Dear Friends of Diego,
It is with deep regret that I report that Julia Bergman, my Diego Rivera research partner, passed away peacefully on Monday January 9th after a long struggle with chronic health issues.
I had already been at City College for 18 years when I first met her. As she put it, we were “joined at the hip” for the next 20 years. She was the real deal. As a librarian she helped and mentored many people. As an advocate for City College, she was ferocious. As an integral member of the Central Asia institute, she lovingly created girl’s schools and libraries high in the Karakorum Mountains of northern Pakistan. She co-wrote the history of City College. It’s not often you have a hero, who also calls you friend. Our telepathy and synchronicity were manifest. People would ask, “How did you do that?” We had enough sense not to take credit. The cosmos loved us and we just had to stay out of the way.
As the archivist for the Diego Rivera Mural Project, she created a collection of this unique part of Diego Rivera’s life, which is unparalleled. Scholars come from all over to utilize it. When we first got together, I would discover a new insight and want to hoard it, like a squirrel with an acorn. “No,” said the librarian, “we must share it.” She, of course, was right. Putting it out there brought multiple rewards.
She was excited about our planned trip next month to Mexico City, where we had gone multiple times. On our first visit many years ago, she taught me how to drink Tequila. On that visit we went to Teotihuacan, the vast complex outside Mexico City. We hired a driver in a van to take us. He asked if he could bring his nephew. “Of course.” Before the nephew and I sprinted to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, she said, “Don’t wait on me. I’m built for comfort, not speed!” After ½ an hour at the top, just as we were about to descend, here came Julia over the top. Attached are pictures of the pyramid and Julia and me on top of the world.
For the last couple of years, we had been very much aware of our mortality as we became the last two working members of the Diego Rivera Mural Project. We became very active in “institutionalizing the project, before we were institutionalized.” To that end last semester she gave up the Chair of the CCSF Works of Art Committee she had held for 20 years. The amount of good done for the College’s art collection during her tenure is well-documented. Attached is a picture of Julia and me at the Art Deco Society of California’s Preservation Ball, where we were honored with the 2015 Michael Crowe Preservation Award.
Last summer Julia and I took a long-awaited trip to Canada to pore over the “lost“ Diego Rivera papers we had found after a 15 year search. It took us an additional 3 years to find a window around our mutual caregiving responsibilities. She is the only person in the world I would have trusted to read half of the 2000 page collection. We had a very successful trip. Locked in a windowless room in the bowels of a museum, we would tell each other, “Listen to this” and “Oh, that’s good!” On our last brightly lit day at an outdoor café with majestic mountains about us, we drank a toast: “To our friendship and to not leading a diminished life.” I rejoice in her life, well and generously lived.