“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

June 2022

Photo: Emmy Lou Packard, 1941, Diego with Monkey at the Casa-Estudio


Dear Friends of Diego,

The Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience exhibition opening reception is on Saturday, June 18, 2pm-4pm at the Richmond Art Center. Come on out and join the festivities! The exhibition runs June 22 – August 20, 2022, with many other events. It is co-curated by Robbin Légère Henderson and Rick Tejada-Flores (Rivera in America, Orozco: Man of Fire).

Emmy Lou Packard became the great benefactor to our Diego Rivera Mural Project many years ago, when her family, Donald and Kathé Cairns, shared her copious research with us. (Emmy Lou’s son Donald is the boy in the white t-shirt in the lower center of the mural.) Her work and the Timothy Pflueger papers became the foundation for all the investigations that have followed. Emmy Lou acted as Diego’s primary assistant and secretary on Pan American Unity. At the start of 1941 she and her father returned to México with Diego, and she spent most of the rest of the year with Diego and Frida. Her unique first-person insights and her later work developing a book on Diego Rivera in San Francisco have been priceless. [BTW The man in the green vest depicted behind her in the mural, has remained a mystery to us. It’s not Frank Lloyd Wright. Our last best-guess is that it may be Victor Fleming, director of 1939’s Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.]

Reminder: SFMOMA “Diego Rivera’s America” opens July 16, 2022 and runs to January 2, 2023. Member tickets and General tickets are now available.


Image: Katherine Du Tiel/ SFMOMA.

Diego Rivera: Moving of a Masterpiece, the documentary about relocating Pan American Unity to SFMOMA, has just won a San Francisco/Northern California Emmy in theArts/Entertainment – News or Long Form Content” category. This documentary captures 5 years of work in a precise 24 minutes. Congratulations to the stellar film crew!:

“Diego Rivera: Moving a Masterpiece,” NBC Bay Area KNTV/Northern Pine Productions Jill Lynch, Producer; Jennifer Walters, Produce/ Writer; Joshua Bryant, Producer/Cinematographer/ Editor; Malou Nubla, Host; Cole O’Brien, Cinematographer; Dave Corona, Photographer; Trey Hall, Graphic Artist; Lauren Garcia, Production Associate


Having recently written about Diego Rivera citing Thomas Jefferson’s quote “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” here is a more sobering note on President Jefferson. In a secret letter to Congress Jefferson proposed driving the Native Americans into debt as a means of obtaining their land. The issue of Indian schools in government policy was all part of a plan of “assimilation”…of their land. There is a paucity of indigenous people on the far-right side of our mural, Diego’s subtle comment on US policy.


A study for The Contribution of the Negro  to Democracy in America by Charles White (1918-1979) (christies.com)

This study in which Charles White tried to include missing parts of our history recently came up for sale at Christies. The adjoining essay (in link above) remarked on the study being evocative of Pan American Unity. White was married to Elizabeth Catlett (m. 1941–1946), whom I mentioned last issue, at the time this study was done. Very early in her career, Catlett’s work at the Public Works of Art Project exposed her to the art of Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias. She ended up in México.


At the suggestion of Lope Yap, Jr., I recently watched the PBS American Masters’ Tyrus Wong documentary while researching Rivera’s assistant Peter Lowe. Wong’s travails as a Chinese artist in LA exemplifies why our National Narrative must be “refreshed.” Some current agendas can only be advanced with a complete ignorance or disregard for how we really got here. The California Historical Society has a powerful calendar of lectures and events to alleviate some of the holes in the historical record.

In the idiosyncratic year 1940 we were the only major player still not in the fray. The times were strange. As a nation we had the luxury of only debating about the war. Rivera was adamant that the US would determine the outcome of the war, regardless of which side we backed. A year after WWII commenced in Europe, the America First Committee was formed on September 4, 1940. It was an umbrella isolationist group, which included pro-Nazi and pro-communist factions, advocating against US entry into the war. (The group disbanded after Pearl Harbor and Hitler, Japan’s ally, declaring war on us.) In México, the Ukrainian Leon Trotsky knew that “Stalinist Justice” was awaiting him. The only question was from where the attack would come? With Stalin and Hitler on the same side, the threat could come from anywhere. The first attempt on May 24 sent Rivera into hiding. A good indication of the tumult of the times is that Diego Rivera was at first thought to possibly be complicit in this attempt (it was Siqueiros!) and, also, the FBI thought Rivera was a likely next target. In our mural the cultivated actor Edward G. Robinson, who invariably played a thug, played an FBI agent in the scene from Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Charlie Chaplin bowed to the times and was making his first “Talking” movie. High on the scaffolding painting, Rivera was armed to the teeth, his definition of Art in Action.


As Diego dug into his bag of tricks to invent his masterpiece, sometimes the connections became very esoteric. The Severed Hand in lower panel 4 might refer to Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), the first surrealistic film. There’s a scene where a policeman pokes at a severed hand with a stick. As part of Spain’s Republican government, Luis Buñuel fled when his side lost. He ended up in Hollywood writing uncredited gags for Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Diego might have met Buñuel when he went down to LA on his first weekend in California. At the time, Dictator co-star Paulette Goddard gave Diego movie publicity stills, which he used in the mural. However, though Rivera might want to acknowledge Buñuel, he didn’t want to “out” him to potential assassins.


Our late friend Robert Seward did an extensive study of the Masonic imagery in our mural. He would call and regale me with the connections he had discovered. Unfortunately, he did not have the opportunity to get them recorded. Having done research myself, Masonic symbols keep popping up.

Masonic Aprons XVIIIth Century.

The image above almost serves as a schematic for the symmetry of the mural’s two columns on the extreme ends and the center icon.  (A recent mural visitor from Nevada City, up north in the Gold Country, explained to me that the large wooden screw on the mural’s right side is most likely for compressing bales of hay to feed the horses pulling wagons out in the boonies.) The all-seeing eye appears in the half face-half skull in the center. The worker in panel 4 is coming up what might approximate “Jacob’s Ladder.” I wonder if Diego included these images to please architect Timothy Pflueger, a Mason. Diego’s father was a 33rd degree Mason, but later while trying to get re-admitted to the communist party, Diego in a “Biblical” moment would repeatedly deny he’d ever been a Mason. In our mural among the Masons is an apron-clad Samuel Morse signaling with his right hand: “I am a Master Maker Mason,” Robert Fulton (a NY Lodge was named after him), Henry Ford, Diego Rivera, Timothy Pflueger, Simón Bolivar, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, José María Morelos y Pavon, and George Washington. The Masonic symbols also include: the Broken Column (at the margin of panels 4 & 5), the Globe in Chaplin’s hand, a Bow drill (shaped like a Mason’s level), chisels, hammers, Compass and Square, and the “Tree of Life.”


This just in from JR, a new endeavor: The Inside Out Project: “We help communities turn their untold stories into a work of public art.” The good work continues.

It’s been three years since JR’s homage to Diego Rivera, The Chronicles of SF, was installed at SFMOMA. Our mural now occupies the space. (That’s me with the balloons.)

SFAI invited me over to meet Zoya Kocur, the new Diego Rivera Fresco Program manager. It was a wonderful three hour discussion of all kinds of ways we can collaborate. Ms. Zocur‘s vision for the mural certainly resonated with me, especially since the future of the SFAI mural is now assured. These are especially good days for Diego Rivera in San Francisco with SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera’s America opening very soon. The show’s next venue Crystal Bridges was profiled on CBS.

A milestone has been reached in the fight to save the Victor Arnautoff murals at Washington High School (San Francisco). On Tuesday evening, May 24, 2022, at their regularly scheduled bi-weekly meeting, the SF Board of Education formally voted, 4 to 2 to withdraw their appeal in George Washington High School Alumni Association (GWHSAA) v. SFUSD.  We owe a debt of gratitude to all who stepped up to stave off the obliteration of the frescos. Hopefully, next steps can protect the mural’s future. It’s evocative of when Detroit Auto Workers Defended a Diego Rivera Mural. Recently, I got energized by the story of Cornelia and Irving Sussman, a generous couple with a Bay-area connection. Even small groups can do wondrous things.

The 3rd grade mural visitors were a joy.  It seems to me no student should graduate from SF Bay-area schools without having seen our mural. It’s a gateway to a bigger world and an example of the wondrous things to be found just over the horizon. Extrapolating conservatively from SFMOMA attendance figures, I figure 100,000 visitors have seen the mural in the past year. However, the mural’s future is still a big question mark.



April 2022

Still Life and Blossoming Almond Trees,  April 30, 1931,  Photo: Ansel Adams


Dear Friends of Diego,

Diego Rivera’s America is coming to SFMOMA on July 16, 2022 and will continue through the end of the year. Got a sneak peek at the Still Life and Blossoming Almond Trees fresco, which is on loan from UC Berkeley and has already come in for some conservation TLC. Looking forward to seeing more of the 150 pieces by Rivera, many seldom seen, which will comprise the show. Many out-of-town visitors to the Pan American Unity mural are already making plans to return for this show. The exhibition, guest curated by James Oles with Maria Castro, SFMOMA Assistant Curator, will continue on to Crystal Bridges Museum of Art next year. (The SFMOMA Conservation Department also has responsibilities maintaining the Nature x Humanity: Oxman Architects exhibit. Some pieces are evocative of something Georgia O’Keefe might be doing if she were still alive.)


Just as an artist might position adjacent complementary colors to create a visual scintillation at their margin, Diego juxtaposed scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator about antisemitism, next to images of notorious anti-Semites Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to create a mental dissonance at the margin. “Henry Ford’s history of mass producing hate is a cautionary tale for today.” George Gershwin experienced it first-hand. Similarly, at the margin of a Marxist ideal, there are the horrors that transpired in Stalin’s Soviet Union, “between the idea and the reality…falls the shadow”.  The incongruity between the two scenarios created a shadowy “border” region. Having supported Trotsky, no saint himself, what mental gymnastics did Diego and Frida have to perform to psychologically cross this border and become Stalinists? The issue is an insight into the Mexican artists and into those times; to many it was the Soviets who won WWII. They crushed Germany on the anvil of Mother Russia at a final cost of over 20,000,000 Russians dead, the heaviest losses by far of any country involved in the war.

Spent an afternoon out on the streets and at the mural with the BBC Two crew in town filming a three-part Frida and Diego documentary. The Scottish crew of Louise, Emi, and Becky had Mexican cameraman Alex fill out the team. They had been to NYC, Detroit, northern California, and were on their way to México. At a preparatory Zoom meeting I had been impressed with the scope and the insights of the story they were telling. The documentary will come out (at the earliest) late this year or early next year. To add to the mural’s exposure, we did an interview with Radio France and later this month will do a Zoom talk for an art history class at the Universidad de la Salle Oaxaca. This is the international exposure the mural has always deserved.

My friends from the Living New Deal, Harvey Smith and Susan Ives, came to see the WPA exhibit at SFMOMA. While chatting with them at the mural, I mentioned that Nieves Orozco, Diego’s model and in 1940 briefly in line to be the next Mrs. Diego Rivera, had hosted Marilyn Monroe in México in February 1962, the year that the movie star died. By then Nieves was married to Frederick Vanderbilt Field, the richest communist in the US, though they lived half the time in México. Ten years ago this episode came to light when the FBI re-issued Monroe’s less heavily redacted FBI files. Well, Harvey did some sleuthing and came up with Marilyn’s family connection to México. It turned out her mother was born in México, a fact movie moguls were not interested in promoting. Through Nieves, there were only two degrees of separation between Marilyn Monroe and Diego! (He, however, was a big Mae West fan.) Alarmingly, Marilyn was romantically attracted to Frederick, which distressed Nieves, who had previously lost Diego when movie star Paulette Goddard had turned up on the scene. As Frida would have said, “¡&#@*! those Hollywood movie stars…” But Diego not marrying Nieves left him available when Frida showed up in San Francisco after Trotsky was assassinated. After she had a brief fling with Heinz Berggruen, Frida and Diego re-married in City Hall. Some people have their honeymoon before they get married. Nieves is the famous Nude with Calla Lilies (1944), part of this summer’s show. In a 2006 interview with Julia Bergman and me, Nieves told us she posed with her back to the viewer because she was pregnant. As I mentioned last time, it’s a good research strategy to have smart friends.

In perusing the Frederick Vanderbilt Field FBI files, an interesting anecdote came up. Artist Elizabeth Catlett Mora is quoted in a December 1961 report as being upset with Angelica Siqueiros for not using the money she’s been given to try harder to get her husband David Alfaro Siqueiros and his pals out of a Mexican jail for “agitating”. When the conservation work was being done on the mural in 2018, prior to the move to SFMOMA, etched graffiti, Libertad para Siqueiros!, was found on lower panel 2. After conferring with the art conservators, we suspected Emmy Lou Packard scratched it while doing conservation work after the mural was first installed at CCSF in 1961. Many artists had taken out an ad in the NYT on August 9, 1961, to get the Mexican government to free Siqueiros. Since they had embraced Stalinism in their later years, the deceased Diego and Frida would now have been on Siqueiros’ side. Perhaps, Emmy Lou was standing up for all of them, who had become “True Believers” and had publicly recanted their backsliding Trotskyist ways. (I had the great honor to give Ms. Catlett and her husband, Mexican artist Francisco Mora, a mural tour in 2000. They invited me and my wife to the Legion of Honor for a ceremony to accept Catlett’s sculpture Stepping Out, a donation by Johnnie Cochran.)

The “Degrees of Separation” phenomenon on this Rivera project manifests itself even geographically. Just a short block down Natoma from SFMOMA is the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust, the source of invaluable information for the Gershwin angle in our story (It was George who sent Paulette Goddard to see Diego in México and who went shopping with Frida, who also modeled for him). In the mural we can see Pflueger’s 140 New Montgomery “Pacific Telephone & Telegraph” building and looking out the SFMOMA window, there it is, a glimmering tower less than half a block away. Tim Pflueger lived all his life in a house at 1015 Guerrero, just around the corner from me and just blocks from St. Luke’s Hospital where Dr. Eloesser checked-in Frida in September 1940. (Here is the latest on Pflueger’s Castro Theater.) The winner, though, is the George Gershwin postcard, which was sent from Mexico City to New York in November 1935. When I first heard about it, it was in Houston, but the owner told me she had given the postcard away. She had gifted it to conductor Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco. The postcard was just two miles away and MTT’s staff made a copy for me in 2008, 73 years after it was mailed.

Jean Franco & Will Maynez at CCSF 75th mural anniversary performance.             Photo: Roberto Regalado, 2015

Jean Franco, “Frida,” has tentatively booked us to do a presentation of our one-act Interview with Frida at SFMOMA in December and, perhaps, two added performances at another venue. There are EIGHT Immersive Frida shows running in the US. The Frida opera is being performed in San Jose later this month. (One exception with their ad is that the Northern California premiere actually occurred at City College in the early 1990’s. Still have the somewhat shredded show t-shirt.) Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection is currently running at the Portland Art Museum.

The topic of how art is displayed is something that comes up frequently with the mural’s ideal setting at SFMOMA. Recently, while looking at the mural, a guest brought up an analogy. Seeing the mural in person is similar to the difference between actually visiting the Grand Canyon with its infinite colors and lighting as opposed to just seeing a photo of the landmark. People are stunned by the scope of the mural and the varying colors, depending upon the time of day and the weather. The mural is purposely low hanging fruit. Very young people and people in wheelchairs can appreciate it close-up. The mural has never been so accessible. Though I often quote art conservator Francesca Pique’s admonition, “Think of taking care of the mural for the next two hundred years,” recently a Minoan fresco has been dated to 1550-1450 BC. That makes the Pompeii frescoes, recently shown at  the Legion of Honor, effectively youngsters at merely 2000 years old.

Diego Rivera’s Hoy article in early 1940 addressed the issue of why Stalin had invaded Finland. The Soviet Union needed a buffer because Peter the Great had positioned the capital too far west. However, Stalin’s trouble in subjugating Finland, which was adept at winter fighting, may have emboldened Hitler to launch Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR, in June 1941, six months after the mural was completed. Now, totalitarian leader Stalin became our ally, “Uncle Joe.” The U.S. Lend-Lease program, which helped supply armaments to our new ally the USSR, is now being proposed for the Ukraine to use against the Russians. (Reflecting on its history, nonaligned Finland is now seriously considering joining NATO given the Russian’s actions in the Ukraine.) After WWII, some people wondered when the USSR would reimburse us for the Lend-Lease. These people were naive as to the nature of the “deal” FDR had brokered on behalf of our country.

In other examples of the concept of “historic DNA,” Hitler was ceded the Sudetenland to “rescue” ethnic Germans in September 1938. Then he decided to take all of Czechoslovakia. In 2014 Putin “rescued” Russian separatists in the Donbas region of the Ukraine. Now he wants to take over the whole country.

On August 12, 1940 the SF Examiner front page announced that “Hitler praised Lindbergh’s war talk.” Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh had become a shill for Nazi Germany and received their highest civilian award (as did Henry Ford). Today Putin’s press showcases supportive opinions by Tucker Carlson and President Trump about the Ukraine invasion. Maybe, they’re unaware of the public disgrace which befell Lindbergh for his views.

Papers seized after Berlin fell in 1945 show that from the fall of France in June through August 1940, the Nazis were trying to affect the US presidential election, (NYT article, August 1, 1957).

All that’s old is new again.




February 2022

Diego Rivera, The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on This Continent, also known as Pan American Unity, 1940; City College of San Francisco; © Banco de México Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico City / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dear Friends of Diego,

“The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

In lower panel 2 Rivera quotes from Thomas Jefferson’s letter of November 13, 1787 to William Stephens Smith regarding Shay’s Rebellion. In latter 1940 Rivera had a very precise mission: to articulate a paradigm for an alliance of the Americas and to get the United States into the war against Nazi Germany.  Therefore, he embraced a particular interpretation of the quote that Jefferson holds in his hand. But like scripture, words will be interpreted at the discretion of the person citing them. Timothy McVeigh’s t-shirt bore the quote on the day of his Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. A doctor who entered the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 texted, “Tree of liberty was watered today!” Who is it that determines who are the “patriots” and who are the “tyrants”? As the assault on the Capitol Building continues to be investigated, some comparisons are being made with Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt, based on a lie, to overthrow the elected government. (Gray Brechin of The Living New Deal addresses another similar issue here.)

Rivera’s art is very explicit. In the upper right corner of this image, Abraham Lincoln is warding off the symbols of the fascist aggressors as wisps of the gaseous cloud waft in from lower panel 4. Some have suggested that the image of the 16th president is a reference to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the Norteamericanos who fought in the Spanish Civil War with the duly-elected Republicans against Franco’s Nationalists. The opposing sides had been backed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, respectively. The civil war ended on April 1, 1939 and just five months later the Soviet Union and Germany, now allies, started WWII. On September 1 Germany invaded Poland from the west and on September 17 the USSR invaded Poland from the east. Writing about the cynicism manifested in their so-called “Non-Aggression Pact” put Diego in mortal danger, according to his FBI file.

We see the fasces, the wooden staves bound about an axe; a Roman symbol of power. The Lincoln Memorial has these symbols of power on the armchair. Mussolini appropriated the symbol and it lent its name to his political party. Both Hitler and Mussolini embraced ancient Roman symbols to legitimize their envisioned long-lasting regimes. Straddling the fasces is a symbol Rivera composed, a black cross out of which shoot jets of flame at right angles. Was this fiery swastika a reference to the Croix-de-Feu, the symbol of French fascists? Below this we see the twin cannons from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin and the bayonets and mother with dead child from the “Odessa steps” scene. (Note: Lower panel 4 has a reference to Picasso’s Guernica in the depiction of another mother over her dead child and, perhaps, in the “flames” by the cannon shell.  Guernica is such an indictment of war that when Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the UN in 2003 to argue, based on a lie, for invading Iraq, the US requested that a tapestry replica of Picasso’s work be covered; the optics would be paradoxical. The tapestry had been commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller, who had the notorious incident with Diego Rivera in 1933.)

The tableau of the American “liberators” is the counterpoint to the totalitarian leaders of lower panel 4. In a pointed omission, Theodore Roosevelt, who is carved between Jefferson and Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore, was not depicted. His 1905 Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine sanctioned United States machinations in Latin America. USMC Major General Smedley Butler, twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, would belatedly rail in War is a Racket against these expansive overtures in which he had admittedly participated. For Teddy Roosevelt, Rivera substituted abolitionist John Brown, who depending on the viewer’s politics was the first martyr of the Civil War or a cold-blooded killer. History is all about ambiguity. Regardless, the image of Brown is evocative of Michelangelo’s Moses or God in the Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants. Rivera is layering meaning into his mural and the viewer’s intellectual bandwidth affords access to more or less of this information. (This is the constraint under which I consciously labor.)

All of these images are part of the Liberty Tree fresco, which Diego depicts himself painting with his plasterer working ahead of him. This is a “mural” within the mural. Rivera stands in working solidarity with the Mexican craftspeople in the foreground, who are part of the larger mural. Like the tromp l’oeil design of The Making of a Mural fresco at the San Francisco Art Institute, Rivera is creating different levels of reality to engage or baffle the viewer.

Rivera was being careful in this first foray into the United States after a six year artistic exile in the wake of the Rockefeller incident. He needed to get his foot back in the door, unknowingly, for the last time. His title for the fifth panel was The Creative Culture of North Developing from the Necessity of Making Life Possible in a New and Empty Land. “A New and Empty Land”? Rivera would seem to be an apologist for those who came up with the ideology of “Manifest Destiny.” But, Rivera subtly maintained his “revolutionary credentials” by depicting the sole Native American as a slave turning the lathe. His only other reference to the original inhabitants is the “Cigar Store Indian” covered in a pastiche of symbols, a surrogate, I believe, for the countless victims of genocide, which was unfortunately their “manifest destiny.” These are a stark contrast with his vibrant, albeit idealized, depiction of the indigenous peoples of México on the mural’s left side. However, the right side’s subtlety may have been a strategic move to avoid creating a distracting controversy. His main polemic was for US entry into the war against Germany as depicted by the strong arm, draped in the stars and stripes, restraining a smaller Nazi arm wielding a dagger. There was some blow-back from the German-heritage community, who took offense at Rivera’s depiction of Hitler and his agenda. The local German Consul General Captain Fritz Wiedemann, Hitler’s superior officer in WWI, hung out at the old Schroeder’s and strode about town in a black leather trench coat and a low-slung fedora, having seen too many “B” movies. Fritz felt confident he could convert northern California over to his point of view. In 1940 San Francisco was like Casablanca with agents of many sides walking the streets. Rivera, however, was walking a tightrope, exposed high on the scaffolding. Once Trotsky was murdered, Diego had a .45 in one pocket, a .38 in the other.

The mural’s exposure at SFMOMA has been a joy to experience. Museum-goers point out elements of the mural to their partners and some have given me insights: Frida stands directly under the aspect of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue, who is the patron of women who die in childbirth. Friends, old and new, come by to see the mural.  Schoolteachers are preparing to bring their students.  See: Teaching Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural: Curriculum from City College of San Francisco · SFMOMA

My favorite 3rd grade school teacher Amy messaged: “Look what I found in a So Cal airport car rental display?!”

(Her class’s mural visit with me is in April and, like her previous classes, they’ll come better prepared than many college students.)

Ran into Paul and Anne Karlstrom at the mural. Paul’s interviews for the Archives of American Art and others have been an ongoing resource for me and many who study art. It’s all about the legacy we leave. Recently, architect Timothy Pflueger’s great-nephew, architect Tom Pflueger and his daughter Genevieve, visited. He told me stories he’d come across in helping his father John organize the Pflueger family papers. It’s so much fun to see Tim’s 140 New Montgomery depicted in the mural and then look out the window and see the actual building. At Treasure Island Timothy created much for the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE). Now we’re getting a revitalized Treasure Island, which still has the three permanent aircraft buildings from the GGIE. The dark roof hanger, closest to the Oakland side, is where Rivera painted our mural. The size of the 14’ 9” square upper mural panels was the largest which could be crated and still transported over the top deck of the Bay Bridge, standing up to protect the precious fresco plaster.

Here’s an example of a research item. Some time back I got a “Diego Rivera” Google alert about a 1940 SF house for sale. It was designed and built by a WPA artist who worked with the renowned Diego Rivera.” Well, after hitting a dead end trying to identify the artist, I forwarded the info to CCSF’s Dr. Nicole Oest, who coordinates our docents. She hit the jackpot and identified the artist who built the house as Jack Moxom. (Ironically, it sold on Diego’s birthday, December 8, 2020.) So I forwarded this info to art conservator Anne Rosenthal, who restored the Reuben Kadish mural at the old SF State College building (now the Haight Street Art Center). She did some sleuthing and forwarded the AAA interview with Hebe Stackpole and Jack Moxom, who had done WPA murals at that complex of buildings. It turns out that after Trotsky was assassinated in México Diego Rivera was eager to rent Moxom’s house because it had high walls. Though, he never actually ended up working with the Mexican artist, Jack confirmed in the interview that Diego was armed. A useful research strategy is to have smart friends.


Our friend Luis-Martín Lozano recently communicated with me about his new book, Taschen’s Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings. Decades ago we invited Luis-Martín to be a visiting Fulbright scholar at City College and he was instrumental in mentoring my late partner Julia Bergman and me to focus our Rivera work. He went on to become director of Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art. We worked with him and Diego’s grandson Juan Coronel in San Francisco as they researched and created our part of Taschen’s definitive Rivera, The Complete Murals book (2008). Their depiction of our mural was an early breakthrough in international exposure. Originally, the Taschen website ad had the 600 page, 17 pound book open to our mural. In México he took us on a private tour of Anahuacalli, Rivera’s museum of ancient Mexican artifacts. Across the street from Diego and Frida’s studios at the San Ángel Inn, he showed us what a real “Margarita” was; the ice never touched the precious Tequila.


SFAI is exploring merging with USF. This is good news for the school and for Diego’s The Making of a Mural, whose future had been in question for the last couple of years.

Jeff Gunderson, Librarian and Archivist at the SFAI, writes, “On another note, I don’t know if you heard that SFAI received a nice grant from the Mellon Foundation for all things SFAI Rivera Mural—some conservation, some publicity, some research into our archives as well as CCSF’s wonderful collection; public programming, etc. etc….In fact there is a job description posted on the SFAI website for a part-time project coordinator.” Sounds like a terrific gig.

SFAI alumni, artist Ben Wood’s project: Artist Projects Glimpses of Cliff House History From Iconic SF Building’s Museum (msn.com).

More information on Diego Rivera’s frescos:

Secretaría de Educación Pública

Detroit Frescos

Here is information on the move of the “History of Medicine in California” mural by Bernard Zakheim. WPA-era murals still have lots of active friends.


As I continue to work on my essay on Frida’s first love affair, here are some views of LA, which she may have seen in 1930-31 on her layovers to and from San Francisco. Here are some images of San Francisco in early 1940’s as Diego and Frida might have seen them just as they left.


Julia’s and my CCSF friend, Abdul Jabbar has a new book: Not of an Age, but for All Time: Revolutionary Humanism in Iqbal, Manto, and Faiz.


La Nuit des Idees (Night of Ideas) has been postponed world-wide due to COVID. It will, hopefully, be rescheduled later this year. I’ll be in SFMOMA’s booth at KQED’s studios with former CCSF docent Vickie Simms to answer questions about the mural.