“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.”

March 2017 – Postcards from CDMX


Dear Friends of Diego,

[Mexico City, formerly “D.F.” (Distrito Federal), is now called “CDMX” (Cuidad de México). A major change is that the taxis are now pink and white. Disclaimer: I don’t work for the CDMX Chamber of Commerce.]

The original purpose of the trip was to go to el Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes to see Pintar La Revolution, their magnificent collaboration with the Philadelphia Art Museum. [This was 3.5 hours of blockbuster show.]  Over a phone call, Carl Nagin, one of the speakers at our Diego Rivera Mural Project 2000 Lecture Series, became my traveling companion. Having been immersed in research for a novel set in Aguascalientes, he is a wealth of information on México and did his best, like Julia, to keep the Mexican book industry viable. You have to love a city which has so many bookstores.

A second purpose was to ascertain the date in latter May 1931 that Frida abruptly returned alone to México from San Francisco. She evidently didn’t leave her heart here, because she started her decade-long affair with Nick Muray. Dated May 31, 1931, the torrid love letter she wrote Nick from the Casa Azul after his departure debunks theories that Frida only started her dalliances in retaliation for Diego’s 1934 affair with her sister Cristina. Ironically, on the same date Diego was signing the mural at the San Francisco Art Institute. Though the date of her arrival in Mexico City can be approximated from research on Nick’s side, I wanted one more date from Frida. [I “struck out” for lack of time, but the Mexican Consul General Gemi Gonzalez and the Consul for Cultural Affairs Paula Linares, who came to see the mural yesterday, have offered to help, as well as with a Spanish side for our website.]

The third reason was to visit my dear friends Elena Duran and Dr. Michael Emmerson [This was a “homerun.”] Last summer in San Francisco Elena performed for the Mexican Museum’s cornerstone laying in Yerba Buena and she gave a concert in Berkeley. She has performed on behalf of our project and in schools and prisons on both sides of the border. This fall she will perform twice with the Bellas Artes symphony orchestra.

Michael took me to meet their good friend, Bertha Cea, Executive Coordinator of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso. Its Teatro Bolivar is home to Rivera’s first mural, an encaustic, and I attended a percussion concert there. The Colegio is hosting a show, Historias Que Se Graban, [Three Centuries of American Prints from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.] and also has many murals by Orozco.

After a great brunch at San Ángel’s El Bazar Sabado, Michael took me for a real treat: a visit with Maestro Leonardo Nierman, one of México’s greatest living artists.  We chatted about Rivera’s Rockefeller incident and the maestro told me that in 1940 his father had taken him as an eight year old to see Trotsky’s corpse.

We ate at La Casa de las Sirenas near the Zocalo three out of the eight nights and saw a spectacular lightning show one night from their open air, covered rooftop deck. Their strikingly green Nopal (cactus) tortillas hot off the comal are a food for the Aztec gods. The Templo Mayor, center of Tenochtitlan, is next door.

At the Museo Nacional de Arte saw the wonderful “Territorio ideal. José María Velasco, perspectiva de una época”.  This artist mentored Diego at the Academy of San Carlos, which Frida later attended. Half a block away from the Academy on Calle Moneda is a plaque for one of Jose Guadalupe Posada’s workshops, probably where Diego as a student visited him.

Through an introduction by Carl’s gracious friends, Luis and Elodie Santamaria, we had an hour & a half of wonderful conversation with Dra. Margarita de Orellana, director of Artes de México. She offered me space for an article on the mural.

The Hotel Ritz, where Timothy Pflueger stayed in April 1940 while negotiating Rivera’s visit to San Francisco, had a famous painting over the bar, Una tarde de domingo en Xochimilco by Miguel Covarrubias. In 1999 Julia and I paid a pilgrimage to the location, which had become a “Vips” diner. To our horror the mural was covered in grease. This time, what looked like a clean mural was only a reproduction. Adriana Williams, biographer of Miguel and Rosa Covarrubias, told me that the mural had been sold to a private party. She laments that, except for Flora and Fauna at the DeYoung, the restored Covarrubias maps from the Golden Gate International Exposition are still in storage in San Francisco. Mexico City’s Galeria Pablo Goebels will host a Covarrubias exhibit in September.

Other exhibits: A Frida Kahlo show, works from the Dolores Olmedo Museum, is at the Dali Museum and México 1900–1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde is at the Dallas Art Museum. On April 11 Phoenix’s Heard Museum opens Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the Gelman Collection. Like the great Picasso & Rivera show currently at LACMA, a collaboration also destined for Bellas Artes, all these joint efforts demonstrate a better way for our two great nations to amicably engage.

Though I may miss some of Rivera’s work in México, I never miss the Museo de Antropologia. It is a pilgrimage to see the two (one in picture above) versions of Coatlicue used in our mural. At the Museo Mural Diego Rivera I savored the Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park and spent a late Sunday afternoon in the Park. It was exciting to watch the real México dancing, doing stand-up, and rapping on a balmy evening. Walked to nearby Café La Habana, where Castro and Che hung out. Nearby, a plaque marks the location where the Cuban exile Julio Antonio Mella was assassinated in 1929, while walking arm in arm with Tina Modotti.

On an auspicious vernal equinox, our gregarious driver don Julio took us to Teotihuacan, the vast pyramid complex outside Mexico City, which predates the Aztecs (Mexica). The DeYoung museum has invited me to a focus group for their fall Teotihuacan show. The museum is the model for shared custody of artifacts, which are the patrimony of México.

At the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo Alan Rojas Orzechowski, who was taken aback to not be aware of George Gershwin’s 1935 visit, graciously helped refine the identification of the photos loaned me by the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust. I stopped at the Mercado Abelardo Rodriquez to see the Isamu Noguchi sculpture and the Marion Greenwood mural, which were supervised by Diego Rivera. While Noguchi was working on this project, he had an 8 month encounter with Frida.

The Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley), which owns the originals, has given permission to post our digitized Timothy Pflueger holdings on our website. Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to post our digitized Emmy Lou Packard holdings. The complete collection of her originals are shared by the Archives of American Art (Smithsonian) and the Bancroft.

The mural Timeline has gotten richer with the addition of Antonio Arias-Bernal political cartoons we photocopied in México in 1999 off disintegrating newsprint. Sadly, he is mainly forgotten. An Aguascalientes author of a book of accidently-found, later drawings, wrote me that an explosion and fire destroyed much of the artist’s work.

Our collaboration with Cultural Heritage Imaging continues to bear fruit. Our mural photogrammetry project was recently cited at the Metropolitan Museum (NYC), and the CAA conference in Atlanta.

On March 9, 2017 the City College of San Francisco Board passed a Resolution 170309-VIII-54 “to move forward with the construction of the Performing Arts and Education Center” and to install within “Phase 1” the Diego Rivera mural.

A Julia Bergman Celebration was a joyous gathering of 250 family and friends. Julia was remembered in a manner befitting a person who lived such a full and generous life. When the Performing Arts Center is built, we can move our Rivera collection to the Julia Bergman Archives.

Puentes, si! Muros, no!


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