Diego Rivera: Artist, party animal and fan of Walt Whitman

Diego Rivera

In June of 1950 a friend, Phil Wonson, and I decided to take a trip to Mexico on a painting sabbatical, as a reward for ending our training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. We scratched together enough dollars to buy a 1947 Crosley Station-wagon on a time plan, collected some snack foods for our trip along with a silent prayer to guide us on this great adventure.

After several days more or less, traveling toward Nuevo Laredo where we obtained our visa’s, and continued on our way through the border to Monterey, where we spent the night. Then the next night we stayed at a mountain inn. Before the next afternoon we finally could see Mexico City from the downhill side of the less than two car-width road we followed into the heart of the city.

During our second day in the city we found a room in the local YMCA which cost us each about a dollar a day. It was a week before we met an old Mexican who noticed the canvases in the back of our car and directed us to the home of a woman who had just returned from a world cruise.

“Diego’s Band,” by Herb Mandel

She, he said, was also an artist. It sounded like our prayers were providing some guidance, so we went to the woman’s house. She graciously invited us in and served us some tea and snacks. We told her we were looking for an inexpensive room, perhaps a step up from the Y. She directed us to a friend who rented rooms to tourists in her Hacienda called Casa Blanca. We shortly left our hostess, excited over the prospects of a new home base. We introduced ourselves to Conch, the owner, and she showed us a room for two with private bath, maid service and breakfast for about $10 a week. There were also some students from the University of Mexico staying there, as well as a young woman who was waiting for her husband to arrive during the next week. After he arrived he treated us royally for entertaining his wife by taking her with us on our daily painting trips.

Conch also introduced us to the several students from University of Mexico who offered us tickets to Diego Rivera’s garden party, which we graciously accepted, and with much excitement … to meet this great Mexican artist. The invitation was printed on construction paper and contained a roughly drawn map to the location of the party. In any case, we made it through what was almost a jungle, no paved roads, but it was a gala happening. We parked our Crosley and joined other guests, perhaps 30 or so. A four-piece Mexican-Indian band was playing drums and flutes, with some vocal accompaniment on their part. There was a picnic table with tortillas and a pot of pickled pigs feet and Mexican beer for all to enjoy.

Then I saw him. Topped off with a large sombrero, the famous Diego Rivera was surrounded by six or eight people. I joined the delegation and listened as they asked questions. The one I remember was, “Who do you think was the greatest American?” He responded, firmly without pause, “Walt Whitman.”

My Original Garden Party Invitation

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My original Diego Rivera garden party invitation


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