“Friends of Diego” Newsletter

January 2019

Templo Mayor

Model of the Templo Mayor at center of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Actual center just behind.

Dear Friends of Diego,

México City works its magic on you. Spells cast centuries ago emanate from ruptures in the street, where through glass windows you can see the base of a temple below…astride yet another temple (our mural website rests on 1998 work). The ancient, the Baroque, and the ultramodern shoulder each as if they were on the  metro at rush hour. Diego, Mexican dirt under his fingernails, compulsively collected the pre-Columbian past rooted in the earth. Yet, he also embraced Henry Ford’s machines, the vehicles which could propel México into the future. All the jostling took place in his head and then spilled out on to the wet fresco plaster (enlucido).

The Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso houses Diego Rivera’s first mural, The Creation  (an encaustic, not a fresco). On Friday, January 12, 2019, SFMOMA convened a Roundtable of thirty US and Mexican art practitioners to discuss how best to de-install and move our Rivera mural from City College to the museum. (Frida and Diego would have loved that women comprised half the Roundtable. Soon, hopefully, this won’t warrant comment.) Specific next steps were determined, which include modeling of the mural panels to ascertain their vibrational properties.

We had spent Thursday morning viewing Rivera murals at the Secretariat of Public Education and, then, at the Palacio de Bellas Artes viewed panel 4 of the Carnival of Mexico, which had previously traveled to France for a show. This steel-framed panel weighs about two tons. At the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, a diversity of sophisticated analytic techniques were used to determine the mural’s physical characteristics. We studied the supporting structure behind the mural, which had been moved adjacent to the Alameda in 1986 from across the street at the seismically-damaged Hotel del Prado. At the Museo National de Arte we got an insightful lecture on the spectral analysis  of the over 200 paints left behind in Diego’s studio. On a cross-town Uber ride to cocktails at an art-filled private home, a Mexican art conservator from Chiapas, who specialized in lime-plasters, taught me technical fresco terms in Spanish. The Mexico visit, partially underwritten by the Koret Foundation, was a model for collaboration between our two great countries, stewards of our communal cultural heritage.

The photo below by SFMOMA’s Ruth Berson refers to French artist JR’s Chronicles of San Francisco. This is an homage to Diego Rivera, who lived in France for many years. JR’s video mural opens at the museum on May 23, 2019, a year before we move the mural to the same Roberts Family Gallery, which is freely open to the public. Here is JR on TED.

Will at Museo Mural Diego Rivera

On January 9 I tossed back a salute to my late Rivera partner Julia Bergman, who, among other things, taught me how to drink tequila. She’s been gone two years. I toasted on the hotel rooftop, where we would analyze the day’s research, starting with our first trip in 1999. Looking over the ledge I could see work in the long-empty lot below, which has been recently discovered to be the site of an Aztec ball court. You feel like you are immersed in time. But, it could be the tequila.

Siqueiros in Prison

The Archivo General de la Nación is in a nicely remodeled penitentiary. This famous photo of Siqueiros behind bars was taken there. In his “honor” they restored a small cell block and display the photo. Archives are idiosyncratic and they pointed me elsewhere for 1930’s address directories and immigration records. Instead, using Cynthia Madigan’s memory of where their house (designated part of the national patrimony) was, I started walking down Paseo de la Reforma. The house that hosted George Gershwin in 1935 has survived between the high-rises that overgrew what was meant to be a grand European boulevard.

Though we have yet to find the exact date that Frida returned to Mexico in the 3rd week of May 1931 to start her affair with Nick Muray, at our Friday session I met a principle from Frida’s Casa Azul, who was much interested in the implications of my research and offered to help. A recent article noted that the immediate empathy between  Frida and Dorothea Lange may have had to do with both suffering from childhood polio. Importantly, Dorothea introduced Frida to Dr. Leo Eloesser, who would become her San Francisco confidante, as well as medical advisor. Imogen Cunningham’s son, Rondal Partridge, whose photo of Diego graced our December 2018 issue, started working in Lange’s darkroom when he was only 16 years old.

My Mexican friend, physicist Evelina Chiu, told me that the Dragon de Oro (the Golden Dragon) was the Chinese store where her mother used to wait on Frida. (Their family-owned company furnished the heavy equipment for the Alameda mural move.) Though I didn’t find the building, Avenida Madero is still home to the Hotel Ritz, where Tim Pflueger stayed in April 1940, while inviting Diego to paint at Art in Action  at the Golden Gate International Exposition’s (GGIE) second season.


The Treasure Island Museum will host a GGIE event Saturday, February 2, 1:00-4:00 PM, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening.

The Mechanics Institute will host their GGIE event on Thursday, April 4, 2019 from 11:30-6:00 pm, with speakers (including me) about the fair. There will be an additional evening program. Details to follow in the next issue.

México City (CdMx) is awash in museums. I went to the Museo Jumex, Museo Soumaya (Carlos Slim’s place has a copy of Rodin’s Gates of Hell), to an extensive Graciela Iturbide show, and to the Museo National de Arte for Carlos Mérida and José María Velasco exhibitions. In Conversations with Diego Rivera, The Monster in his Labyrinth (page 42) Rivera relates that Velasco landscapes weren’t meant to be “photographic.” This finally explained why in Paris in 2014 I found that Diego had taken artistic license in his Le Port de la Tournelle painting; I couldn’t get Notre Dame, the pont, and the quay to align as in the painting.

An extraordinary Bellas Artes Kandinsky exhibition has an unstated Rivera connection. In his 1930-31 San Francisco sojourn, Rivera connected with Galka Scheyer, who represented Die Blaue Vier; Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, and Jawlensky. This show warranted an extra visit, which I was unable to do.

On the last Sunday, I went back to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera for one last pass at Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central. It was the cherry on top. Sr. Arturo Aguilar González hangs out at various Rivera murals and is a walking archive. In a large photo of Diego and Frida, he pointed out that she’s wearing Chinese slippers, probably from the Dragon de Oro. (In the museum’s gallery there was an exhibition on the 20th Century Chinese-Mexican connection, Vientos de Fusang, which included work by Miguel Covarrubias.) He pointed out Diego’s dead twin peeking out from behind José Guadalupe Posada and an isolated eye he claimed belonged to Nahui Olin. Using photos he unveiled subtle messages in the reconstructed “Rockefeller mural” at Bellas Artes. We spent an hour exchanging stories, though we didn’t always agree.

He repeated the refrain about Rivera disrespectfully “mooning’ viewers at the San Francisco Art Institute mural; an interpretation I’ve rejected for many years. The trompe l’oeil mural depicts Rivera as you might stumble upon him working. Bernard Zakheim had done a watercolor of Rivera in México seated on the scaffold. Lucienne Bloch, Diego’s assistant at Detroit and at the “Rockefeller” (where she took the mural photo which allowed its recreation), also did a print of Diego in this pose. If one buys into the “mooning” theory, the direct objects of Rivera’s disrespect would have been his friends depicted below him, patron William Gerstle, who hired him to paint the mural and offered him a teaching position, and architect Arthur Brown, Jr. (City Hall, SF Art Institute, and Coit Tower). Diego’s best advocate, architect Timothy Pflueger,  is not in the photo, but is the mural figure on the left. [The New Yorker has an article on “Wing”, photos by Patti Smith taken at the Casa Azul in 2012. They were on display at the SFAI in the Diego Rivera Gallery for a 5-day run.]

Diego at SFAI with Gerstle and Brown, JR

Diego Rivera, William Gerstle, Arthur Brown, Jr., late May 1931. SF Art Institute photo.

Rivera’s San Francisco murals are devoid of the overtly politicized images that characterized the “Rockefeller” mural or his Carnival of México series. So much was at stake for Diego in this first working foray north of the border. In San Francisco he was treated well and wrote as much to Pflueger in accepting his 1940 commission.  (After returning to México in 1941 he bitterly complained to Frida about how he was treated there, compared to San Francisco.) Here, Diego was on his best behavior (well, at least, on the scaffold). Sr. Aguilar González and I plan to hook up next time I’m in CdMx. Walking back to my hotel, I passed the lovers, rappers, strollers,  break-dancers, and clowns, who are today’s Sunday afternoon Alameda park denizens. Diego would have loved them and we can imagine such a mural.

Saying this trip was a dream come true would be imprecise; my most ambitious mural dreams were never this good. Thanks to my friends at SFMOMA for graciously including me.



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.