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Photograph of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in New York studio

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 24 x 14 cm. Photograph of unidentified woman (left), Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo in a New York studio. One of Rivera's cala lily paintings can be seen in the background.
Date based on era of Rivera's work in New York.
Identification on verso (handwritten): Diego Rivera & wife; New York

George Biddle

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 24 x 19 cm. Biddle at work on a panel of the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, Section of Painting and Sculpture - sponsored mural entitled, "Society Freed through Justice", located in the fifth floor lobby of the Attorney-General's office in the Justice Department Building, Washington, D.C.
Identification on accompanying label (typewritten): George Biddle (1885- ). Biddle received his law degree but immediately turned to art. His murals decorate government buildings in the United States, Brazil, and Mexico. He was active in helping to set up the Federal Art Project in the Thirties. Being an artist of great versatility, he has worked in stone, clay, paint, wood, and block printing.

Oral history interview with Robert Boardman Howard, 1964 Sept. 16

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 1 sound file: digital, wav file

Transcript: 12 p.

An interview of Robert Boardman Howard conducted 1964 Sept. 16 by Mary McChesney.

Howard speaks of his background and education; his early paintings and sculptures; his involvement with the Federal Art Project in San Francisco; Coit Tower; and his opinions of federal support for the arts.

Oral history interview with Clay Spohn, 1964 October 5 and 1965 September 25

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 120 pages.

An interview of Clay Spohn conducted 1964 October 5 and 1965 September 25, by Harlan Phillips for the Archives of American Art.

The Real Frida Kahlo

Smithsonian Magazine

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is remembered today for her personal struggle and extraordinary life story as much as for her vibrant and intimate artwork. Kahlo was plagued by illness since youth and a bus accident at age 18 smashed her spinal column and fractured her pelvis, confining her to bed for months and leaving her with lifelong complications.

Though she had never planned on becoming an artist and was pursuing a medical career at the time of her accident, Kahlo found painting a natural solace during her recovery. It would become an almost therapeutic practice that would aid her in overcoming physical pain as well as the emotional pain of a turbulent marriage with muralist Diego Rivera and, years later, several miscarriages and abortions.

Despite the candidness of her work, Kahlo always maintained an image of poise, strength and even defiance in her public life. An exhibition at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (NMWA), "Frida Kahlo: Public Image, Private Life. A Selection of Photographs and Letters," on display through October 14, examines the dichotomy between Kahlo's self-cultivated public persona and the grim realities of her life. Commemorating Kahlo's 100th birthday, the exhibit is a collaboration between the NMWA, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Mexican Cultural Institute.

The exhibit was inspired by the NMWA's recently acquired collection of Kahlo's unpublished letters to family and friends from the 1930s and 1940s, most of which document the four years Kahlo and Rivera spent living in the United States. The letters offer a glimpse into Kahlo's thoughts, her impressions of new and exotic places and her relationships with loved ones.

"She would pour her heart out into these letters," says Henry Estrada, public programs director at the Smithsonian Latino Center, who coordinated the translation of the letters. "She would do everything to convey these new experiences of San Francisco or New York. She would actually draw pictures of the apartment she was staying in and describe the beaches on the west coast. She would say things like 'mil besos,' which means 'a thousand kisses,' and kiss the letters."

Image by Frida Kahlo with Idol #11, Coyoacán, Mexico, ca. 1940. An exhibition at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (NMWA), "Frida Kahlo: Public Image, Private Life. A Selection of Photographs and Letters," examines the dichotomy between Kahlo's self-cultivated public persona and the grim realities of her life. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán, Mexico, 1941. Why would an artist who is so explicit in her artwork take pains to construct a public image that seems to mask her private life? "I think when she was in front of the camera she felt very different than when she was in front of the canvas, and she expressed something different," says Jason Stieber of the NMWA, co-curator of the exhibition. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo with Idol #11, Coyoacán, Mexico, ca. 1940. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is remembered today for her personal struggle and extraordinary life story as much as for her vibrant and intimate artwork. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo with old man and boy, Mexico, 1946. The exhibit was inspired by the NMWA's recently acquired collection of Kahlo's unpublished letters to family and friends from the 1930s and 1940s, most of which document the four years Kahlo and Rivera spent living in the United States. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at home, 1941. Painting became an almost therapeutic practice for Kahlo that helped her overcome physical pain as well as the emotional pain of a turbulent marriage with muralist Diego Rivera. (original image)

The letters, which are accompanied by a selection of iconic Kahlo photographs by renowned photographers such as Lola Alvarez Bravo and Nickolas Murray and never-before-seen photographs of Kahlo's private bathroom at the Casa Azul in Coyoacàn, Mexico, act as a bridge between the images of the stylized mexicanista decked in traditional Tehuantepec dresses and pre-Columbian jewelry and those of medical supplies and corsets that underscored Kahlo's troubled existence.

But why would an artist who is so explicit in her artwork take pains to construct a public image that seems to mask her private life? "I think when she was in front of the camera she felt very different than when she was in front of the canvas, and she expressed something different," says Jason Stieber of the NMWA, co-curator of the exhibition. "She expressed her glamour, her Mexican heritage, her Communist leanings. She was expressing her strength, whereas in her paintings she's expressing her pain."

More than just a link between the two sides of Kahlo's persona, the letters may also offer significant new information for Kahlo scholars. Though biographers often depict Kahlo's relationship with her mother as strained and conflicted, the letters show remarkable tenderness and affection between mother and daughter and may prompt scholars to re-evaluate the way they look at her mother's impact on Kahlo's life and work.

"People credit her father with the fact that she was as strong a woman as she was, but it’s possible that her mother was also in large part responsible for that," Stieber says. "Her mother ran the household."

The letters track a particularly emotional time in Kahlo's relationship with her mother, as they coincide with her mother's declining health. Stieber believes the NMWA collection has the last letter Kahlo's mother ever wrote to her, where she describes how wonderful it had been to talk on the telephone—the first time she had spoken on the phone in her life.

Regardless of the problems Kahlo may have been facing, her letters reveal a love of life that never faltered. "The thing that really struck me was how much this artist enjoyed life and lived life to the fullest," Estrada says. "She was just vivacious and articulate and engaged with her environment, with people, with lovers, with friends, with family. She communicated and she did so with passion in her heart, not just in her artwork, but in her relationships with people."

Julia Kaganskiy is a freelance writer in Boston, Massachusetts.

Three new collections represent Latinas from L.A.

National Museum of American History

As a curator at the National Museum of American History, I find that exhibitions are one space in which I can bring history to the public. While exhibitions are truly impactful—around five million people visit our museum each year and our exhibitions are sometimes up for twenty years—curators are also responsible for research and collections that may not be slated for immediate display. Most recently I have been collecting important artifacts from Latinas who have changed the landscape of Los Angeles, California, in various ways. This work is about making sure diverse stories are represented in the national collection.

Over the past two years, I have worked with local Latina leaders to develop collections connected to the lives of three pathbreaking L.A. artists: Judith F. Baca, muralist and professor at University of California, Los Angeles; Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of the Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal; and Josefina López, author and screenwriter of Real Women Have Curves, a 2002 movie directed by Patricia Cardoso.

At the museum, the Division of Home and Community Life preserves objects at the intersection of our private and public lives that are significant to individual experiences, social environments, and community development throughout our nation's past. The artifacts collected from Judy Baca, Martha Gonzalez, and Josefina López represent larger stories about people in Los Angeles making a place for themselves. Their artifacts are about artistic expression and new perspectives.

Photograph of white overalls splattered with paint

Photograph of baseball cap, work boots, and brushes

The artifacts donated by Judy Baca include a pair of painter's overalls that Baca used in the restoration of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a well-known mural in California's San Fernando Valley that depicts the cultural history of people living in the area from prehistoric times to the 1950s. The paint splattered on the overalls provides its own archive of Judy's work and art. The brown tones are from her restoration of the Great Wall, the blues are from her mural depicting an Olympic runner on the Harbor Freeway (110) North in downtown Los Angeles, and the reds are from her Highland Park mural of the landscape and people of the Arroyo Seco area of Los Angeles. Baca is one of the artists most responsible for L.A.'s reputation as a city of murals.

Photograph of brown box with handle and stickers and black shoes

Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of the band Quetzal, has adapted Son Jarocho folk musical traditions from Veracruz, Mexico, into an Afro-Chicano mix that is reflective of American cultural fusions and can only be described as contemporary Chicana/o rock. Their music is emotional and intellectual. And it is distinctly L.A. Artifacts from Gonzalez include her performance tarima and black dance shoes. A tarima is a five-sided stomp box, with roots in African and Mexican musical traditions, that is used like a drum. The shoes are handmade with tire tread soles and toe-tips and heels dotted with nails for percussive effect. The tarima and shoes are used in community musical traditions as a percussion instrument.

Photo of cover of book of poems

Photograph of award

Josefina López is the author and screenwriter of play-turned-film Real Women Have Curves, a production that revolutionized body image and how Latinas can be featured in Hollywood films. Objects from López include her personal journals from childhood, scripts with notations throughout, and her famed Humanitas Prize trophy, which she received in 2002 for Real Women Have Curves. It has been said that the Humanitas Prize is to screenwriting as the Nobel Prize is to literature. It is awarded for writing that demonstrates and encourages human dignity and freedom. López is the first Latina to win this award.

I present these three examples of recent collections because including their stories in the national repository and knowing that their lives will be forever preserved alongside President Abraham Lincoln's hat, President Thomas Jefferson's Bible, and a piece of Plymouth Rock is not only powerful, it is political. These Latinas from L.A. are officially part of our national story.

Photograph of three scripts with cursive writing on them

Margaret Salazar-Porzio is a curator in the Division of Home and Community Life.

This blog post is an excerpt of a lecture titled "Practicing Public History: California Stories at the Smithsonian," which will be published in the Southern California Quarterly 98:1 (Spring 2016), due to be released in February.

Posted Date: 
Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 11:30
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Mercedes Matter and Philip Guston

National Portrait Gallery
The photographer John Cohen frequented the Cedar Tavern on a regular basis, finding the “concentration of good painters” to be “intense.” Photographing the who’s who of the 1950s American art world, he trained his camera on the painters Mercedes Matter and Philip Guston, seen here at one of the bar’s booths. Guston had come to national prominence in the 1930s as a muralist for the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project.

In the 1950s, while living in New York City, he began to embrace Abstract Expressionism and moved in circles with the painters Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Matter, also a regular at the bar, was a close friend of Guston’s. When this photograph was taken, she had already forged a career as a painter and later founded the New York Studio School, in 1964.

El fotógrafo John Cohen, cliente regular del Cedar Tavern, encontraba que la “concentración de buenos pintores” era “intensa”. Retrató a toda la élite del arte estadounidense en los años cincuenta, entre ellos los pintores Mercedes Matter y Philip Guston, vistos aquí en una mesa tipo cabina. Guston se destacó en la década de 1930 como muralista del proyecto de artes de la Works Progress Administration (WPA), programa creado como parte del Nuevo Trato.

En los años cincuenta vivía en Nueva York y había comenzado a incursionar en el expresionismo abstracto, frecuentando los círculos artísticos con los pintores Willem de Kooning y Mark Rothko. Matter, también asidua del bar, era buena amiga de Guston. Para la fecha de esta foto ya era una pintora estab- lecida y en 1964 fundó la New York Studio School.

Mercury’s Swift Flight

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Hildreth Meière (1892-1961) was a distinguished Art Deco muralist, painter, mosaicist, and decorative artist often applauded for her defiance of normative standards against the professional success of females.  In 1936 she wrote, “It drives me wild to be spoken of as ‘one of the best women artists’. I’ve worked as an equal with men, and...

Self-Portrait (On Being Female)

National Portrait Gallery
Fiercely committed to worker’s rights, women’s equality, and other liberal causes, Pele deLappe pursued art in tandem with social activism. As a vivacious and precociously talented fifteen-year-old, she was befriended in 1931 by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and often sketched with his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo. Inspired by their social engagement, deLappe became a political cartoonist for newspapers associated with the labor movement and in 1952 helped found the Graphic Arts Workshop, a cooperative for artist-activists in San Francisco.

In this self-portrait, which deLappe made at the age of seventy-five, she contrasts the youthful features of an idealized mask with her own time-worn face, which she represents with unsparing frankness. The detailed rendering of hairstyle and jewelry betrays the necessity of presenting an attractive public facade. In the background, the signed drawing of a lithe female nude recalls the artist’s younger self.

Defensora tenaz de los derechos laborales, la igualdad de la mujer y otras causas liberales, Pele deLappe cultivó el arte en conjunto con el activismo social. En 1931, siendo una quinceañera vivaz y de talento precoz, entabló amistad con el muralista mexicano Diego Rivera y a menudo se reunía a dibujar con su esposa, la pintora Frida Kahlo. Inspirada por el activismo social de estos artistas, deLappe se dedicó a la caricatura política para periódicos asociados con el movimiento laboral y en 1952 ayudó a fundar el Graphic Arts Workshop, una cooperativa para artistas activistas en San Francisco.

En este autorretrato realizado a la edad de 75 años, deLappe contrasta los rasgos juveniles de una máscara idealizada con su propio rostro avejentado, que presenta con rigurosa franqueza. La detallada ejecución del peinado y las joyas delata la necesidad de presentar una atractiva fachada pública. Al fondo, el dibujo firmado de un esbelto desnudo femenino recuerda a la artista en su juventud.

“Orale ese Vato”

National Museum of American History
As this paño humorously titled Orale ese vato (Spanish for roughly, right on, man) shows, one characteristic of Chicano art is that it avidly consumes and reconfigures both American and Mexican pop culture with its own slang, looks, and attitude. A paño is a hand-drawn handkerchief traditionally designed by Chicano prisoners. Like a letter that retells memories of both good and bad times, paños are often mailed as gifts to friends and loved ones. Valued as a vibrant popular art that overlaps with muralism, tattoo design, graffiti, and auto airbrushing, paños and their makers are receiving increased exposure for their visual storytelling abilities. An illustrator and a muralist known for depicting Chicano themes, Walter Baca (1947-1993) designed this paño in New Mexico in 1992.

Friends of the Wind

National Museum of American History
"Friends of the Wind" is a drypoint by Mildred Bryant Brooks (1901-1995). Brooks, who had a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian's U. S. National Museum in 1936, was known for her skillful etchings of trees. Although she also printed still lifes and figures, she remained committed to images of nature, perhaps stemming from her childhood study of the outdoors with her scientist father. The black and white print depicts tall, slender trees, forming two diagonal lines, which meet on the right side of the print. A stream winds off toward the horizon on the left side.

The trees are very detailed, the branches and leaves rendered with very fine and delicate lines, evincing the influence on her by seventeenth-century Netherlandish printmaking. Conversely, Brooks gave very little detail to the ground, except for the loosely drawn stream and the trees' shadows. The sky is completely without detail and the dark tree tops, which appear to blend together, provide a sharp contrast against the pale backdrop.

In addition to her printmaking, Brooks had an extremely prolific career as a painter, muralist, and interior decorator, and she received numerous awards and prizes. Despite experiencing financial problems during the Depression and a shortage of supplies during World War II, she persevered by printing on her own press for other artists as well as herself; teaching, lecturing, and exhibiting extensively in her home state of California; and even producing educational films. Unfortunately, her failing vision cut short her etching career in the 1960s.

Oral history interview with Arthur and Jean Goodwin Ames, 1965 June 9

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 30 pages

An interview of Arthur and Jean Goodwin Ames conducted 1965 June 9, by Betty Hoag McGlynn, for the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts Project. They speak of their participation in WPA projects at Newport Harbor Union High School, the San Diego County Courthouse, the Jon Lindbergh Junior High School, and the California Federal Building and Loan in Los Angeles; mural, mosaic and tapestry techniques and materials; Karl Drerup and the development of enameling in America; and the effect of the federal art programs on contemporary art. They also describe the work of Maxine Albro and Helen and Margaret Bruton.

Oral history interview with Kenneth Callahan, 1982 October 27-December 19

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 75 pages

An interview of Kenneth Callahan conducted 1982 October 27-1982 December 19, by Sue Ann Kendall, for the Archives of American Art's Northwest Oral History Project.

Callahan speaks of his childhood in Montana; his education; working as an illustrator; early shows of his work; mural commissions; the Northwest arts community, particularly Morris Graves, Guy Anderson and Mark Tobey; changes in his subject matter and interests; the increasing abstraction in his painting; the fire in his studio; his relationship with the Seattle Art Museum, where he worked as a curator for 20 years; collectors he has known; experimenting with other media; and contemporary art and its future.

Oral history interview with Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg, 1965 Mar. 17

Archives of American Art
Sound recordings: 3 sound tape reels ; 3 in.

Transcript: 42 p.

An interview of Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg conducted 1967 Mar. 17, by Betty Hoag McGlynn, for the Archives of American Art.

Lundberg and Feitelson speak of work they did after their Federal Art Project (FAP) careers ended; exhibitions both participated in; their work with the Los Angeles Art Association; murals they did for the FAP; their work in printmaking for the FAP; some of their colleagues on the FAP; their opinions of the long-term effects of the FAP; the future of government support for the arts; and their mural techniques and materials.

Oral history interview with James Herbert Fitzgerald and Margaret Tomkins, 1965 Oct. 27

Archives of American Art
Sound recordings: 1 sound tape reel ; 5 in.

Transcript: 12 p.

An interview of James Fitzgerald conducted 1965 Oct. 27, by Dorothy Bestor, for the Archives of American Art.

Speaks of his work with Thomas Hart Benton; his work for the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP); his work on the murals at the Department of Justice with Boardman Robinson; and work on other Work Progress Administration art programs in Washington state. Fitzgerald's wife, artist Margaret Tomkins, is present during the interview and comments periodically.

Oral history interview with Marion Greenwood, 1964 Jan. 31

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 15 p.

An interview of Marion Greenwood conducted on 1964 Jan. 31, by Dorothy Seckler, for the Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project.

Greenwood speaks of her background and education; her mural work before joining the Treasury Relief Art Project; working on murals for the Red Hook Housing Project in Brooklyn, N.Y.; changing from murals to easel paintings; and her opinions regarding government support for the arts.

Oral history interview with Gronk, 1997 Jan. 20-23

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 6 sound cassettes (ca. 6 hrs.) : analog.

Transcript: 94 p.

An interview of Gronk conducted by Jeffrey Rangel for the Archives of American Art.

Gronk discusses differences between two artists' group, Los Four and and Asco; the Chicano artists view of Asco; isolation from the Chicano arts movement as well as the mainstream avant-garde art scene; his relationship with Jerry Dreva and the development of mail art and the Dreva/Gronk Show: 1968-1978 at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions; and his 1983 NEA fellowship for performance/conceptual work.

Oral history interview with Philip Guston, 1965 January 29

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 5 pages

Interview of Philip Guston conducted on January 29, 1965, by Joseph Trovato, in the artist's home in Woodstock, New York, for the Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project.

Guston briefly provides biographical information and spends the remainder of his time speaking of his experiences working on the Mural Project (PWAP) in Los Angeles; his move to New York working under Reginald Marsh as a non-relief artist; his multiple mural projects in New York (Penn Station Subway, Queensbridge Housing Project, WPA Mural for the World's Fair, etc.); his success in WPA Fine Arts competitions; his move to Woodstock, New York; his time spent teaching at the University of Iowa; his many influences (Renaissance, Modern and Abstract Painters); his personal/professional feelings about the WPA as well as his political feelings about it.

Oral history interview with Olinka Hrdy, 1965 Mar. 13-Mar. 17

Archives of American Art
Sound recordings: 3 sound tape reels ; 3 in.

Transcript: 59 p.

An interview of Olinka Hrdy conducted 1965 Mar. 13-Mar. 17, by Betty Hoag, for the Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project.

Hrdy discusses her childhood in Oklahoma; Native American culture and its influence on her work; studying and mural painting at the University of Oklahoma; influence of music in herwork; outlining technique in her painting; working in Tulsa; the Nicholas Rorick Museum; textile design; Dynamic Symmetry; working for Seymore Lipton, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Hans Schwitzer; relationship with Wright; Taliesin; the project period; her projects in California; job as Chief Designer for the State of CA; her personal creative approach. She recalls Bruce Goff, Dorothy Jenkins, and Suzanne Miller.

Oral history interview with Pietro Lazzari, 1964

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 77 p.

An interview of Pietro Lazzari conducted in 1964, by Harlan Phillips, for the Archives of American Art.

Oral history interview with Fletcher Martin, 1964 Nov. 19

Archives of American Art
Transcript 7 p.

An interview of Fletcher Martin conducted 1964 Nov. 19, by Joseph S. Trovato, for the Archives of American Art.

Martin speaks of his family background and self-taught art education; meeting David A. Siqueiros and painting a mural with him; becoming established as an artist and having his first exhibits; working on the Federal Art Project (FAP) as a fresco painter; working on post office murals and relief sculptures; and his overall view of the Federal Art Project.

Oral history interview with Merlin F. Pollock, 1979 July 30 and 1980 July 30

Archives of American Art
5 sound files : digital, wav file

Transcript: 65 pages

An interview with Merlin F. Pollock conducted 1979 July 30 and 1980 July 30, by Robert Brown, for the Archives of American Art. Pollock speaks of his training at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Fontainebleau, France; his work as instructor of mural painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1935-1943; his paintings of Alaska commissioned by the government in 1937 and his work as supervisor of mural painting for the Illinois WPA, 1940-1943. He also discusses Chicago artists and his own murals for the government.
265-288 of 327 Resources