Pan American Unity
by Susan Saperstein
There are several Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco; one of them is at City College. The official name of this artwork is The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent, but it is commonly known as Pan American Unity.
Helen Crlenkovich in Diego Rivera’s mural, shows his vision of both her front and back side.
The mural is a fresco created for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island held in 1939-1940. It was part of an exhibit at the fair called Art in Action, the idea of architect Timothy Pflueger for the second year of the fair. The first year of the fair had masterpieces from the museums of Europe, including Sondro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. But those pieces were on loan for only a year. Art in Action was devised so visitors could see artists creating paintings, sculptures, ceramics, mosaics, weavings, and other crafts. Sixty-eight artists participated, and Rivera was the main attraction.
There are numerous figures depicted in Pan American Unity, many several times such as Charlie Chaplin, his wife Paulette Goddard, Rivera himself-and diving champion Helen Crlenkovich who bookends each side of the mural.
Frida Kahlo arrived in San Francisco during the mural’s painting. Rivera and Kahlo, who were divorced, married again at San Francisco City Hall in 1940.
In July 1940, Pflueger took Rivera to the Fairmont Hotel Plunge (now the Tonga Room), where Crlenkovich, a student at CCSF, was practicing for the 1940 Olympics. According to Will Maynez, of the Diego Rivera Mural Project, this mural is a celebration of women and Rivera decided to include Crlenkovich after seeing her practicing.
Rivera wrote at the time, "The conquest of time and space was symbolized by a woman diving and the Golden Gate Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay."
The 1940 Olympics and the next one were cancelled because of World War II, and Crlenkovich never gained her chance to compete. She went on to Hollywood and became a stunt double, including filling in for Esther Williams who swam, but did not dive.
After the fair, Pan American Unity
was saved and installed at City College of San Francisco. Take the City Guides tour and find out why the artwork was not displayed for 20 years and much more about the other figures in this 74-foot mural.
See a short film clip of the artists in Art in Action at: https://diva.sfsu.edu/bundles/187038
- Cathy Kornblith and Siobhan Fleming, who give this tour in May and October.
- Will Maynez of the Mural Diego Rivera Project at City College of San Francisco.
Photo of section of the Pan America Unity
mural, courtesy of the Diego Rivera Mural Project, at City College of San Francisco
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