"Friends of Diego" Newsletter
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and José María Morelos y Pavón in Pan American Unity.
Feliz Mexican Independence Day!
Dear Friends of Diego,
The Mexican Consulate and Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau kicked off the festivities a week early at a War Memorial Building reception. San Francisco’s City Hall will be lit up red, green, and white to honor the day. We had a chat at the opening of the Mexican Museum’s exhibition of Mexican Masks (at the Consulate till October 11), part of the museum’s Museo sin Muros program. She will visit the mural later this month. Also ran into Robert McDonald and Vivien Bertozzi of the Bond Latin Gallery. Their son Max created a video of our mural for their Gallery website. On my last visit to the gallery, Max showed me works by the great Mexican artist Francisco Toledo, who, sadly, passed away recently. Here is some of his work.
Happy birthday (September 27), Donald Cairns, the little boy in the lower center of the mural. Donald was “founded” in 1935, the same year as City College and SFMOMA. Donald and Kathé attended my JR talk at SFMOMA on August 9 and he got introduced to the audience.
Photo by Catherine Du Tiel, SFMOMA, August 9, 2019
Diego’s Bag of Tricks: The work round the mural, which started again July 1, has been a boon on many fronts. After returning home, Mexican photographer Ricardo Alvarado sent me books containing his work. It became apparent to me that Diego’s repertoire of imagery extended far past the examples I’d gleaned over the years. For example, the nudes and sun on the ceiling in the City Club’s 1931 Allegory of California are right from the 1927 Chapingo Chapel murals, as are the miners and the hand holding fruit.
A Mexican post-doc chemist, who came to analyze Rivera’s plaster and pigments, turned out to be my “cousin.” Miguel Ángel Máynez is from Valle de Allende, Chihuahua, my grandmother Herminia’s hometown (Miguel said it’s small and everyone is related). This, also, is the name of my late beloved mentor, Uncle Mike, a theater director. Everyone should have an Uncle Mike or an Auntie Mame.
My favorite UNAM mechanical design engineering professors Alejandro Ramirez Reivich and Pilar Corona Lira returned, along with one of their grad students. They recorded and analyzed vibrations induced in the mural and its frame by the coring work on the exterior concrete wall. Grad school fresco conservation interns from Italy and Malta helped clean the mural and map the giornata. All the information gathered will become layers on the photogrammetry images shot by Cultural Heritage Imaging and hosted at Stanford’s Digital Library. By late September the mural will again be available for viewing from the mezzanine. All these art professionals and more joined our local team in a symphony of cooperation and amistad, which felt like the “Summer of Love.”
Washington High School: The school board agreed not to destroy the Arnautoff murals. The NAACP, actor Danny Glover, and writer Alice Walker have come out in support of the murals, negating contentions that mural advocates supported a “white supremacist” narrative. Now, the task is to keep the murals uncovered. There is a fundraiser this September 17.
An interesting article on artist Agnes Pelton references women artists, who have surfaced in our research (and a couple that I know). Am hoping that connecting with California Desert Art might lead to information on Diego Rivera’s apocryphal visit(s) to Palm Springs.
Rick Tejada-Flores reminded me that the archives for his PBS American Masters Rivera in America documentary are available at the Washington University Film and Television archive in St. Louis.
Graciela Iturbide, famed Mexican photographer, will appear at the JCCSF, Sept. 26 in conversation with artist Enrique Chagoya. Saw a huge show of her work last January in Mexico City. This photo was taken when she visited the peoples in Juchitán, Oaxaca, at the invitation of Francisco Toledo.
Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas), Juchitán, Oaxaca, 1979.
Dana Galloway, a City College buddy, has sent me a listing for architect Timothy Pflueger at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park (Colma, CA.)
Sargent Johnson is also buried there. He currently has several pieces on display at SFMOMA’s 2nd floor gallery in addition to Forever Free. Sadly, the great artist’s grave has no marker. His concrete casting of athletes, cut out from our old gyms, are in storage at City College, awaiting a new site.
Forever Free, Sargent Johnson, 1933, SFMOMA
Twenty-three years ago, Tannis Reinhertz changed my life. My friend was the instructor in the Pierre Coste Dining Room (part of City College’s Culinary program), where I dined daily. There was a student-donated mural on the wall, which she told me was due for a change. With her class helping, we pried the panels off the wall. She then asked me what I was going to paint on the wall as a replacement? Though I had some ideas, the old Diego Rivera mural poster remaining alone on the wall gave me an idea. Using the photos for the poster, we could hang a large mural reproduction. Unfortunately, the photos were nowhere to be found. But, I soon met the late Julia Bergman, the Works of Art committee chair, just back off a sabbatical. The librarian offered to underwrite new mural photography to create a reproduction, on one condition; I had to join her committee. This jump-started a splendid twenty-year Diego Rivera collaboration with one of the finest people I’ve ever known.
Now, our dear Tannis has lost her long, heroic fight with cancer. Her request, so many years ago, pointed me down my destined road, the road taken. I will be forever grateful for her gift.
"There is a pool of good. No matter where you put in your drop, the whole pool rises."
Jean Franco and JR at SFMOMA opening, May 23, 2019.
Photo: Will Maynez
Dear Friends of Diego,
JR’s Chronicles of San Francisco got a splendid unveiling at SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery with many of the 1200 figures in the mural present. JR’s homage to Diego Rivera features a video of the French artist with his back to the audience, like Rivera in our mural, brushing on paste to “hang” photographic images. Bathing suited women allude to the swimmers in our mural, who look up at the diver, momentarily suspended in space…forever. Last year Time magazine designated JR one of the hundred most influential people in the world. In the June 3, 2019 Time issue, Chronicles of San Francisco is profiled. The museum has invited me to speak on Aug. 9 as part of Gallery Talks. The Roberts Family Gallery is free to the public and will feature our mural as part of an extensive Diego Rivera’s America exhibition in the fall of 2020.
Lots of work is going on at the mural in preparation for the move. The protective railing was taken down and aluminum scaffolding raised. Vertical side trim was removed, exposing edges of the mural unseen since 1961. Contractors removed interior plaster work below the mural and will be boring into the exterior walls to investigate how the mural panels are actually attached. There is always the gap between the architect’s neatly rendered plans and the reality of jockeying not-quite-square, massive steel and plaster panels into position. Since the installation work was poorly documented, we’ve already found some surprises.
NOTE: Due to all the delicate work being done on the mural, it will remain inaccessible to visitors throughout the summer.
Supervised by SFMOMA’s Head of Conservation Michelle Barger, art conservators Kiernan Graves and Anne Rosenthal are minutely assessing the condition of the fresco plaster from atop the scaffolding. Long-time supporter Anne was recently honored for her work restoring the WPA murals at the celebration of the Aquatic Park Bathhouse’s 80th anniversary. Locally, her work also includes Coit Tower, the Beach Chalet, and the other San Francisco Rivera murals.
Florentine conservator Francesca Piqué, whose 1999 mural assessment for the Getty Conservation Institute changed my life, came back to visit after 20 years. She and her conservator colleague, who has worked at the Louvre, commented on the incredible condition, after almost six decades, of the mural’s lower parts (the parts some might deem more susceptible to possible damage). Francesca, who now lives in Switzerland, came to enroll her son in City College! We’re already looking at him as a prospective mural docent. Our docents move on to further their education (you go, Helen and Vickie) and we need to recruit. Everyone is welcome to sign up for the wide variety of classes the College offers and apply to be a docent.
Cultural Heritage Imaging will shoot the previously unseen mural parts to augment their photogrammetric work, a comprehensive 3-D image of the mural’s surface. This work, hosted at Stanford’s Digital Library, will inform the conservators’ work. Old bungalows on the north side of the theatre have been demolished, clearing the path for the murals extrication in about a year. X-ray analysis will reveal any undocumented, embedded metal in the panels. Spectroscopic analysis of the pigments, fresco plaster and cement substrate is an upcoming task for a visiting Mexican scientific team.
Director Arthur Dunkelman of the Jay I. Kislak Foundation sent along an article about similar analytical work done on Rivera Popol Vuh watercolors by the Library of Congress. All this quantitative data is a benchmark for the future. The LOC recently contacted us to inquire about Rivera intellectual property rights issues. Their website has an interesting article, “Exploring the Early Americas.”
Dualities is a recurring theme in Diego and Frida’s work. Right now in the mural world we are embroiled on the other hand in a fight to save the Victor Arnautoff murals at Washington High School from being whitewashed. An April 11 NYT article on the issue garnered almost 800 comments. I made an “appearance” on KQED’s Forum in April. On April 26 the WSJ had an op-ed piece defending the murals. The Washington Post reported on this as well. As a Diego Rivera investigator, the destroyed “Rockefeller mural” is always the elephant in the room. This issue has invoked responses from Russia, Germany, and the National Coalition Against Censorship, which includes the Directors Guild of America. First Nation support for the mural has been offered in a video by Robert Tamaka Bailey, a Choctaw elder. Professor Dewey Crumpler, who painted a mural in response to previous controversy, offers commentary. We’re hoping a non-destructive solution to the impasse can be devised.
Lope Yap, Jr, VP of the Washington H.S. Alumni Association, sends word that the SFUSD Board will put the GWHS Murals on the Committee Meeting agenda on Tuesday, June 18th - 5:00PM (The Mural issue is first up on the Agenda. 30 Minutes allowed for both sides of the issue.)
San Francisco Unified School District
Irving G. Breyer Board Meeting Room
555 Franklin Street, First Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
On Tuesday, June 25th there will be a Final Vote, but no Public discussion.
There will be a free Historic Preservation panel on Beyond the Controversy: The George Washington High School Murals and the Removal of Public Art, Tuesday, July 9 at 7:30 PM at ILWU Local 34 Hall – 801 2nd St. next to Oracle Park, SF. We recently met with filmmakers interested in doing a segment on the issue as part of a documentary on WPA murals.
Bird Levy sends word that her annual Pasion de Frida exhibit will open Tuesday, July 9, 5-8 pm @ at Puerto Alegre at 546 Valencia Street. Has a recording of Frida’s voice been found? Some think not.
The first two figures Rivera wanted to include in our mural were Robert Fulton, inventor of a working steamboat, and Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and Morse code. Now celebrating their 175th anniversary, these two Morse inventions obliterated time by making messaging almost instantaneous; more akin to text messaging than transporting messages on horseback. Rivera loved that these great inventors were painters, who reconciled Art and Science.
Anne Schnoebelen, vice president of the Treasure Island Museum, sends along a link to an aerial view of Treasure Island, where our mural was created.
(Photo: Will Maynez)
Our Frida Garden’s paint job has been renewed by City College staff. The Pacifica statue and Olmec head were power-washed. A special thank you to VC Kristina Whalen for nursing that project along. She is moving on from the College, but very much left a legacy in helping organize the Diego Rivera Mural Project by establishing protocols in the seven years since I “retired.”
We look forward to an upcoming visit by new Mexican Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau to renew our joint commitment to the mural as elucidated in our 2011 MOU.
The mural is on a long journey through time and we’re hitching a ride for a few decades.
Mural by Cobre ART
Dear Friends of Diego,
As San Francisco’s Mission district gets gentrified beyond recognition, there’s some push back. Jean Franco just alerted me to a new mural; it appears Diego and Frida are watching! (200 block of San Carlos).
Got a message from muralist Juana Alicia that she is bringing her art class to see the mural next week. In talking about our mural, I like to point out that what México brought to the “Marriage“ was continuity of culture, especially in its plastic arts (painting, sculpture, jewelry, etc.) We have a 9 foot high, 14 ton replica of a 3000 year old Olmec head.
It occurred to me that Juana is the heir of that continuity. The Women’s Building on 18th Street is a local treasure, a frequent stop on my neighborhood walks. Santuario/Sanctuary, her fresco painting at the San Francisco International Airport, is a collaboration with our friend artist Emmanuel Catarino Montoya, who created the sculptures. The Discovery Channel approached us and is coming next month to do a segment on Dudley Carter’s Goddess of the Forest, which is across from the mural in the lobby of the Diego Rivera Theatre. I contacted Emmanuel, who as a CCSF art student helped Dudley restore his pieces on campus. Some more continuity.
Note: Few of the artists who created the murals for which the Mission is famous, can afford to live here and many of the artistic legacies are being orphaned.
April 4, 2019 at Mechanics Institute GGIE 80th Anniversary Lectures (I’ll be speaking at 3 pm.)
A separate Evening party follows at 6-8 pm.
On May 23, 2019 SFMOMA will host the public unveiling of JR’s The Chronicles of San Francisco. All 1200 people in the video mural are invited.
On Aug. 9, 2019 at noon, I will give a talk at SFMOMA at JR’s mural.
My Treasure Island Museum talk is re-scheduled to November 16, 2019.
Starting in April, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are free to San Francisco residents on Saturday’s.
Another concrete benefit of the photogrammetry work done by Cultural Heritage Imaging is the support they obtained from Stanford’s Digital Library. The huge mural files are stored there and Artist Rights Society has provided clearances.
Although the files are neot yet available to the public, using Stanford’s new Mirador viewer, I took a peek and found “Mona Schröder” painted onto the balustrade to the right of the image of Mona Hofmann in the mural’s panel 2. (The resolution is stunning compared to the website version of this area.) Under Mona’s maiden name, Rivera inscribed what may be, “The Queen of Sheba.” Since they had been very close, I wonder what the nickname means? [The reclining blond girl painting on the floor in panel 4 is Mona’s daughter, the late Lynn Wagner, who donated her mother’s remaining papers to us.]
[Richard Neutra, Tan Yuka Pyramid/Serpent Diego & Frieda Rivera, Mexico City, 1937 (courtesy Dion Neutra, Architect © and Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA)]
A back burner story jumped to a front burner. Our mural docent Helen Pinto was sleuthing and found this drawing architect Richard Neutra had done of Diego and Frida in México in 1937.
[1937 was quite a year: aviatrix Amelia Earhart disappeared, the German airship Hindenburg exploded, Picasso painted Guernica; Trotsky got asylum in Mexico; the Golden Gate Bridge opened; Frida appeared in Vogue magazine, George Gershwin met and fell for Paulette Goddard, but died 4 months later]
Mona and Arthur Hofmann were clients of the architect in 1937 and their former house in Hillsborough is on the National Register. The Hofmann’s had been introduced to Neutra by Dr. Sidney and Emily Joseph, Bay area Modernist art fans. Sidney was a painter and writer Emily had translated Diego’s talks “on-the-fly” in his 1930-31 stay because Diego didn’t speak English. I’d always thought Mona introduced Diego to Neutra in 1940, but this drawing skewed the chronology. Businessman/photographer Sidney Kahn, who took many pictures of Diego in 1940, had a Neutra house at 66 Calhoun Terrace. A couple of doors down was 42 Calhoun Terrace, among the places Diego stayed. After Trotsky was killed, Diego made sure he was a moving target.
A recent local cause célèbre was the destruction of the historically significant Neutra “Largent House” (1936) at 49 Hopkins Avenue on Twin Peaks. The precedent it might set is dangerous. The City has ordered the developer to rebuild it. This is another example of artistic legacies in jeopardy.
Richard’s son Raymond Neutra has been extremely helpful sending me photos of germane pages. He told me that his father related in a letter that he went to visit Diego and Frida in the dark to the ominous sound of snarling dogs. Storytellers live for anecdotes like this! We were connected by mutual friend John Crosse, who writes a blog on Southern California Architectural History, including Richard Neutra. Over the years our overlapping research has made us almost symbiotic. Raymond was able to correct the idea that his father had gone to Mexico in 1925. The consensus was that 1937 was Neutra’s first visit to México. (Likely, Sidney and Emily Joseph provided the introductions.)
A new book, The Tango War, speaks about the little known role of Latin America in WWII. Diego Rivera’s main agenda in painting our mural was to establish Pan-American solidarity in anticipation of the war reaching our shores. After the war, South America became a refuge for many Germans and Italians. México has a long history of receiving refugees.
Don and Kathe Cairns and their church group came on their annual mural visit on February 9th. It’s always a treat to see them and go out to lunch. (FYI: Donald is Emmy Lou Packard’s son and the little boy in the lower center of the mural.)
The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song ceremony will air on PBS May 3. The local Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust is one of the sponsors. In a nice nod to Latin music; Emilio and Gloria Estefan Honored in Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert.
Had you been invited to the private unveiling of the mural in 1940, here is what you would have received. Wonder who you had to be to get on the “A” list? (Copy of invitation purchased from Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1109 Geary, SF, 94109 using your donations to the Foundation of CCSF (Diego Rivera mural). John Crosse alerted me to this opportunity.)
"There is a pool of good. No matter where you put in your drop, the whole pool rises."