Shortly after moving to San Francisco, I learned that one of my favorite artists also spent time here. Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist, visited San Francisco in the early 1930s. It was a working honeymoon for him and his wife, the equally famous artist, Frida Kahlo. They spent time in the city as the celebrated guests of their well-heeled patrons and left behind four murals, along with paintings and sketches held by the SFMOMA and the de Young Museum.
So far, I’ve shared two out of the four murals with you. Both were impressive. The first, covering a large wall in an exhibition room at the San Francisco Art Institute, is open to anyone who chooses to walk up and see it. The second is hidden away in the top of an exclusive lunch club in a tall building in the Financial District, visible by appointment only. They were everything I’d come to expect from Rivera’s murals — big, intricate, colorful, and evocative.
So I had high hopes for this mural. Finding it was a bit of a guessing game, and seeing it turned out to be a let down. Here’s why…
What I Expected to See
The USA Today article I was working from (How to Visit Diego Rivera Murals in San Francisco) didn’t list this mural, but other sources did. At the time, I just assumed the article didn’t mention it because technically this mural isn’t actually located in San Francisco. It’s in Berkeley.
The Art Institute’s site said it was located at “Stern Hall, University of California, Berkeley campus” and described it as follows:
“The vibrant fresco, originally executed during Rivera and Kahlo’s extended stay at Rosalie Stern’s Atherton home, shows fieldhands working in an almond grove, while in the foreground Stern’s grandchildren literally enjoy the fruits of the workers’ labor.”
When searching for details about the mural, I came across the picture below by Joaquín Martínez on Flickr. The subject matters seemed right on target for Rivera — workers, the land, and it’s bounty — but the composition is much simpler. It seems to tell a single story compared to the long, complicated narratives and symbolism his work usually illustrates.
To add to my anticipation, I’d also just learned that California produces over 80% of the global almond crop right near Sacramento, about an hour’s drive outside San Francisco. When the almond trees are in bloom, they’re just gorgeous.
This post from Hither & Thither about the Capay Valley Almond Blossom Trail captures the beauty of the trees when at their peak in the spring. So by now, I was intrigued and excited to see this mural for myself.
[EXTRA: See also this photo by Ansel Adams of Diego Rivera painting the mural in SFMOMA’s collection.]
What I Actually Saw
On a rainy Sunday, I drove out to UC Berkeley to track down this mural. It’s mentioned on the school’s website (in passing) as being in the lobby of Stern Hall, a women’s dorm on campus. That didn’t worry me at all. I assumed I could easily blend into the crowd and find my way into the dorm lobby, especially since I’m often mistaken for being significantly younger than I am. Or, at the very least, I assumed that I could talk my way into the lobby to see the mural.
How hard could it be?
Harder than expected. I didn’t expect to find an empty campus (it was a holiday weekend!) and an unattended, but secure dorm entrance. I never got to see the mural up close, but I was happy that at least I got to see it around the glare and the bars of the staircase leading to the second floor. I also didn’t expect it to be so small!
Finding This Mural
I don’t really recommend a visit to this mural, for all the reasons noted above. If you must, it’s relatively easy to locate Stern Hall on Google, but finding it once I got on campus was more difficult. Follow these stairs, which are visible from the road, to a courtyard where you’ll see the nondescript door above with the mural peaking out from behind it’s windows. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.
The Rest of Rivera’s Murals in San Francisco
If you enjoyed this post, here are the other murals by Rivera in San Francisco:
- The Making of a Fresco at the the San Francisco Art Institute
- The Allegory of California at the City Club of San Francisco
- Pan American Unity at City College. It’s the perfect finale and will not disappoint!
I’m also excited to be heading to Mexico City (and the Yucatán) in November, which means I’ll be visiting Frida’s La Casa Azul and the Palacio de Bellas Artes and eating lots of tacos. Any recommendations?