There’s no place like home for the holidays, and this year you won’t have to go far to procure the perfect gifts for friends and family. Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it seems like local holiday fairs are popping up everywhere.
Check out The Chronicle’s guide to holiday-focused markets and festivals, with an emphasis on shopping and an abundance of seasonal merriment.
Richmond Art Center Holiday Art Festival Each year the festival offers visitors a chance to shop for unique gifts from more than fifty local vendors, enjoy food and beverages, buy a raffle ticket, check out open glass and ceramics studios and participate in art-making activities for the whole family.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 4. Free admission. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. 510-620-6772. richmondartcenter.org
Amid the drug store offerings of Halloween consumer goods, any Dia de los Muertos-themed item invariably sticks out.
Decorations featuring iconic skulls and cempasúchil marigolds, or candy branded with characters from Pixar’s film “Coco” speak to the growing commercialization of a holiday once outside of the corporate limelight.
But the holiday has more cultural significance in Mexico, where it orginated. And on Saturday, the Richmond Art Center will share that tradition with a Dia de los Muertos-themed Fall Family Day, featuring art, music, and even remote-controlled miniature low riders from the collection of Cruz Arroyo, who runs a popular tamale stand in Richmond.
“There’s instances where I’ve seen somebody put on a Day of the Dead event, but it’s more of an entertainment program or event. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it misses the actual ancestral connections that are really important and really real,” said Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at the Richmond Art Center. “I think it’s important to teach, to educate people about such an important cultural event.”
Martinez has worked closely with a number of local artists like Daniel Camacho and Ernesto Olmos, among others, to plan a day of festivities to inspire the anticipated 300 to 500 attendees.
Camacho, whose exhibition “De Fantasías y Realidades” is currently on display at the Richmond Art Center, will lead the day by setting up a community ofrenda in the main hallway. His calaveritas workshops will make the skulls that adorn the altar alongside offerings of food and objects brought by community members hoping to celebrate those they have lost.
“The idea is to share a bit about my culture. It’s a very important day in Mexico. I know people want to express their feeling about those who have passed,” said Camacho. “This brings families together. That’s the important thing.”
Ernesto Olmos, an artist and specialist in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican traditions, will give a presentation on the cosmology and history of Dia de los Muertos. For him, making offerings on an ofrenda are not mere gestures, but rather a vehicle connecting the living to those that came before.
It’s about honoring our ancestors, Olmos said, and about how we perceive the dead.
“If you’re going to build something, do it real,” he said. “Put fruit, talk to them, cry.”
Olmos fears that the true meaning behind the day is sometimes forgotten as the entertainment-oriented side of the holiday is highlighted. But traditions that had been hidden “in the kitchens, in the dress, in the language,” are being rediscovered as older people talk more about the custom, he added.
Organizations such as the Richmond Art Center are instrumental in preserving this history and these traditions, Martinez said.
The event at the Art Center is an opportunity to strengthen the cultural traditions that have been diluted through the process of assimilation, he said. “Places like this are important to keeping that.”
View the show on Berkeley Community Media Channel 28 on Monday 10/10 at 8:30pm, Wednesday 10/12 at 5pm, and Thursday 10/13 at 5pm (or on YouTube HERE)
For over thirty years Wee Poets on Channel 28 has supported literacy development through interviews with thousands of Bay Area children. This month Richmond Art Center is in the spotlight with host Sally Baker interviewing young artist Camila Robles and Executive Director José R. Rivera.
Image Above: Diego Rivera & Emmy Lou Packard painting for the Golden Gate International Exposition, on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, 1938-40. Photograph Gelatin silver print, vintage. Courtesy of Throckmorton Gallery and Richmond Art Center
“Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience,” organized by the Richmond Art Center, was an interpretive exhibition – accompanied by a print publication and panel discussion event that was supported by a Humanities for All Quick Grant. The exhibition explored the legacy of artist and activist, Emmy Lou Packard (1914–1998), a remarkable, though over-looked, artist known for her paintings, prints and murals, as well as her social and political activism. We caught up with Amy Spencer, Project Director of “Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience,” who has shared Packard’s rich history with us, and has given us a look into the Richmond Art Center’s recent exhibit and programs exploring Packard’s life and work supported by a Humanities for All Quick Grant.
Who was Emmy Lou Packard, and what was her impact as an artist and activist?
Emmy Lou Packard was a 20th century printmaker, painter, and activist whose work addressed issues of inequality—such as racial and gender discrimination, and low wages—that continue to confront us today.
Packard is perhaps best known for her relationship to the great muralist and painter, Diego Rivera. Born in Southern California in 1914, Packard lived briefly in Mexico as a child, where her mother convinced Rivera to give 12-year-old Packard art lessons. Later, when she was a young adult, Rivera invited Packard to be his chief assistant when he came to America to create the Pan American Unity fresco in San Francisco in 1940. Packard is depicted as a central figure in the mural—the artist in the red sweater standing at an easel.
Packard’s friendship with Rivera, as well as his wife Frida Kahlo, helped shape her political and artistic vision, yet it is her printmaking that made her a household name in the Bay Area during the 1950s and 1960s. Packard felt strongly that all people should be able to acquire beautiful art, and creating prints in multiples was the best way she could make her artwork accessible. Her prints promoted the dignity of labor, celebrated the beauty of the natural environment, and progressive principles such as peace, diversity and the joy of children. Packard’s most famous work, Peace is a Human Right (1949), was used in posters and billboards protesting nuclear weapons and the Vietnam war.
With support from California Humanities, Richmond Art Center presented the exhibition Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience (June 22 – August 20, 2022), the largest survey of Packard’s work ever put together. Curated by Robbin Légère Henderson and Rick Tejada-Flores, the exhibition included over 70 artworks, sketches, objects, and ephemera organized around key periods of Packard’s life and work. It was a critical and popular success: over 3,500 visitors attended the exhibition and related public programs at Richmond Art Center this summer.
What were some of the stories about Packard’s life and her art that were explored in your project’s public programming?
Public events presented with Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience offered the opportunity for audiences to dig deeper into Emmy Lou Packard’s artistry and influence.
Towards the end of her life Packard was admired by many young artists in San Francisco whom she mentored. Among these artists were Jesus “Chuy” Campusano, Luis Cortázar, and Michael Rios who called themselves “Los Tres.” Susan Cervantes, founder of Precita Eyes Muralists Association, was also a devoted mentee and friend, as were members of Las Mujeres Muralistas who painted the murals on the San Francisco Women’s Building.
For the exhibition the curators were able to borrow Packard’s original press, tools, and linoleum blocks from Precita Eyes. For a special public program master printer Art Hazelwood gave a demonstration of the press in action. With permission from Packard’s family, Hazelwood demonstrated Packard’s unique color-blocking technique using the linoleum block for Someone Has to Suffer, Madam (1950s). This work depicts a businessman with a pig’s head with war contracts in his back pocket. The pig-man has his arm around the shoulders of a grief-stricken woman. This is one of Packard’s more overtly political works, which comments on the human cost of stock market greed especially during war times.
Richmond Art Center also collaborated with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Diego Rivera’s America for special events promoting the two shows, enhancing audiences for both exhibitions through performances by The Great Tortilla Conspiracy at each venue. The Great Tortilla Conspiracy created irreverent edible artwork (screen printed on tortillas) inspired by Emmy Lou Packard.
Step inside of the Richmond Art Center on the last day of the exhibition via this short Instagram videoVideo courtesy Richmond Art Center
Ser mujer y migrante latina es enfrentarse a la soledad y a los desafíos económicos, sociales y emocionales diarios. Muchas veces nos gana el desánimo frente a los hostigamientos y la discriminación.
Sin embargo hay espacios de encuentro y solidaridad desde donde enfrentar los días y construir la esperanza. Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) es ese espacio de encuentro y solidaridad. Un entramado de hermandad como las prendas que nuestras abuelas fueron tejiendo en las noches de invierno de nuestras infancias y hoy nos amparan del frío de la vida.
El pasado mes, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, del área de la bahía de San Francisco, organizaron junto con NAKA Dance Theater y el Centro Arte de Richmond, un taller de creación manual para reflexionar sobre las distintas temáticas que atraviesa el colectivo femenino migrante.
Las miembras de MUA impartieron el taller usando diversos materiales como telas, hilos y papel para reflexionar sobre tres conceptos: corazón, comunidad y frontera. Tres ideas emblemáticas que atraviesan la vida de toda mujer migrante.
Un taller para sanar
Leticia, la miembra encargada de coordinar el taller junto con Luciana, otra colaboradora, inició la jornada con una invitación: redefinir las palabras «comunidad», «corazón» y «frontera» desde los propios anhelos, los propios sueños y las propias convicciones.
“Vamos a adueñarnos de la palabra elegida. Una frontera puede ser para nosotros, algo muy diferente que lo que se nos ha impuesto como un lugar de exclusión.”
En un círculo de sillas, sobre el patio del Centro de Arte de Richmond, las mujeres se abocaron a la tarea, hermanadas por esta convocatoria. Un espacio seguro donde se sienten contenidas.
Alicia eligió trabajar desde su propio concepto de frontera. Han pasado más de 29 años y todavía se le corta la voz al verbalizar esta palabra. Su relato está aún impregnado de la arena áspera de la experiencia dura del desierto que tuvo que cruzar y que la alejó de su casa para siempre.
Quienes hemos emigrado desde el privilegio del pasaporte, el avión y la valija, no podemos imaginar el dolor que queda en el cuerpo y en el corazón de estas mujeres que han atravesado la frontera arriesgando sus vidas.
Historias de dolor que no cuentan, pero que traen en la voz que se desgaja cuando la memoria revive la travesía. El dolor de haber dejado sus casas, sus familias, sus objetos, sus olores.
Muchas de ellas enfrentan todos los días la dura disyuntiva de criar como propios, niños de otros; habiendo tenido que dejar sus propios hijos por la necesidad imperiosa de generar dinero para sustentarlos.
Es un alto precio no poder volver a ver a los suyos, no poder volver para velar a sus muertos y viviendo sin solución en esta ilegalidad que las pone en las márgenes del lugar que habitan.
“Perdimos nuestro tierra y acá no pertenecemos”, dice una participante mientras expone su trabajo. Ella ha elegido diseñar un corazón partido.
La construcción de una nueva familia
Para estas mujeres, MUA es esa familia, ese hogar, ese lugar de escucha, donde pueden confiar sus dolores y sus penas sabiendo que serán entendidas y cuidadas. Un lugar a salvo de la discriminación y el miedo constante que da «ser ilegal».
Doña Julita tiene más de 70 años y vive desde hace tiempo en el barrio La Misión, en San Francisco. Esa tarde esperó en una esquina que una colaboradora de MUA pasara a buscarla en su auto para llevarla a Richmond. En agradecimiento, le tejió un almohadón en crochet. Julita es viuda y ha dejado en Guatemala a sus hijos y a sus nietos. “Acá me he quedado”, dice.
“No manejo porque el costo del gas se ha vuelto imposible y las multas de parqueo también son altísimas. Si recibimos una multa, ni vale haber salido a trabajar. Así que yo ando en (el tren) Bart y me he memorizado todos los recorridos”.
Con una sonrisa cuenta la buena suerte de haber encontrado un autobús gratis que la lleva desde la estación de subterráneo hasta el centro de la ciudad de Walnut Creek donde trabaja. “De allí camino hasta la casa donde voy a limpiar dos veces por semana. Todo está muy caro, ahora”, remarca Julita que emigró a California en 1986.
Las mayoría de las mujeres, son trabajadoras del hogar. El sábado es ese día feriado, ese día personal para estar con sus compañeras.
Van presentando sus trabajos, explican sus dibujos y diseños. Muchas de ellas recrean en sus dibujos, los nopales y los nogales, las plantas de esos jardines que dejaron atrás. Ellas vinieron a plantar, con su esfuerzo, semillas de esperanza en esta tierra que no las reconoce como ciudadanas legales pese al tiempo que llevan habitando aquí.
En MUA encuentran un terreno que las contiene, las convoca para reconocerse, para reafirmarse en sus identidades y para dejar de ser invisibles.
La historia de MUA
Desde su inicio en 1989, MUA ha mantenido la doble misión de fortalecer a las mujeres migrantes latinas y ejercer el activismo en defensa de los derechos migrantes y la justicia social.
Desde un trabajo comprometido y constante, ha permitido que ciento de mujeres salgan de la violencia doméstica y se conviertan en líderes de la comunidad que apoyan y defienden los derechos de los migrantes y las luchas sociales por una mayor justicia.
En 1993 MUA ganó el derecho de protecciones para las mujeres inmigrantes sobrevivientes, que está incluido en la Ley Federal de Violencia contra la Mujer (VAWA). Se movilizó contra la Proposición antiinmigrante 187 y también se manifiestó contra las devastadoras propuestas nacionales de reformas de bienestar e inmigración. Luchó con éxito contra los intentos de Pete Wilson de eliminar el derecho de las mujeres inmigrantes a la atención prenatal y cuidado y lanzó la campaña “Caring Hands”, en 1994, para construir la seguridad económica de las mujeres inmigrantes.
En 1998 MUA logró el sueño de abrir su segunda oficina en Oakland, California. Allí organiza capacitaciones, con padres líderes de la Asociación Progresista China, que buscan mejorar los derechos de los inmigrantes en el distrito escolar de San Francisco. A su vez, a través del Fondo de Prevención a la Violencia Familiar, comenzó a ofrecer servicios de asistencia técnica.
Desde entonces, MUA confrontó la creciente amenaza de deportaciones trabajando para fortalecer la ley santuario local y estatal, incluida la aprobación de AB 54 (la Ley de VALORES de California) y AB 32 (fin de los contratos privados de detención de inmigrantes en California).
MUA también es cofundador de SFILEN (Red de Educación Legal para Inmigrantes en San Francisco) y de su homóloga ACILEP ( Asociación de Educación Legal para Inmigrantes del Condado de Alameda), trabajando para fortalecer las políticas de santuario locales.
Los duros años de Trump
Las miembras de MUA lideraron decenas de protestas contra la separación de familias y, en 2018, lanzaron el proyecto Defensoras, para apoyar a las mujeres que buscan asilo y/o confrontan la posibilidad de ser deportadas.
Defensoras tuvieron una participación activa al declarar en el nuevo Departamento de Justicia liderado por el fiscal Merrick Garland y ayudaron a revertir las políticas implementadas por Donald Trumpque negaban el asilo a las sobrevivientes de violencia doméstica.
Los servicios y programas de capacitación de MUA continúan creciendo. Primero, a través de dos programas piloto en Fremont y Hayward y luego, en 2018, al consolidar esos programas en un sitio más permanente en Union City.
El personal de MUA desarrolla un plan de estudios para capacitar a las agencias principales en la prestación de servicios culturalmente sensibles para inmigrantes latinas sobrevivientes, a través de la Red de Violencia Doméstica Culturalmente Apropiada, y líderes de MUA viajan por todo el estado para brindar capacitación al personal de los refugios VD y a las agencias gubernamentales.
Cientos de miembras perdieron sus empleos y muchas contrajeron COVID. MUA trabajó con sus redes de aliados para establecer la distribución de alimentos y dar ayuda efectiva a quienes la precisaran, a través del Fondo de Ayuda para Familiares Inmigrantes con COVID-19 de MUA. Se distribuyeron más de $800,000 a unas 650 familias inmigrantes.
MUA cambió todos sus programas para operar de forma remota.
A través de talleres regulares en Facebook, MUA ha dado entrenamiento y contención a cientos de familias aisladas durante la pandemia.
Una de las tareas primordiales de MUA es la de preparar a sus miembras para movilizar el voto latino y realizar actividades políticas a través de campañas de divulgación digital.
En el año 2021, MUA y otros integrantes de la Coalición de Trabajadoras del Hogar de California re-introdujeron el proyecto de ley de Salud y Seguridad para las Trabajadoras del Hogar, consiguiendo que esta vez el gobernador Newson lo firmara. Después que cientos de trabajadoras del hogar y cuidadoras de pacientes fueran expuestas a COVID en el trabajo, la ley es un paso adelante para que estas trabajadoras tengan el derecho a protecciones laborales básicas.
En sus proyectos de arte, muchas de las mujeres en el taller eligen diseñar mariposas. La mariposa es el símbolo de MUA. Es la oruga que, lentamente, va despegando sus alas para volar. En MUA, las mujeres migrantes se saben respaldadas para generar herramientas concretas que las ayuden a defenderse de la injusticia racial, la violencia de género y la injusticia económica. Habiendo luchado durante más de 30 años, Mujeres Unidas sabe que no retrocederá. Han construido una herramienta para hacer frente a la adversidad, desde la solidaridad.
Dewey Crumpler has long been preoccupied with the ways in which objects can be sites of exploration for what it means to be African American. One day in the mid-1990s, while out on his daily walk, he was transfixed by a tower of colorful steel shipping containers stacked at the Port of Oakland in California. To him, the looming rectangular structures were mysterious and foreboding. He saw them as monumental metaphors of the geopolitical power that moved goods across space and time, possessing the history of commerce and oppression in their hidden cavernous interiors. Compelled by a fascination with this form and its shadow, he began to sketch and paint the crates daily. “Dewey Crumpler: Crossings,” his exhibition here, showcased 122 of these prophetic images, which he began making roughly twenty-five years before the collapse of the shipping industry brought on by the pandemic. Vibrant dreamscapes were weighted with the gravitas of their subject matter: mass migration, globalization, and the tangled yoke of capitalism within the Black diaspora.
When Crumpler started as a young artist in San Francisco in the 1960s, he couldn’t find any art in the museums that portrayed Black life. As a result, he sought inspiration from an eclectic array of sources, among them European art, coffee-table books on African American art and culture, the work of social-realist muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (which he got to see in person during a trip to Mexico), and the improvisational sounds of jazz greats including John Coltrane and Miles Davis. By establishing a practice that focused on a specific object for an extended period, Crumpler was able to ground the panoply of influences he brought to each body of work.
The artist has said that he is drawn to an object because of its capacity to create a shadow, an element that is continuously affected by light and time—i.e., the thing and its shape-shifting companion serve as a jumping-off point. After a trip to Amsterdam in the early 1990s, he created a series of tulip paintings and dioramas that investigated the power of beauty, trade, Blackness, and genetic manipulation. A few years later, he used his son’s discarded hoodie as a subject for a number of cartoonish caricatures and videos, adapting it as a metaphor that delved into Black Futurism and cultural narratives of marginality. Like the tulips and hoodies, the container paintings are conduits for unraveling patterns of empires and capital.
In Crumpler’s renderings, each vessel is a locus of awe, wonder, and terror. Ranging in size from small sketches to large-scale paintings executed in saturated acrylic hues, the works depict wrecked cargo ships overflowing with the colorful bounty of plunder and trade. In a pen-and-ink sketch, Untitled (Crash), 2014, a cascade of crates topples, domino style, off a dock. In Collapse, 2017, more than forty containers sink into a raging turquoise sea. Shimmering gold leaf surrounds them, a nod to the practice (and utility) of employing glitz as a distraction from the darkness that is too often concealed within the politics of trade negotiations. Crumpler’s receptacles are vehicles that not only transport actual goods, but also represent the positive spread of art, culture, and religion wrought, ironically enough, by capitalism. In Untitled 2, 2018, marooned and shattered boxes pour forth their contents—including a phalanx of shell-pink tennis shoes washed up onto a poppy-red shore, calling to mind a herd of sea creatures, bloodied and dead. In Green Bananas, 2017, a beached cargo carrier offers up a giant spill of the titular fruits. Yet hidden among them is Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917. Crumpler has painted the urinal before; its rounded shape recalls the form of a hoodie. Yet here the placement of the porcelain toilet protruding from a pile of green banana skins represents both an homage to one of avant-garde art’s most legendary innovations—the readymade—and a comment on transcultural diffusion.
Similar to a container, a painting is a vehicle that delivers information as it forges new relationships—Crumpler’s “vessels” do this while encapsulating codependent histories of destruction and creation. In Bright Moments and Bitches Brewing in Space, both 2020, the stacked rectangles have been reduced to their most elementary forms: steel bands. Here, the artist’s grids look more like jail bars than like Mondrian’s pure abstract compositions, to which they also allude. Yet, in these more recent works, shadows dance in syncopated rhythms across the surface, reminding us that art, like commerce, has the power to alter the world.
Four new exhibitions — all free and open to the public — are coming this Fall to the Richmond Art Center at 2540 Barrett Ave. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
The Main Gallery exhibition, set to run from Sept. 14 though Nov. 17, is called From the Pueblo, For the Pueblo, and is the culminating exhibition from Liberación Gráfica’s residency at the RAC.
“Liberación Gráfica worked alongside youth and community members to create prints that uplift local voices, and raise awareness of the struggles and resilience of the people of Richmond,” RAC officials state. “These works have been printed live and distributed at events in Richmond including Low Rider Cruise Nights, Juneteenth Festival at Nicholl Park, the United Farm Workers march, and La Pulga Flea Market.”
An opening reception for From the Pueblo, For the Pueblo is set to take place Saturday, Sept. 17, from noon to 2 p.m.
In the South Gallery this Fall, also set to run from Sept. 14 though Nov. 17, will be New Visions, an assembling of emerging Black Bay Area artists Kim Champion, Tiffany Conway, Ashara Ekundayo and Bertrell Smith. Their works employ painting, photography, collage and vibrant color palettes “to engage viewers in the fullness and vibrancy of Black expression,” according to the RAC. Using different mediums and approaches, their art demonstrates the diversity of artworks coming from Black Bay Area arists.
An opening reception for New Visions will take place Sept. 17 from noon to 2 p.m., while and Artist Talk will be held Saturday, Oct. 1, from noon to 2 p.m.
The RAC’s West Gallery will feature Melanin: Color, Composition and Connection this Fall, from Sept. 28 to Nov. 17. The solo exibition will feature abstract paintings by Daniel White that “bring to the foreground geometric forms, lines and color that reveal the intricacies of melanin and its power of connection,” according to the RAC.
“Through his abstracted compositions, White encourages us to challenge our perceptions and interpretations of color and in the process find connections that join us together beyond our degrees of melanin,” RAC officials said.
An opening reception and Artist Walk will take place Saturday, Oct. 1, from noon to 2 p.m.
The Richmond Art Center has operated since 1936 and features classes, exhibitions and events at its downtown facility, along with off-site activities that bring free, high-quality art making experiences to WCCUSD schools and community partners. For more information, visit richmondartcenter.org.
“Too many artists are contemptuous of the public,” said Emmy Lou Packard. “Art which loses contact weakens.”
This was the defining principle of Packard, whose work is being shown at an exhibition at the Richmond Art Center. “Artist of Conscience” (aclosing reception takes place on Sat/20) is a timely look at the work of the master linocut printmaker, Diego Rivera protégée, and mentor to Mission muralists.
Packard was a largely-unsung San Francisco artist who painted murals throughout the Bay Area, and developed a signature print-making style of modest but highly technical mid-century linoleum prints with humanist subjects, made to be widely available to the public. Packard worked in many mediums and forms, including fresco, oils, watercolor, tile mosaic, wood block, inlaid linoleum, and bas-relief in concrete.
As a venue for the exhibition, the Richmond Art Center connects to Packard’s career at Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards, a time which she called “one of the most interesting and positive in my life in the United States.” At the shipyards, the artist worked as a draftswoman, designing transport vessels in WWII and illustrating the shipyard worker newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft. Her illustrations for the publication promoted racial desegregation, women’s participation, and safety and dignity in the workplace.
“You could say that Packard’s art in and of itself is not explicitly political, but the fact that she made it certainly is,” says Rick Tejada-Flores, a co-curator of the current exhibition alongside visual artist Robbin Légère Henderson.
Packard’s work promoted a strong internationalist humanism. Children of all races are repeated subjects in her prints, urging the viewer against war and environmental destruction.
During her career, Packard also illustrated textbooks for San Francisco public schools, led the effort to save the Rincon Annex Post Office from Richard Nixon’s chopping block, co-founded the Artist’s Equity artist’s union, organized the annual San Francisco Arts Festival, restored the WPA murals at Coit Tower, and spearheaded a campaign that saved the Mendocino Headlands from commercial development.
In 1940, Packard served as Rivera’s principal assistant in the installation of the “Pan American Unity” mural, the largest of Rivera’s “portable” murals at 75 feet high and 22 feet wide, comprised of 10 cement panels, framed by steel. The fresco was painted by Rivera, Packard, and other assistants on Treasure Island over a four-month period and was part of “Art in Action,” a Golden Gate International Exposition program that allowed attendees to observe artists in process.
The panel, originally installed in the Diego Rivera Theater at San Francisco City College, is currently part of the large SFMOMA retrospective of Rivera’s work. The show, on display through next summer, features as its lead curator James Oles, who also knew Packard personally.
Through their shared work Packard became a close personal friend to both Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and captured their relationship in some of the most well-known photographs of the artists.
Born in Southern California, Packard spent time as a child in Mexico, where her father worked as a consultant on agricultural projects. It was there she came into contact with Rivera. Packard was a graduate of UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Art Institute, and a member (along with muralist Victor Arnautoff) of San Francisco’s Graphic Artists Workshop. The Graphic Arts Workshop was formed following the closure of the California Labor School, which “promised to analyze social, economic and political questions in light of the present world struggle against fascism,” and once had an art department as large as the San Francisco Art Institute before it was effectively shuttered by McCarthyism. At GAM, she worked on a mural series depicting a visual history of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Pacific Islanders.
Packard left for Mendocino in the late 1950s and returned To San Francisco at the end of the 1960s, settling in the Mission District. Soon after her return, according to Tejada-Flores, word got around the neighborhood about a woman who had worked under Rivera. Packard’s last artistic contribution became the support and mentorship of a generation of Mission artists who would go on to found the community mural movement. She helped to provide a direct link between the artistic lineage of Rivera and contemporary Mission District muralists, resulting in the murals found on the Women’s Building and Balmy Alley, among others.
She died in the Mission District in 1998. At the time of her death, her block prints were stored at the Precita Eyes Muralists Association.
Several of the many murals in whose design Packard took part can still be viewed around the Bay Area. A mosaic piece she constructed from found objects with the help of 650 schoolchildren in 1956 is located in the courtyard of Hillcrest Elementary School in San Francisco.
Two of her murals are at the UC Berkeley campus, including a cut concrete bas-relief depicting the California landscape that adorns the facade of Chávez Student Center at Lower Sproul Hall, and another on the exterior of the student union.
Packard oversaw the creation of “Homage to Siqueiros,” a mural inside the Bank of America building at 23rd Street and Mission that was painted by Michael Rios, Jesús “Chuy” Campusano, and Luis Cortázar. Painted “for the people in the Mission who stand on the long lines in the bank on Friday afternoon,” it depicts a narrative history of the Mission District.
But as occurred throughout her lifetime, Packard has largely continued to be ignored by the art world establishment. When organizing “Artist of Conscience,” its curators found that most major museums and historical societies in the Bay Area were not interested in hosting a retrospective of her work (despite at least one institution, the Oakland Museum, already being in possession of more than 40 of her pieces.)
Perhaps this is a testament to the populist nature of her art—Packard intentionally worked in mediums that do not lend themselves to commodification. She often refused to number her prints, re-printing in different colors, sometimes for decades after the original was created.
Or maybe the reason for her relative obscurity is simply the continuing conservatism of the art world. After all, when an opportunity to host Kahlo’s first West Coast exhibition was turned down by SFMOMA, Tejada-Flores says it was Packard who worked with René Yañez and the Galería de la Raza collective to put together a show.
Ultimately, there is a certain joy in the perennial re-discovery of unknown artists like Packard. And there couldn’t be a more perfect venue for her work than the Richmond Art Center: a hidden treasure in the Bay Area, teeming with activity, free, and open to the people.
“EMMY LOU PACKARD: ARTIST OF CONSCIENCE” CLOSING RECEPTIONSat/20, noon-2pm, free. Featuring the Great Tortilla Conspiracy. Richmond Art Center. More info here.
Natalia Robyns-Kresich: Natalia Kresich was born and raised in San Francisco. She has been writing about local issues for 48 Hills for several years.
“Ultimately, there is a certain joy in the perennial re-discovery of unknown artists like Packard. And there couldn’t be a more perfect venue for her work than the Richmond Art Center: a hidden treasure in the Bay Area, teeming with activity, free, and open to the people.” – Natalia Kresich, 48 Hills
Emmy Lou Packard may not be a name that you recognize immediately, but a visit to the Richmond Art Center’s new exhibit on the artist will quickly correct that.
The exhibit Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience (through August 20 and free to the public) showcases and recognizes the life and timeless works of the Bay Area artist, activist, and visionary in the first show since her death in 1998.
While Packard was never a household name during her lifetime, she managed to dance continuously just beyond fame’s reach. Packard is most often recognized for her proximity to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo—they were her mentors, supporters, and close friends. Packard, who showed an early passion for painting, was introduced to Diego Rivera as a child while living in Mexico with her family temporarily. Upon looking over some of her work, Rivera offered to do weekly portfolio reviews with her.
This chance introduction was the start of a great creative mentorship between Rivera and Packard and shaped much of Packard’s future career in the arts. She went on to study art at UC Berkeley and San Francisco Art Institute before reuniting with Rivera both as his studio assistant back in Mexico (during which she lived with Rivera and Kahlo and documented moments of their lives through photography) and as his chief assistant for the Pan American Unity mural he painted for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940.
As chief assistant for the project, Packard thoroughly documented the process of creating the mural. Pan American Unity permanently resides at CCSF, but it is currently on display at the SFMOMA; Packard’s notes proved to be critical in understanding the mural, how it was made, and how to safely move it.
The exhibit at the Richmond Art Center, however, makes it obvious that there is much more to Packard’s work than her time as an assistant to Diego Rivera. The gallery consists of prints, paintings, sketches, and photographs made by Packard, switching between several common themes such as nature, childhood, work, and political activism, particularly against war and racism.
During World War ll, Packard created cartoons and drawings encouraging the end of segregation and supporting voting rights for the Fore ‘n’ Aft newspaper at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, CA. Her political feelings continued to make appearances in her work and are particularly notable for their timelessness and current relevance.
A satirical print titled “Someone has to Suffer, Madame,” depicts a pig in a business suit with contracts bulging out of his pockets, comforting a mother while explaining “In the event of war, you lose sons. In the event of peace, I lose money.” Another print, created during the McCarthy era, shows two men in suits grabbing hold of George Washington, the caption below reading “We’ve discovered that this guy was an insurgent leader, Boss—What’ll we do now?”
It left me thinking of the irony in that, despite activism and government criticism being a fundamental reason for our nation’s existence, those who voice their dissent are continually considered a threat by our government.
Packard later became a mentor and activist in the Mission mural community, and also led the movement to save the Mendocino headlands—a place that appeared in many of her prints—from development.
In a nod to their collaborative creative relationship, Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience was timed to perfectly align with SFMOMA’s exhibit on Diego Rivera. And if you happen to visit the Pan American Unity mural, keep an eye open for a blonde Emmy Lou Packard painting in a red sweater. Her name still may not be as recognizable as those of her colleagues, but the power of her art and life’s work is undeniable.
Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience will be on display at the Richmond Art Center until August 20. A closing reception will be held from 12-2 on August 20, with tortilla printing by The Great Tortilla Conspiracy.