“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

October 2017

Jean Franco as Frida

Jean Franco as Frida. Photo by Wesley Miller, 2017.

Dear Friends of Diego,

ALERT: Rick Tejada-Flores’s, My Bolivia, will be on KQED World on October 8 at 7 pm PACIFIC. Rick’s works include PBS Masters Rivera in America and Orozco, Man of Fire. (The collection for Rivera in America is now housed at Washington University in St. Louis. Though Rick had generously offered it to us, we did not have the facilities to archive and share it with scholars.]

Rick wrote that he may have sent a “cartoon” for the Treasure Island mural image to the Archives of American Art. Rivera’s assistants, like Emmy Lou Packard, created the “cartoons” to transfer mural images to the wet fresco plaster by pouncing the perforated tissue paper with a rosin bag. We’re working to track it down.

Special thanks to Michele McKenzie, CCSF’s Media and Electronic Resources Librarian. She tracked down the elusive Walls of Fire: Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros DVD and will acquire a copy for use by CCSF classes. Thanks to all of you who offered suggestions. (Serendipitously, Michele worked with Rick Tejada-Flores as an archival researcher on The Fight in the Fields.)

In limited release Dolores, the 2017 documentary about Dolores Huerta is a powerful, moving, and frank depiction of the tribulations this great woman suffered for the farmworkers. She sacrificed a spleen and four broken ribs to an SFPD baton in 1988. In the past she has spoken to our students at the Diego Rivera Theater.

Happy belated birthday, September 27, to our dear friend Don Cairns. Emmy Lou Packard’s son is the little boy in the front of the mural.

Just back from a visit on the autumnal equinox to Spain and Portugal. The Museu Picasso in Barcelona was a favorite, especially his collection of obsessive riffs on Velasquez’s Las Meninas. Unfortunately, the Galeria Joan Gaspar was not open during my stay. It’s home to Picasso’s Self Portrait as a Suitor, a drawing which has Diego Rivera approaching him. James Oles used it in his catalog essay for LACMA’s Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time.

Before going to Barcelona, I re-read the wondrous The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón; something I’d done the last two times I’d gone to that magical city. At Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, under construction for 135 years, it was fun trying to locate the now-installed, apse sculptures I’d sketched while living in Spain in the later 70’s. Then, I just wandered about the “gargoyle” strewn grounds, often drawing while seated on a giant granite snail. Now, 40 years down the road, it’s all guards and metered entrances, which sell out before noon. There’s an elevator in an 185 foot spire Carmelita and I climbed more than once.

The cathedral construction is a metaphor for the work being done around our mural; a masterpiece which may last hundreds of years. The people who poured the cathedral’s foundation were never destined to see the spires rise. The many existing spires will be dwarfed by the yet-to-be-built center spire, scheduled for completion by 2022. I hope to see the mural to its new home. (Losing Julia Bergman, my dear friend and 20 year Rivera partner, earlier this year has been very sobering.)

CCSF’s Chancellor Mark Rocha is moving forward on the College’s plans for the Performing Arts Education Center and on significant offers of help with the mural move to this new site.

Within hours of sending out our last missive, Larry Heilman wrote me that as a 4 year old in 1940 he was at a Mexico City bullfight, where Paulette Goddard received flowers from a matador. Larry’s father filmed it and we’re trying to find and post that film, which should be with his nephew here in the Bay area.

My friend Rafael Castilla wrote:

Thank you for including me in the distribution of “Friends…” I read it always with so much interest…you make the best news about “El Gordo” (Diego R.). I called him “El Gordo” because during my last years in Mexico City, somehow there were times I was kind of close to María Félix, and that was the way she referred to Diego…”El Gordo”. You know they were very good and close friends. However apparently Maria took good care not to let him go ahead with his desire/love for her. He was really madly in love with her; but she was a lot younger and had many other men (especially richer) around her. However she knew how convenient it was for her having him as a friend. She once declared “El Gordo estaba muy enamorado, pero no tenia ‘billete’”. (“Rivera was very much in love [with me], but he had no money.”)

Quite a while back at the Trotsky Museum in Mexico City, Esteban Volkov told me how the murder weapon that killed his grandfather had surfaced on eBay. It was quickly unlisted. Now it seems the historic weapon, a piolet, has surfaced again; this time destined for a spy museum in Washington, D.C. It is a shame the weapon will not reside at the scene of the crime.

At the 15th anniversary party for Cultural Heritage Imaging, I met Layna White, SFMOMA’s Head of Collections, Information and Access. We hope to store a copy of CHI’s finished Rivera mural photogrammetry file there for posterity. SFMOMA already houses over a 100 Rivera drawings, several of our mural.

The DeYoung’s Teotihuacán: City of Water, City of Fire show is open. LACMA’s Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915-1985 show, part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is also open, as is Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico (Here is more background on that show).

Longtime volunteer Maureen Bourbin is transcribing the recently acquired Dudley Carter audio cassette interview, a gift from artist Emmanuel Montoya. Thanks to CCSF’s Kwame Evans and Dana Galloway for their technical help in making a digital copy. The audio and transcript will be posted on our website’s Dudley Carter page, now being developed.

Recently, filmmaker Wesley Miller was at the mural during 12 days of local shooting for what will be a 3 minute video for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. The video is based on a letter Frida sent to Emmy Lou Packard. Jean Franco stars as Frida in the video.  I will post the link as soon as the work is public. After the shoot was over Jean and I ate a pilgrimage meal at the Cathay House on California Street. Diego and Frida may have had one of their last meals in San Francisco there in late December 1940. Having just re-married at City Hall, they left separately for Mexico City by the end of the year, never to return to the U.S.

Diego and Frida at Cathay House

Recent Friends of Diego missives are archived at: “Friends of Diego Newsletter”



August 2017

Estrella Boissevain, Photograph for Vogue, New York, 1938 by HorstEstrella Boissevain, Horst P Horst photo for Vogue magazine, 1938

Dear Friends of Diego,

ALERTS: The August 12th benefit opening of Cherrie Moraga’s The Mathematics of Love at the Brava Theater supports the Chicana/Latina Foundation.

In anticipation of the DeYoung’s Teotihuacán: City of Water, City of Fire show opening September 30, now is a good time to enroll in Art 105 in our CCSF Latin American and Latina/o Studies with Dr. Edgar Torres, mi amigo and truly one of City College’s treasures.

We were excited at the end of June to pore over a Diego Rivera mural drawing at SFMOMA with curators James Oles, Caitlin Haskell (Edvard Munch – a great show), and Michelle Barger, Head of Conservation. We inspected the 13 foot, original 5-panel concept drawing for Pan American Unity that Rivera abandoned very soon as he made more precise drawings. Re-inspecting the drawing I’d first seen in November 2015 with SFMOMA & LACMA curators, helped refine my imagery chronology. I will see James Oles in Mexico City in November. [It was a surprise to see that the open space, which I’ve looked out on for years behind the Hotel Catedral, was the site of an Aztec Ball Court!]

As part of the Getty initiative’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA some smaller SFMOMA Diego Rivera mural drawings are being loaned to LACMA for their Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915-1985 show. A tip of the hat to my friend John Crosse for bringing me into the mix a few years back. In an embarrassment of riches, though LACMA has invited me to the September 2017 opening, I will be in Barcelona paying a working visit to the  Museu Picasso and the Galeria Joan Gaspar. (The Galeria is home to Picasso’s drawing Self Portrait as Suitor, which has Diego Rivera in the distance walking toward Picasso and which according to Picasso’s biographer John Richardson speaks to their sexual rivalry.) When I return in October, I also plan to see Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico. Here is background on that show.

In 1935 Estrella Elizaga (1938 photo has her reverting to her first married name) hosted a Mexico City party for George Gershwin, the subject of my play, Rapsodia en Azul: An American in Mexico. (I’ve finally finished the first draft). Recently Estrella’s grandson Nick Madigan was in town, so we got together. A contributor to the NY Times, he’s writing his grandmother’s biography. To help me with my play, a couple of years ago he generously gave me anecdotes of this phenomenal women who counted Charlie Chaplin, Diego Rivera, and Marlene Dietrich among her friends. Now an ageless 93 year old, Nick’s mother Cynthia as an eleven year old heard Gershwin perform all of Porgy and Bess for the party guests. Nick is putting me in touch with her and getting me the address of their Mexico City house on Paseo de la Reforma.

Working with Michael Owens at the Gershwin Trust we have facilitated the Museo Casa Estudio getting a selection of the George Gershwin photos taken there in 1935. Importantly, this will support redundancy in people who know this important story.

Thanks for all your help finding a copy of the Walls of Fire DVD. So many of you came up with libraries housing the work. I’m still looking to buy a very hard-to-find copy. Siqueiros’ painting of “Gershwin in Concert referenced in that film shows up in this video (~ 1:47) about Paint the Revolution; at its last stop, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

CCSF Music Department Chair Madeline Mueller made my day by telling me she had acquired some new Emmy Lou Packard papers. They will be a welcome addition to our archives.

CCSF’s new Chancellor Mark Rocha is moving forward on the College’s plans for the Performing Arts Education Center and on significant outside offers of help with the mural move.

Had a nice visit to the mural from my friend Maria Pinedo, a founding artist at the Galería de la Raza, and fabulous papel picado artist Beatriz Vasquez, newly arrived to San Francisco on a fellowship. Lunch at Gallardo’s was a treat for us all. (I always take home the extra house-made tortillas to make quesadillas.)

Mexican Consulate news: The Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra performed in July at Davies Hall. Their first act included Revueltas, Arturo Márquez, and a Javier Álvarez piece with Tambuco, whom I’d seen perform at San Ildefonso in March.

Their second act, very dear to my heart, was Aaron Copeland’s Salón de México and Gershwin’s Catfish Row suite from Porgy and Bess. The Consulate’s extensive July Mex Am Festival programming included Everybody Loves Somebody at the Roxie with filmmaker Catalina Aguilar Mastretta in attendance.

Longtime volunteer Maureen Bourbin has become a helpful investigator for the Rivera Project. She found a contact at Christie’s auction house to forward our request to the anonymous owners of Rivera’s Encuentro Tropical, the painting for the Dude Ranch in Pleasanton, CA. Here is commentary she found for the 1999 auction: (Picture is from catalog.)

One of the auction’s highlights is Lot 30, “Encuento Tropical,” by Diego Rivera (1886-1957). This 41 1/2-by-78 3/8-inch oil on canvas was commissioned in 1944 for the Celebrity Bar at the Old Hearst Ranch in California. The work shows the new owners of the ranch who were converting it into a luxury resort on either side of the artist. The ambitious estimate is $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $442,500 including the buyer’s premium to a European private collector. (By Carter B. Horsley) [Other pictures of the work appeared in our last issue.]

Encuentro Tropical – Christie's Catalog, November 1999

Maureen also followed up on Rivera and his Masonic connections. He may have been a Rosicrucian instead/also. We are trying to get permission to use a photo she found of Rivera in semi-Egyptian garb. It seems, however, Rivera denied he’d been a Rosicrucian when he re-applied for entry into the Communist Party in 1954. He depicted himself as a “mole” collecting information, according to Raquel Tibol in The Snake Appeared! Diego Rivera and the Rosicrucian’s.

The new film Dunkirk is about the evacuation of stranded British troops, pushed to the northern coast of France by the Nazis. This event has always been visceral to me because its last day, June 4, 1940, was the day Rivera himself was “evacuated” from Mexico, crossing the border with Paulette Goddard on his way to San Francisco. Rivera was reading the Dunkirk headlines while waiting in the airports. They added urgency to his mural message: the US must get into the war against the Nazis.

Recent Friends of Diego missives are archived at: “Friends of Diego Newsletter”.



June 2017

Will and Veronica at Macchu Pichu

Dear Friends of Diego,

Just got home from celebrating the Winter Solstice at Machu Picchu, Perú with my niece Verónica Maynez. She graduated from Cal and is off to DePaul for grad school. My self-serving graduation present was one of the joys of my life.

Hip Loom Weavers

A favorite find was the Back strap loom weavers of Pisac, similar to those Mexican ones depicted in our mural (panels 1 and 2). There is 3000 miles distance between the two sites, demonstrating how big ideas, such as the Golden Rectangle, can be conceived independently in disparate places on the globe. The scale of the Incan empire was a breathtaking 32° of latitude, unprecedented in the world at the time. Cusco’s over 11,000 foot altitude was also breathtaking-literally. Relief came from a basket of coca leaves at the airport and coca leaf tea served at all the hotels.

Coming home in March for a rest after the flurry of connections in Mexico City (Vernal Equinox at Teotihuacán), didn’t work out as I expected. The serendipitous nature of the Rivera research was demonstrated a week after my return when at a Mexican Museum art opening I met gallery owner Robert McDonald. He related the story of a Dude Ranch in Pleasanton, California, which once had a large Rivera painting hanging over the bar!

Old Hearst Ranch

In 1944 John Albert Marshall II and his wife Edith went to Diego Rivera’s Casa-Estudio in San Ángel to have their portraits painted for their Dude Ranch’s main building, formerly Phoebe Hearst’s hacienda on The Old Hearst Ranch. (Since the Dude Ranch opened in 1940, the Marshall’s may have met Rivera while he was working on our mural at Treasure Island. The Ranch is now the Castlewood CC, though the hacienda burned down in 1969.) The triple portrait sold at Christie’s in 1999. We’re trying to track it down. In this video Robert demonstrates how Rivera art research can happen.

Robert also generously shared images of a 1930 Rivera portrait of Rosa (Covarrubias) Rolando with Diego’s very affectionate inscription on the verso. As related last time I’m working on finding the exact date of Frida’s 1931 return to Mexico from San Francisco. (The Mexican Consulate is locating a Ministry of Immigration contact for my November visit to Mexico). Though still in Europe, most likely Rosa was instrumental in brokering the significant 1931 Frida-Nick Muray encounter. What motivated Rosa? Did Diego come on too strong?

Prior to going to Mexico (March FOD newsletter), my traveling companion Carl Nagin asked me if I’d read Juan Rulfo. This was a big gap in my education. I read Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo and short story collection El Llano en Llamas (The Burning Plain). Luminaries like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes credit him with creating magical realism. Very much like learning a new word, the name “Juan Rulfo” kept coming up in Mexico. Flying home my seatmate, filmmaker Ben Guez, told me of his film Valentina, which was a Rulfo-esque vignette. As Ben’s guest, I saw it at the SF International Film Festival. Recently at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archives, the Bay Area Book Festival in conjunction with the Mexican Consulate had two films about Rulfo by his son Juan Carlos Rulfo. A panel discussion by Mexican authors followed the next day.

Then, Carl Nagin startled me with the revelation that Diego Rivera had painted a portrait in the late 1930’s of Caridad Mercader, the mother of Trotsky’s assassin, Ramon Mercader. This bit of trivia in Freud’s Mexico by Rubén Gallo suggests that Caridad and Diego may have even been lovers. Was this the first Stalinist foray to infiltrate or reconnoiter Trotsky’s inner circle? Carl is following up on this as part of a rework of his treatise on Rivera and Trotsky, which I anxiously await.

At the DeYoung’s focus group gathering for their upcoming Teotihuacán: City of Water, City of Fire show, I ran into printmaker Emmanuel Montoya. As a City College student Emmanuel had worked with Dudley Carter in 1983, when the Canadian artist restored his Ram sculpture, featured in our mural. Emmanuel is generously furnishing photos for the Dudley Carter page to be created on our website. The printmaker’s Dudley Carter papers & photos are housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library (BANC MSS 2016/204, BANC PIC 2016.112).

Later while at the DeYoung to hear the show curator Matthew Robb lecture on Teotihuacán, I was approached by the ex-minister of culture of Mexico about participating in an August 2017 gathering of Mexican art scholars.

Stopped by to see my friend, also retired Physics Department colleague, Frank Koehler (he and I were born on the same day). Designing lasers for a living, he taught Physics part-time for many years. His hobby is art, especially pre-Columbian art. Among his treasures is a precious preparatory Rivera drawing for the Clinic of Dr. Jean Louis Faure (Study for La Operación) [This is a link at the Mary-Anne Martin Gallery to a later version of the drawing with construction lines removed]. As I work on Rivera’s mural design chronology, Frank’s drawing is very attractive because it shows Rivera’s layout framework using “Dynamic Symmetry”. This lattice supports the images Rivera uses in any given work and I am reconstructing the layout for our mural. In example drawings Lucienne Bloch documented the lattice for Rivera’s San Francisco Art Institute The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City for Emmy Lou Packard’s use (we have copies in CCSF’s Rivera Collection).

Frank resolved another long time question that I had posed to him on a previous visit.  He found the attribution to finally allow us to state without reservations that the bas-reliefs of athletes on Pflueger’s original City College gyms were done by Sargent Johnson [per CCSF’s late historian, Austin White’s “From Dream to Reality”]. When the gyms were torn down, we had these pieces cut out of the thick concrete walls and saved. Now we need to find them a new home on campus.

In quickly perusing Emmy Lou’s papers again after more than a decade and a half, it seems answers to some of my questions have been available.  I just didn’t know enough to appreciate them when I first saw them. In an interview Dudley Carter confirmed that the Indian in the far right is turning a “lathe”. The identification of “Frank Lloyd Wright”– even Emmy Lou Packard didn’t know- could not be confirmed by Carter. So how did the figure behind Emmy Lou incorrectly become “Frank Lloyd Wright”? This demonstrates how inaccuracies propagate through time; an issue I recently addressed with a Dublin Times editor about an article they did.

Michael Owen, Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trust’s consulting archivist, wrote:

“In going through some of Ira’s letters… I came across one from the director Herbert Kline about a documentary he made in 1971 called Walls of Fire about Rivera, Orozco & Siqueiros. According to the letter, the film contains footage of the ‘George Gershwin in a Concert Hall’ painting [by Siqueiros] when it was located in the pool room at Ira’s house in Beverly Hills.” (I tried the Pacific Film Archives to no avail. Does anyone know where we can get a copy of this documentary?)

The Tim Pflueger papers are now posted on our website with the permission of the Bancroft. Also posted is an AAA Interview with Emmy Lou Packard. Both have finding aids.

Here is a link to the spring issue of the Living New Deal  and our friend Harvey L. Smith’s book Berkeley and the New Deal.

May you all have a wonderful verano.


“There is a pool of good. No matter where you put in your drop, the whole pool rises.”