“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

December 2018

Dear Friends of Diego,

Happy Birthday, Diego! (December 8, 1886)

Diego sketching the mural

Diego Rivera in studio behind mural at GGIE, June-July, 1940 © Rondal Partridge Archive. All Rights Reserved.

Here is Diego “inventing” our mural. His research resulted in a full-scale mural drawing on the plaster substrate just 7 weeks after he arrived. This was my late partner Julia Bergman’s (also born December 8!) favorite photo of Diego. She bought this print for our Rivera Collection from the Rondal Partridge estate several years ago, with her own money. A big thank you to Meg Partridge for permission to use this photo. (Owning a photo and securing intellectual property rights to publish it are separate issues.) I met sister Elizabeth Partridge at the Women and the Spirit of the New Deal conference. (Living New Deal’s Fall 2018 Newsletter.)

Mona Hofmann

WPA photo, 1940

In other photos we’ve been able to make out the name of the research books. Here is Mona Hofmann with books, which we have collected. She is looking at MoMA’s 1940 Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art exhibition catalog (pages 42-43). This is very early in the process because Mona had to leave the mural work abruptly for health reasons. The Coatlicue she is inspecting forms the left half of the center icon from Rivera’s earliest sketch.

(Note: The Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art link states at the lower end, that MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. Recently, the Google Arts & Culture Lab produced a piece around Frida’s work. It would be great to get something similar around Diego’s work.)

Christie’s article on Diego Rivera as Revolutionary Storyteller is part of an auction including paintings of children. For many years we had various thoughts about the little girl in the lower center of our mural. Consulting on Dra. Guadalupe Rivera’s book, Los Ninos de Diego Rivera (2009), required us to search through all the images Diego had painted; the little girl was not one. Evidently, Diego was painting many children in 1939, the year before he came to create our mural.

Street Artist JR Takes Over the Paris Metro With His Giant Posters.: the French artist will unveil his homage to Diego Rivera, Chronicles of San Francisco, in April 2019 at SFMOMA.

Saving the Stories

Just got a copy of Conversations with Diego Rivera: The Monster in his Labyrinth. This is a compilation of a year of weekly interviews (1949-1950) almost a decade after he left San Francisco. The nuggets of gold started leaping out at me immediately. Recently, a question has arisen about the “artist’s intent” in having the mural so high on the wall over the books in the library that was never built. Placing the bottom edge so far up the wall is unprecedented in Rivera’s oeuvre. In response to the question “How is a mural painted?” Diego said, “You choose the wall, or take what is offered without a choice in the matter.”  

Back in the 1920’s the great Mexican painters; David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera were given the title, Los Tres Grandes, “The Big Three”. Rivera, a huge fan of the movies, might agree that in today’s México, Los Tres Grandes might be filmmakers: Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Alfonso Cuarón, who have won four of the last five Academy Awards for directors. Cuarón’s luscious black and white Roma, stories of his childhood, is in theaters; the common thread, elegant, but vibrant storytelling. As Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein said, the cinema was just “moving murals.”

Une passion dévorante is a new film about Diego and Frida, shown at the Beirut Art Film Festival BAFF in October 2018. Hopefully, it’ll come our way and we can publicize it.

Here is the link I promised last time for Marevna’s auction catalog.

Note: Life with the Painters of La Ruche by Diego’s common-law wife recounts first-hand stories of painters who inhabited this “beehive” in Montparnasse. Roseberys of London is conducting the Diego Rivera’s Other Woman: Studio Collection Sale of Marevna on December 5, 2018 …to include portraits of and letters from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Moïse Kisling, Amedeo Modigliani, Fernand Leger, and Henri Matisse.”

Longtime partner, Cultural Heritage Imaging, sends word that they have been given an award as a Great non-profit.

Story Corps recently recorded Jean Franco and me in conversation about our collaboration and about Frida. We, also, enacted a performance snippet of our Frida Interview. In 2010 they recorded Julia and me. Interviews are sent to the Library of Congress and 1% are broadcast on NPR.

The Bond Latin Gallery has posted a 12 minute video that Maximilian Mc Donald recorded with me at the mural.

Sotheby’s posted, Safeguarding the Future: The Struggle to Protect Our Cultural Treasures, which deals with many of our issues.

For all you savers of stories, here’s a link for the Documents of 20th Century Latin American and Latino Arts from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Camille Mai is  updating our Dudley Carter webpage with additional materials furnished by artists Emmanuel Montoya and Phil Pasquini.

I’ll participate in a 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) Celebration panel at the Mechanics Institute on April 4, 2019 and am speaking on Diego Rivera and the GGIE  in October 2019 at the Treasure Island Museum.

2020 SFMOMA-CCSF Collaboration

Had a working lunch with the curators of the 2020 Rivera exhibition; James Oles and Lily Pearsall, SFMOMA Curatorial Project Manager. We then went to the Rivera Collection in our CCSF Rosenberg Library to meet with Librarians Abby Bridge and Lisa Velarde. It’s less than 2 years and counting for this show.

SFMOMA’s Claire Bradley, Senior Program Associate, Public Talks and Tours, and her crew came by for a mural tour. They are working on the information for the museum’s visitors.

Conservators and art movers convened at the mural November 16  to continue refining plans for de-installing it. There is a precedent for moving a large Rivera mural. In 1986, very near Diego’s 100th birthday, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda (Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda) was moved across the street next to the Alameda park from the seismically damaged Hotel del Prado. The 49 feet, 3 inches by 15 feet, 9 inches mural was moved as one 77,000 pound piece. (The size is about 3 of our upper, square panels.) It was placed, elevated 2 feet, on the foundation of its current home, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, which was built around it.

Extricating our mural is hard work because it was installed “permanently”; there was yet no concept of the mural’s potential longevity.  Design engineers from UNAM, who were coincidently working at Stanford, came by to help assess how to monitor and deal with the vibration problems. The concrete cutting and coring required will generate vibrations. There’s some serious brain power being brought to bear on the problems of the move. The idea is to have City College mirror the engageable mural hanging system at SFMOMA to facilitate mounting it in our Performing Arts Center. Then decades later (way down the road) on its next move, the mural will be easily de-installed. We anticipate thanks from the future.

Though there is always a danger in a move, it becomes necessary as some point because our mural can last hundreds of years. The current building will not. The expertise being brought to bear on this project makes it a propitious time for the mural to transition into the future. The SFMOMA and City College crews  will be going to Mexico City in early January to confer with expert art movers at a Rivera Roundtable. This is truly a Pan-American project in the spirit of our 2011 MOU with the Mexican Consulate.

In 1999 I had an encounter with the Chinese-Mexican family, who furnished the heavy equipment for the Alameda  mural move. We had dinner at the family home, which seemed like it had been plucked from China by one of their cranes and cradled into Mexico City. The late mother of the family told me in a video interview that she used to wait on Frida at a Chinese store in the Centro Historico. It doesn’t get any better for a storyteller.



September 2018

Donald Cairns

Photo: Kathé Cairns, 2013

Feliz Cumpleaños, Donald Cairns!

Tomorrow, September 27th is the birthday of the t-shirt clad, little boy in the mural, Emmy Lou Packard’s son. He is our touchstone to Diego and the mural work. Donald and Kathé have been staunch supporters of our work for a long time. Years ago, when they still lived in Philadelphia, they allowed my late partner Julia Bergman to bring over a Xerox machine and make copies of Emmy Lou’s research for her never written Diego Rivera in San Francisco. This cache of irreplaceable, primary source material has anchored our research. (Original Emmy Lou papers are now housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and at the Smithsonian’s  Archives of American Art.)

Don Cairns 7 yrs old

Seven-year-old Donald with a steely gaze in a Mexican cowboy suit, a gift from Frida. Photo by Emmy Lou Packard, found in Frida’s belongings.

Join the Living New Deal on October 5-6 as it convenes Women and the Spirit of the New Deal at UC Berkeley. On October 5 Robert Reich will receive the Francis Perkins award. On October 6 the Diego Rivera Mural Project will receive a Kathryn A. Flynn Preservation Award. On behalf of the Project, Associate Vice Chancellor Kristina Whalen and I will accept the award.

FDR modeled the New Deal’s WPA Federal Art Project on Diego Rivera. Several of FDR’s grandchildren are on The Living New Deal Advisory Board. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a short article on FDR and humility.

Dudley Carter’s grandson Peter Vaughn came by to visit the mural in late August.  We are working on filling in Dudley’s page on our website with help from emeritus CCSF art instructors Phil Pasquini and Roger Baird, who worked with Dudley when he came to CCSF in 1983 and 1986 to restore his works. As a student, artist Emmanuel Montoya, who currently has a print show at the Mexican Consulate, worked with Dudley at City College. He has been a generous resource, providing pictures and audio interviews.

Jeff Lohrmann came by to talk about a drawing for Bernard Zakheim’s Coit Tower Library mural. They’re looking for a good home for it and other Zakheim art. As my late dear CCSF friend and mentor Masha Zakheim pointed out, her father Bernard and Diego were good friends in 1930. But in 1940, the Stalinist Zakheim wouldn’t even talk to the Trotskyist Rivera. Both Diego and Frida became Stalinists after WWII. The artifacts are being handled by Albert Nieman of VT Gallery.

Coit Tower The Library Charcoal Drawing

My all-time favorite radical, Tina Modotti, will be chronicled in a mini-series Radical Eye: The Life and Times of Tina Modotti. She was instrumental in introducing Frida to Diego and modeled for him. Her short, incendiary life was pyrotechnic. Hopefully, this work will capture her. Previous depictions of her have fallen short of the mark.

Tina Modotti and Frida Kahlo

Tina Modotti and Frieda Kahlo, 1928

Here is an interesting (for us art-science nerds)  Library of Congress article on the scientific study of three Rivera watercolors about the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation story. After spectral analysis, a question is posed about why different paints were used in two of the watercolors. A decade ago in researching these artworks to aid Diego’s daughter, Dra. Guadalupe Rivera Marin (who has a birthday next month), I came across the answer. Only The Creation is one of the original three he did in San Francisco in 1931 for a never completed project with John Weatherwax. Two of these paintings being studied were done later, probably in Mexico, hence the different paint.

The December 2017 FOD missive mentioned Life with the Painters of La Ruche by Marevna, Diego’s common-law wife in Paris and mother of Marika. The book recounts first-hand stories of the painters who inhabited this “beehive” in Montparnasse.  Roseberys of London sends word that they will be conducting the “Diego Rivera’s Other Woman: Studio Collection Sale of Marevna on December 5, 2018 …to include portraits of and letters from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Moïse Kisling, Amedeo Modigliani, Fernand Leger, and Henri Matisse.” A link to the e-catalog will follow when it’s available.

This fall (October 26-28, November 2-3) the City College Theater Dept. will stage a version of Tim Robbins film, The Cradle Will Rock. CCSF director Patricia Miller says Tim Robbins has given his blessings. The 1999 movie dealt with two 1930’s examples of censorship. Orson Welles production of the Federal Theater Project’s musical The Cradle Will Rock was forced to look for another venue after it was shut down. Diego Rivera had his famous cause célèbre when the Rockefeller mural was destroyed.

CHI reports about the photogrammetry work that, “After a lot of work…we have our first version of all 5 panels in a single (very large file)  It is ~ 20 gigapixels.” As I mentioned last time, Stanford Digital Libraries will host this work, hopefully, in perpetuity. The SFMOMA conservation team will use these images to inform their interventions on the mural. A reduced-resolution version of this file will be used to generate a 6’ x 20’ hi-res reproduction of the mural to replace the old version installed in 1997 in our Culinary Department’s Chef’s Table dining room. That 17 month project sucked me into the Diego Rivera work (evidently whole).

When I first met with SFMOMA staff in May 2017, the 2020 Rivera’s America show seemed so far away. Now it’s less than 2 years until our mural will be removed from CCSF to be installed in SFMOMA’s freely-accessible Robert’s Family Gallery. The new Gallery has housed Richard Serra’s huge, steel Sequence sculpture since the expanded museum re-opened in 2016.The museum will soon return Sequence to Stanford’s Cantor Art Center.

Pan American Unity at SFMOMA

Rendering of Pan American Unity in the Roberts Family Gallery at SFMOMA. Image: courtesy SFMOMA.

Then, the SFMOMA Gallery will first showcase French artist JR’s The Chronicles of San Francisco mural beginning on April 25, 2019.  JR said he drew inspiration from Diego Rivera’s murals in San Francisco. Earlier this year after giving JR a tour of Rivera’s Allegory of California at the City Club, he invited me to be photographed, holding an easily recognizable prop, against a green screen in the studio he set up in the Mission. We chatted over chocolate cake. Later, he photographed Jean Franco as Frida.

Art by JR

Tomorrow, Sept. 27 at 7 pm, JR will speak at SFMOMA about the project. This is a partial example of the finished product. Individual people will be animated and speak to you over your phone. The guy with the balloons is me.

We eagerly await the programming around the Rivera show, as it firms up over the next two years. Recently, SFMOMA and I were both approached by the choreographer of an established local dance company to explore a dance program in connection with the 2020 exhibition. We’ll meet later this week.

Given that frescos can last so long, it is encouraging to attend CCSF sessions for the educational component of the SFMOMA collaboration. There’s a lot of new faces in addition to long-time supporters of the mural. Though, I’ve often quoted Getty Conservation Institute conservator Francesca Piqué’s admonition to act as if our mural would last 200 years; 2000-year-old frescos have been routinely found in the ruins of Pompeii.

There is talk about endowing a position to institutionalize the stewardship work we’ve done (hopefully, before I’m institutionalized). Erik Sherman quotes Jack Ma, the retiring founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in a recent article. These following principles very much apply to the on-going stewardship of the mural.

  • You can’t do everything by yourself,
  • you won’t last forever, and
  • for real success, your undertaking should be able to continue without you.



August 2018

Libertad para Siquieros

Dear Friends of Diego,

At the Diego Rivera Theatre in late May, a convocation of world-class conservators, curators, engineers, architects, and art movers gleaned new insights into the mural’s condition and installation. In late July further work involved removing an exterior decorative stone panel to expose the structural wall to which the mural is attached. Conservator Kiernan Graves (“our mural whisperer”) again came for the day from L.A. to lay her hands on the mural to detect excessive vibrations. The resonant frequencies of the mural panels is a question. (In a nice bit of closure, Kiernan’s mentor was conservator Francesca Piqué, author of the first 1999 Getty Conservation Institute mural report.)  Soon, some of us from CCSF, SFMOMA and Atthowe Fine Arts Services had our latex-gloved hands on the mural feeling the vibrations as the outside crew sawed and chiseled through the exterior panel. (Atthowe’s Scott, Bryan, and Esteban installed our 14-ton Olmec head in 2004.) Once portions of the 12” thick structural wall were exposed, Bryan drilled holes to allow a borescope to peek and film behind the mural.

All the information will inform Atthowe’s strategy for relocating the mural to SFMOMA for their late 2020 Rivera’s America exhibition. In addition we have started conferring with City College Performing Arts and Education Center (PAEC) architects, who are modifying the lobby design to accommodate the mural upon its return.

In May one surprise to UNAM historian/conservator Sandra Zetina Ocaña and to Kiernan Graves was a bit of graffiti. Frankly, I couldn’t see it until Cultural Heritage Imaging’s Carla Schroer helped with a hi-res sample of our photogrammetry shoot (shown above). In lower Panel 2 where Diego depicts himself painting a fresco, subtly scratched in pencil to the left of his brush tip is,

¡libertad para SIQUEIROS!

At first, I thought that Diego’s solidarity was surprising. The Stalinist David Alfaro Siqueiros and the Trotskyist Rivera had a conflicted, pistol-packing relationship over the direction of the Mexican communist party. On May 24, 1940 Mexican artist Siqueiros led the assault on Leon Trotsky’s fortified house by 20 inept submachine gun toting assassins dressed as police. Only Trotsky’s grandson was slightly injured. Rivera, both a potential target and, initially, an official suspect, prudently went into hiding. Divorced from Frida, he was covertly aided by movie star Paulette Goddard, Charlie Chaplin’s estranged wife, who was in town to get her portrait painted. Overestimating his “chances” with Paulette, Diego burned other local, amorous bridges. Paulette and Diego flew out of Mexico on June 4, headed to California for a splashy, flashbulb arrival at the Burbank Airport.

Four months later on October 4, Siqueiros was arrested at his hideout.


Photo: El Universal, México City, México, October 1940.

I had believed that the graffiti was likely written soon after. Later released, Siqueiros left México before anyone had a change of heart. (Leon Trotsky had been attacked by Stalin’s “Plan B,”  Ramón Mercader, on August 20 and died the following day.)

Flying this scenario past Sandra Zetina, the Mexican scholar also sensed that the solidarity was surprising. She thought, instead, that the graffiti might refer to an international campaign for Siqueiros’ release after a 1960 arrest. (He was released in 1964.) On August 9, 1961, the first anniversary of his arrest,  a NY Times ad, paid for by artists, called for Siqueiros’ freedom. The only problem with this scenario was that Diego died in 1957.

Belatedly comparing writing samples, it seemed to me that the graffiti handwriting didn’t match Diego’s. But, if not, who would have the chutzpah to write on Diego’s masterpiece? If the graffiti appeared after the mural was installed in the theater in mid-January 1961, the list of suspects became smaller.

In 1941 while the mural was initially in storage at Treasure Island, a fireman accidently punctured the crate holding Panel 5 with an axe during a fire. In the summer of 1962 Emmy Lou Packard was hired by City College to repair the damaged part of the mural. She had access and the opportunity to possibly scratch the graffiti.

In 1954 Rivera had been finally re-admitted to the Stalinist Partido Communista Mexicano (PCM), which had booted him out in 1929. A recent Weekly Standard article addressed Frida’s obsession with Stalin. Emmy Lou in a 1979 AAA interview disavowed her anti-Stalinist dalliance, citing a rationale that only Stalin could have defeated Hitler. It seems that after WWII, Stalin was the only game in town for the Left. Did Emmy Lou express her solidarity and Rivera’s in absentia? Hopefully, more information will surface to resolve the issue.

Conversely, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is about his disillusionment with communism after participating in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 as part of the anti-Stalinist POUM, the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification. Orwell noted that you needed a scorecard to keep track of all the leftist Republican players, who governed Spain as an uneasy coalition.  Moscow used the war to brutally purge the Republican side of non-Stalinists, despite it undeniably helping the fascist Franco to victory. Siqueiros served in this war, honing his anti-Trotskyist agenda; while Trotsky, fleeing Stalin, got his fatal asylum in México in 1937 through Diego Rivera’s intercession.

Rivera researchers alert!

Rick Tejada-Flores, director of the PBS American Masters documentary Rivera in America wrote:

I want to let you know that the entire collection of materials for Rivera in America are now housed at the Washington University Film Archives in St. Louis, and are available to researchers.  They include the source tapes that I shot of interviews with Raquel Tibol, Lucienne Bloch, Steven Dimitroff, Ella Wolfe, Emmy Lou Packard, Pele DeLappe, Peter Stackpole, the doorman at the Stock Exchange Club, Michael Goodman, Jose Alfaro and Paul Von Blum. There are also dupes of all the footage of Rivera Painting in Detroit.  Also Included are my production papers including partial interviews and the Paramount story on Frida welcoming Trotsky to Mexico.

Working with Stanford’s Digital Libraries, Cultural Heritage Imaging gave me a peek at the huge photogrammetry file for Panel 5, which Stanford is currently hosting. The resolution of the not yet public image is extraordinary. Using the Digital Elevation Map (DEM) feature, I have already been able to see the outlines of the work done by Emmy Lou Packard in 1962.  (Per Carla: the DEM is “a false color way of showing the 3D surface topology in a 2D image.  It is derived from the 3D data, specifically from the 3D point cloud.”) An important future project will be to map the now visible outlines of each jig-saw puzzle shaped giornata, a single day’s painting work on the fresco’s wet plaster.

We are looking forward to the cutting-edge discussion about intellectual property rights, access to the images, storage in perpetuity, and all the issues surrounding this unique cache of information. This work will be useless if the files cannot be safely passed forward to future generations.

[Note: Funding for the photogrammetry shoot has been paid for entirely by donations to the Foundation of City College of San Francisco’s Diego Rivera account (disclaimer: I am the signatory). Thank you, Mural Angels, for your gifts to the future!]

When Dra. Guadalupe Rivera Marin, Diego’s daughter, was in town for a Father’s Day conversation at the Brava Theater, I gave her a framed print of a photo of Diego, her sister Ruth, and her taken by George Gershwin in November 1935 (courtesy of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust). She and I plan to meet next time I’m in México. These Gershwin pictures will be publicly available through the Library of Congress, once the Trust’s assets are catalogued.

Artist Wayne Healy was in town for the ongoing (until September 16)  California Historical Society’s exhibition ¡Murales Rebeldes! about L.A. murals that were lost or destroyed. He and curator Jessica Hough came by to visit the mural. Diego Rivera believed in the reconciliation of Art & Science and often said he would have been an architect, if not an artist. Diego would have loved Wayne. In addition to being a prolific muralist, he is an aerospace engineer. We talked Bernoulli’s Principle over lunch and were later interviewed by Univision.

In the Living New Deal’s latest newsletter, there is an article about a WPA mural that was recently painted over. The issue of the stewardship of public art is ongoing. The artists who painted the murals in the “Mission” district can no longer afford to live here. The Living New Deal is co-sponsoring a conference “Women and the Spirit of the New Deal” on October 5-6, 2018 in Berkeley.

John Charlot, son of artist Jean Charlot, Diego and Frida’s good friend, contacted me recently. Jean had been featured in the Anita Brenner show at the Skirball. Linda Downs, past director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, hooked us up.

Matria is a documentary film by Fernando Llanos, about his grandfather Antolin Jimenez, a revolutionary, politician, Mason, and businessman, who in 1942 tried to muster an army of Mexican charros (horsemen) to fight against the Nazis, should they attack México. The film describes Nazi influence in a México, which eventually sided with the Allies. This is the world Diego Rivera wrote about in early 1940 in the tabloid Hoy, just prior to coming to San Francisco.

Our June San Francisco History Association talk had almost 300 attendees, a surprise to the hosts and to me. Swapping stories with other investigators was a real treat.

Being at the mural is never boring: a visiting Canadian family told me they have a friend who is the grandson of a former Canadian ambassador to Mexico. This friend has an autographed drawing of Diego’s penis, which the Mexican artist sketched for the Ambassador. They’ll try to send me a photo and the details of what must be an interesting story.

Had a great scare lately when my laptop hard drive crashed. Having been remiss in regularly backing up my Rivera research, the consequences might have been catastrophic. John at SF Computer Repair saved the data. Please, remember to back-up your work!