Children’s Art Program

Children’s Art Program

By Garry Musgrave


Portrait-of-Neill-James-sepiaA Brief History of the Children’s Art Program


The story of the Children’s Art Program starts with one remarkable person… Neill James.

In 1943, she came to Ajijic to recuperate from an injury suffered in Michoacán. She fell in love with the people and the place, and settled here.

Neill founded the first public library in Chapala, and then in Ajijic. She developed a water purifying system, dug the first deep water wells, helped install both electricity and telephone services, started a local weaving industry, and set up schools for local children’s education.

In 1954, she started the Children’s Art Program. She would insist that the children read or do homework for at least 15 minutes, and then she’d let them paint. She soon hired a teacher, Angelita Aldana Padilla, to supervise the children and teach them art. Neill personally paid for many of her most talented children’s university education.

In 1955, Neill James was one of 31 foreigners who began an organization that would eventually become The Lake Chapala Society. Before her death in 1994, she donated her house and lands to LCS.

Portrait-of-Mildred-Boyd-by-Javier-ZaragozaAnother remarkable woman, Mildred Boyd, also figures prominently in the program’s history. In her impressive life, Mildred was a showgirl, a model, a draftsperson, an electrical engineer, a pilot, an author, and an inventor. In 1983, she moved to Mexico, eventually settling in Ajijic. In 1990, she took over the Children’s Art Program from the ailing Neill James. Mildred led the Program until she died in 2010.


The Program’s 60th Anniversary


2014 marked the 60th anniversary of the Children’s Art Program. As a testament to its success over the past seven decades, a surprising number of local artists who attended the Program as children are still working today. These include: José Abarca, Antonio Cardenas, Efren Gonzales, Ricardo Gonzalez, Antonio López Vega, Jesús López Vega, Bruno Mariscal, Juan Navarro, Arnulfo Nuñez Barajas, Juan Olivares, Lucia Padilla, Daniel Palma, Javier Ramos, Victor Romero, and Javier Zaragoza.

The Lake Chapala Society maintains a collection of children’s art from all decades of the program. To celebrate the anniversary, part of this collection was displayed in a 10-day exhibition at the Ajijic Cultural Centre in late October and early November of last year. As well, many of the working artists from the program’s legacy showed some of their new work at the exhibition.


The Program Today – Creating Artists for the Future


Today, the Children’s Art Program is run by a group of hard-working volunteers. Between 50 and 100 local children come to the art patio at the rear of the Lake Chapala Society grounds for free art lessons and special projects every Saturday morning from 10am to noon – rain or shine. This LCS program is also supported generously by the Ajijic Society of the Arts.

In addition to weekly classes, the program sells the children’s art (the proceeds are shared with the young artists), carries out art contests, gives the kids special projects, and holds an annual week-long Art Camp every July (with intensive workshops covering various art forms). Local artists Jesús López Vega, Antonio López Vega, and Javier Zaragoza, all graduates of the program when they were children, along with many other volunteers, routinely help and teach the young artists.

The focus of the program is to continue Neill James’s legacy, and create future generations of working artists to make sure Ajijic continues as an art colony. The program does this by encouraging the children to develop their creativity and artistic skills, teaching them basic techniques, demonstrating the business of art sales and copyright, and assisting them with funding their continuing education through the LCS Student Aid Program.

Some of our students already make an income from their art. A few have experienced a taste of the life of a working artist by negotiating book illustration contracts and carrying out commissions for paintings and murals.


How You Can Help


The Children’s Art Program is always in need of volunteers to help supervise the kids (no art experience needed), to teach classes in various art techniques, to help give one-on-one guidance, or to devise and teach special projects (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Independence Day, or Christmas). We are especially short of volunteers during the “low season” from March through October.

If you can’t help by volunteering, the program always needs donations of art supplies, materials for special projects, or cash. The cash is used to buy art supplies for the kids, and to fund the many expenses involved in the annual week-long Art Camp. The Art Camp hosts more than 100 kids over five days, and there is no charge for the children to be there.

If you are interested in volunteering or donating, please email

For more information about the program in general, visit the web site at:

For those who missed the exhibition, the entire Legacy Collection of over 400 drawings and paintings is viewable in an online database on the LCS web site. You can see it by typing this in your internet browser:



Xmas Ornament Project
Proud of Snowman


Xmas Ornament Project
Hard At Work


Selling Cards & Art at an ASA Plaza Show


60th Anniversary Exhibition – Legacy Artists


July Art Camp – Paper Maché Class 1


July Art Camp – Paper Maché Class 2


Independence Day Project


July Art Camp – Jewellery Class


Dec 2014- Stars of the Program


Kids at Work on LCS Art Patio – Typical Saturday

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

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