As Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford, one thing that I find particularly fascinating is how our collections intersect with those of other cultural institutions. Sometimes these connections pop up unexpectedly.
Recently, I was searching in our collections database for items related to Mexican artist Diego Rivera. This 1930s image of Ford Motor Company employees collecting their wages from a payroll truck, pictured above, was one of the items I got back in my search.
I had to take a closer look at the database record to find out why this image had anything to do with Diego Rivera. The photograph from our General Photographic Collection was taken by the Ford Motor Company Photographic Department, and those images are also notated in logs. The log record for this image states: “57599 X PAY CAR FORDSON 5 VIEWS TAKEN FOR DIEGO RIVERA 3-1-1933.”
I knew that between April 1932 and March 1933, Diego Rivera was in Detroit, creating the Detroit Industry frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), so this was intriguing. I had also seen the frescoes in person many times, and the image of workers retrieving their pay nagged at me—was it in there somewhere?
Last weekend, I visited the DIA and took a good look at Diego Rivera’s frescoes. And there, in the lower right-hand panel of the south wall was an image of steel gray workers, retrieving their pay from a truck and then filing out toward a seemingly endless car lot.
Did Diego Rivera actually use this image now in The Henry Ford’s collections to render that panel? Of course, we can’t be sure. And we have not been able to locate the other four prints in the same series referred to in the image log—we may not have copies of them in our collections. But I like to think that Rivera would have at least seen this image, or the others that are mentioned, at some point during his work.
As an aside, the flow of photography went both ways. In his autobiography, My Life, My Art, Rivera notes:
“And early the following morning, I found a motion-picture cameraman, with all his paraphernalia, waiting for me on the scaffold.
He said, ‘Mr. [Henry] Ford instructed me to come here every day while you're working on your murals and take pictures of you in action. I must have each day's shooting ready to be shown to him in his home by evening. He is eager to watch you paint, and since he can't spare the time during the day, he thought of this idea. It will make him feel as if he were actually here.'
I told the photographer I was delighted with Mr. Ford's personal interest in my work, and he was welcome to take pictures of me at any time.”
One of the photos taken by the Ford Motor Company Photographic Department shows work in progress on the south wall, though the panel that will depict the pay truck still appears blank.
You can check out the completed South Wall and learn more about the Detroit Industry frescoes on the DIA’s website, or view other images related to Diego Rivera in the digital collections of The Henry Ford.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford and a long-time member of the DIA. Rivera Court is one of her favorite places on Earth.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit, photographs, Ford Motor Company, art, Detroit Institute of Arts, by Ellice Engdahl