Tracing Frida and Diego's Footsteps in the Bay

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A black and white photo shows Diego Rivera on the left and and a smiling Frida Kahlo on the right posing in front of a tree at the home of Luther Burbank.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo share a smile in Santa Rosa at the garden of horticulturist Luther Burbank. (Luther Burbank Home & Gardens Collection-Sonoma County Library Digital Collections)

You don't have to look very long to find tributes to Frida Kahlo in San Francisco. Frida inspired murals cover walls throughout the Mission, street vendors near the Embarcadero sell clothes and earrings with her likeness, and there's a street named after her in the Ingleside neighborhood. This devotion to Frida makes perfect sense because Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived in San Francisco, not once, but twice.

During their last stay in 1940, Diego Rivera painted a 74-foot long, 30-ton fresco in front of a live audience at the the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.  Made up of ten panels, The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Content – commonly known as the Pan American Unity mural – is rich with details depicting Ancient Mexico, the California Gold Rush, historical figures from Latin America and the United States, with a backdrop of a bustling 1940s San Francisco.

After a painstaking move from its original home at the City College of San Francisco, it's now on display in the lobby of SFMOMA, viewable at no charge.

To learn more about the Pan American Unity mural's backstory and the controversy it sparked,  we figured it'd be a good time to revisit a story that first ran on KQED's Bay Curious podcast. The episode also dives into Frida's artistic development and how a Santa Rosa horticulturalist influenced her art.

I suggest listening to this episode on a long walk in North Beach or Chinatown, neighborhoods the artist couple spent a lot of time.  It's wild to think that we can walk the same streets as these two legendary painters!

To read more and see additional archival photos of Frida and Diego's life in San Francisco check out the the Bay Curious article here.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.