The City College of San Francisco’s most precious art gem is Diego Rivera’s mural, “The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and the South on this Continent,” also known as “Pan American Unity.” It was commissioned for the Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island in 1940. Shortly thereafter, the mural was placed in storage for two decades.
The mural, according to Will Maynez, long-time lab manager of City College’s physics department and a member of both the Work of Arts Committee and the Diego Rivera Mural Project, was supposed to be installed in a library with large bay windows for visibility from the outside, but at that time the structure was never built. When City College architect Timothy Pflueger died, the mural’s installation was pushed back even further. However, Pflueger’s brother, Milton, built the Diego Rivera Theater at Ocean campus, so the mural finally found a permanent home.
“Pan American Unity” was a gift from Rivera and painted at no cost to the college, Maynez said. The fresco’s earth-ground pigments were crafted into five continuous panels measuring a total of 22’ x 75’. It is the largest of his three San Francisco murals.
The mural highlights some of the historical pioneers in the U.S. and Mexico such as Mesoamerican deities, American presidents, inventors and Mexican artists.
City College is planning to construct a Performing Arts Center on Phelan Avenue within the next 10 years and move the mural there. The mural can then be viewed as it was originally intended: through glass in a large room, according to Maynez.
“We’re stewards of art treasures,” Maynez said. “We’re talking about a world-class piece of work. People come from far away to see this mural and yet there are students here who have not seen it. The Mexican ambassador to the U.S. came straight from the airport to see the mural.”
He added: “In fact, Diego Rivera’s grandson was here on campus to see it and he called me for directions on how to get there (…) the signage is terrible or non-existent. We’ve still got a long way to go in the college to embrace the mural and give it its proper respect. We’re also trying right now to get the work preserved – it’s in really good shape. We’re doing a joint project to use conservators from Mexico and the United States, an all-women project.”
Docents and tours are offered for “Pan American Unity” at no cost to the public. Call (415) 452-5188 for viewing hours. More information on the mural and Rivera can be found at Rosenberg Library’s Russell M. Posner Reading Room, located on the fifth floor. A semester-long class on the mural is available through City College, as well as volunteer and research opportunities.
Visit the Mural Project’s website at http://www.riveramural.com to learn more.
Frida Kahlo Garden
The Ocean campus is also home to the Frida Kahlo Garden, located near the Diego Rivera Theater and constructed to resemble Kahlo’s garden at La Casa Azul, Kahlo’s birthplace and the home she shared with Rivera. Today La Casa Azul is a museum in Coyoacán, Mexico. Appearing in the Garden is a sculptured replica of an Olmec head and a goddess-like statue called Pacifica.
El Rey, San Lorenzo #1
This 14-ton Olmec head sculpted by Ignacio Perez Solano is one of four replicas in the United States, according to City College’s Art Guide. The governor of Veracruz, Mexico, Miguel Aleman Velazco, donated “El Rey” to City College in 2004. The $72,000 installation in the Frida Kahlo Garden took place in October of 2004. The Olmecs lived in Mexico from approximately 1200 to 400 BC. The original sculpture of “El Rey” is believed to be 3,000 years old.
An 8-foot, fiberglass goddess-like statue called “Pacifica” graces the Frida Kahlo Garden. The reproduction by Ralph Stackpole, a close friend of Rivera, was installed in April of 2008. The original 80-foot concrete statue was created for the Golden Gate International Exhibition in 1939, but was destroyed, according to San Francisco’s History Podcast, Sparkletack.
For more information, check out http://www.sparkletack.com/2008/04/11/pacifica-is-back/
Pageant of the Pacific
Six incredibly detailed maps by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias are located in the Rosenberg Library, according to Maynez. The lithograph reproductions, donated to City College in 1996, depict different aspects, such as the people and the art of the Pacific Rim. Maynez said City College is currently vying for the original 1939 works. Five of the six pieces are still in existence: one is on display at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the other four are in storage on Treasure Island.
Viewing times are contingent upon library hours. Call (415) 452-5433 for information.
Song of the Spirit
Located on the north wall of the student union, “Song of the Spirit” is an 11’ x 88’ acrylic mural designed by City College students. The nonprofit organization Precita Eyes Mural Arts, located in the Mission District, oversaw the project. The colorful mural represents the college’s diverse community, depicting different sexual orientations, cultures and ethnicities. The two-year project, completed in 1999, cost the college $10,000.
A colorful 27-foot Aztec Calendar is a welcome sight at the Mission campus. The calendar hovers over the entrance to the campus on Valencia Street and is constructed of some 660 ceramic tiles painted mostly bright blue and orange. The calendar is hand-engraved and painted and was commissioned for $200,000 to two Tucson artists, Alex Garza and Carlos Valenzuela.
The Future Is Ours
Donated by Dr. Carlota del Portillo, former Mission campus dean, the mural “The Future Is Ours” was installed in 2008 to celebrate the campus’ renovation. In a similar fashion to Rivera, artist Emanuel Paniagua portrays historical figures, accomplishments and Latino culture. It is located on the left wall just inside the entrance of the Mission campus.
City College currently has a self-portrait of Diego Rivera. It is an early 1930s lithograph dedicated to Moma Hofmann, who assisted on “Pan American Unity.” The self-portrait will eventually be hung in the Rosenberg Library.
Maynez said acquisition of the Miguel Covarrubias mural maps is also a possibility. The maps were created for the International Exhibition.
The public art is located at the Ocean campus, 50 Phelan Ave at Ocean Avenue. You can call the campus at (415) 239-3000. The Mission campus is located at 1125 Valencia St. You can the campus at (415) 920-6000.