Leonard and Reva Brooks

Leonard and Reva Brooks: Artists in Exile in San Miguel de Allende

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 488
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Leonard and Reva Brooks
    Book Description:

    Virtue describes how they were caught up in the McCarthy era of Communist witch hunts and blacklisted in the United States. He details their close friendships with luminary figures such as Marshall McLuhan, Earle Birney, and the Mexican art icon David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as a host of others. As Leonard became a fixture in the Mexican art scene Reva's photography quickly garnered international recognition, applauded by photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. In 1975 the San Francisco Museum of Art selected her as one of the top fifty female photographers of all time.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6983-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    The biography of Leonard and Reva Brooks is an adventure story in its own right. I cannot quickly think of any element it does not contain. Rags to riches, yes, it's there. Deportations, shootouts, spy and CIA factors, all there. Murders, murder attempts, suicide, the sexual picaresque, marital devotion, failures, triumphs, all duly accounted for. Not to mention an attendant array of personalities, non-personalities, life-clowns, and philosophers.

    Leonard and Reva Brooks each came of poor, not to say impoverished, backgrounds. And each received scant education. They ended up hobnobbing with the nabobs, ambassadors, and other artists as distinguished as themselves....

  4. Author’s Note
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. PART ONE Beginnings
    (pp. 1-36)

    They took an immediate dislike to each other, or so they believed at the time. At age twenty-three, he was seemingly a worldly artist, long hair, reddish beard, a black Basque beret perched insouciantly on his rather large head. He prided himself on his bohemian persona, although streetcar riders would jerk his chin whiskers and indecorously call him “nanny goat,” so unusual was a beard in staid Toronto 1934. She, too, wore a beret, brown, matching her skirt, as befitting the twenty-one-year-old company secretary that she was. She wore no makeup, but needed none to highlight her best feature, her...

  6. PART TWO A Career Is Launched
    (pp. 37-68)

    Cattle boats were the Great Depression era’s equivalent of the Cunard Line for impoverished artists, writers, professors, teachers, students, and those of lesser stations in life who wanted to escape to Europe. Although it was assumed one could work one’s way over, reality was different. Someone on the dock had to be bought off in order to obtain a working passage. Leonard Brooks and Evan Greene paid ten dollars each for the privilege of tending cattle on theManchester Citizenon the thirteen-day trans-Atlantic crossing. During that time they did not remove their clothes, even though they spent much of...

  7. PART THREE The War Years
    (pp. 69-92)

    Although Leonard Brooks did not enlist in the navy until 1943, he had been actively involved in the war effort at Northern Vocational for the previous three-and-a-half years. As soon as war was declared, the Toronto Board of Education assigned schools — especially technical schools such as Northern Vocational — the task of preparing students for their eventual military service with Cadet and National Defence Training. Teachers were encouraged to remain on the job and were trained to teach skills deemed necessary or useful for national security, such as aircraft identification. “I was doing more of that than teaching art,” Leonard recalled....

  8. PART FOUR A Photographer Is Born in Mexico
    (pp. 93-118)

    canada fought the Second World War not just on the battlefield, the skies and the seas but in the classroom and the workplace. The front-line troops in the battle back home were the war artists, whose reputations were being burnished in the process. The government considered their role in the war effort to be vital, especially building morale. During the Great Depression, art was out of the reach of most Canadians. Once the war artists were abroad, the National Gallery of Canada had three travelling exhibitions of their paintings, one of April-June 1944, being calledArtists for Victory.Reproductions and...

  9. PART FIVE Trouble in Paradise
    (pp. 119-162)

    The headline in theLifemagazine article 5 January 1948 read:


    Veterans go to Mexico to study art,

    live cheaply and have a good time

    More than 6,000 American veterans immediately applied to study at the fine arts school. This publicity given to San Miguel would eventually result in the closure of the school, a communist witchhunt and blacklistings of some in the United States.

    Who could deny the appeal of San Miguel, given this description byLifemagazine:

    To GI in u.s. colleges, crowding into Quonset huts and scrimping on their $65-a-month government subsistence, the Escuela Llniversitaria...

  10. PART SIX Disappointments and Difficult Decisions
    (pp. 163-180)

    For Leonard and Reva Brooks, the aftermath of the deportation brought an end to their travels with Stirling Dickinson. A combination of factors prompted the distancing of the Brooks from Dickinson. Their differences in Laredo might have affected their relationship. Then, when Leonard stopped teaching, he lost the daily contact with Dickinson, which obviously inhibited invitations to travel. Although they remained friends, the warmth and intimacy were gone. The big loser was Reva, for arguably her best work was done in the 1947-50 period when the Brooks travelled with Dickinson in his jeep and she would wanter off with her...

  11. PART SEVEN A Writer Takes the Stage
    (pp. 181-220)

    The rebirth that Leonard had contemplated when he destroyed his papers in now meant he had no income from teaching and would have to live on sales of his paintings and, he hoped, his writing. Reva had to become an aggressive marketer of his paintings, even if she often had to set aside her photography. She used to go down to the Posada de San Francisco, then the leading hotel in San Miguel, and collar arriving guests. She would show them leonard’s paintings on display in the hotel and invite the person to the studio for a private viewing. Leonard...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. PART EIGHT Emotional Strains
    (pp. 221-252)

    Dinner at No. 109 Quebrada Street ran longer than usual the evening of 13 may 1960 as the Brooks entertained York and Lela Wilson. After the meal, the two men lingered at the table drinking rum and talking art. Since Lela was a social drinker and Reva seldom touched alcohol, both wives were anxious for the evening to end. Reva’s signal that guests should withdraw was to remove ashtrays and any other objects in use. Lela kept referring to the hour Since her husband was ignoring her entreaties, Lela finally decided to join in the conversation, so she made a...

  14. PART NINE New Directions
    (pp. 253-270)

    While Leonard basked in the reception of his latest art book, Reva was becoming frustrated in her role as manager of of his artistic works, as opposed to his writing. She obviously had unrealistic expectations of his successful show at Arts; given the interest, she thought that he would be taken on by some major Mexican galleries. “I tried to do everything in bringing that about failure has been bitter for me,” she said.¹ Although Reva talked to Mexico gallery owners at the show, none offered to represent Leonard. She then approched Inez Amor, who owned the Galerína de Arte...

  15. PART TEN No Joking Matter
    (pp. 271-288)

    Those who knew artist Fred Taylor best inevitably used the same three words to describe him: a perfect gentleman. Frederick Bourchier Taylor would not hava wanted it any other way, nor would his upbringing have permitted him to comport himself otherwise. There was one man who knew how to pierce the genteel armour of Fred Taylor: Leonard Brooks. For Leonard, Fred enjoyed all the advantages denied him: family wealth, respectability, refined upbringing, university education, and even a scholarship to study abroad. “Most people have to struggle to overcome, compared to Fred, who had everything presented a platter,” Leonard said. “He...

  16. PART ELEVEN Troubled Travels
    (pp. 289-312)

    It was ken Harvey’s idea. The Sacramento orchestra leader suggested that a musicians get together and play music on a slow boat to Italy, via the panama Canal. Leonard and Reva quickly signed on. But they were unable to to San Francisco, the port of departure for the Italian freighterAntonio Pacinotti,so they arranged to board it in Mazatlán, Mexico. They took a midnight taxi to Celaya where they caught a train to Mazatlan and, on 22 February 1971 embarked with four suitcases, Leonard’s violin, Reva’s camera case and a canvas bag with painting gear. Two other San Miguel...

  17. PART TWELVE Recognition at Last
    (pp. 313-348)

    The letters letters sent to Reva Brooks from California could not have been more different. The first was from photographer Ansel Adams, threatening to cancel her membership in the Friends of Photography, of which he was president, paid her dues.¹ The second was from the San Francisco Museum of Art, which selected Reva as one of the top fifty women photographers of all time. The museum was then unaware of it, but Reva’s photographic career was already behind her, as evidenced by her lack of interest in continuing her association with the California movement led by Adams, who had succeeded...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 349-376)
  19. Chronology
    (pp. 377-382)
  20. Exhibitions
    (pp. 383-386)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 387-389)
  22. Index
    (pp. 390-396)