“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

June 2023

Photo: Mexican Consular Staff

Dear Friends of Diego,

It was a great honor to present the mural to Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, Ambassador of México to the United States of America. He and his wife came with local consular staff led by Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau. The ambassador was in town for a gathering of past ambassadors, both from México and the US. Showing me his grandmother’s picture, he said that as a young woman she passed on an opportunity to sit for a portrait by Rivera, having heard of his bad reputation. However, past Ambassador Gerónimo Gutiérrez Fernández proudly showed me an image of the portrait Rivera painted of his evidently fearless grandmother. (Ambassador Moctezuma was recently in the news for his reply to Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy’s ‘vulgar and racist’ comments.)

The visitors were disturbed by the thought of the masterpiece going into storage, given its significant exposure at SFMOMA. Over the past 23 months there have been 260,000 visitors to the mural. The museum has been true to past SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra’s promise that the mural “would never be little known again.” In 2011 CCSF signed an MOU with the Mexican Consulate pledging cooperation in the stewardship of “a treasure of two countries,” a mural which can last centuries. México’s participation in the mural move will never be underestimated by those who worked on the project. UNAM’s number-crunching, computer modeling, and construction of a pair of full-size mural panel replicas, delivered the hard data guiding the handling of the precious art. No value can be placed on the Mexican team’s friendship, which graced the project.

The Mexican Consulate’s Cinco de Mayo celebration at SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery was another opportunity to showcase the mural. We did a 15 minute presentation between the Mariachis and the Ballet Folklorico. Luckily, I was not asked to sing nor dance. The Consulate had previously graciously invited me to a dress rehearsal of SF Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet starring Mexican ballet dancer Isaac Hernández in a title role.


Local Reminder:

Our dear friend and long-time mural supporter, flautist Elena Durán will be performing MÉXICO DE MI CORAZÓN, Sunday, 18 June 2023 @ 6pm at the Brava Theater in San Francisco Mission’s Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. Elena is an East Oakland Chicana, who after teaching at Stanford went on to gain world-wide fame at the International Flute Festival at Stratford-on-Avon.  She is México City’s musical ambassador as La Flauta Que Canta. The program with Nicholas McGegan on piano will be accompanied with clips from the movies of the Golden Age of Mexican Movies. Diego and Frida, avid movie buffs, would have loved this, ensconced in a front row seat with a shot of tequila. (Use the code 20SF23 and get a 20% discount on the tickets!)

The exciting times continue locally with the much anticipated presentation of San Francisco Opera’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego . Bay Area composer Gabriela Lena Frank and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz will be coming to visit the mural as will delegations of other opera companies in town to see the five performances (plus Livestream), June 13-30. In a first for San Francisco Opera, the work is sung in Spanish with English and Spanish super-titles. The opera is set on Dia de los Muertos 1957 as Diego senses his imminent demise and wants to see Frida, who died three years before.


Recently it has occurred to me that, though Diego’s infidelities is perceived as the major stumbling block in the stormy relationship between the two Mexican artists, Frida’s homesickness is also a significant impediment. This observation might allow a more nuanced take on their relationship. Technically, there is no infidelity after their November 1939 divorce.  In a September 15, 1940 letter sent from San Francisco’s St. Luke’s Hospital, Frida wrote Anita Brenner in New York that Diego had asked to remarry her. She reminded Anita that in the long time both of them had known Diego, he had always been the same and he was not going to change. Frida admitted.Scratching deep in my very interiors I do not believe that there is much to fault Diego- but to my very difficult mode of being. Sentimental and young.” She decided to marry him again because they needed each other. For their remarriage Frida’s confidant, Dr. Leo Eloesser brokered the pre-nuptials. Intimate relations were not part of the deal. In papers my late Rivera partner Julia Bergman and I scoured in Canada in 2015, Diego confirmed that he and Frida were not conjugal after they remarried. Their re-marriage may have been spurned by the shock to their complacency after Trotsky’s assassination. Frida and her sister Cristina had been arrested for two days because the sisters had unwittingly had the assassin over for a meal at the Casa Azul, where the Trotsky’s initially lived after he got asylum in México in 1937. The police decided that since Frida was divorced from Diego and the daughter of a German, she wasn’t even Mexican. Diego was afraid she would revert to being a “German Jew” in a country still cordial with Germany. She was hastily naturalized a Mexican on August 26, 1940, and that afternoon applied for a visa to come to San Francisco. Of course, Frida wasn’t Jewish, it was a story she made up. Years before her father had been naturalized a Mexican citizen under the signature of Porfirio Diaz. As she suspected, the police were just messing with her.


Over the years, while abroad, Frida wrote dozens of letters home and asked to be remembered to a litany of family members, friends, and neighbors. (She used letters to her mother to create a cover for her first meeting with photographer Nick Muray.) Leaving México, Frida was homesick as soon as she reached the border. She was truly a lover of family. Diego was not as much of a family man. Wherever he landed, Rivera was lionized, and she was marginalized. Frida’s acerbic tone in talking about foreigners might just be an expression of her loneliness. Lucienne Bloch in her journal in April 1932 commented on how Frida had cried all night in reaction to Diego’s thought of going on to the USSR after spending an upcoming 5 months in Detroit, “…and F wants to go right home to Mexico, being torn between her family and R.” Emotionally, the time in Detroit would be troubling for Frida; she had a miscarriage and, accompanied by Lucienne, returned to México only to watch her mother die.

Alone in Paris in early 1939 she had bad things to say about Andre Breton, who was supposed to have organized her exhibition, but hadn’t even recovered her art from customs. Very significantly, she had nothing but good things to say about Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds, who plucked her from a hospital and took her home with them. Duchamp went about getting a gallery and having her show mounted. She thought Duchamp was the only one in Paris who had his feet on the ground. Though Frida met Picasso and Josephine Baker, among others, Duchamp and Mary were the closest to being “family.”



As the mural’s SFMOMA stay will end next March, I am treasuring all the thousands of people from all over the world who have come to savor the masterpiece. The mural has been a tremendous goodwill ambassador. Wish I spoke more languages. After its brief unveiling at the 1940 fair, Diego never saw the mural again. The mural reflected the seeming inevitability of a Nazi victory in Europe. But who knew that the British RAF would maintain air superiority over the Channel and dash Hitler’s plans to invade England. The head Nazi would then turn his eyes to invading Russia, not a good idea as Napoleon might have told him. Rivera never returned to triple the mural’s size per the contract he signed as he left the US for what turned out to be the last time. What might he have painted if he had returned? Having become a Stalinist, the Mexican painter might have created a battle that made the Rockefeller incident seem like a mere skirmish. Historical thresholds are often transparent as we pass through them. A door closed silently, and the mural was put into storage for 21 years. The mural’s impending storage is sobering.

Conducted a tour of Rivera’s Allegory of California (City Club) and the Pan American Unity mural for 25 Georgetown University alumni, among the thousands of Georgetown folk in town for a “John Carroll Weekend.” With the SFAI  mural inaccessible, I’m relegated to two-mural tours and have a couple this month.

Had a wonderful time with Santana drummer Karl Perazzo and his cousin, my friend Armando Alvarez, at the mural and at a fine Nicaraguan lunch afterwards.

Diver Helen Crlenkovich’s daughter Bari came by to visit again with a friend.


A family came by and when I commented on Diego’s model Nieves Orozco, for a short while in the queue to be Diego’s next wife, the son rolled up his sleeve. His tattoo is Nieves as Desnudo con Alcatraces (1944), part of SFMOMA’s “Diego Rivera’s America” exhibition. The synchronicity startled us both. Nieves told me in 2006 that she posed that way because she was pregnant with her first child.


In giving mural tours, the threads of the tapestry Diego has woven, never cease to amaze me. Spaniards’ Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s 1929 surrealist silent short film, Un Chien Andalou is probably the source of the image of the severed hand in lower Panel 4.  Rivera in his first foray into Hollywood in June 1940 had likely met Buñuel at one of several parties. An official of the Spanish Republican government, Buñuel was in Hollywood when Franco won. The filmmaker found temporary refuge working as an uncredited gag writer for Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Diego referred to Buñuel without outing him to Stalinist assassins.

There are musical threads in our story. In lower Panel 5 the tattooed Sailor painting refers to composer Carlos Chavez’s symphonic ballet, H.P., for which Diego had created the sets and costumes. On a private railway car going to Philadelphia for its March 1932 premiere, Diego had met composers George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, Carlos Chavez’s buddy. Later Frida and Diego would have a soda with Gershwin after a NYC performance of music by composer Ernest Bloch (Lucienne Bloch’s father). In March 1937 George Gershwin met and fell for Paulette Goddard (lower Panels 3 & 4) at a Beverly Hills’s party art patron Edward G. Robinson (lower Panel 4) hosted for composer Igor Stravinsky. Gershwin related his 1935 México visit to her and suggested she go there to get her portrait painted by his friend Diego Rivera. She was woven into our story three years after Gershwin’s untimely death, while Diego and Frida were still divorced. However, she was the “other woman” to model Nieves Orozco, Diego’s fiancée. If Paulette hadn’t shown up, another outcome might have ensued. In a June 11, 1940, letter to Diego, Frida complained bitterly about how she was treated since they divorced,  “…..all of the other people treat me like their trash since I don’t have the honor to belong to the elite of the famous artists and above all because I’m not your woman.” This points to a possible alternative trajectory for Frida had she and Diego not remarried. All these threads need to be woven into the greater narrative to add color to the warp and the weft.


Becoming Frida, the 3-part BBC2 documentary is playing in the UK. Our friend, past CCSF Fulbright scholar Luis-Martin Lozano, a principal authority on Frida and the series consultant, wrote me that he thought I’d like it. However, our mural didn’t make the cut. Hopefully, that means that there’s lots of juicy information on Frida and our mural’s tangential Frida connection wasn’t enough. We await scheduling for US viewing.


SFAI filed for Chapter 7. A new SFAI Legacy Foundation + Archive (SFAI LF+A) has been created and the San Francisco Art Institute Archives have been relocated to the Crown Point Press building at 20 Hawthorne Street, very near SFMOMA. Hopefully, The Making of a Fresco, Showing The Building of a City will re-open, otherwise, too soon, all three Rivera murals may be publicly inaccessible.


Photo: courtesy of Vita Paramo

Our CCSF Olmec head, a gift of the Mexican state of Veracruz, has graced the Frida Garden since 2004. Recently, CCSF Counselor Vita Paramo had some classes convene there.

“I facilitated three closing ceremonies at the Olmec head for Amber Straus’ LERN 50 College success class…

I explained the history of Señor Olmec and the history of Olmec colossal heads. I shared that the Olmec’s believed that one’s spirit, emotions and intentions lie within your head, hence why they built colossal heads vs. bodies. We all stood in a circle holding our rosemary and we shared an intention, a goal, a dream we have for ourselves, our community, or another person and then we would plant our rosemary/intention around the Olmec head. It was beautiful to watch each student participate in their own way, some are non-verbal, some are just learning English, some are experiencing a lot of trauma, but they all found a way to show up as their true selves and plant their seed of intention.”





February 2023

Photo: Jean Franco, June 17, 2018, at Brava Theater

Dear Friends of Diego,

Doctora Guadalupe Rivera Marin passed away on January 15, 2023. Born in 1924 she was Diego’s last surviving child by Lupe Marin, his first Mexican wife. In 1999 Julia Bergman, Masha Zakheim and I met and recorded an interview in her Mexico City office, when she was still a politician. She had also been a law professor. In May 2006 Dra. Rivera invited Julia and me to participate in an Encuentro Internacional de Pintura Mural (International Muralism Encounter) in Mexico City with 200 exponents of muralism arts. The following year we went to support her at the opening of a Mexican graphics show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She was our guest of honor in 2008 at the unveiling of the 8’ Pacifica statue model in the Frida Garden next to the mural at CCSF. Over the years she visited San Francisco, and we visited her in México.

On her last San Francisco visit (photo above) for Father’s Day 2018 at the Brava Theater, I gave her a print of a photo of her as an 11 year old and her 9 year old sister Ruth with their father Diego in front of the cactus fence at the Casa Estudios.  Composer George Gershwin took the photo during his November 1935 visit. Over the years Dra. Rivera did much to keep her father’s legacy alive world-wide by giving talks and writing many books. She would especially have been proud that the Pan American Unity mural, which celebrates accomplished women, was recently the background for a ceremony welcoming 40 sci-tech women as new U.S. citizens. We will miss her and her smile.


L.D. Kirschenbaum recently posted important videos on YouTube. They are full of the figures Diego loved; it’s like seeing México through Diego’s eyes:

Film 1: Diego Rivera & Alfred Honigbaum, 1936

Film 2: Alfred Honigbaum tours Mexico, 1936


Jean Franco was stunning as Frida in our performance of Frida: Interview March 1941 at SFMOMA, Dec. 8, 2022. The full-house audience had wonderful things to say about Jean and the celebration of Diego’s birthday. The event was recorded, and we await the posting on-line.

Photo by Darrel Hess

Just received missives from México from dear friends Elena Durán and Dr. Michael Emmerson. Michael alerted me that the three-part BBC series, Becoming Frida Kahlo, is set to air next month. An article on the series speculates that Diego helped Frida in her “transition.” The theory is supported by Diego’s grandson Juan Coronel and curator Luis-Martin Lozano with whom Julia and I worked in 2005 on Taschen’s definitive book on Diego’s murals. The BBC crew interviewed me at SFMOMA in April 2022 and the thoroughness with which they prepared, impressed me. Will pass along more specific info next time on how to see the documentary.

Michael also had wonderful news, “I am delighted to let you know that Elena will be returning to give a concert in the Bay Area as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival on Sunday, 18 June @ 6pm in the BRAVA Theater, 24th Street, San Francisco. She will be playing a wonderful Mexican program with Nicholas McGegan [piano] and accompanied by video clips from the great movies of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. Elena, a world-renown flautist, was born in East Oakland, but has long resided in México. She has been a great friend of the mural, having performed at City College’s Diego Rivera Theatre on its behalf in the past.


The mural’s panel 5 has generated a lot of discussion. Rivera curiously captioned it “The Creative Culture of North Developing from the Necessity of Making Life Possible in a New and Empty Land,“ a terra nullius, and a wagon train enters the mural in the upper right-hand corner. The title has been criticized for omitting the fact that there were already peoples in this “new and empty land.” Why did Rivera not address the issue?

Was Rivera trying to ingratiate himself with this country as he emerged from the artistic exile imposed on him by the debacle at NYC’s Rockefeller Center in 1933-34? As SFMOMA’s recent “Diego Rivera’s America” exhibition demonstrated, though Diego could make a living doing portraits, his heart craved making murals. The less-lucrative mural business in Mexico was drying up and he lost opportunities in the US beginning with General Motors cancelling their contract. The gas suited figure sacrificed on barb wire in lower panel 4 was originally destined for GM’s mural at the Chicago World’s Fair. It’s use in the mural might also refer to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), which was banned by Hitler, but was shown at the GGIE. (Remarque would become Paulette Goddard’s last husband.)

But, maybe, the wagon train signifies something more, if you look a little to the left and towards the top at a tree being felled. In June 2018 I had previously written about an image of the árbol quebrado (broken tree) from the Códice Boturini, which documents the 200 year peregrination of the Mexica (Aztecs) from Aztlan to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Rivera’s depiction of a toppling massive redwood tree has two figures comically trying to restrain it with a rope. But the idea of a wandering people also has parallels to many cultures looking for a sign, from the Vikings to nomads. In the case of the Mexica the sign was an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak. The Mexica’s “new and empty land” was unfortunately previously populated by the city-state Culhuacán.

The ability to finally see the mural from a distance as it was intended is one of the great features of SFMOMA’s display. Simultaneously seeing both the rich, idealized indigenous life in panel 1 and the stark absence in panel 5 is Rivera’s statement. The sole indigenous person in panel 5 is akin to Ben-Hur as a galley slave. His mandate is to “row and live.” The “cigar store Indian,” disguised as another example of folk art, is a not-so-subtle rebuke for the sad state of indigenous peoples in this country. A thick plaster patch on the chest of this figure probably covers a comment that Diego’s more prudent side decided to obscure. Someday we’ll x-ray this area and find out.

So why was Diego being subtle? When Rivera got to the US in June 1940, Hitler was racing, basically unchallenged, through Europe. Diego’s beloved Paris fell not long after he arrived in San Francisco. It was only a matter of time before Hitler was victorious over the continent as both Collier’s magazine and Mexican political cartoons suggested. Rivera thought that once Hitler won in Europe, he’d turn his malignant eyes to the America’s. This Mexican political cartoon depicts the Führer “discovering” America.

HOY Octubre 12 Num 190

Hoy magazine cover, Oct. 12, 1940

Rivera was a Mexican Paul Revere, shouting that the “Nazis are coming, the Nazis are coming.” In Panel 4 he articulates that it is the US which must stop the Nazis by showing a hand with a swastika tattoo and dagger being restrained by a massive arm draped in an American flag. This was his paramount agenda. Any blatantly controversial images in panel 5, would have only distracted from his main thesis. Already, some German sympathizing San Franciscans had taken him to task for damaging the psyches of our impressionable youth with his less than complimentary depictions of Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini. There were many nefarious plots afoot to benefit the Nazis (and the Soviets) by maintaining US “neutrality.” At the time the “America Firsters” were a strange brew including communists and Nazi sympathizers. But the communists would bail after Hitler invaded the USSR in June 1941. After Hitler declared war on us on December 11, 1941, it was hard to find an “America Firster.” Henry Ford would make armaments for us and all was forgiven. Charles Lindbergh wouldn’t have such an easy transition.


Diego Rivera’s America at SFMOMA closed after drawing big crowds. In its closing weeks, visitors were alarmed to find out that many days were already sold out. For many, the icing on the cake either after or before seeing the exhibition was the Pan American Unity mural. The Diego Rivera’s America exhibition moves on to Crystal Bridges Museum (Bentonville, Arkansas), opening on March 11, 2023.

The looming “elephant in the room” is the question of what is going to happen to Pan American Unity when it is de-installed at SFMOMA in January 2024, a little over ten months from now. City College’s new Performing Arts Center will not have yet had a groundbreaking. There are few options given the constraints of mural size, duration of the “layover,” and the great cost to move the masterpiece. Any suggestions are welcome!



Irene Bohus enlarges photo of diver Helen Crlenkovich taken at the Fairmont Hotel’s Terrace Plunge, now the Tonga Room. WPA Photo.

Bari Lee, daughter of mural diver Helen Crlenkovich, came by for a visit and had some stories. In 1940 Helen was the best diver in the US and was again the national champ in 1945. The woman in the white bathing suit with her back to us (Panel 2) may be Bari’s aunt.  Bari was only seven years old when her mother passed away. Here is Bari speaking at her mother’s induction into the Croatian-American Sports Hall of Fame.

Actor Owen Wilson came by to visit the mural.

Dr. Clayborne Carson founded Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute in 2005. He was selected by Coretta Scott King in 1985 to organize MLK’s papers. We had a nice visit about historical research and then had lunch. Here is Dr. Carson’s interview of Bernard Lafeyette, “When I get Grown”. Thanks to Lauren Lee for the hook-up. Here is a Library of Congress Magazine – November/December 2022 (loc.gov)  article (page 21) on a map of lynchings.


More Remembrances

Jim Guthrie has passed away. A structural engineer, he participated in the 2011 preliminary mural move analysis and had generously designed the Olmec head tie-down.

Nathan Zakheim has passed away. He oversaw the conservation of the Frederick Olmsted fresco secco murals in the lobby of architect Timothy Pflueger’s Science Building at CCSF. Nathan was the son of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim and brother of Masha Zakheim and Ruth Gottstein.





Dia de los Muertos 2022

José Guadalupe Posada Gran Calavera Eléctrica

Dear Friends of Diego,

Dia de los Muertos (Tue, Nov 1, 2022 – Wed, Nov 2, 2022) is my favorite Mexican holiday because it nourishes and refreshes our ties with nuestros antepasados, those who have gone on before us. The mural’s Yaqui deer dancers daily invoke part of my heritage.  Working with the mural has instilled a kinship with those who created it in 1940; those who welded the frames, slaked the plaster’s lime, ground the colors, and painted a work that everyday glows still brighter. The conveyor belt bracketing the right side of the mural, like the Mayan calendar, is a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time. Our mural watch is part of a continuum of those who have and those who will care for it over the coming centuries; we will become the antepasados.

Set on Dia de los Muertos, the new San Diego Opera El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego) opened October 29. It’ll be at the San Francisco Opera next June. Hopefully, some tie-in with our mural can be arranged. Diego and Frida live on in these and their works. (The Mexican government is investigating the burning of a Frida drawing to create an NFT.)

Ken Burns’ 3-part documentary The US and the Holocaust reminds us of those lost in WWII in the camps and other killing fields.  Episode 2 depicts our country’s social and political milieu in which Rivera was immersed as he created our mural. You cannot understand the mural without being conversant with newspaper headlines of the time. Diego was a Mexican Paul Revere crying out that “The Nazis are coming; the Nazis are coming;” it’s his grito. The US’s isolationist policies seemed logical to many, if you ignored the fact that the world was smaller. Charles Lindbergh, soon a Nazi sympathizer, had flown the Atlantic solo in 1927. In 1931 you could fly from San Francisco to New York in 27 hours. Even the Bay area was smaller because of the two new bridges cinching in the bay. The Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island celebrated the new bridges and was home to the China Clippers, flying boats which could leap-frog the Pacific.

In Pan American Unity Diego was arguing that in a smaller world at war, there was no place to hide. As Californians have found, you cannot stay “neutral” in a forest fire. That your part of the forest is not currently ablaze, will be scant consolation when the wind invariably shifts. Rivera was a few chess moves ahead, advocating that our country check the seemingly unstoppable Nazis, still allied with Stalin’s USSR. (A year later, four days after Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on us.) Lamentably, our country’s consensus to not accept refugees-especially Jews and people from the “wrong” countries-didn’t reflect well on a “nation of immigrants.” Healing that attitude is still a work in progress.

My father and uncle came back from defending our country in the Pacific and in Europe in WWII, only to find that schools were still segregated for Mexican-Americans. There was a disconnect between responsibilities and rights. Having been temporarily stationed as a Marine in the south in 1966, I saw, first-hand, segregation and the shocking “Jim Crowe” restrictions on Black people. As a 19 year old, I suddenly realized someone else would decide if I could drink from a “Whites Only” water fountain. It became not merely a philosophical, but a visceral part of my education; something I never would have learned if I had gone directly to college. More lessons awaited me soon, much further away. These racial divides were also manifest in “hidden” redlining policies. At a high school reunion last month, a few discussed the “redlining” in my Southern California hometown. Mexican-Americans could only live in the “north end” if they stayed on their side of the railroad tracks, the Colonia, where my grandparents Manuelita and Abelardo Ordoñez lived. Not long ago, the California Historical Society presented: Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America – YouTube. Longstanding societal ills will never be resolved if the situations which bred them are not sunshined. (The California Association of Realtors has recently apologized about this issue.)


Reminder: Jean Franco and I will perform our 45 minute one-act play “Frida: March 1941 Interview” on Diego’s birthday, Thursday December 8 at 6 pm in SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery. The play is set in México shortly after Frida and Diego remarried. The play, like the mural, is free to the public. (For the last year Jean, who plays “Frida,” has been living in México, so we’ve started our rehearsals via Zoom.)


Like the recent asteroid shot, Paulette Goddard was the “bombshell” aimed by George Gershwin that deflected Diego’s trajectory.  Paulette appeared in México to get her portrait painted at Gershwin’s suggestion and a smitten Diego (divorced from Frida) abandoned his announced marriage to Nieves Orozco, the Desnudo con Alcatraces. Paulette predictably moved on. When Frida fled to San Francisco after Leon Trotsky was assassinated, Diego was available to remarry her in San Francisco’s City Hall on his birthday. A “Fred Astaire”- precise choreography seems to determine these interactions. But what might have happened if Porgy and Bess had instead opened to good reviews and Gershwin had never exiled to Hollywood and met Paulette? In New York, his brain tumor might have instead been diagnosed and successfully healed. We might have had another 40 years of Gershwin music. And what might have happened to Diego, Frida, and Nieves? In quantum mechanics many possibilities exist until the wave function collapses and there’s a single outcome.


For hardworking immigrants with Hollywood hopes, the Frida Kahlo Theater is a space to learn and dream – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com).  Having grown up in my late director “Uncle Mike Maynez’s” Plaza Players theater, this article resonated. My plays are a homage to him, who made my world blossom. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the UNAM’s team chemist coming to analyze the plaster and pigment for our mural move was named Miguel Angel Máynez, like my uncle, and hailed from my grandmother Herminia’s hometown of Valle de Allende, Chihuahua. When I suggested that we might be related, he enlightened me, “It’s a small place, we’re all related.” The two degrees of separation that has blessed the Rivera research, had me working with an unknown primo! Off to the side Rod Serling opined, ”The cosmos is a small barrio and we’re all vecinos.”


Opening at the Noguchi Museum: In Praise of Caves: Organic Architecture Projects from Mexico by Carlos Lazo, Mathias Goeritz, Juan O’Gorman, and Javier Senosiain (October 19, 2022–February 26, 2023). Juan O’Gorman designed Frida and Diego’s Casa Estudios, where George Gershwin hung out and took pictures in November 1935. They were built with funds Diego was paid on his first US pilgrimage to San Francisco.


Our Canal Arts friends have an exciting project, The People of the Canal; A Story of Thousands of Years. They propose to create “over two miles of the San Rafael Shoreline Path, an interactive timeline, a history of the people and their relation to the land and water, in the voices of its occupants, through archeology, written and spoken evidence, and creative imagination.” “The fiscal sponsor that manages tax exempt donations in general support for The Canal Arts’ work is Marin’s 95 year old, and oldest, arts organization, Marin Society of Artists.”


Here is an NPR follow-up on the controversy over the Victor Arnautoff murals at Washington High School. James Oles, the curator of Diego Rivera’s America said that the issue drew world-wide attention. The Living New Deal will be hosting a benefit screening of Town Destroyer at the Roxie Theater on November 10 at 6:45 pm. (Note: there are benefits in the previous days for this film about the Washington HS murals by Victor Arnautoff.)


There is no further word on when the SFAI mural will be available to the public.


Mural visitor stories:

Peter Albin (the bass player for Big Brother and the Holding Co, Janis Joplin’s original band) came by SFMOMA and we had a chat. He is a cousin of puppeteer Ralph Chessé’s family. The puppeteer is mentioned in John Weatherwax’s 1931 short story about Frida, The Queen of Montgomery Street (pages 22-25). He performed at 728 Montgomery, just up the block from 716, Ralph Stackpole’s studio, where Diego and Frida were staying. Frida loved being near Chinatown. Their entourage walked in the rain to see the puppet show. (When I went by, I found 728 no longer exists, likely folded into 730.)


Julie and Charlie from the East coast came by the mural with an interesting offer. She had an Anton Refregier painting, My Critics, and wanted to donate and put it up near his Rincon Annex murals. Hooked Julie up with my friends at the Living New Deal.  Project Scholar Gray Brechin has written about the controversy at the Rincon Annex murals, which is the subject of the offered painting. Our mural’s primary assistant Emmy Lou Packard helped save the murals from Refregier’s critics. (Emmy Lou’s granddaughter Shannon, whose profile is a spitting image of her grandmother’s, recently came by to visit the mural. In the 2015 performance of our Interview with Frida, Shannon and her son did a “magical realism” walk-on, appearing as Emmy Lou and her son Donald Cairns, the little boy in the mural, who is Shannon’s father.)

My Critics by Anton Refregier, photo by Julie


Lindy and David, who are working on a documentary about Leon Trotsky, came by and we compared notes and anecdotes. Later, Lindy sent me the photo below, which I absolutely love. Somewhere Diego is smiling.

Unknown photographer at Secretaría de Educación Publica. Posted on Facebook by Marcela Davison Aviles


Had an interesting conversation with a local architect about the Rockefeller Center mural. He thought a Rivera piece still existed on the ceiling of “30 Rock.” I assured him that Rivera’s mural had been destroyed and that he hadn’t painted on the ceiling. In researching the issue, I found that Spanish artist José Maria Sert, whose 1937 American Progress replaced Rivera’s Man At the Crossroads, was a fascist follower of Francisco Franco. In Sert’s ceiling mural called Time, a vortex of circling planes seems an ominous testimonial to the Luftwaffe’s April 26, 1937, bombing atrocities on Guernica in Spain’s Basque region. Sert’s mural, painted on canvas in Paris, was installed at “30 Rock” in December 1937. Had Sert seen Picasso’s Guernica, displayed at the Exposition Internationale, held from 25 May to 25 November 1937 in Paris? The irony of a communist Rivera, being replaced by a fascist artist speaks to the temper of the times. Fear of an atheistic communism drove many agendas, sometimes creating perverse alliances. The fascist past is not so far removed as Italy just commemorated the 100th anniversary of Mussolini coming to power. (Diego, though, would have appreciated all the scaffolding in this mural.)


While writing this newsletter, it was appropriate that one of the mural visitors was Cianna Stewart, who writes Dying Kindness, the “podcast for people who are going to die someday.” Just seems like the mural visitors keep getting even more interesting. The interactions at the mural reflect all the wonderful possibilities this masterpiece can generate with robust foot traffic. The mural has never been so well displayed in its entire 82 years of existence. (At SFMOMA the mural is one foot off the ground; at the 1940 Art in Action the mural was 14 feet off the ground, as it was going to be displayed in City College’s new library. Rivera was so high up that Miné Okubo demonstrated the fresco technique at floor level.) Come see the mural (for free) and SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera’s America, which will only be up until January 2, 2023.



Photo: Will Maynez

A new 6’ x 20’ mural reproduction has been mounted in the CCSF Chef’s Table at the Pierre Coste Dining Room. Come have lunch and enjoy the mural. The reproduction is dedicated to my late friends Tannis Reinhertz, past chairperson of the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Studies Department, and Librarian Julia Bergman my partner for 20 years on the Diego Rivera Mural Project. They were instrumental in erecting the original piece in 1997 and were renown champions of the College. This piece was funded by the CCSF Culinary Arts and Hospitality Studies Department and the Foundation of City College of San Francisco Diego Rivera Mural account.

The hi-res image was printed by Magna Chrome on aluminum, is UV resistant, and can be cleaned. This is a milestone in that it replaces the now faded and warped reproduction I put up for Tannis in 1997, my first Diego Rivera related project. At the time with Julia’s financial backing, it necessitated getting the mural panels photographed and the resulting film digitized and stitched to create a 250 MB “Mother” image file of the mural. That digital file was the largest I’d ever seen and the concept of storing it was daunting. Today, Cultural Heritage Imaging’s 8.06 gigapixel photogrammetry file of our mural is being stored at Stanford. We pass this image forward to future stewards of the mural.


Cynthia Boissevain has passed away. Her mother Estrella Elizaga hosted the party in Mexico City for George Gershwin in November 1935, which is the subject of my play. In a 2018 phone call from Wales, Cynthia told me that as a young girl she secretly sat on the stairs and heard Gershwin play Porgy and Bess on her mother’s piano. Her son moved her back to México so she could spend her last days in her favorite place.


We remember my “Mission homey” architect Timothy Pflueger. He lived his whole life in a house that’s just around the corner from me in San Francisco’s Mission district. We have been the grateful recipients of his wonderful architecture and his friendship with Diego and Frida.


We note the passing of dear Ruth Gottstein at 100 years old. Ruth was the sister of our late friend CCSF instructor Masha Zakheim, whom my Rivera partner Julia Bergman and me, called the “Voice in the Wilderness” for her earlier efforts on behalf of the Rivera mural, when others didn’t care. Their father Bernard Zakheim was an artist and Ruth is the little girl in the sailor suit in his Coit Tower mural, The Library. His History of Medicine in California murals were recently uninstalled at UCSF.


My late wife, Carmelita Mae Alvarez, who though she’s gone, left me her smile. Descanse en Paz, Mi Amor.