“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

December 8, 2019

Diego Litho

Self-Portrait Lithograph, 1930 (age 44 years)

Dear Friends of Diego,

Happy 133rd Birthday, Diego! This is how Diego looked on his first visit to San Francisco. Today is also my late Rivera partner Julia Bergman’s birthday. That Julia and Diego should share a birthday was among the synchronicities we never questioned. We were destined for this work. (We have a signed copy of this 1930 Self-Portrait lithograph, a gift to our collection from the late Lynn Wagner, the little girl painting, while seated on the floor in Panel 4.  She was the daughter of Rivera’s assistant Mona Hofmann, the blond woman seated at the table in Panel 2, to whom Diego gave the lithograph.)

SFMOMA will celebrate his 134th birthday with the  Diego Rivera’s America exhibition of 160 objects and one giant mural, scheduled to open October 24, 2020. The mural work for the exhibition has many facets. The conservation work done this summer included local and graduate foreign conservation interns assisting our master conservators. The Italian interns mapped the individual giornata (one day’s fresco work) and we saw that the giornata featuring Paulette Goddard in Panel 3 appeared completely surrounded by older work. Apparently, Diego was waiting for Paulette to arrive to “model” for him, though having worked on her stand-alone portrait in Mexico in May 1940, he could have done her from memory. Paulette came to San Francisco to appear in the San Francisco Examiner’s Ski Show at the Civic Auditorium on November 13, the date on his Panel 4 signature. Diego was in the home stretch painting to the right on the bottom level. On November 15, two weeks before the “finished” mural was unveiled, Paulette showed up to model. Other than the two giornata with painted dates, this may be the only giornata for which we have an exact date! (It occurred to me that I already had enough information to realize this, but my “lightbulb didn’t go on” until the giornata were mapped.)

Scholar Adriana Zavala, who is writing two essays for the Rivera show catalog, visited the mural.

This past week we had a meeting to assimilate new engineering data and further refine the moving strategy. Further work will follow in México in January.

Artist Rina Lazo has passed away and with her another of the direct connections to Diego and Frida. Her murals in the Museo de Antropologia are favorites and,  in a brush with history, she was present at two events we attended in México.

Recently Frida’s Portrait of a Lady in White sold at a Christie’s auction for $5.8M, the second highest price for her work. Of interest was the conjecture over when and where it was painted. One article speculated that it was done in San Francisco in 1930. Since Frida and Diego didn’t arrive in San Francisco until November 10, the window to paint it is rather small. An Artnet article speculated on the subject: “Experts still debate whether the portrait’s subject is an ex-lover, a friend, or a former classmate.” Further, “Others speculate that the woman might be a relative or friend of Ralph Stackpole, a sculptor who lived with Kahlo and Rivera in San Francisco.” Though Diego and Frieda stayed at 716 Montgomery, Stackpole’s indoor studio, (adjacent to his outdoor sculpture yard, now the Villa Taverna), he did not live with them. We do know Frieda painted a Portrait of Jean Wight (dated January 1931) and her famous wedding portrait (dated April 1931) during her 6 month stay.

Frida painting Jean Wight

Diego painted his Lady in White in 1939 and that was Mona Hofmann’s costume for the September 1940  Art in Action “come as a painting” party.

Art in Action Costume Party

San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Ansel Adams, Mona Hofmann as the “Lady in White, Rivera as himself, and Timothy Pflueger as “Rivera.”

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving will be coming to the DeYoung from March 21-July 26, 2020. This show has been on a tour which originated at the Casa Azul in 2012.

Over the years, we have had a fruitful relationship with the DeYoung and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF).

At the museum’s request in 1999 (in another brush with history) we showed the mural to artist Elizabeth Catlett and her husband, artist Francisco Mora. She graciously invited my wife and me to the private dedication ceremony of her sculpture at the Legion of Honor.

FAMSF Director Harry Parker III went down to Veracruz in 2004 to borrow an Olmec head for the opening of the new DeYoung Museum and brokered an additional deal. City College received a gift from the state of Veracruz; a 14 ton, 9 foot high replica of El Rey, San Lorenzo #1. From the nearby Frida Garden its fierce countenance protects our Diego Rivera mural.  During the dedication ceremony Governor Miguel Alemán Velasco pointed out that in 1906 it had been Governor Dehesa of Veracruz who gave Diego his first scholarship to study in Paris.

In 2008 the museum invited me and my dear friend, biographer Adriana Williams, to do talks in conjunction with Miguel Covarrubias’ Flora and Fauna map.

(These maps, another legacy from the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition, deserve a respectful, permanent home. Adriana recently recorded a podcast as part of the Brava for Women in the Arts’  Indómitas series.)

We are exploring the possibility of Jean Franco and me performing the one-act, An Interview with Frida, at the DeYoung in the spring.

Frida Interview performance

The white-washed Frederick Olmsted mural at the San Francisco Art Institute is re-appearing as the paint covering it is meticulously removed by conservators Molly Lambert and Samantha Emmanuel. As The Art Newspaper says: “The conservation project contrasts with a decision to cover up a controversial 1930s school mural in the same city.”

Christie’s auction house recently did a blurb on Francisco Toledo.

The Noguchi-Hasegawa exhibit, which closes today at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, was a wonderful treat for the human soul. In post-WWII Japan the two artists “sought to balance tradition and modernity, Japanese culture and foreign influences, past and present.” Isamu Noguchi worked with Rivera in Mexico during the time George Gershwin came to visit in 1935. Noguchi had done a bust of Gershwin in 1929. (This year’s Gershwin prize will go to country music’s Garth Brooks. ) Isamu had an encounter with Frieda, before she was Frida. With the ascendency of Hitler, she dropped the “e” from her name, so it wouldn’t look so German.

Coming in September 2020 there will be a London Mural Festival.

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection is on view at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh until January 19, 2020.

Lastly, here is a link to a video of my SFMOMA talk at JR’s mural last August.

Abrazos y Feliz Año Nuevo,


September 2019

Hidalgo and Morelos

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and José María Morelos y Pavón in Pan American Unity.

Feliz Mexican Independence Day!

Dear Friends of Diego,

The Mexican Consulate and Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau kicked off the festivities a week early at a War Memorial Building reception. San Francisco’s City Hall will be lit up red, green, and white to honor the day.  We had a chat at the opening of the Mexican Museum’s exhibition of Mexican Masks (at the Consulate till October 11), part of the museum’s Museo sin Muros program. She will visit the mural later this month. Also ran into Robert McDonald and Vivien Bertozzi of the Bond Latin Gallery. Their son Max created a video of our mural for their Gallery website. On my last visit to the gallery, Max showed me works by the great Mexican artist  Francisco Toledo, who, sadly, passed away recently. Here is some of his work.

Happy birthday (September 27), Donald Cairns, the little boy in the lower center of the mural. Donald was “founded” in 1935, the same year as City College and SFMOMA. Donald and Kathé attended my JR talk at SFMOMA on August 9 and he got introduced to the audience.

Photo Katherine Du Tiel

Photo by Catherine Du Tiel, SFMOMA, August 9, 2019

Diego’s Bag of Tricks: The work round the mural, which started again July 1, has been a boon on many fronts. After returning home, Mexican photographer Ricardo Alvarado  sent me books containing his work. It became apparent to me that Diego’s repertoire of imagery extended far past the examples I’d gleaned over the years. For example, the nudes and sun on the ceiling in the City Club’s 1931 Allegory of California are right from the 1927  Chapingo Chapel murals, as are the miners and the hand holding fruit.

A Mexican post-doc chemist, who came to analyze Rivera’s plaster and pigments, turned out to be my “cousin.” Miguel Ángel Máynez is from Valle de Allende, Chihuahua, my grandmother Herminia’s hometown (Miguel said it’s small and everyone is related).  This, also, is the name of my late beloved mentor, Uncle Mike, a theater director. Everyone should have an Uncle Mike or an Auntie Mame.

My favorite UNAM mechanical design engineering professors Alejandro Ramirez Reivich and Pilar Corona Lira returned, along with one of their grad students. They recorded and analyzed vibrations induced in the mural and its frame by the coring work on the exterior concrete wall. Grad school fresco conservation interns from Italy and Malta helped clean the mural and map the giornata. All the information gathered will become layers on the photogrammetry images shot by Cultural Heritage Imaging and hosted at Stanford’s Digital Library. By late September the mural will again be available for viewing from the mezzanine. All these art professionals and more joined our local team in a symphony of cooperation and amistad, which felt like the “Summer of Love.”

Washington High School: The school board agreed not to destroy the Arnautoff murals. The NAACP, actor Danny Glover, and writer Alice Walker have come out in support of the murals, negating contentions that mural advocates supported a “white supremacist” narrative. Now, the task is to keep the murals uncovered. There is a fundraiser this September 17.

An interesting article on artist  Agnes Pelton references women artists, who have surfaced in our research (and a couple that I know). Am hoping that connecting with California Desert Art might lead to information on Diego Rivera’s apocryphal visit(s) to Palm Springs.

Rick Tejada-Flores reminded me that the archives for his PBS American Masters Rivera in America documentary are available at the Washington University Film and Television archive in St. Louis.

Graciela Iturbide, famed Mexican photographer, will appear at the JCCSF, Sept. 26 in conversation with artist Enrique Chagoya. Saw a huge show of her work last January in Mexico City. This photo was taken when she visited the peoples in Juchitán, Oaxaca, at the invitation of Francisco Toledo.

Nuestra Senora de las Iguanas

Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas), Juchitán, Oaxaca, 1979.

Dana Galloway, a City College buddy, has sent me a listing for architect Timothy Pflueger at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park (Colma, CA.)

Sargent Johnson is also buried there. He currently has several pieces on display at SFMOMA’s 2nd floor gallery in addition to Forever Free. Sadly, the great artist’s grave has no marker. His concrete casting of athletes, cut out from our old gyms, are in storage at City College, awaiting a new site.

Forever Free

Forever Free, Sargent Johnson, 1933, SFMOMA

Twenty-three years ago, Tannis Reinhertz changed my life. My friend was the instructor in the Pierre Coste Dining Room (part of City College’s Culinary program), where I dined daily. There was a student-donated mural on the wall, which she told me was due for a change. With her class helping, we pried the panels off the wall. She then asked me what I was going to paint on the wall as a replacement? Though I had some ideas, the old Diego Rivera mural poster remaining alone on the wall gave me an idea. Using the photos for the poster, we could hang a large mural reproduction. Unfortunately, the photos were nowhere to be found. But, I soon met the late Julia Bergman, the Works of Art committee chair, just back off a sabbatical. The librarian offered to underwrite new mural photography to create a reproduction, on one condition; I had to join her committee. This jump-started a splendid twenty-year Diego Rivera collaboration with one of the finest people I’ve ever known.

Now, our dear Tannis has lost her long, heroic fight with cancer. Her request, so many years ago, pointed me down my destined road, the road taken. I will be forever grateful for her gift.




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

June 2019

Jean Franco and JR

Jean Franco and JR at SFMOMA opening, May 23, 2019.

Photo: Will Maynez

Dear Friends of Diego,

JR’s Chronicles of San Francisco got a splendid unveiling at SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery with many of the 1200 figures in the mural present. JR’s homage to Diego Rivera features a video of the French artist with his back to the audience, like Rivera in our mural, brushing on paste to “hang” photographic images. Bathing suited women allude to the swimmers in our mural, who look up at the diver, momentarily suspended in space…forever. Last year Time magazine designated JR one of the hundred most influential people in the world. In the June 3, 2019 Time issue, Chronicles of San Francisco is profiled.  The museum has invited me to speak on Aug. 9 as part of Gallery Talks. The Roberts Family Gallery is free to the public and will feature our mural as part of an extensive Diego Rivera’s America exhibition in the fall of 2020.

Lots of work is going on at the mural in preparation for the move. The protective railing was taken down and aluminum scaffolding raised. Vertical side trim was removed, exposing edges of the mural unseen since 1961. Contractors removed interior plaster work below the mural and will be boring into the exterior walls to investigate how the mural panels are actually attached. There is always the gap between the architect’s neatly rendered plans and the reality of jockeying not-quite-square, massive steel and plaster panels into position. Since the installation work was poorly documented, we’ve already found some surprises.

NOTE: Due to all the delicate work being done on the mural, it will remain inaccessible to visitors throughout the summer.

Supervised by SFMOMA’s Head of Conservation Michelle Barger, art conservators Kiernan Graves and Anne Rosenthal are minutely assessing the condition of the fresco plaster from atop the scaffolding. Long-time supporter Anne was recently honored for her work restoring the WPA murals at the celebration of the Aquatic Park Bathhouse’s 80th anniversary. Locally, her work also includes Coit Tower, the Beach Chalet, and the other San Francisco Rivera murals.

Florentine conservator Francesca Piqué, whose 1999 mural assessment for the Getty Conservation Institute changed my life, came back to visit after 20 years. She and her conservator colleague, who has worked at the Louvre, commented on the incredible condition, after almost six decades, of the mural’s lower parts (the parts some might deem more susceptible to possible damage). Francesca, who now lives in Switzerland, came to enroll her son in City College! We’re already looking at him as a prospective mural docent. Our docents move on to further their education (you go, Helen and Vickie) and we need to recruit. Everyone is welcome to sign up for the wide variety of classes the College offers and apply to be a docent.

Cultural Heritage Imaging will shoot the previously unseen mural parts to augment their photogrammetric work, a comprehensive 3-D image of the mural’s surface. This work, hosted at Stanford’s Digital Library, will inform the conservators’ work. Old bungalows on the north side of the theatre have been demolished, clearing the path for the murals extrication in about a year. X-ray analysis will reveal any undocumented, embedded metal in the panels.  Spectroscopic analysis of the pigments, fresco plaster and cement substrate is an upcoming task for a visiting Mexican scientific team.

Director Arthur Dunkelman of the Jay I. Kislak Foundation sent along an article about similar analytical work done on Rivera Popol Vuh watercolors by the Library of Congress. All this quantitative data is a benchmark for the future. The LOC recently contacted us to inquire about Rivera intellectual property rights issues. Their website has an interesting article, “Exploring the Early Americas.”

Dualities is a recurring theme in Diego and Frida’s work. Right now in the mural world we are embroiled on the other hand in a fight to save the Victor Arnautoff murals at Washington High School from being whitewashed. An April 11 NYT article on the issue garnered almost 800 comments. I made an “appearance” on KQED’s Forum in April. On April 26 the WSJ had an op-ed piece defending the murals. The Washington Post reported on this as well. As a Diego Rivera investigator, the destroyed “Rockefeller mural” is always the elephant in the room. This issue has invoked responses from Russia, Germany, and the National Coalition Against Censorship, which includes the Directors Guild of America. First Nation support for the mural has been offered in a video by Robert Tamaka Bailey, a Choctaw elder. Professor Dewey Crumpler, who painted a mural in response to previous controversy, offers commentary. We’re hoping a non-destructive solution to the impasse can be devised.

Lope Yap, Jr, VP of the Washington H.S. Alumni Association, sends word that the SFUSD Board will put the GWHS Murals on the Committee Meeting agenda on Tuesday, June 18th – 5:00PM (The Mural issue is first up on the Agenda. 30 Minutes allowed for both sides of the issue.)

San Francisco Unified School District

Irving G. Breyer Board Meeting Room

555 Franklin Street, First Floor

San Francisco, CA 94102

On Tuesday, June 25th  there will be a Final Vote, but no Public discussion.

We are encouraged to write messages of opposition to any whitewashing of the murals to: Superintendent Vincent Matthews  and the Board Members.

There will be a free Historic Preservation panel on Beyond the Controversy: The George Washington High School Murals and the Removal of Public Art, Tuesday, July 9 at 7:30 PM at ILWU Local 34 Hall – 801 2nd St. next to Oracle Park, SF. We recently met with filmmakers interested in doing a segment on the issue as part of a documentary on WPA murals.

Bird Levy sends word that her annual Pasion de Frida exhibit will open Tuesday, July 9, 5-8 pm @ at Puerto Alegre at 546 Valencia Street. Has a recording of Frida’s voice been found? Some think not.

The first two figures Rivera wanted to include in our mural were Robert Fulton, inventor of a working steamboat, and Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and Morse code. Now celebrating their 175th anniversary, these two Morse inventions obliterated time by making messaging almost instantaneous; more akin to text messaging than transporting messages on horseback. Rivera loved that these great inventors were painters, who reconciled Art and Science.

The Discovery Channel came by to film a short segment about Dudley Carter for “Expeditions Unknown” . Host Josh Gates told me that the episode will air next season.

Anne Schnoebelen, vice president of the Treasure Island Museum, sends along a link to an aerial view of Treasure Island, where our mural was created.

Frida Garden

(Photo: Will Maynez)

Our Frida Garden’s paint job has been renewed by City College staff. The Pacifica statue and Olmec head were power-washed. A special thank you to VC Kristina Whalen for nursing that project along. She is moving on from the College, but very much left a legacy in helping organize the Diego Rivera Mural Project by establishing protocols in the seven years since I “retired.”

We look forward to an upcoming visit by new Mexican Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau to renew our joint commitment to the mural as elucidated in our 2011 MOU.

The mural is on a long journey through time and we’re hitching a ride for a few decades.