Inside Diego Rivera's drawings

DETROIT – The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of this country's most important cultural institutions, but it's been in the news for the wrong reasons lately due to Detroit's bankruptcy situation.

So, I'm particularly excited to bring you some fascinating news about one of the DIA's most iconic exhibits: the Diego Rivera murals … and what's making news this week is what Rivera did *before* he painted those murals!

The world knows Diego Rivera for his fresco murals.

They started an entire art movement - and one of the finest examples of Rivera's murals is here at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Rare footage from the DIA of Rivera working in the museum in 1933 is considered a treasure, and shows him meticulously working on his murals.

Originally, just the two Detroit Industry murals were commissioned. But Edsel Ford was so impressed with early drawings that he immediately doubled the commission -- and Rivera asked to paint the entire court! But before starting his painting, Rivera drew full scale drawings -- called cartoons -- which were used as tracings on the walls, from which Rivera then painted the murals.

After the murals were completed, Rivera gave the drawings to the DIA, where they were stored and forgotten about for a half century!

Only photographer Dave Klein and I had the privilege of being there when the fragile drawings were carefully taken out of storage for just the second time in eighty years so photographs could be taken - a conservation project funded by Bank of America - a special project to preserve them digitally for the world to see.

DIA curator Nancy Sojka told me that, "Unrolling, you have to be very careful, because they are charcoal, about smudging. Every time the drawings are unrolled, there is the possibility of losing some of that pigment, some of that medium. So, fragile yes, but I think sensitive is a much, much better word for them. They're very, very delicate."

Delicate, and sensitive art history -- but history with an important story to tell.

"This is one of the best experiences I've ever had," Sojka said. "As someone who has been in the arts for thirty years. I am shocked by the power and ability and skill of Rivera's drawings."

As soon as the digital photos are processed, the DIA will put them on their website for the entire world to see.

One final comment: to me, the most surprising aspect of this story is that Diego Rivera never came back to Detroit after finishing his murals.

He died in 1957, and I have no idea if he ever truly knew the impact he had on the DIA, and on the citizens of Detroit.


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