdue University in 1966, shortly after Frost had relocated to Jocotepec with his wife. At Purdue, the opening of the exhibit was accompanied by a lecture about the “beat generation”. At the time, Purdue was embroiled in a bitter city versus university battle, on account of the Police Chief having ordered the university library to withdraw from circulation all books by Henry Miller, the American author then living in France.

John Frost (then 41 years old) married Joan Van Every (35) on 26 September 1964 in San Bernadino, California. In 1966, the couple relocated to Mexico, living for a short time in Uruapan in Michoacán before establishing their permanent home and photographic studio in Jocotepec.

In 1968, an exhibition of his silkscreens at La Galería in Guadalajara prior to the 1968 Olympics attracted the attention of TV broadcasters. Frost declined to give them permission to film his silkscreens since they asked him for $200 towards the production costs!

In May 1971, Frost was among the large group of artists exhibiting at “Fiesta de Arte” at a private home in Ajijic. Other artists showing there included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter HufEunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

John Frost: Nude with flower

John Frost: Nude with flower

For several years, John Frost focused on his paintings and silkscreens. He worked closely, and shared his silkscreen techniques, with several other Jocotepec-based artists, including (Don) Shaw, Georg Rauch and Ra Rysiek Ledwon. Georg Rauch went on to experiment with his own silkscreen techniques using non-toxic materials, producing his own masterful silkscreens for many years. John also had a profound influence on the young painter Synnove Pettersen (1944-), who attributes her decision to return to doing silkscreen (serigraph) pieces at that stage in her career to his enthusiasm and encouragement.

Starting in 1979, John Frost became the premier aerial photographer in western Mexico, amassing an impressive collection of images (now housed in the University of Colima), especially of the Lake Chapala region, the volcanoes of Colima and the rapidly developing mid-Pacific coast of Colima and Jalisco, including the area around Manzanillo.

His aerial photographs have featured in several exhibitions, including four solo exhibitions in the state of Colima, three in the state capital and one on the university campus in Manzanillo. John Frost’s photos can be found in the collections of several Colima and Jalisco state agencies. A selection of his photographs graced the Guadalajara airport at the time of the 1986 World Cup, and his photos were exhibited in one of the lateral galleries of the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. This may have been the first time any Lakeside artist had ever been invited to exhibit in the Institute, arguably Jalisco’s single most important exhibition space. (Several years later, the Institute would invite fellow Jocotepec artist Georg Rauch to hold a retrospective of his work there, occupying the main galleries).

Once, when chatting with me, John Frost remarked that “I never quite met my family’s expectations”. If that is really true, then I can only conclude that his family’s expectations were utterly impossible to meet, since John’s superb photographs and silkscreens, as well as his quiet encouragement of many other artists and photographers, speak for themselves.

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[1] Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928) (ABF), was an early American illustrator, graphic artist, and comics writer. He was also well known as a painter. ABF’s work is well known for its dynamic representation of motion and sequence. ABF is considered one of the great illustrators in the “Golden Age of American Illustration”. ABF illustrated over 90 books, and produced hundreds of paintings; in addition to his work in illustrations, he is renowned for realistic hunting and shooting prints.

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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