“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

September 2022

Making of A Mural at the SF Art Institute, June 24, 2022


Dear Friends of Diego,

The San Francisco Art Institute has closed after the proposed union with the University of San Francisco fell through at the altar. Had lunch with my art conservator friends, who luckily managed to get Diego Rivera’s fresco conserved before the doors closed. The mural with the dimension bending trompe l’oeil faux scaffolding becomes even deeper with the lifts and tables in this image. As we await a resolution to having the mural publicly accessible, there is some consolation in knowing that the mural has been lovingly attended and is in fine condition. Visited with the SFAI librarians/archivists, who curate the very important library with records dating to the early art scene in San Francisco. Hopefully, some way of getting them back to their important work will be found soon. SFAI Librarian/archivist Jeff Gunderson mentioned a possible solution, when he visited SFMOMA recently. SFAI archivist Becky Alexander has just written an article for Acid Free magazine (Los Angeles Archivists Collective), “The Cosmos Loved Us: Julia Bergman, Will Maynez and the Diego Rivera Collection.”


SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera’s America exhibition has opened to great attendance and increased foot traffic for the mural. The documentary Diego Rivera: Moving A Masterpiece is looping in the second-floor coffee shop, which overlooks the mural. Though, I’ve seen the new show multiple times, my favorite was an early sneak peek with SFMOMA guest curator James Oles, SFMOMA’s curator Maria Castro, and Beverly Adams, New York MoMA’s head curator of Latin American art. Their commentary was very illuminating, and I have taken advantage of the information in giving tours to friends and family. A favorite piece is Desnudo con Alcatraces featuring the late Nieves Orozco. In a 2006 interview at the mural, she told me that she posed with her back to the audience because she was pregnant. The exhibition features some earlier pieces Rivera re-purposed to fill up the acres of Pan American Unity. (The Community Living Campaign hosted a Zoom where we spoke about some of these images and other aspects of Diego Rivera’s America.) Some examples of re-purposed images are the man with jack hammer, references to the Ford Motor assembly line, women with backstrap looms, and the gas suited figure with his foot ensnared in a “bear trap.” Especially significant was the swastika tattooed arm with dagger being restrained by a muscular arm. In the exhibit work, the Nazis were being restrained by the Russians in 1933-34. But in 1940 with Stalin and Hitler on the same side, it was the isolationist US which Rivera felt had to restrain the Nazis. This was one year before the US entered the war.

There is an irony in a Mexican communist finding that his natural ally was the United States. But Rivera was pragmatic and would not be restrained by some pointless orthodoxy. In June 1941 (Six months after the mural was finished), Germany invaded the Soviet Union as Rivera had predicted, and formerly isolationist US communists were now clamoring for the US to save Mother Russia.  Stalin was now the Allies’ “Uncle Joe.” When Hitler declared war on us on December 11, 1941, the “America Firster’s” isolationist stance evaporated, but left a smell. [See Dr. Seuss’ October 1, 1941, cartoon below and more of his currently topical cartoons]. Overcoming the combined industrial might of the US and the USSR was unlikely. Within 6 months, Hitler’s overreach had ensured that Germany would eventually lose the war.

Creator: Seuss, Dr. Publisher: PM Magazine Date: October 1, 1941


The SFMOMA art conservators invited me into their studios a couple of times to see Rivera’s “Stern fresco” (Still Life and Blossoming Almond Tree) as it was being conserved before it was installed in the show. It was created for Rosalie Stern (widow of Sigmund Stern) at her Atherton (SF peninsula) home but eventually moved to Stern Hall at UC Berkeley.

Photo courtesy of SFMOMA conservator Ellie Ohara

On the left side the image of Walter Haas, Jr. kneeling had a different look. Remembering an Elise Haas oral history, we were able to confirm that Walter only wanted into the mural belatedly and had to be added. One of a series of Ansel Adams photos (included in the exhibit), showed Walter being painted last. To me it seems, Rivera had used a slightly brighter palette and put Walter in a sharper focus than the children in the foreground [left to right, “Dega” (Rhoda’s imaginary friend), Peter E. Haas, and Rhoda Haas.] Elise, daughter of Levi-Strauss owner Rosalie Stern, was the children’s mother. A favorite essay about this mural is Alegoría Californiana by UC Berkeley emeritus Spanish/Portuguese professor Julio Ramos.


Oral interviews are so important, and we note the passing of Mary McChesney, whose interviews with WPA era artists are such an essential resource. Leaving a record for those that follow is the counterpoint to honoring los antepasados. We become the ancestors. Her personal oral interview resides here.


Had a delightful visit with Lucienne and David Allen up in Mendocino. Her grandparents were Rivera’s assistants Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Pope Dimitroff. In 1993 they executed this Diego Rivera Theatre sign in fresco, and here are videos demonstrating the technique they learned from Diego. Here is a 1964 interview with Lucienne Bloch conducted by Mary McChesney.


SFMOMA has booked Jean Franco and me to perform our one-act play “An Interview with Frida” on Diego’s birthday, Thursday December 8 at 6 pm in the Roberts Family Gallery. Like the mural, the play is free to the public.


The Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience exhibition opening was very well attended. The comprehensive show displayed the many hats Emmy Lou wore as a social activist, mentor, and artist. It was a pleasant surprise to see that Roberto Martinez, one of the team that moved the mural to SFMOMA, is now the Richmond Art Center’s Exhibitions Director. Though the show has closed, here is an article which appeared in Mission Local.


Some mural visitors: neighbors of Emmy Lou Packard’s family home in Berkeley, where Diego hid after Trotsky’s assassination; Timothy Pflueger’s great nephew and his daughter; students from SFAI and a Marin school, who were doing murals at SFMOMA based on the themes in Pan American Unity; and a parade of visitors from all over the world. An associate of the San Diego Opera, which is currently staging El último sueño de Frida y Diego, suggested that I should meet the director. This work is co-produced by the San Francisco Opera, which will stage it next June, while the mural is still at SFMOMA. Our mural is finally getting the exposure it has always deserved. It is a living, breathing work of art and many intoxicated viewers are making repeat visits.


“My mural which I am painting now–it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent, that is all. I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo, with the kind of urge which makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life, which is also an artistic urge, the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression … it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent.”


Have had an interesting correspondence with Abby Sher, producer/director of a 1982 documentary on Canadian sculptor Dudley Carter, who is featured three times in the mural. (She is looking for a venue to screen her work.) City College owns three pieces by Carter: Big Horn Mountain Ram, The Goddess of the Forest, and The Beast. (Recently, a member of a family, who knew Dudley Carter and have one of his totems on their property, visited). Like Frida in our mural, Carter spoke to American art. When Dudley told Frida that he was honored to be in the mural by her, she replied that no, the honor was hers to be near him.


Here in the Fine Arts Building, there is a man carving wood. This man was an engineer, an educated and sophisticated man. He lived with the Indians and then he became an artist, and his art for [sic] was like Indian art—only not the same, but a great deal of Indian feeling had passed into him and it came out in his art. Now, what he carves is not Indian any more, but his own expression—and his own expression now has in it what he has felt, what he has learned from the Indians. That is right, that is the way art should be. First the assimilation and then the expression. Only why do the artists of this continent think that they should always assimilate the art of Europe? They should go to the other Americans for their enrichment, because if they copy Europe it will always be something they cannot feel because after all they are not Europeans.

— Diego Rivera


Ran across an interesting article on Pedro Diego Alvarado, Diego’s grandson by his architect daughter Ruth. Diego would have loved that the article appears in Garden & Gun magazine. The Mexican artist loved his gardens and while painting Pan American Unity was armed with a .45 and a .38 after Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City. “Art in Action” could have become a Quentin Tarantino production. On the scaffolding while painting with his back to the audience, Diego offered a generous target. Another grandson by Ruth, scholar Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera, told me about some of the identities for the Mexican figures on the left side of the mural.


Artist Ben Wood has his next opus of projected installations at the site of the old San Francisco Cliff House until September 25.


The Victor Arnautoff murals at Washington High School will remain uncovered as the current board has rescinded the original vote to cover or paint them over. Hopefully, this will put to rest other attempts to deface WPA era murals. Work to create expository signage is ongoing. It was a hard road to get to the obvious resolution.


Isamu Noguchi’s home is to be opened to the public. Noguchi enters our story as part of the crew that created the art at the Mercado Abelardo Rodriguez in Mexico City, a project under the nominal direction of Diego. Noguchi is part of the entangled web of lovers that populate our story. He had an eight-month fling with Frida and was also a partner to artist Marion Greenwood with whom Diego was romantically engaged in 1936. Notably, Isamu had been partnered with Dorothy Hale, whom Frida portrayed in a scandalous recuerdo for Clare Booth in 1939 after Dorothy committed suicide. It was Noguchi whom a mortified Luce approached to get her name removed from Frida’s inscription, leaving a long blank space.


As Frida gets exposed in various “immersive” experiences and other exhibitions, here is an opinion piece.


Here is an interview in Spanish (at 44:25) with our friend, artist Arturo Guevara, who though he resides in the US, travels extensively in Mexico and was born in Guanajuato, Diego Rivera’s birthplace.






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.