Oct 132016
 

Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1976), the second wife of John Langley Howard (1902-1999) is presumed to have accompanied her husband in 1951 (the year they married) when he lived most of the year in Mexico, including a spell in Ajijic.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips was born in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania and attended Cooper Union, the Art Students League and the Steinhof Institute of Design in New York. She also studied at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Blanche also studied with Ossip Zadkine.

She lived in the Bay Area 1942-1950, and again in the 1970s. She was best known for her sculptures, especially expressionist abstractions, made primarily in brass. Early in her career, she worked for a time with another, younger Bay area sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney, who also has links to Ajijic. In an interview years afterwards, McChesney recounted how Blanche had later told her that “she just couldn’t stand my arrogance as an young artist because I said I could never work in stone… because I couldn’t have that much patience to work that long. So I worked in clay because it was a faster material.”

Blanche Phillips Howard exhibited regularly at Stable Gallery and a major retrospective of her work was held at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley in 1981. She was also the author of Dance of the Self: Movements for Body, Mind, and Spirit (Simon & Schuster, 1975), a book about “a dance philosophy that was practiced back in the Thirties in a small, obscure Greenwich Village studio.”

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Jun 232016
 

Artist Daphne Aluta moved to Ajijic with her then husband Mario Aluta in the late 1960s, and lived there for about twenty years. In September 1985, she was the first female artist to ever have her work featured in the Chapala area monthly El Ojo del Lago; all previous art profiles had highlighted male artists.

Daphne Aluta. Portrait. Courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Daphne Aluta. Portrait. Date unknown. Courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

In Ajijic in 1974, Daphne Aluta married Colin MacDougall in a small ceremony at the home of Sherm and Adele Harris, who were then managing the Posada Ajijic. Despite this remarriage, Aluta continued to sign her artwork Daphne Aluta.

Born Daphne Greer on 24 June 1919 in Detroit, Michigan, she attended Cranbrook School for Girls and then the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit. She married and moved to Santa Barbara, where the first of her four children was born.

Her marriage to Turkish painter and architect Mario Aluta, who was 15 years her senior, is recorded as taking place in 1960.

Daphne Aluta. Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Daphne Aluta. Ajijic. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

During her time in Ajijic, in addition to her painting and sculpture, Aluta designed and built several homes in the village.

As an artist, her group exhibitions in Mexico included the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara (1970); the “Fiesta de Arte” held at a private home in Ajijic (15 May 1971); the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara (1980); the Club Campestre La Hacienda (1985) on the main Guadalajara-Chapala highway; and the “Help Save Lake Chapala” exhibit in Mexico City (1988).

Other artists showing in these group exhibits included Mario Aluta, Beth Avary, Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Frost, Bruce Sherratt, William Hartung, Antonio Cardenas, Tom Faloon, John Frost; Lona Isoard, Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael, Bert Miller; Robert Neathery, John Peterson, Eleanor Smart, Shaw, Hudson Rose, Agustín Velarde, Georg Rauch; Betty Warren; Gustel Faust; Laura Goeglein; Carla Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Eleanor Smart; Hubert Harmon; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Jean Caragonne; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; Xavier Pérez, Nancy Bollembach, Luisa Julian, Conrado Contreras, Rick Ledwon and Enrique Velazquez.

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May 192016
 

Emil Armin (1883-1971) was born in Rădăuţi (Radautz), Romania, in 1883 and died in Chicago in 1971. He is assumed to have visited Lake Chapala at some point in the mid-1950s since one of his paintings, entitled “Morning Lake Chapala”, was hung in a no-jury exhibition of Chicago Artists in Chicago in February 1957. That exhibition was sponsored by The Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Art Organizations in cooperation with the Honorable Richard J. Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago.

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Armin was raised in a Jewish family but lost both his parents at the age of 10 and was brought up by older siblings. As a teenager, he worked in restaurants to support himself, and took evening art classes, as well as learning English and French.

In 1905, when Armin was 21, he emigrated to the U.S. to join his brother in Chicago. Two years later he enrolled in night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but his precarious financial situation led to him having to take a break from classes in 1911.

In 1913 Armin made several visits to the famed Armory Show which brought avant-garde artists such as Matisse and Cezanne to the attention of the American public. Both Armin and Emil Holzhauer (another painter of European origin who would later paint Lake Chapala) were inspired by the sharp contrast between these works and their own prior art training. In Armin’s case, an exhibition of works by Russian artist Boris Anisfeld at the Art Institute suggested an artistic avenue worth exploring.

Armin started taking formal classes at the Chicago Art Institute again in 1918, and after studying with Randall Davey and American realist painter George Bellows, finally graduated from the Institute in 1920.

He quickly became an active member of Chicago’s modernist art community, part of the 57th Street Art Colony in Hyde Park, and began to exhibit with the Chicago Society of Artists.

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

From 1922 to 1949, Armin was a regular exhibitor at the Annual Shows of the Chicago Art Institute, but also joined the No-Jury Society of Artists, established in 1922. The Society had been formed, according to the catalog of its first show, because “standards of the past… are chains by which the free development of art is hampered.” The Society considered that technique was less important than “honest, spiritual content”.

Armin, who exhibited in all of their shows, served for a time as the Society’s president. Armin also taught for a time (1925-26) at Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house set up to receive recently-arrived European immigrants.

In 1926, Armin was a founder member of Around the Palette (renamed, in 1940, the American Jewish Art Club, and later the American Jewish Artists Club), and exhibited with them regularly throughout his life. His work was also part of the group exhibitions of the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1931, 1941, 1946 and 1962.

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

In the 1930s, Armin was an active participant in both the Public Works of Art Project and in its successor the Works Progress Administration.

Armin’s artwork included cartoons, woodblocks, paintings and sculptures. Though Armin also spent some time in New Mexico (1928), Maine, Mexico and elsewhere, Chicago was his home throughout his adult life. Armin’s subject matter varied, but he is particularly well-known for depictions of urban life in Chicago, as well as biblical themes and Jewish rituals.

Armin married Hilda Rose Diamond in 1945. Following his death in 1971, she worked with the Illinois State Museum to chronicle Armin’s career as an artist, resulting in a retrospective exhibition featuring more than seventy of his works.

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

May 122016
 

Sculptor Carl Mose (1903-1973) visited Lake Chapala several times in the 1960s, though it is unlikely that he was artistically creative during his visits. Mose in described in the Guadalajara Reporter (6 March 1971) as a “many time visitor to lakeside.” Thomas Parham Jr.’s book, “An Affirmation of Faith” (Xulon Press, 2011), suggests that Mose also lived for a time in Mexico City, though the precise details and dates are unclear. Certainly he visited Mexico City on several occasions since he had many of his bronze sculptures cast there.

mose-carl-univ-of-iowa-brochure-photo-sCarl Christian Mose was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on 17 February 1903, became a naturalized U.S. citizen, served in the U.S. Army Air Force during the second world war, and died in New Windsor, Maryland on 21 March 1973.

The family emigrated to Chicago in the U.S. when Mose was seven years old. Carl Mose went on to study sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute, the Student’s Art League and Beaux Arts Academy in New York City. Interviewed in his studio in the farmland outside Westminster, Maryland, only a year before his death, Mose recalled that his teacher in fourth grade had urged the sculptor Lorado Taft to let him attend specialist classes. (Morning Herald, 18 September 1972). Mose subsequently worked with Taft for the next 15 years, but was also taught by Albin Polasek and Leo Lentelli.

In his early twenties, Mose and his wife Ruth Helming traveled to Europe on the proceeds of a Goddess of Speed radiator ornament that he had designed on short notice for the Studebaker Corporation. On their return, Mose began teaching at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. During the next few years, he undertook numerous commissions in the capital, including statues and keystone carvings in the Washington Cathedral and more than a dozen seven-foot low reliefs on the Potomac Electric Power Co. building.

Carl Mose, "Family Group" (1942). Maplewood, Missouri. Photo: Charles

Carl Mose, “Family Group” (1942). Maplewood, Missouri. Photo: Charles Swaney, Creative Commons.

In addition to three years at the Corcoran School of Art, Mose also taught at the Minneapolis Art Institute, Carleton College, and Washington University, St. Louis, where he was the head of the sculpture department for many years. Mose was an acclaimed lecturer. One University of Iowa publicity brochure (date unknown) proclaimed an “Outstanding American Sculptor in a Brilliant Demonstration Program that is Full of Wit and Humor.”

During his 25 years in St. Louis, Mose continued to undertake numerous commissions, including one of General John Pershing for the Capitol grounds at Jefferson City. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 19 August 1962 says that Mose is leaving St. Louis, after 25 years, to take up a post at the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry in Washington D.C., where he will become responsible for designing military and other Government badges, decorations and medals. Prior to taking up his new appointment, Mose is spending several weeks in Mexico City “to supervise the casting of several recently completed works.”

Mose’s newest work in St. Louis is “a 12-foot bronze of St. Francis of Assisi” in Forest Park, in close proximity to another of his sculptures, “Figure of a Young Boy,” a bronze drinking fountain.

Mose’s sculptures can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, and in federal and state buildings in Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Maryland and Washington D.C. They include that of Stan Musial outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis and a 21-foot bronze and granite piece, installed in 1958 for the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. This particular 21-foot bronze and granite piece, “Eagle and Fledglings”, was cast in Mexico, and accidentally dropped from a crane during installation. The minor damage that resulted had to be covered up during its unveiling. Other works by Mose include the carved stone sculptures, “Land” and “Communication” (1940), either side of the entry to the (former) Salina Post Office, and “Family Group” (1942), a wood bas relief in the Post Office of Maplewood, Missouri.

Sources:

  • Ronald Irwin Bruner. 1979. “New Deal Art Workers in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska”. Thesis. University of Denver.
  • Susan V. Craig. 2009. Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) (Online resource)
  • Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz. 1984. Democratic Vistas, Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Temple University Press.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, August 19, 1962, p 19
  • The Morning Herald, Hagerstown, Maryland, September 18, 1972, Page 18

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

May 052016
 

The Clique Ajijic was a group of eight artists that existed as a loosely-organized collective in Ajijic for three or four years in the mid-1970s. Many of the photos of Clique Ajijic artists and their paintings were taken by John Frost, the artist-photographer who was a long-time resident of Jocotepec. The photo below (believed to be by Frost) shows several members of the Clique Ajijic, together with family and friends, at the opening of a show in Galería OM in Guadalajara in October 1975.

Clique Ajijic artists at opening of show at Galeria OM, November 1975

Clique Ajijic artists at opening of show at Galeria OM, October 1975

  • A = John K. Peterson
  • B = Kate Karns
  • C = Adolfo Riestra
  • D = ? Dionisio Morales (Ajijic artist)
  • E = ?
  • F = Sydney Schwartzman
  • G = ?
  • H = Todd (“Rocky”) Karns
  • I =  Hubert Harmon
  • J = Tom Faloon
  • K = Gail Michaels
  • L = David (son of Gail Michaels)
  • M = Alejandro Colunga
  • N = Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen
  • O = ?
  • P = ?
  • Q = ?
  • R = ?
  • S = Arq. Enrique Lázaro (gallery owner)

If you can fill in any of the missing names, please get in touch.

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 072016
 

Melvin (“Mel”) Schuler (1924-2012) was a sculptor, educator and a co-founder of the Humboldt State University Arts Department. Shortly after commencing his distinguished teaching career in 1947 at Humboldt State University, he was one of six artists exhibiting at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in August 1949. The exhibit, entitled “Cuarta exposicion anual de pintura” (“4th Annual Painting Exhibition”) also featured works by Nicolas Muzenic; Tobias Schneebaum; Alfredo Navarro España; Shirley Wurtzel and Ann Woolfolk.

Sadly, so far, we have learned nothing more about his time in Chapala.

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Schuler was born in San Francisco in 1924 and died at his long-time home in Arcata, Humboldt County, California on 20 May 2012.

After attending Yuba College (1942-1947), Schuler studied at California College of Arts and Crafts (B.A., M.F.A.), and the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1955-1956).

The Humboldt State University website describes how, “While working as an art professor at Humboldt State University he developed a form of sculpture characterized by tall, irregular, solemnly monumental columns in elegantly carved and finished black walnut; they were sometimes clustered and partly enclosed in “racks,” and suggested archaic runes and totems. In the 1970s he turned to carving rhythmically organic columns in redwood, which were then covered with overlapping plates of copper that formed scaly, armor-like carapaces, and given a rich green patina that suggested great antiquity.”

In the 1970s, the internationally renowned sculptor began to produce large abstract sculptures using old growth redwood carved into abstract forms clad in copper and fastened with bronze nails.

Museums that acquired his work include the Smithsonian, Hirshhorn (Washington D.C.), Palm Springs, Phoenix, Oakland, La Jolla, Portland, Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento) and Storm King Art Center (Mountainville, New York).

In 2013, a permanent gallery for his works was opened in Eureka, California. The Melvin Schuler Court Gallery, created by Dan and Jayne Ollivier, opened on the second floor in the Gross building, at corner of 5th and F streets.  Ollivier has been quoted as saying, “Mel’s sculpture has enormous presence. Mel would say to me, ‘If it sings to you, it is a great work of art.”

Schuler continued to paint, as well as sculpt, throughout his life; the walls of his Arcata home were adorned by his own paintings, displayed alongside art collected from his travels in Africa and India.

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 172016
 

American sculptor and painter Mym Tuma had her studio in San Pedro Tesistan, near Jocotepec, the town at the western end of Lake Chapala, from 1968 to 1973. Tuma, formerly known as Marilynn Thuma, has become an important figure in the contemporary American art world.

Tuma was born 23 September 1940 in Berwyn, Illinois. She studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, at Stanford University in California and undertook graduate work at New York University.

After university, she moved to Mexico, setting up a second floor plein air studio in San Pedro Tesistan to experiment with three dimensional works. This was a formative period in her artistic development, fostered by the support, moral and financial, of her mentor Georgia O’Keefe (1887–1986), the “Mother of American modernism”.

Mym Tuma: La perla (1970)

Mym Tuma: La hojancha (The Original Seed) (1970)

Tuma first contacted O’Keefe, fifty years her senior, in 1964 when she was studying in Irving Sandler’s modern art seminar for postgraduates at New York University. Despite the age difference, O’Keefe and Tuma discovered they shared several common interests. O’Keefe, then living on a ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, bought one of Tuma’s early works, and the two women corresponded for a decade. (The story of this correspondence is told by Tuma at OkeeffeAndMe.com).

The studio in San Pedro Tesistan had neither electricity nor running water. In her “Feminist Artist Statement” on a Brooklyn Museum webpage, Tuma recalls her time there:

“In the high plateau of southern Mexico, overlooking Lake Chapala, I painted in remote San Pedro Tesistan. In that village were only two vehicles: a red Firebird, and a paneled truck, until I arrived in 1966 in a Volkswagen bus. I rented a studio for $8 per month and worked with an assistant, 17-yr. old Cruz Robledo who I taught to drive. She suppressed her giggles learning how to control the VW on cobblestone streets, rumbling down a string of plastered, cracked and chipped adobes. Women like Cruz worked at home, sewing and cooking, but she had a streak of independence. She did not let people, or men subordinate her. She grew more confident, while working on my sculptures, sanding fiberglass to smooth curves. She helped me prepare my paintings. Her mother still scrubbed clothes on rocks at the edge of Lake Chapala, her Aunt Deodata partnered with another woman near my studio. Cruz respected my work. I tutored her to become as independent as I myself.

In the Sixties, women lost children and we heard church bells tolling for them in my 2nd floor plein aire studio. Cruz crossed herself and whispered sad news. We’d rest to watch the peaceful blue haze over the distant mountains and breathe. We shared ideas sanding my shaped sculptured paintings, far from the conflict in Vietnam. I felt militant about my work, in that time and remote place, to quote T.S. Eliot, “to construct something upon which to rejoice.” Convinced that one day it would bolster women’s power and equality in the U.S.

Before I left, we strung a rooster pinata from the church to my studio, and invited mothers with babes, and small children. They filled the floor eating cake and cream. Women nursed babes in rebozos around us. Cruz decided to become a midwife to help reduce suffering she saw among her sisters. As difficult as living in Mexico was, its vibrant colors, forms of energy, and simple life inspired my organic principles. For centuries, rituals of planting and harvesting maize surrounded my studio. However my materials/methods were innovative and contemporary to the 20th century and beyond.

I showed an elderly American Modernist painter the forms I had so much theory about—Georgia O’Keeffe. We debated issues and theories. I created 17 sculptured paintings, traveling 3,500 miles to the U.S. and back, over five times to garner O’Keeffe’s fiscal mentorship.”

O’Keefe’s letters to Tuma include many references to financial support. Perhaps the most poignant is the one dated 3 July 1968, shortly after Tuma has visited New Mexico:

“I am glad you came and were here a few days. Do not sell your car or part with your dog. I will send you the two thousand that you need to get your next three paintings done . . . . It may take ten days or two weeks. If I send it may I consider your black creation mine?”

The “black creation” was a fiberglass sculpture called Obsidian, which Tuma duly took north on her next trip to New Mexico.

After her time at Lake Chapala, in 1974, Tuma toured New South Wales and Western Australia, painting and sketching as she went, before establishing her studio on the East End of Long Island, New York. She is widely recognized for her work in the category of organic minimalism, which is influenced by oceanic and coastal forms, such as beach pebbles, sand, sprouting seeds, and spiraling shell forms.

Her “sculptured paintings” have been exhibited at many galleries, including Guild Hall (East Hampton), the Parrish Art Museum (Southampton village), and the Clayton-Liberatore Gallery (Bridgehampton), all in New York State. Tuma is a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and lectured at the Brooklyn Museum in 1992.

Examples of Tuma’s sculptured paintings are in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, D.C., the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, Palo Alto, as well as in the private collections of Henry Geldzahler, Tipper and Al Gore, and others.

Tuma has also written several art-related books, including The Sea, the Simplicity of the Sea, and Other Poems, (Come to Life Graphics, 1984) and Radiant Energy, Light In My Pastel Paintings (2005).

Mym Tuma is yet another of the many famous artists who have found inspiration while at Lake Chapala, where the light, lake, people and scenery combine to stimulate creativity.

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.

Oct 012015
 

The full name of the pioneering painter and sculptor “Shaw”, who lived in Jocotepec from 1967 to the mid-1970s, is Donald Edward Shaw. Shaw was born in Boston, Massachusetts, 24 August 1934, and passed away in New Mexico on 26 December 2015. He always preferred to be known in the art world by his surname alone.

Shaw attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1954) and subsequently studied under sculptor John Bergschneider. He often worked in mixed media, and during the Jocotepec stage of his distinguished artistic career, specialized in presentations involving exquisitely-designed and handsomely-crafted boxes and box frames.

Shaw says that the primary influence of Mexico on his work was in showing him a different view of the formality of color, levels of brightness and color juxtaposition. “Colors become things, hence the serigraph for the Happening”:

Painting by Shaw for Chula VIsta Happening

Serigraph by Shaw for the Chula Vista Happening of June 1969

Shaw taught and lectured at several colleges and universities including the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Boston (1957), Harvard (1958; 1959), the University of Houston, Southern Arkansas University and Rice University. He was professor of painting at School of Art in San Francisco (1961) and gave workshops in Oakland, California (1963) and in Jocotepec (1967).

When he sought new inspiration in the mid-1960s, he flipped a coin to decide between Alaska and Mexico. and then, blindfolded, stuck a pin in a map of Mexico, thereby choosing the small coastal town of Barra de Navidad, where he came into contact with the indigenous Huichol people. Before long, as a result of a chance meeting with artist-photographer John Frost and his wife novelist Joan Frost, in a Guadalajara restaurant, Shaw had relocated inland, to the village of Jocotepec, where the Frosts resided, at the western end of Lake Chapala.

He first settled in Jocotepec in 1967 and lived there more-or-less full time until around 1972. For the following five or six years, he divided his time between Houston and Jocotepec.

During his years in Jocotepec, Shaw (described by a female admirer from that time as “drop-dead gorgeous”) was an active catalyst for local artists and became a tireless promoter of artistic events. Shaw’s friends and artistic colleagues in the Lake Chapala area included fellow serigrapher John Frost, Phyllis Rauch and her husband Georg Rauch, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, sculptor Alice Bateman, poet Peter Everwine, poet-painter John Brandi, and many others.

Shaw was inspired by the power of indigenous music and culture, and greatly admired the pioneering work of Peter Everwine in revealing, through translation, the remarkable power of Nahuatl poems.

Shaw was a founder member of the local (Lake Chapala) art group known as Grupo 68 (founded in 1968), alongside Peter Huf, his wife Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford and John Kenneth Peterson. Grupo 68 exhibited regularly (most Sunday afternoons) from 1969-1971 at the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, at the invitation of the hotel’s public relations manager Ray Alvorado (a singer) and also held many group shows in Ajijic, both at Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery, as well as (later) in “La Galería”, the collective gallery they founded at Zaragoza #1, Ajijic. In addition, the group also showed in Guadalajara with José María de Servín, at El Tekare, and at Ken Edwards’ store in Tlaquepaque.

Allyn Hunt, reviewing a Grupo 68 exhibition held at the Tekare penthouse gallery in Guadalajara in July 1968, wrote that the show featured, “four highly independent artists (with four very different styles) who have the discipline, while regularly showing together, not to adopt a group means in approaching pictorial problems.” Hunt reserved particular praise for Shaw, saying that “Donald Shaw is probably this group’s most exploratory imagination, the one that when working at peak thrust, dominates technique and pictorial concepts most thoroughly.” (“Art Probe”, Guadalajara Reporter, 27 July 1968) 

In December 1968, when the four artists of Grupo 68 opened their own collective gallery in Ajijic, known simply as La Galería (at Zaragoza #1), the opening show, “Art is Life; Life is Art”, included works by a dozen artists, including Shaw. A review in Guadalajara Reporter said that,

“One of the best works in the show is hung here: Donald Shaw’s tour de force serigraph, “Spore Box”, presenting us with brilliantly-conceived chromatic ideas and imaginative forms which do not relay on optical illusionism, excessive optical vibration or three-dimensionality. This is undoubtedly the best serigraph Shaw – who has executed several series of rewarding prints – has produced.”

Another Grupo 68 collective show in April 1969 at La Galería, Ajijic, featured works by Shaw, John Kenneth Peterson, Charles Henry Blodgett (guest artist), John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

In June 1969, Shaw joined with John Brandi and Tom Brudenell in arranging the somewhat presumptuous “happening” in Chula Vista, mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala. Shaw’s contributions to this event included bound-up figures, and prints of symbols.

In September 1969, Shaw, Peter Paul Huf and Eunice Hunt presented a show at Galeria 1728, Guadalajara, entitled 7-7-7, named because each artist presented 7 works, with promotional posters emulating the scoring system used in the Olympics:

7-7-7 show (Hunt, Huf, Shaw), 1969

7-7-7 show (Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, Shaw), 1969

In 1971, he may have been among the group of artists who exhibited on 15 May 1971 at a “Fiesta of Art”, held at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33). Other artists on that occasion 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; 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.

shaw-don-untitled-1971-credit-rodney-susholtz

D.E. Shaw: Untitled (1971). Mixed media. Photo credit: Rodney Susholtz

The image above shows a typical “decorated box” from this period. This piece, made of a Pepsi Cola box, wood, rock, bone, feathers and metal, measures 18″ (ht) by 14″ by 4″.

Two decorated panels, of a series of five known as “Jocotepec: Dream Series” (1968) were included in the exhibition “Wood in Art” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 1979.

During his time in Mexico, Shaw also did some graphic art, and designed the official logo for the Mexican news agency, Agencia Mexicana de Noticias (1968). In 1972, back in the U.S., he illustrated a cover for Southwest Art Gallery Magazine.

Shaw has divided his years since Mexico between Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico. He lived and worked in Houston for many years (where he was on the faculty of the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts), then had his studio in Pine Bluff, Arkansas for twenty years, before relocating to New Mexico, where his studio-home is in Guadalupita, in the mountains above Santa Fe.

While remaining primarily a sculptor, Shaw has enjoyed success in a variety of media. For example, in 1975, he arranged the first of several sky paintings, hiring pilots near Houston to leave trails of white smoke in specific patterns. In 1983, he designed and installed “Strata”, a 9-foot tall steel sculpture placed on the edge of the Balcones Escarpment just prior to the summer solstice. The semi-arid landscapes of Texas and New Mexico have inspired Shaw to develop new forms and works, including the small, two-sided, polychrome, sculpted steel “Betatakin” series.

Susie Kalil, in the brochure accompanying his solo show at the Arkansas Arts Center in 1988, writes that “Shaw switches gear from one medium to another without sacrificing craftsmanship or exact vision… [his] subjective interpretations are predicated by nature, rather than art fashion.” Later, she says that “Shaw is not your average artist. He is part philosopher, part poet, part outdoorsman. His interest in ritualistic activity is part of his constant investigation of how we experience time and place.””

Shaw’s major solo exhibits include Club 47, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1956); Nova Gallery, Boston (1957; 1958; 1959); Galeria de Artes Plasticas, Universidad de Guadalajara (1968); Mexico City (October 1968); La Galería, Ajijic (1969); The Small Store Gallery, Houston (1973, 1974); Videotaped Sky Drawings, Texas Gallery, Houston (1976); Robinson Gallery, Houston (1976); Kornblatt Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland (1977); Moody Gallery, Houston (1978, 1979, 1981); Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock (1979); Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi (1979);Transco Gallery, Victoria, Texas (1987); The Arkansas Arts Center (1988); Adair Margo Gallery, El Paso (1988); Taylor’s Contemporanea, Arkansas (1997); Baum Gallery, Conway, Arkansas (1998);

His group exhibits include the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1956, 1957, 1959); Nova Gallery, Boston (1960); Allen Gallery, New York (1962);Pacific Gallery, Mendocino, California (1964); Gaspar Gallery, California (1967); Pacific Gallery, Mendocino, California (1967); La Galeria, Ajijic (1968); Rincón del Arte, Ajijic (1968); Galeria Palomar, Tlaquepaque (1968); Galería del Bosque, Guadalajara (1968); Arlene Lind Gallery, San Francisco (1968, 1969); Tekare Penthouse Gallery, Guadalajara (1969); Instituto Aragon, Guadalajara (1969); Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco (1971); Gallery of Modern Art, Taos, New Mexico (1971, 1972); David Gallery, Houston (1972);Biennial Invitational Exhibit of Texas Artists, Beaumont Art Museum (1974, 1978); Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi (1975); Louisiana Gallery, Houston (1976, 1978); Pelham-Stouffer Gallery, Houston (1977); Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin (1979); “Wood in Art”, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1979); Blaffer Gallery, Houston (1980); Art from Houston in Norway, Stavanger, Norway (1982); Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (2012).

Shaw’s work can be seen in public collections in Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington D.C.. For example, in Arkansas, sculptures or two dimensional pieces can be viewed at the Arkansas Arts Center and Bio-Medical Research Center in Little Rock, Hendrix College in Conway, Lyon College in Batesville, University of Arkansas Community College at Hope and Bank of America in Pine Bluff.

[A heartfelt thank-you to Shaw for his heartfelt support of this project, for having shared memories of his time in Mexico, and for allowing me access to many items from his personal library. I deeply regret that his creative genius was called to a higher plane before we had the opportunity to meet in person.]

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

Aug 172015
 

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

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related posts:

Jul 162015
 

Sculptor Leonie Trager, presumed to be Austrian, lived and worked in the Lake Chapala area in the early 1970s. She held a solo exhibition in the Galería del Lago, Ajijic, in 1973, when she was living in Chula Vista (mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala).

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

The catalog for that exhibition includes a brief biography stating that she had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria and had “worked with great sculptor Ivan Mestrovic” in Dubrovnik (Croatia, then Yugoslavia). She apparently held several solo shows in London, UK, and also exhibited in the New York area, while her works were prized by private collectors in the USA and elsewhere.

Very few of her pieces have appeared at auction.

Her solo exhibit in Ajijic opened on 22 April 1973 and was comprised of 32 works, mainly sculpted in clay, but also using willow, jacaranda, pink alabaster, yellow Carrara marble, Indian jade, mimosa and mahogany. Titles of pieces exhibited on that occasion include “Moondance”, “Snowflake”, “Sensuousness”, “Sleeping Boy”, “Flower Girl”, “Tzaddik”, “Satyr”, “Cleopatra”, “Flight” and “Despair”.

Her “Mothers and Daughters” sculpture (see image below), reported to be 14″ in height and limestone, was also shown in that show.

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters. Limestone. Exhibited in 1973.

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.

Apr 022015
 

Georg Rauch was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 14 February 1924, and lived thirty years in Jocotepec, on the mountainside overlooking Lake Chapala, prior to his death on 3 November 2006.

Rauch had an adventurous early life. His memoirs (translated from their original German by his wife, Phyllis), described his wartime experiences. They were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. The memoirs are based on 80 letters sent home from the Russian trenches telling how Rauch, despite being officially classified as one-quarter Jewish, was drafted into Hitler’s army at age 19 in 1943 and sent to the Russian front. He was captured and spent 18 months in a Russian POW camp, where he contracted bone tuberculosis. After the war, Rauch spent two years recovering in Stolzalpe, an alpine sanatorium.

Rauch studied architecture for two years and life drawing with Professor Bőckl at the Akademie der bildenden Kűnste in Vienna, and was encouraged by his mother to pursue a career as an artist. He was awarded travel scholarships by the Austrian government. He exhibited and became a member of the prestigious artists’ association, Wiener Secession, and soon was showing his paintings in Vienna, Paris, London, Germany and Scandinavia.

rauch-georg-in-studio5

In 1996 Rauch married his soul mate Phyllis Porter in Ohio. The couple, who had met in Vienna, lived briefly in New York before returning to Vienna in the winter of 1966/67, because Georg had been commissioned to produce the main sculpture for the Austrian Pavilion at the upcoming Montreal World Expo (1967).

In summer 1967, the Rauchs, together with fellow artists Fritz Riedl and his girlfriend (later wife) Eva, spent two months driving through Mexico, as far south as Tehuantepec. On their return trip north, the group stopped off in Guadalajara to visit the Austrian consul. The consul, an architect, purchased several watercolors completed during the trip, as well as 4 or 5 oil paintings that Rauch had with him. In the fall of 1967, the Rauchs returned to Guadalajara when the consul commissioned a sculpture for a shopping center being built in the city. The Rauchs remained in Guadalajara until 1970.

rauch-georg-red trees-s

In 1968, Rauch was invited to do a series of posters for the Guadalajara Committee of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Mexico City had commissioned its own Olympics posters, but Rauch was responsible for all the posters produced in Guadalajara). One of these Olympics posters is mentioned in Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, during a description of a living room in Ajijic. Another Rauch poster (not of the Olympics) would later feature in the movie 10 (1979) starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, shot on location at the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo. And yet another Rauch poster was once shown in an episode of the TV series Ironside.

It was during their stay in Guadalajara, that Rauch first met artist and photographer John Frost, who had a studio in Jocotepec and would later introduce Rauch to some of the finer points of silk-screening.

rauch-georg-Dream House-s

The Rauchs spent most of the next six years (1970-1976) in Laguna Beach, California, where Phyllis headed the San Clemente Public Library and Georg participated in the city’s famous Pageant of the Masters. Georg made several yearly visits to Puerto Vallarta, where his work was regularly shown in Galeria Lepe, the resort town’s only art gallery at the time. (This is where Rauch drew portraits of both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as Liz’s son Christopher Wilding.)

In 1974, the Rauchs purchased property in Jocotepec and began to build their future home and studio. They moved into their (as-yet unfinished) home, designed by Georg, in October 1976. Rauch had finally found a place he could call home, and he would remain here for thirty years, painting a succession of expressionist oils, watercolors and silk screens, as well as building several extraordinary kinetic sculptures. Rauch was a prolific artist (completing more than 2000 oils in his lifetime), driven to paint, and to paint “only that which he needed and wanted to express.”

His clown-faced self-portraits bored deep into his soul. The influence of Lake Chapala was clear in many of his haunting and sensuous Mexican landscapes. On the other hand, his watercolors revealed his particularly keen sense of observation and his delicate touch. (Of course, I’m biased because I chose a Georg Rauch watercolor of Ajijic as the cover art for my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, first published by Editorial Agata in 1993).

Georg Rauch was a consummate professional artist, one who was sufficiently successful throughout his career to live by his art alone. In conversation, he would sometimes interject a truly outrageous statement, but his wry sense of humor masked a considerable political perspicuity and an intense desire to interrogate the world around him.

In the 1980s, Georg and Phyllis Rauch expanded their home and opened the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas, where Phyllis continues to welcome visitors, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.

Georg Rauch’s work can be found in the collections of many major international museums. His numerous exhibitions include:

  • 1952 Konzerthaus in Vienna (first solo exhibition); and the Kűnstlerclub, Vienna.
  • 1953 to 1968 : London; París; Stuttgart; Vienna; Dusseldorf.
  • 1968 New York (Gallery York)
  • 1968, 1970 Galería Lepe, Puerto Vallarta
  • 1973 Toronto; Los Angeles
  • 1975 Guadalajara: Galería Pere Tanguy
  • 1977 Ajijic (Galeria del Lago)
  • 1979 Mexico D.F. (Alianza Francesa)
  • 1980, 1989 Puerto Vallarta (Galeria Uno)
  • 1982 Tucson, Arizona (Davis Gallery); Acapulco Convention Center
  • 1983 Guanajuato (University of Guanajuato)
  • 1984 Mexico City (Galeria Ultra)
  • 1986 Aarau, Switzerland
  • 1987 San Miguel de Allende
  • 1988 Guadalajara (major retrospective at Instituto Cultural Cabañas)
  • 1990 Munich (2)
  • 2000 Guadalajara (Ex-Convento del Carmen)
  • ???? Guadalajara (Galería Vertice) year-long traveling show, called Austrian Artists in Mexico, including works by Rauch, Fritz Riedl, Ginny Riedl and others.
  • 2007 Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)
  • 2014-2015 Guadalajara (Palacio del Gobierno del Estado); Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)

For more images of works by Georg Rauch, see Georg Rauch: Artist in Mexico gallery.

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 312015
 

David and Helen Morris were well-known potters who lived for several years in Guadalajara and Ajijic in the late 1940s and early 1950s, before moving to the San Francisco Bay area of California.

David Morris was born in 1911 in Washington D.C., where his father was a doctor at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Morris graduated from Georgetown University and was then employed in the city to head the arts section of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal program, in the 1930s. This is when he first met Helen, a dance student. The couple married in 1937, and spent their honeymoon in Mexico.

During the second world war, Morris served in the U.S. armed forces in Europe and the Pacific. After the war, they returned to the Washington D.C. area for a short time where David Morris studied at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, presumably on G.I. Bill funds. He transferred his G.I. Bill tuition for a Masters degree in Fine Arts to the University of Guadalajara and the couple moved to Mexico in the late 1940s. (Their son Nicholas was born in about 1949).

David Morris had several works – one tempera, one watercolor, one monotype, and four ceramic pieces – included in the end-of-academic-year exhibition at the Fine Arts school of the University of Guadalajara in June 1951.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

The family subsequently settled in Ajijic (they were definitely living there by mid-1951), where they became active members of the area’s growing artistic colony of the early 1950s. At this time, David was better known as a painter, though the couple were beginning to develop their extraordinary skills as potters. Among his Mexican paintings is an oil on board, entitled “Railroad Station at Lake Chapala”, dated to 1950, which was sold at auction in California in 2009.

While in Ajijic, the couple were good friends of black American painter Ernest Alexander (“Alex”), who ran the Bar Alacrán (Scorpion Bar) in Ajijic. Alex, his common-law wife Dolly and their son Luke, moved to the San Francisco Bay area at about the same time as David and Helen Morris did.

The couple returned to California in 1953, where they became political activists and began to work together as potters. Living and working initially at 701, Humboldt Street, David and Helen Morris began to produce exquisite ceramic pieces that quickly gained national attention.

David Morris was active on the committee behind the Sausalito Art Festival, held in November 1956, on the Casa Madroño grounds, and even performed as a singer at that festival. He continued to be actively involved in organizing several other Sausalito Art Festivals, including those held in May 1957, October 1957 (which drew record crowds of almost 20,000 over three days) and June 1958.

In June 1957, Morris was the spokesperson for a group of 60 freelance artists who objected to the regulations imposed for exhibitors by the organizers of the annual Marin Art and Garden Show, which, despite receiving public monies was open only to paid-up members of the Marin Society bf Artists. The freelance artists argued that entry should be open to all regardless of whether or not they were members; their petition was upheld by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

They were riding the crest of success when, in 1960, their first joint studio, in a former boatyard in Sausalito, California, was totally destroyed by fire. According to the last verse of a song written shortly afterwards by Malvina Reynolds, the blaze was not without its silver lining:

In the midst of smoke and ruin, old David Morris stands,
A look of wonder on his face, a pot shard in his hands,
It has a wond’rous color never seen on hill or plain,
And they’ll have to burn the boatyard down to get that glaze again.

(From “Sausalito Fire” by Malvina Reynolds, 1960. The song was published in her Little Boxes and Other Handmade Songs)

Undeterred for long, David and Helen Morris soon built a new studio in Larkspur, where they would go on to craft more than 10,000 pieces of stoneware and porcelain, some of which found their way into the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, and other museums.

The couple worked closely together and shared a single wheel in their studio. A contemporary account says that while David worked on the larger pieces, Helen crafted the smaller, more delicate forms. According to art critic Tom Albright, David Morris was particularly adept at creating “rich, lush glazes”, based on ancient Chinese techniques.

David and Helen Morris and their work were regularly featured in ceramics-related magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. For example the April 1960 issue of Ceramics Monthly had a photograph of the couple at work in their studio on its cover, and an illustrated 3-page feature article about them and the “crystalline” stoneware glazes they had developed.

Despite their aversion to taking part in juried shows, their stoneware won numerous awards, including a first prize in the Berkeley Art Show in July 1957.  In April 1958, David Morris was invited by the Artist League of Vallejo to highlight the official opening of their new building in Vallejo.

Helen Morris (born 24 February 1917) died on 6 December 1992, aged 75 years; David Morris died on 26 January 1999, his 88th birthday.

  • Design Quarterly. 1958. “Eighty-Two American Ceramists and Their Work” in Design Quarterly 42-43.
  • Malvina Reynolds. 1960. Little Boxes and Other Handmade Songs.
  • Sausalito News: 28 September 1956; 2 November 1956; 9 February 1957; 22 June 1957; 29 June 1957; 6 July 1957; 24 August 1957; 26 October 1957; 18 January 1958; 5 April 1958.
  • Stephen Schwartz. 1999. Obituary “David Morris“.  25 February 1999.
  • Yoshiko Uchida. 1957. Helen and David Morris: Pottery is Their Business, in Craft Horizons, December 1957 (Vol 17 #6)
  • Oppi Untracht. 1960. “David and Helen Morris”, in Ceramics Monthly, April 1960, (Vol 8 #4)
Mar 022015
 

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. Shortly afterwards, Mary Fuller wrote three detective novels, one of which was set in the Guadalajara art scene, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

She also wrote many short stories, poems, and articles, published in various prominent arts magazines including Art Digest, Artforum, Art in America, Craft Horizons, and American Craft. She was, at one time or another, a staff writer at Currant, a researcher for the Archives of American Art, a Ford Foundation Fellow and the recipient of the 1975 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Critic’s Grant. Another of her books, A Period of Exploration (Oakland Museum 1973), was written to accompany an exhibition of ab-ex (abstract expressionism) works from the San Francisco art scene from 1945-50.

rayter-stab-in-the-dark-coverIn the 1950s, McChesney wrote several detective novels, three of which were published, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

These included The Victim Was Important (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954) and Asking for Trouble (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), both of which featured Private Investigator Johnny Powers, and Stab in the Dark (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), a murder mystery set in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Stab in the Dark is about murder, infidelity, and dope-peddling among a group of oddball expatriate artists in Guadalajara. The Kirkus Review of the book describes how “An excess of loose libido-tossing, alcohol, sex and art accompanies the death of Mike Cowper, about to become a cocaine pusher, in  Guadalajara. The Mexican Inspector is not slow; young Madelene has to track down her  husband and escape attack; Payne, a painter, and his wife get free of their little daughter’s death; and Madelene looses the marriage bonds for another heart interest. An AWFUL lot of running around.”

While Stab in the Dark is hardly a masterpiece, it is a fun read even today. The characters seem two-dimensional and their actions are somewhat predictable, but the book describes several expatriate artists working in Guadalajara at the time, and makes various mentions of the 1950s art scene in Guadalajara, including the “Galeria Moderna”, as well as the famed restaurant La Copa de Leche. The book also has a few scenes set in the coastal resort of “Puerto Ortega”.

Feb 122015
 

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. They moved to Mexico as a direct result of losing their jobs during the McCarthy era.

Mary Fuller McChesney was born 20 October 1922 in Wichita, Kansas. She grew up in Stockton, California and studied with Paul Marhenke at the University of California at Berkeley. During the second world war, she was a welder in the Richmond, California shipyard. Later, she apprenticed in ceramics pottery at the California Faience Company in Berkeley. She began to exhibit in 1947, and won first  prize at both the 6th and 8th Annual Pacific Coast Ceramic Shows (1947 and 1949).

Mary Fuller: Frog and Owl

Mary Fuller Sculpture of Frog and Owl (Photo credit: Kurt Rogers, SFGate)

She married fellow artist Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008), in December 1949 and the couple lived initially in the North Bay subregion of San Francisco.

After deciding to head for Mexico in 1951, they sold Mary Fuller’s house, bought a Model A Ford mail truck, and headed south complete with all their belongings. Safely across the border, they decided to write “artistas” on the side of their vehicle. Robert McChesney later told a reporter that, “People on the side of the road would wave at us. Kids would come running out of their house to see us. It wasn’t until later that we learned that Mexicans used the word artista to mean ‘movie actor’.” (SFGate, 2002)

In a 1994 interview for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Mary Fuller McChesney recalled that the artists’ hangout in Ajijic at the time they were there was the Scorpion Club, run by Ernest Alexander, a black American painter from Chicago. Some of the artists “were going to the University of Guadalajara on the G.I. Bill. So– And some of them lived in Ajijic and they would go into Guadalajara once a week to pick up their checks and go in to school and that was about it.” The Scorpion Club was the popular watering-hole for “a bunch of writers, too. Some of them from New York. Some people who ran a bookstore. And they were published writers. And there was a mystery writer down there.” (Oral history interview with Mary Fuller McChesney, 1994 Sept. 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Best known as a sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney was also a writer. Besides numerous short stories, poems and art history articles, she wrote several detective novels, including Stab in the Dark, set in the 1950s Guadalajara art scene.

On their return from Mexico in 1952, Mary Fuller and her husband began building their home on an acre of land near the top of the Sonoma Mountain in Petaluma. Largely self-taught as an artist, Mary Fuller McChesney had started to sculpt in the 1940s. She created many of her best-known projects in the grounds of their home on Sonoma Mountain. Many of her sculptures are made from a special mixture of vermiculite, sand, cement and water, which is then carved directly using a knife and rasp.

Much of her work is “reminiscent of pre-Columbian sculpture and African art, which profoundly influence her aesthetic and artistic guides.”

Her unique sculptures of enchanting animals and mythological women have been exhibited at numerous museums and galleries throughout the USA, and in Mexico. Her work can be seen in many public spaces, as well as in museums and private collections. Her public sculpture commissions in California include works for the Petaluma Library, the San Francisco Zoo, the San Francisco General Hospital, Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Salinas Community Center, Andrew Hill High School in San Jose, Department of Motor Vehicles in Yuba City, and Squaw Valley.

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 182014
 

Margaret Van Gurp, a well known artist from eastern Canada, was born in Delft, Netherlands, 6 December 1926. She moved to Canada in 1953.

She visited her daughter Susan Van Gurp in Jocotepec for 3 weeks in 1983. Susan Van Gurp was teaching at the Lakeside School for the Deaf, now the Centro De Atencion Multiple Gallaudet (“Gallaudet Special Education Center”) from 1982-1984.

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

During Margaret Van Gurp’s visit, she produced a series of pen and ink drawings of the students at the school, as well as other people in the town. Van Gurp also painted several charming watercolors of life in the town.

Van Gurp’s early art education (1945-1947) was under Gillis van Oosten in Delft, Netherlands. She also took courses at the College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, studied portrait sculpture in clay under Allison McNeil, and (1980) studied portraiture under David Leffel and Robert Philipp at the Art Students League of New York in the U.S. Her art has been widely shown in Eastern Canada.

Margaret Van Gurp has also illustrated books, such as Acadian Awakenings, and sculpted and painted mannequin heads for Parks Canada exhibits at several locations, including Castle Hill, Newfoundland; Citadel Hill Museum, Halifax; Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

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