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Detroit Industry Frescoes: The Backstory

March 16, 2015

The Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit will be on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts from March 15, 2015 through July 12, 2015.  As a community partner for the exhibit, The Henry Ford has been digitizing selections from our collection that document Diego Rivera’s creation of the Detroit Industry frescoes and Diego and Frida’s time in Detroit.  Below are links to six sets within our digital collections that bring some additional context to the exhibition.

Detroit Industry Frescoes: The Backstory

Edsel Ford funded the Detroit Industry frescoes, and Diego Rivera was inspired by the Ford Rouge Factory.  As a result, Ford Motor Company, Edsel, Diego, and Frida became intertwined during the artists’ time in Detroit.  This set features behind-the-scenes photographs of Diego, Frida, and others involved in the project; photos of Diego’s original drawings for the murals; a photograph taken by Ford Motor Company at Diego’s request; and correspondence between the DIA and Ford Motor Company about supplying glass and sand for the work.

Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts with John "Viscount Hastings," Clifford Wight and William Valentiner, 1932-1933.

Diego at Work: Detroit Industry Frescoes

This set features photographs of Diego Rivera at work on the murals, taken over the course of the project by Ford Motor Company.  In the images, Diego paints, smokes cigars, and ponders his next brushstroke.

Diego Rivera Working on the "Detroit Industry" Fresco Cycle at Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932.

Detroit Industry Frescoes in Progress

These shots, mostly taken some distance back from the work, depict what would become Rivera Court as the murals progressed.  Scaffolding fills the room, and in every photograph, unfinished panels wait their turn.

"Detroit Industry" Fresco Cycle in Progress, 1932.

Detroit Industry Frescoes at the DIA

A few photographs depict completed portions of the Detroit Industry frescoes.

Diego Rivera "Detroit Industry" Frescoes at Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932-1933.

The Rouge as Seen by Diego Rivera

What was it about the vast and forward-thinking Ford Rouge Factory that so captured Diego Rivera’s imagination?  See the facility as he might have seen it, in these images depicting the plant between 1927 and 1933.

Blast Furnace at Ford Rouge Plant, Photographed by Charles Sheeler, 1927.

Edsel Ford: The Artist in Our Family

Why did Edsel Ford underwrite Diego Rivera’s creation of the Detroit Industry frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts?  Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit curator Mark Rosenthal suggests that Edsel may have had political motives—the desire to breed goodwill with Ford workers both in the United States, after Depression-related layoffs, and in Mexico, where Ford had a subsidiary.  In another essay in the exhibit catalog, however, John Dean suggests that Edsel’s inherent creativity and design sensibility also played a role.  Browse this set to get a sense of Edsel Ford’s aesthetics through Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln automobiles designed under his leadership, as well as artwork created by Edsel in his childhood and teens.

1939 Lincoln Continental Prototype, Designed and Built by E. T. Gregorie for Edsel Ford.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

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