Aug 312017
 

Frederick Starr (1858-1933), born in Auburn, New York, was a distinguished American anthropologist who visited Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896.

Starr, whose primary scientific background was in geology, graduated from Lafayette College in 1882 and was appointed as a biology professor at Coe College.

In 1889, as his academic interests shifted towards ethnology and anthropology, he accepted a post at the American Museum of Natural History. A few years later he was asked to organize anthropological teaching at the University of Chicago. Starr was Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago from 1892 until 1923, a decade before his death in Tokyo, Japan, on August 14, 1933.

A passionate anthropologist, with a particular enthusiasm for fieldwork, his research on several continents led to such diverse works as The Truth about the Congo (1907), In Indian Mexico, A narrative of Travel and Labor (1908) and Japanese proverbs and pictures (1910).

Frederick Starr in 1909.

Frederick Starr in 1909.

In Indian Mexico has extensive descriptions of Lake Pátzcuaro, Uruapan, Zamora and many smaller villages. A contemporary reviewer described this book as: “the work of a keen observer, whose description of the picturesque customs of the Mexican Indians has a deeper significance than a mere collection of interesting details. Combining the qualities of the trained ethnologist with a rare sense of the picturesque, he has given us an altogether admirable book.” American novelist Charles Embree (who wrote a novel set at Lake Chapala) wrote an appendix to In Indian Mexico.

Prior to In Indian Mexico, it had been assumed that traditional methods of making paper from tree bark were extinct in Mexico. Starr, however, discovered that the ancient craft was still practiced (as it is even today) in the Otomi village of San Pablito in the state of Hidalgo.

Prior to Starr’s three-month visit to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896, he was quoted in The Salt Lake Herald as saying:

“I will first go to Guadalajara to study a submerged city in Lake Chapala, and “Mountain Idiots’ inhabiting the mountains nearby. This is a race of dwarfs which has been studied very little and my intention is to try to determine whether these people are racially small or have become so by disease. I will have the assistance of Archbishop Gillow, an authority on the dwarf races. In the interior of Guatemala the pigmies are said to live in caves and holes in the ground and speak languages not known to white men.”

This quote throws up various interesting sidebars. Rumors of a submerged city in Lake Chapala had been circulating for a while in the U.S., presumably mainly on the evidence of the large amount of pottery fragments recovered from the lake bed whenever the water level fell. Archbishop Gillow is a particularly interesting figure in Mexican history, whose story is told in chapter 22 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique.

"Dog" figurine (10 cm in length). Drawing by M.K. Seralian.

“Dog” figurine (10 cm in length) from Lake Chapala. (Drawing by M.K. Seralian)

Following his short visit to Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896. Starr’s research paper, The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico described (with illustrations by M. K. Seralian) ollitas and other pottery items found near Jocotepec at the western end of the lake. He collected and studied 261 individual specimens and considered several alternative possibilities before concluding that they are likely to be “offerings made
to the lake itself or some spirit resident there-in?”

Starr recognized that changes in lake level might be common and more than sufficient to explain why the pieces were now found at some distance from the current shoreline:

“So far as their presence in the lake is concerned it is possible that the lake’s level may have risen, covering an original place of deposit on the dry land. The spot is almost within sight of the active volcano of Colima, and changes of level, through volcanic or other igneous agency, in the waters of the lake are not improbable. The old schoolmaster at Chapala insists that the town of Chapala has long been slowly sinking, and that half of it has already been engulfed by the lake. He also claims that the god formerly worshipped at Chapala was a little god, a child god, and that the little vessels were offerings to him.”

In December 1895, mid-way through his visit, Starr attended a performance of the Pastores (Shepherds), a Passion Play in Chapala . Starr included a detailed description of this event in an article published the following year in The Journal of American Folklore. Starr considered it to be “probably entirely foreign”, compared to Tastoanes and Conquista festivities which combined Indian and imported elements. According to Starr:

“The play is fairly recent at Chapala. Only a few years ago a young fellow from the village saw it at some other town; he learned it by heart and trained his band of actors. This illustrates the way in which dramas travel – even in Mexico – from town to town.”

Fifty years later, another anthropologist, George Barker, was to witness (and later write about) another unique aspect of Chapala’s Christmas-time celebrations.

This profile is based on an extract from chapter 40 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Sources / References:

  • The Salt Lake Herald: 16 November 1895.
  • Starr Frederick. 1896. “Celebrations in Mexico.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 9 #34 (Jul-Sep 1896), pp 161-169.
  • Starr, Frederick. 1897. “The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico.” Department of Anthropology Bulletin II. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Starr, Frederick. 1908. In Indian Mexico: A Narrative of Travel and Labor. Front Cover · Frederick Starr. Forbes & Company.

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 272017
 

English etrepreneur, balloon pilot and writer Arnold Eiloart (1907-1981) lived in Ajijic from either late 1948 or early 1949 until 1950, and again from 1951 to April 1952.

Arnold Beaupré Eiloart, usually known as “Bushy”, was born on 23 August 1907, at Whiteway Colony, Gloucestershire, in a tent in the middle of a field. His middle name (French for beautiful meadow) honors his place of birth. Whiteway is a Socialist (Tolstoyan) experiment, started by a group of intellectuals in 1898 near Stroud in Gloucestershire, which survives to the present day. Arnold’s parents were among the six men and two women who founded the colony, which advocated barter and espoused money and property rights. Arnold’s parents left the group shortly after Arnold was born and returned to a more conventional life in Kingston, Surrey, where his father resumed his career as a university chemistry lecturer.

In 1934, Eiloart married Mary Elizabeth Stokes (born 1912, then aged 22) in Chelsea, London. She later became a doctor and dermatologist. Mary gave birth to twins – one named March and one named April: Timothy March Beaupre Eiloart and April Gail Aideen Eiloart – who had been expected to arrive in February, but came prematurely on 29 December 1936.

Eiloart gained his flying certificate on a Tiger Moth, Gypsy 130 at Brooklands Flying Club on 29 September 1939.

After the couple separated in about 1940, the children were sent out of London to live with their grandmother. When the war ended in 1945, they returned to live with their mother in London, where she was then working as a doctor.

Eiloart and his first wife divorced in about 1946. He was later briefly married to artist Juliet Boggis-Rolfe (1917-1982), better known by her maiden name of Juliet McLeod.

It is unclear how Eiloart first heard about Ajijic, and the attractions of living there, but it is possible that this was from the London literary and theater circles in which he and business partner, author Peter Elstob, moved. In his daughter’s words, “Bushy dreamed of being a writer but did not have Peter’s flare.”

In 1946, Eiloart and Elstob teamed up with actor Alec Clunes to raise £20,000 for the lease on the Arts Theatre in London. After buying the lease there was only enough money for one production: Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. Fortunately, this was a financial success, and enabled them to finance several other plays, including the first production of The Lady’s Not For Burning by Christopher Fry.

The London theater and writing set at this time would have included friends of Nigel Millet and  Peter Lilley who had teamed up as “Dane Chandos” to write Village in the Sun (first published in the U.K. in 1945), their month-by-month account of building a home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, just to the east of Ajijic.

Millet lived in Ajijic from 1937 to his death in 1946. Prior to moving to Mexico, he had written (as “Richard Oke”) a biography, and several plays and novels, including Frolic wind (1929), a satirical gay comedy novel that was turned into a West End stage production in 1935. A revived run of Frolic wind began on 10 November 1948 at Boltons Theatre, Kensington.

Eiloart flew from London to New York in November 1948 and reached Ajijic in late 1948 or early 1949. He lived there for at least eighteen months until September 1950, and returned to Ajijic to live there again from 1951 to April 1952.

In Ajijic, Eiloart partnered Elstob to form “Peter Arnold”, a joint venture that promoted Ajijic as a vacation and retirement destination. Participants were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed. (Their joint real estate company in the U.K., “Peter Arnold Properties”, was active into the 1970s.)

The available evidence suggests that Eiloart arrived first in Ajijic, in either late 1948 or early 1949, with Elstob joining him there late in 1949. Eiloart’s daughter, Gail Eiloart, remembers visiting her father in Ajijic from August 1949 to September 1950. She sailed from Southampton as an unaccompanied 12-year-old on board the “Nieuw Amsterdam” to New York, where she was met by a family friend and put on a train south to be met by her father in Mexico City. She and her father left Mexico to return home the following year, taking a flight on 12 September 1950 from Monterrey to Brownsville, Texas.

Even though she was barely as teenager at the time, Gail Eiloart can still recall many of the characters she met during her twelve months in Ajijic, including violinist John Langley, artist Nick Muzenic, artist and explorer Toby Schneebaum, Herbert and Georgette Johnson and author Neill James. Helping her father at the Posada Ajijic was Dorothy (“Dolly”) Whelan, the partner of the artist Ernest Alexander.

Eiloart left Ajijic for the U.K. in April 1952, traveling with Peter Elstob, Barbara Zacheisz and their infant son, on board the Queen Elizabeth.

Eiloart with Colin and Rosemary Mudie, ca 1959. Credit: Getty Images.

Eiloart with Colin and Rosemary Mudie, ca 1959. Credit: Getty Images.

The two men’s next joint venture came in 1958, when Eiloart attempted a trans-Atlantic balloon flight from Tenerife to the West Indies.

The balloon had a four person crew – Eiloart, his son Tim, artist and sailor Colin Mudie and his wife Rosemary – with Peter Elstob keeping his feet on the ground and managing publicity. Eiloart had taken balloon training in the Netherlands, and may well have been the only British person holding a balloonist’s license at that time. The attempt ultimately failed, but set a record for a gas-powered balloon flight that stood for decades. The story of this extraordinary adventure is told in their joint book, The Flight of the Small World (1959).

Arnold Eiloart died 6 Feb 1981, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

[After his part in the balloon adventure, Eiloart’s son Timothy Eiloart (1936-2009), a chemical engineer, founded a series of companies, including Cambridge Consultants Ltd., the U.K.’s first independent contract research and development company. He later became actively involved in Green politics.]

Acknowledgments

  • Sincere thanks to Gail Eiloart for her assistance in sorting out the chronology of her father’s life.

Sources:

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

Jun 202016
 

American anthropologist Ralph Beals was traveling with fellow anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons (1875-1941), when they visited Chapala and Ajijic in December 1932.

The two anthropologists had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. Years later, Beals would adopt Parsons’ fieldwork methods and follow up on her pioneering work at Mitla, Oaxaca, subsequently publishing his findings as The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico (1975).

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon) They stayed in Chapala for about ten days.

beals-ralphParsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Ralph Beals, born in Pasadena, California on 19 July 1901, gained his doctorate in 1930 from the University of California at Berkeley, and after a brief stint in the National Park Service, taught at UCLA for 33 years, from 1936 to 1969. He founded the UCLA Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and served as its chairman in 1941-1948. He was later chairman of the UCLA Department of Anthropology, 1964-1965. Beals served as president of the American Anthropological Association, and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Grant.

beals-cheranBeals first visited Mexico in 1918-19 when he spent time in Sonora and Sinaloa. In 1932, he worked with the Yaqui and Mayo. Later, with Elsie Clews Parsons, he studied the Cora and Huichol in Nayarit, as well as the Mixe in Oaxaca. In 1938, he was a member of the multidisciplinary team that made a comprehensive study of the Tarascan Indians in Michoacán, to help formulate government policies and programs. During this project, Beals and various collaborators and assistants carried out extensive fieldwork in the town of Cherán.

His academic writings related to Mexico include: The Comparative Ethnology of Northern Mexico before 1750 (1932); The contemporary culture of the Cáhita Indians (1943); The aboriginal culture of the Cáhita Indians (1943); Houses and House Use of the Sierra Tarascans (1944); Cheran: A Sierra Tarascan Village (1946); No Frontier to Learning; the Mexican Student in the United States (1957); Ethnology of the Western Mixe (1973); The peasant marketing system of Oaxaca, Mexico (1975).

Ralph Beals died at his Los Angeles home on 24 February 1985, having made a truly distinguished contribution to the anthropology of indigenous groups in Mexico.

His brother Carleton Beals (1893-1979) also had a deep and long-term interest in Mexico, though no direct link to Lake Chapala. Carleton Beals was a journalist, historian, social activist and author, who founded the English Preparatory Institute in Mexico City in about 1920, and taught at the American High School. Following studies in Europe, Carleton returned to Mexico City as correspondent for The Nation. After separating from his wife, Carleton became romantically involved with Mercedes, the sister of renowned photographer and model Tina Modotti. Carleton Beals wrote more than 45 books, including biographies of Porfirio Díaz and Leon Trotsky. In 1938, Time Magazine called Carleton Beals, “the best informed and the most awkward living writer on Latin America.”

Sources:

  • Desley Deacon. 1999. Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (Univ. of Chicago Press)
  • Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt. 1992. Wealth and Rebellion: Elsie Clews Parsons, anthropologist and folklorist. 360 pages.

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.

 

  • 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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