Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals Were Threatened Twice

March 22, 2015
Rivera saw and painted the significance of Detroit as a world city.  If we are proud of this city's achievements, we should be proud of these paintings and not lose our head over what Rivera is doing in Mexico today. 1952:  In response to  a Joseph McCarthy-style/ Red Scare uproar, a disclaimer is installed near Detroit's Diego Rivera murals.

1952: In response to a Joseph McCarthy-style Red Scare uproar, a disclaimer is installed near Detroit’s Diego Rivera murals.

A few years ago, I started to write this.  It was a draft that I kept going back to, adding this and subtracting that.  Here it is, at long last:

There was a huge controversy when Diego Rivera first painted the Detroit Industry frescoes in 1932 and 1933.  One of the leaders against them was Father Charles Coughlin.  In his autobiography, Diego Rivera writes, “The day after the appearance of the column denouncing my work, Father Coughlin began to honor me daily with long diatribes condemning the institute frescoes as immoral, blasphemous, antireligious, obscene, materialistic and communistic.  As a result, the whole city of Detroit began to argue about what I was doing.”  According the Rivera biographer Bertram D. Wolfe, the Detroit News wrote in an editorial that “the best thing to do would be to whitewash the entire work completely.”

His supporters stood by him.  Rivera writes, “I was gratified that Edsel Ford stood by me loyally.  And until all the sound and fury had passed, an army of eight thousand, working in shifts, guarded my work from destruction.”

The frescoes were a hit.  When they were first opened to the public, they drew huge crowds.  Most people appreciated them.  The favorable responses outweighed the unfavorable ones.

The 1952 story is more obscure. It’s difficult to make sense of it because there’s little information to be found.  I once found photocopies of local newspaper articles about this second controversy. They were in a trashcan and caught my eye.  This chance discovery piqued my curiosity.

In early 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy was rolling in power and influence.  He had his followers in Detroit.  One of these was former Detroit Mayor Eugene Van Antwerp.  He was elected to the Detroit City Council after he’d served as mayor.

From Bertram D. Wolfe’s 1963 book, The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, page 390:

“…a number of people, including former Mayor Van Antwerp, petitioned the Detroit City Council to remove or cover up Rivera’s Age of Steel frescoes in the inner court of the Detroit Institute of Art.”

The City Council requested an evaluation of the murals by the Detroit Art Commission.  Members of the commission included Robert T. Tannahill and Eleanor Clay Ford. The commission defended the art and said, “We recommend that the paintings remain on exhibition.”

Others who defended them included Edsel Ford and George F. Pierrot.  Pierrot was director of the People’s Museum Association.  It seems that he wrote a book about the frescoes in the 1930’s.  He tried to promote attendance at the Detroit Institute of Arts during the depression and into the 1940’s.  One of the ways that he did this was through a series of lectures know as the World Adventure Series.  This lecture series grew into his popular travel show, which ran on on Detroit television from 1948 to 1976.

At the height of this controversy, the late Joy Hakanson wrote a profile of Diego Rivera for the Detroit News on March 21, 1952.  We knew her later as Joy Hakanson Colby.

I don’t think that the frescoes were in any danger of being destroyed.  They could have been covered by curtains or otherwise hidden from view.  Instead they stayed open, with a sort of “disclaimer.”  It is pictured in the photo above and it reads, in full:

“Rivera’s politics and his publicity seeking are detestable. But let’s get the record straight on what he did here. He came from Mexico to Detroit, thought our mass production industries and our technology wonderful and very exciting, painted them as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century. This came after the debunking twenties when our artists and writers found nothing worthwhile in America and worst of all in America was the Middle West.  Rivera saw and painted the significance of Detroit as a world city. If we are proud of this city’s achievements, we should be proud of these paintings and not lose our heads over what Rivera is doing in Mexico today.”

Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker article of November 28, 2011, titled “The Painting on the Wall” mainly deals with Rivera in New York, but has this to say about Detroit:

“Other magnates had been enthusiasts for Rivera, as witness the magnificent frescoes of factory scenes that Edsel Ford commissioned, in 1932, for the Detroit Institute of Arts. (They weathered the McCarthy era with a sign that defended them as art while conceding that the artist’s politics were ‘detestable.’)”

In the early 1952 there was another controversy going on with Rivera’s work in Mexico.  This was alluded to at  the end of the disclaimer.

This trouble centered around his mural “The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace.”  Among other things, it had images of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung.  It’s counted among his works that are missing or destroyed.

This controversy likely put a fire under the opponents of the work here in Detroit.  It made them bolder.

It’s too bad the museum administration felt that they had to use the word “detestable.”  Maybe it was partly the climate of the times and partly “throwing the zealots a bone.”

My thanks to those Detroiters who got together and defended the murals, both in the early 1930’s and in the early 1950’s. These included Edsel Ford, William Valentiner, and thousands of ordinary museum patrons.

Thanks to the great Frida Kahlo, for her own work and for supporting and encouraging Diego’s work.  It’s interesting that she’s better known than he is now.  Her work is usually regarded as equal in quality to his work.  Many think it’s better than his work.  I appreciate them both.

My sympathy to Diego Rivera’s work is influenced by having one of his best efforts here in my hometown.  The room the frescoes are in is known as Rivera Court. When the museum’s open, the frescoes are always on view.  The museum even sets up chairs and holds concerts and lectures there.

I glad that the Detroit frescoes escaped the fate of those in New York.  They’re still here and open for viewing.  They look great.

Supplemental Information

On the the current 2015 exhibit on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit:



On the fight over the murals in 1932 and 1933:



The Michigan Daily, March 21, 1952, “Move Made to Banish Rivera Mural in Detroit”:


The Owosso Argus Press, March 20, 1952, “Controversy Revived over Detroit Murals”:


William Bostick, an administrator at the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1946 to 1976:

“WILLIAM BOSTICK: Councilman Van Antwerp, formerly   Mayor Van Antwerp, was stirring up a storm again about the Rivera murals. He   tried to draft a resolution in the Common Council to have the murals covered up or somehow hidden from view.
MARY CHRIS ROSPOND: Was this during the McCarthy scare?
WILLIAM BOSTICK: This was in 1952. That was probably the McCarthy. . . But Van Antwerp had attacked these before when he was mayor. And of course they had been a subject  of attack over the years. Then Van Antwerp renewed the criticisms which had been made [repeatedly]: Rivera’s personal character—he was living with a woman he wasn’t married to—the murals were communistic, so was Rivera; the workers were ugly; the murals were blasphemous and decadent. The Arts Commission approved a letter written by Director Richardson refuting this and we got by again. …”

The entire interview is here:


More on William Bostick:


George Pierrot:


From "The Detroit News" March 21, 1952

From the Detroit News, March 21, 1952

On Diego Rivera:




Information on the lost mural “The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace.”  This was the Diego Rivera which was stirring up trouble in 1952:



Eugene Van Antwerp (the major force against the murals, a former Detroit mayor):


On Joseph McCarthy:


On Bertram D. Wolfe:


From "The Detroit Free Press" March 20, 1952

From the Detroit Free Press, March 20, 1952

A New Yorker article from 2011, “The Painting on the Wall”:


On the fate of Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center murals in New York:





“Farmer Bill Dies In House” or the Art of Collecting Badly-written Headlines

February 25, 2015


I found this book of flawed headlines on a visit to New York.  It was among a group of “books for sale” spread out on the sidewalk.

This one is a treasure.  It’s brought me much laughter over the years.  It was put together by the Columbia Journalism Review in 1980.  It was two dollars, well spent.

Some are puns.  Some are typos.  Others connect for more mysterious reasons.

Then too, there’s the satisfaction of seeing a whopper or an extreme mistake appear in print.  Many of these were even on the front page of the paper.  People are often inept and prone to executing blunders.

Some headlines are strange due to context.  They’re not all humorous.  Some are just puzzling.  I’ve collected a few myself.

A Detroit paper had a banner headline which read NO HOPE LEFT.  This was in the context of John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s 1999 plane crash.  Still, some readers could take that headline the wrong way.


Then too, there are the wacky headlines in the tabloids, but that’s a whole other story.


They’re still at it:






The book, Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim, and Other Flubs from the Nation’s Press:



Some nice collections:



From the New York Times:


Jay Leno was famous for digging out headlines too.  I never really watched his show at all though. :


patRichard M. Nixon’s wife was named Pat, of course.


Poor and Hungry, for Awhile at Least

December 23, 2014
In Arizona, the Summer of 1977

In Arizona, the Summer of 1977

In 1977, I went on an extended tour of the west side of the United States.  I had a ride to New Orleans.  Most of the rest of the time, I hitchhiked.  Most of this was alone, though I thumbed along with some friends from Louisiana to Arizona.

I did a loop through Texas, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and back to Michigan again.

I had four extended stops.  The first was in New Orleans.  The second was around Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona.  The third was in Merced, California.  The fourth was in the bay area.  I hung out in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.

For the first three stops, I was with friends.  I had a place to stay and it was all very pleasant.  The fourth stop, I was on my own. I was around San Francisco for about a week.  The only time that I was properly sheltered was the night that I met with the Surrealists.

I had amazing and wonderful adventures that Summer.

Yet there was a whole side to the trip where I was uncomfortable.  I got to know what hunger is like.

When one is hungry, really hungry, you get desperate for food.  I behaved badly.  My stomach overruled  my mind.  I begged for spare change.  I did some cautious “dumpster diving.”  I remember finding day-old bread and fruit.  Overripe bananas taste great if you’re hungry enough.  I never robbed anybody, but I am ashamed that I stole food from a friend.  I was just too hungry.

When you’re really active and it’s really hot out, you need more food, not less.  I was carrying a pack, too.  I made sure to keep a canteen or two full of water.  Between the heat, the activity and the rarity of food, I got quite thin.

I shoplifted food a bit, too.  I only did this a few times.  I think that if one steals because they’re extremely hungry, it’s a different matter.  Some are desperate to feed themselves and/or their hungry children.  Should they be caught, maybe they could be given a second chance at least.

I realize that I wasn’t truly homeless.  Eventually, I did call home.  I was wired a little money.

Still, I lived a derelict’s life.  I was a drifter.  I slept in abandoned houses and in the woods.  I think that you can’t live through an experience like that and be a radical conservative.  To do so would be a form of insanity, or other extremely delusional behavior.

To see things through the eyes of the poor changes your vision.  Even if you’ve walked in their shoes very briefly, it still very different from just reading about it or seeing a movie about it.

It informs a belief that those down on their luck should be helped.  There should be a safety net for them the way that there is for the elderly with social security.

Another account of this adventure:


Books That I’ve Read Recently/ Number 2

December 19, 2014
Nancy Cunard

Nancy Cunard

Nancy Cunard Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist by Lois Gordan c2007 247 pages


Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream by Thomas Dormandy c2012 366 pages


The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield c2013 352 pages


Rarest of the Rare Stories behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History by Nancy Pick c2004 178 pages


The Stammering Century by Gilbert Seldes c 1928 414 pages



Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art by Ernst Kris c1952 358 pages


American Visions The Epic History of Art in America by Robert Hughes c1997 635 pages



Metropolis by Thomas Elsaesser c2012 112 pages. British Film Insititute Book series.  2nd edition.


Salesman by J.M. Tyree c2012 103 pages. British Film Insititute Book series


Stroheim by Arthur Lennig c200 514 pages


Erich von Stroheim

Erich von Stroheim

I‘ve read a lot of other things this year as well.  There are too many to list here.  Some were books related to music including blues and jazz.  There were other books related to Nancy Cunard and Erich von Stroheim.  I read several books on Orson Welles.  I’m in the middle of work by Rabelais.  I’m always looking at Surrealism.  I read poetry at random including work by Kenneth Patchen, Lorca,  John Keats and Bob Kaufman.  Then the comics including work by Walt Kelly, Virgil Partch, Milt Gross, Charles Addams and more.  There’s no end to books!


Why I Don’t Drive a Car

November 14, 2014

Picture of a Rusty Old Car

I haven’t tried to drive an automobile since I was a teenager!  I suppose I should try to learn, just in case.  It might be handy in an emergency.

This is strange, because I live in Detroit.  My city played no small part in the ascendancy of the motor vehicle.  Here, if you don’t drive or don’t have someone to drive you, you’re in trouble.

Detroit has one of the worst mass transit systems of any big city in the United States, if not the world.  It’s as if everything’s designed to force you to buy and drive a car!

It all started with a bad experience in a driver’s education class.  I hadn’t really done a lot of preparation driving before the class and just went in there cold.  I didn’t catch on fast enough and the instructor lost his temper with me.  He’d yell at me and maybe fume a bit.  That soured me on the whole thing.  I wasn’t eager to drive in the first place.  This just helped to push me in the other direction.

Quickly, I got used to being a pedestrian.  I used to bicycle a lot.  For various reasons, I stopped.  Maybe someday I’ll get into that again.  I’d rather do that than buy a car.

The Detroit bus system went from bad to worse to worse.  I managed to get used to it. Just this morning, I had to wait over an hour for the bus.  I’d got to the bus stop early to be sure that I caught it.  It never came.  It was in the 20’s and my feet got cold. The driver of the bus I got on said that the previous coach had been hit by a car!  That’s the way it goes sometimes.  I hope that no one got hurt.

Anyway, riding the bus does have its good points.  I get a lot of reading done.  I’ve read hundreds of books while riding the bus.  I’ve done many hundreds of drawings on the bus too.

I appreciate the sense of being with the average, everyday people of my city.  People are almost always friendly and/or keep to themselves.  I’m the same way myself.  Though I rarely get into conversations with people, it’s usually interesting when I do.  I’ve only had to take a taxicab a few times.

It can be rough walking everywhere.  It’s good exercise though. Sometimes I walk for miles and miles.

I wrote a poem called My Life as a Pack Mule about lugging groceries and packages all around.  If you’re carrying a lot of stuff, you can’t just “leave it in your car.”  I’ve been mistaken for a homeless person, carrying all those bags around.  I wrote another poem about my life as an “arctic explorer.”  It’s bad driving around in a blizzard.  It’s also bad to be walking around in it or to try to keep warm while waiting for the next bus.  You’re in the elements.  Dress warmly.  In the Summer, be sure to carry a water bottle.

I’ll take a ride when I can get it.  Over the years, I have received many rides from friends, family, girlfriends, band-mates and so on.  Thank you all!

Then too, there’s the whole issue of the car as a destructive force. There are car accidents and wrecks.  As a pedestrian, I have no seat-belts or thick metal exoskeleton to protect me.  I’ve had plenty of close calls.

Cars also contribute to greenhouse gasses and the pollution of the planet.  I do believe in global climate change.  The automobile causes trouble in many ways.

I realize that they have been made to be essential.  Detroit’s a far cry from New York City or Chicago.  In those cities, it’s not as rough trying to get around without driving.  “Better Mass transit Everywhere!”  That’s what I say.

Maybe someday I’ll learn to drive, but I’m in no hurry to.  I don’t look down on or have serious problems with drivers.  A lot of people want to or have to drive cars.  I participate as a rider.  Yet as far as being a driver goes, I continue to be a sort of conscientious objector.

Neuseeland SŸdinsel

Related Material by Maurice Greenia, Jr. (aka myself):




Related Material by others:





From Orson Welles’ film of Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons:

George: I said, “Automobiles are a useless nuisance.” Never amount to anything but a nuisance. They had no business to be invented.
Uncle Jack: Of course, you forget Mr. Morgan makes them. Also did his share in inventing them. If you weren’t so thoughtless, he might think you’re rather offensive.
Eugene: I’m not sure George is wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization. It may be that they won’t add to the beauty of the world or the life of men’s souls. I’m not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They’re going to alter war and they’re going to alter peace. And I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. It may be that in ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George: that automobiles had no business to be invented.



Why I Don’t Use a Cell Phone

October 31, 2014
TV's Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 (played by Don Adams) on his Shoe Phone.

TV’s Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 on his Shoe Phone.  He’s played by Don Adams.

It’s like something out of an old science fiction novel.  Everyone has these space age walkie-talkies.  Even people who don’t have much money or are unemployed have them.  I don’t have one though.

Someday, I may well have to get one.  Then I will.  Until then, I wouldn’t want one on a bet.  I don’t need a cell phone/ mobile phone.

For one thing, I’m not a real “telephone person.”  It’s just not my thing.  I call my few good friends, family and loved ones.  Some of these, I don’t call as often as I should.  Yet I try to keep up with people. I have my “land line” and that’s good enough for me.

I prefer to interact in person, live and in real-time.

When I can’t do that, I love to send postal mail.  I’ve gone through periods where I sent out a lot of it.  This may soon happen again.  It is time-consuming and labor intensive.  This is especially true in my case.  I always want to include extras, find the right stamp and do a drawing on the envelope.

I use three different email accounts and the social networks.  I’ve been writing in four blogs for nearly six years, including this one.  I’ve got nothing against communication and not much against technology.

I do miss the pay phones and telephone booths.  For one thing, they encouraged privacy.  Now, it’s commonplace to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.  Sometimes you had to wait in line to use a pay phone.  They could be inconvenient, yet they had their charms.

I don’t drive either, so I ride Detroit’s cruel and backward bus system.  This makes me a sort of expert on overhearing other people’s phone conversations.  Sometimes,  five or ten people are talking all at once.  It’s a real “tower of Babel” effect.  Some people  talk quietly, in a reasonable tone of voice.  Others seem to be yelling or talking loudly.  Other times it’s actually quiet.  If anyone’s on the phone then, they’re being respectful.

Business is a frequent topic.  Some people can even keep working on a bus ride.  Sometimes it’s personal business.  One guy was going into way too much detail about his love life. Everyone on the bus could hear every word.  I’ve overheard other people talking about their drug deals, burglaries and violent crimes!  Usually though, it’s all quite boring and mundane.  If someone’s just on the phone “shooting the bull” I may hear something odd or whimsical.

As often as not, I prefer not to hear all this.  I tune in my “personal electronic device” to listen to music on a CD or audio cassette.  Or maybe I listen to the news.

It can be just as bad away from the bus.  I could go on and on about good and bad cell phone etiquette.  It’s just that some people are being rude yet they might not even realize it.  They’re caught up in their own private world, with their magic phones, talking to someone.

Once, I saw someone walking down the street talking into a smashed up looking phone.  I wondered whether it worked somehow.  Or maybe it was just a prop he used so as not to call attention to his “crazy talk.”  People who constantly talk to yourself: get a broken cell phone and carry it around.

Texting is a whole other issue.  It can be annoying if someone does so while you’re trying to watch a movie.  If someone texts or uses a standard cell phone while driving a car, it could kill you.

Someday people will have wires in their head.  They’ll be able to think their thoughts into another head.  No charging the phone battery.  No time wasted dialing.  It will be instant communication




Smaller and smaller:



Chart of Dangers, January 1989

September 18, 2014


This is the master for one of my old photo-copied handouts.  I did a series of charts.  You can click onto to it to sere it better and click on it again to enlarge it.

Chart of the tree of human life, March 1989

September 11, 2014


This is the master for one of my old photo-copied handouts.  I did a series of charts.  This was a favorite.  You can click onto to it to sere it better and click on it again to enlarge it.

The Mirror World, Take One

August 29, 2014

nyc 139b

I took this photo in Manhattan earlier this month.  I think that it was August 14th.  I’m always fascinated by mirrors and reflections.  I see amazing things reflected in puddles.  I saw this while walking around and it stopped me in my tracks.  It’s the same photo, but I like both the vertical and horizontal versions.

nyc 139

A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene: July 11 through September 8, 2014

July 15, 2014
Art by Robert Hyde

Art by Robert Hyde

This is a history of Detroit’s Visual Arts scene. It focuses on the time from 1978 to the present day.

Take One is an exhibit A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene.  This is installed at the library of the University of Detroit Mercy, on the McNichols Campus.

It’s open Monday through Friday.  The Summer hours are Monday through Thursday 9AM to 6PM.  Fridays, the library is open from 9AM to 5PM.  It’s closed weekends until September.  

I’ll usually be there, but not always.  At some point, I’ll take a vacation, etc.  Eventually, I’ll do a paper handout, which will be available.

If you come see this show, note that it’s in two parts.  There are a series of showcases when you first walk into the library.  Then there are two more showcases far off to the side.

The location, directions and other information:


I have an extensive archive of show cards, flyers and posters.  I have enough material to do several such exhibits.  Maybe someday I’ll do another one.  There are a lot of artists and galleries that I did not have the space to represent.  During the run of the show, I might switch or shuffle a few of the art show cards.

The postcard or mailing card was my friend here.  If it’s a good-looking card, there’s a better chance that it got into the exhibit.  If it’s an ugly or bland card, I only put it in if I felt it had some historical importance.

Most of them had the year on it. If you put the date but not the year, people will have no idea what year it was, later.  Put the year on your cards and posters please.

This show is dedicated to the Detroit area artists, both past and present.  It is also dedicated to everyone else who tried to make it all work: the audience, then too, the museums and galleries.  Also, I thank those who took time to write about the local art scene.  Interviews, profiles and reviews are all important in regard to having a vigorous and healthy art scene.

As I was finishing installing this, I received word of the passing of Joy Hakanson Colby.  Thus this project is also in memory of her.  A number of articles that she wrote are included in exhibit.


Art by Jack Johgnson and Victor Pytko at "Studio 601" in downtown Detroit September 2007

Art by Jack Johnson and Victor Pytko at “Studio 601″ in downtown Detroit September 2007

Take Two will be an essay that I write on the history of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene.  I’ll likely post it as one or 2 blog posts on my arts blog.  Then I’ll have paper copies to hand out too.

Take Three is a facebook page:


It will continue, even after the exhibit is dismantled.  Other people can put images or links on there too, so long as it relates directly to the subject at hand.


More Information:



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