Imogen Cunningham, Frida Kahlo, 1930
Gelatin Silver Print, 10 x 8"
Eighty-Four years ago today Frida arrived in San Francisco by train. As her feet touched down on foreign soil for the first time, she realized her dream of traveling outside of her beloved Mexican homeland.
Just three years earlier, she stated in a letter: "My biggest dream for a very long time has been to travel."
At the young age of 23, this observant woman with a sharp wit was still finding her way as a wife and artist, a challenging task when paired with an acclaimed, outspoken, and controversial artist like Diego Rivera. They were in San Francisco because Diego had received a mural commission for the Pacific Stock Exchange. It was an amazing feat since the artist was a communist. Actually, this commission, along with other factors, led to Diego's expulsion from the party.
Nevertheless, securing Diego’s and Frida’s passage to the United States was a difficult task due to Diego’s former ties to the communist party and the increasing suspicion that Mexicans, known contemptuously as “greasers,” were taking needed jobs away from struggling Americans during these economic hard times when bread lines could be seen snaking their way down city streets. Even though Diego charmed the crowds at the Southern Pacific Railroad station, his presence in San Francisco angered some, especially the many artists who were desperately seeking employment. Just three days before Diego and Frida left Mexico, stock prices fell to a new low on the San Francisco Stock Exchange. To relieve the unemployed, on November 10, approximately 600 men were put to work on ten public projects in San Francisco, but they could only work three days a month, earning a total of fifteen dollars. Under such dire circumstances, it didn’t seem fair to hire a non-local artist to paint murals that would earn him large sums of money--$2, 500 for the Pacific Stock Exchange mural.
Just like in Cuernavaca, Frida's life and identity were intimately connected to Diego's mural projects and the artists who flocked to be near the great painter. While there were some artists in San Francisco who resented Diego's presence, many embraced him and his new wife, Frieda (At this time, Frida spelled her name with the German "e").
© Celia S. Stahr 2014