Monday, April 28, 2008

Diego in Detroit

I was in Detroit a short while ago taping Knit and Crochet Today at Detroit PBS. While there, I was lucky to find a new friend. Karen Kendrick-Hands, Owner of City Knits in The Fisher Building, became my fabulous tour guide. How lucky was I? Karen knew that I would love seeing the Courtyard of the Detroit Institute of Arts. With barely a minute to spare before going to the airport for my flight to Hartford, Karen and I flew in quickly to look at one of Diego Rivera's famous murals. Wow, was I blown away. This link will take you to the two major walls of the murals. Below, are images of some of the smaller sections of the mural which I was able to capture.

The murals were funded by Edsel Ford and painted between 1932 and 1933. They were very controversial and were almost destroyed. Thank goodness they weren't! Edsel Ford is portrayed in a section of the canvas along with William Valentiner, the Director of the Detroit Institute of Art.

Throughout the murals, there are many famous Detroit industrial leaders captured in fresco including Henry Ford. There are also many regular people portrayed as they worked for the auto, airline, and pharmaceutical industries which were based in Detroit. Rivera believed that art should be for all people and through his painting of murals, his work did indeed reach many people.

The murals were painted in the traditional fresco technique which means that each section was painted with pigments on freshly spread plaster. The painting had to be completed while the plaster was wet so that it would seep into the wall. This makes the frescos waterproof. Rivera's assistants would mix pigments, apply plaster and then he would paint a section at a time. It is said that he liked the pressure that this technique put on him - making him more spontaneous and creative each day.

Here are some of the photos I was able to get on my very quick visit. There was a film which I wish I had time for - maybe next time! If you want to learn more, I suggest this book by Linda Bank Downs which tells about the conception, creation, and execution of the Detroit Industry Murals.

This is one of two images of nude women with their arms full of fruit and wheat honoring the earth and agriculture of the State of Michigan. Evidently, in 1932, these nudes were rather controversial.

This image is of a pharmacist filling pill bottles surrounded by women typing in a typing pool.

An infant in a bulb surrounded by roots and layers of earth. This is said to be a possible testament to Rivera's wife Frida Kahlo and the baby she miscarried while they were in Detroit.

This image shows a surgeon removing a brain tumour.

I couldn't resist adding this lovely image of sunflowers and a crow.

It's amazing how beautiful Rivera could make subjects that would not seem visually beautiful look. That's the thing I came away with most - if composed beautifully and with feeling, almost anything can become a thing of beauty.

Tonight I am going to watch one of my favorite movies Frida and see if there is any mention of the murals he painted in Detroit.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is enormous. There looks to be so much to explore. If I ever get back to this city again, I'm going to try to add an extra day to explore this magnificent collection.

And thank you so much to Karen for making my trip to Detroit not all work but some cultural enlightenment!


Anonymous said...

Awesome photos! Thanks for sharing!

Nik said...

I fell in love with Frida and Diego after watching Frida years ago. Thanks for sharing these pictures. I've never seen them.

Anonymous said...

The movie "Cradle Will Rock" (1999; Tim Robbins directed) has one storyline involving Rivera's frescos for the Rockefeller Center. In case you're on the cinematic trail for Rivera's work.
/s/ Gretchen

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you'll enjoy Frieda. It's very intense, the colors are marvelous and the acting superb. Enjoy!

knittingiris said...

Thanks for posting all these Detroit pictures! I never would have imagined these kinds of things exist there. Incredible, and how lucky you were to see it all in person.