"Friends of Diego" Newsletter
Dear Friends of Diego,
A Julia Bergman Celebration (RSVP at this Eventbrite hyperlink) will be held at City College’s Ocean campus cafeteria on Feb. 25, 2017 from 1 to 4 p.m. I will do a mural tour at noon, preceding the event. Planning for this event has been facilitated by the loving work and funding of Julia’s relatives, friends, and the mobilized City College community. In a prescient dream she told me she had been cavorting with Diego and Frida baking a cake for her and Diego’s mutual birthday, December 8. The rest of us will have to party here. [SF Chronicle obit, Memory of obit, please read the CAI’s Greg Mortenson Tribute and you’ll know why she’s surely with the angels.]
Went to LA to see the impressive Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibit. What was especially exciting was a 4 minute video comparing facets of Guernica with our Rivera masterpiece. Our entire mural was projected in high resolution, 18 feet across for the coda. (Hoping to be able to acquire a copy from LACMA.) Julia also loaned one of our Rivera Collection’s photos to the exhibit. The scholarly catalog features the mural’s center panel in a learned essay. Also on display was the initial 3-panel width sketch for the mural, which I’d only seen in books.
Picasso and Rivera’s grandsons did a short conversation on NPR. This show will move to Bellas Artes in Mexico City after its run in LA. A nice tie-in to the show was the recent find at MoMA of the original stretcher bars for Guernica. Here is an 18 minute video of the co-curators. Here is an LA Times review.
The Diego and Frida paintings at SF General Hospital are back up in a nice setting.
My blogger friend John Crosse sent me a link to his posting of a drawing of Diego by Louise Nevelson. Louise helped in 1933 with the New Worker School (Trotskyist) murals Rivera did with tainted money received from his star-crossed Rockefeller project. Galka Shyer figures prominently in some of John’s stories and was instrumental in introducing Der Blaue Reiter to the west coast. This spring there will be programming at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena on her.
John’s blog socalarchhistory.blogspot.com. is for fans of the architectural and design history of Southern California and related published material. Over the years our research has overlapped to a symbiotic state as artists freely migrated north and south with stops in Carmel and the SF peninsula.
Carl Nagin, my favorite “conspiracy theorist,” and I are off to Bellas Artes in Mexico City in March to see "Pintar la Revolución: El arte moderno mexicano, 1910-1950.” We both agreed that it was too cold to see the show in Philadelphia. As part of a 2000 lecture series for the Diego Rivera Mural Project, Carl related a compelling counter-explanation to what happened to Rivera at Rockefeller Center. I weave his theory into my Gershwin in Mexico play, tentatively titled Rapsodia en Azul. Carl is working on a novel about Mexico and also writes about and plays Flamenco guitar.
Thank you to all the donors to the Diego Rivera Fund of the Foundation of City College of San Francisco. Over the last six years this money has enabled us to underwrite the work of getting a firm hold on the state of the mural and verifying its installation for the future day when we will be able to move it to a more respectful venue on campus. This year we will try to upload as much of our research holdings onto the www.riveramural.org website, also funded by donations.
Be of good cheer,
Dear Friends of Diego,
It is with deep regret that I report that Julia Bergman, my Diego Rivera research partner, passed away peacefully on Monday January 9th after a long struggle with chronic health issues.
I had already been at City College for 18 years when I first met her. As she put it, we were “joined at the hip” for the next 20 years. She was the real deal. As a librarian she helped and mentored many people. As an advocate for City College, she was ferocious. As an integral member of the Central Asia institute, she lovingly created girl’s schools and libraries high in the Karakorum Mountains of northern Pakistan. She co-wrote the history of City College. It’s not often you have a hero, who also calls you friend. Our telepathy and synchronicity were manifest. People would ask, “How did you do that?” We had enough sense not to take credit. The cosmos loved us and we just had to stay out of the way.
As the archivist for the Diego Rivera Mural Project, she created a collection of this unique part of Diego Rivera’s life, which is unparalleled. Scholars come from all over to utilize it. When we first got together, I would discover a new insight and want to hoard it, like a squirrel with an acorn. “No,” said the librarian, “we must share it.” She, of course, was right. Putting it out there brought multiple rewards.
She was excited about our planned trip next month to Mexico City, where we had gone multiple times. On our first visit many years ago, she taught me how to drink Tequila. On that visit we went to Teotihuacan, the vast complex outside Mexico City. We hired a driver in a van to take us. He asked if he could bring his nephew. “Of course.” Before the nephew and I sprinted to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, she said, “Don’t wait on me. I’m built for comfort, not speed!” After ½ an hour at the top, just as we were about to descend, here came Julia over the top. Attached are pictures of the pyramid and Julia and me on top of the world.
For the last couple of years, we had been very much aware of our mortality as we became the last two working members of the Diego Rivera Mural Project. We became very active in “institutionalizing the project, before we were institutionalized.” To that end last semester she gave up the Chair of the CCSF Works of Art Committee she had held for 20 years. The amount of good done for the College’s art collection during her tenure is well-documented. Attached is a picture of Julia and me at the Art Deco Society of California’s Preservation Ball, where we were honored with the 2015 Michael Crowe Preservation Award.
Last summer Julia and I took a long-awaited trip to Canada to pore over the “lost“ Diego Rivera papers we had found after a 15 year search. It took us an additional 3 years to find a window around our mutual caregiving responsibilities. She is the only person in the world I would have trusted to read half of the 2000 page collection. We had a very successful trip. Locked in a windowless room in the bowels of a museum, we would tell each other, “Listen to this” and “Oh, that’s good!” On our last brightly lit day at an outdoor café with majestic mountains about us, we drank a toast: “To our friendship and to not leading a diminished life.” I rejoice in her life, well and generously lived.
Dear Friends of Diego,
Feliz Cumpleaños, Dra. Guadalupe Rivera y Marin! (today Oct. 23). Diego’s daughter heads the Fundación Diego Rivera and is an Honorary Trustee of San Francisco’s Mexican Museum. She was part of our mural’s International Advisory Committee convocation in 2000 and in May 2006 hosted Julia and me in Mexico City for her Encuentro Internacional de Pintura Mural. I send along Pedro Infante and Las Mañanitas.
It’s now public, the mural has been appraised at $50,000,000.00 What a relief; it turns out that I haven’t wasted the last 20 years of my life.
(FYI: That figure had been Julia’s and my independent guesses prior to the appraisal. Personally I think it’s worth even more.)
Lewis Sykes, who was recently honored at the Foundation of City College’s Basic Skills Luncheon fundraiser, has graciously donated a pristine October 1938 Fortune magazine with a cover by Miguel Covarrubias and an article, illustrated by Diego, about the 1938 Mexican oil expropriation. This was a reminder that although Rivera was in artistic exile from the US from 1934 until he returned to do our mural in 1940, he was not forgotten.
In researching the magazine I came across a troubling 1938 Fortune magazine survey about US popular attitudes on Jewish refugees, among other issues. The data quantifies the atmosphere Rivera found when he arrived in 1940; the atmosphere which shaped our mural.
Looking forward in December to LACMA’s upcoming Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time. Our mural’s image will appear in the show.
Had a nice mural visit from Judi Leff, Director of Arts and Cultural Programs for Congregation Emanu-El. Her parents Bobbie and Henry taught at CCSF, back in the day. Judi was accompanied by Joseph Amster (Emperor Norton) and Rick Shelton (Lola Montez). All 3 are members of the SF Historical Association, which has extended an invitation to me to speak next year.
City College and its Journalism Department hosted a symposium for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists: Bay Area chapter. I participated in an “Art as Journalism” panel. It was great getting the exposure for the mural, since the great complaint is that the mural is so little known. (However, daily visitors from all over the world, seem to know about it! Have some New Zealanders coming in today; I have a soft spot for Kiwis. Looking forward to taking some of the visitors up on their offers; “Come stay with us at our vineyards in Umbria.”)
Our revitalized website, www.riveramural.org, is progressing. Camille Mai, our web designer, is constructing an attractive framework on which to load all the information we have. Take a peek. The larger, hi-res images are the most important initial improvement. Editing 20 years-worth of writing will be my next year’s work.
As I reported last time, Julia Bergman and I wrote abstracts of the Gladys March papers we found in Canada. Researcher friends immediately responded to this last missive. “Did you find anything on ‘so and so’ in the papers?” One request regarding Albert Bender, a figure in Rivera’s “autobiography”, made me realize that his story hadn’t been in the notes. Embarrassingly, I had been oblivious to the obvious; this was not the whole cache of Gladys March’s notes.
Maureen Bourbin has volunteered to reconcile the abstracts with the chapters in the book to see exactly what is missing. Somewhere out there (hopefully) is another treasure trove of notes for the book. Alas, it took 15 years to find the first batch. Casting a wider net with the website is one hope.
Just got back from a week in the sparsely-populated, high desert (6000’) 40 miles north of Las Vegas. Was hanging out with my best friend Dave Braun (we grew up across the street from each other and went into the USMC on the buddy-plan. You don’t get much tighter.) Went there to get away and work on my “Gershwin in Mexico” play. Got to mix & pour concrete, too. Elk and wild horses routinely passed by my window at night.
Dia de los Muertos is coming up November 1st through 2nd. We remember all those who are no longer corporeally with us. With this commemoration, their spirits never leave us. Let us keep all our loved ones near. (Picture of a Frida Ofrenda, Oaxaca, Mexico, November 2007)