DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
I STILL HAD HOPES of reconstructing the mural (from Lucienne's photographs) somewhere in the United States. Walls enough were offered to me, but either they were of the wrong dimensions or the buildings in which they stood were unsuitable to the projection of my theme. At last I hit upon the New Workers School, then located on West 14th Street, and maintained by a communist group in opposition to the Communist Party. Its auditorium wall seemed almost adequate. But the building was only rented, and might therefore pass into the hands of other occupants. Besides, it was so old that it was likely soon to fall to the wreckers. Rockefeller would then have the satisfaction of seeing my mural destroyed twice. So I abandoned the idea of reconstructing the Radio City fresco there. But the future pleasure I might have in spending the last of Rockefeller's money to decorate a workers' school struck me as too attractive to forgo.
I decided to paint a series of movable panels, which the school could transport when it moved to another building. My theme was to be a "Portrait of America," in which, through representative figures of each period, I would create a dynamic history of the United States from the colonial era to 1933, illuminating the continuous struggle between the privileged and the dispossessed. To insure the historical accuracy of my portrayals, the faculty and student body of the school labored as one to supply me with contemporary documents of the successive periods, including newspapers, photographs, woodcuts, caricatures, prints, and reproductions of oils. I did twenty-one panels in all, representing such objects as the American Revolution, Shays' Rebellion, the westward expansion, the antislavery movement, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the I.W.W. and the Syndicalist Movement, modern industry, World War I, the new liberties, imperialism, the Depression, and the New Deal. Each panel was filled with masses of people at work or in conflict, but individuals stood out as leaders and spokesmen. So it was that I painted portrait interpretations of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry D. Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and other figures of importance in American history and thought.
When the New Workers School moved from 14th to 33rd Street, the panels, each weighing about 300 pounds, were carried out of the auditorium, loaded into vans, and shipped to the new plant, where they remained until the school was disbanded. The International Ladies' Garment Workers Union then acquired them, and they are now on permanent display at Unity House, a vacation resort operated for members of the union and their families in Forest Park, Pennsylvania.
It was not in the United States but in Mexico, to which I returned later the same year, that I finally reconstructed the "Rockefeller" mural.
Orozco and I were commissioned to do two large panels in the Palace of Fine Arts. Although the dimensions of the surface were not quite right, I decided that this was the place where I would bring the murdered painting back to life. I made certain changes. In the extra space of the Palace wall, I added a few figures not in the Radio City fresco. The most important of the additions was a portrait of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., which I inserted into the night-club scene, his head but a short distance away from the venereal disease germs pictured in the ellipse of the microscope.