Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera resided in the studio of sculptor Ralph Stackpole, ~ above Montgomery Street, san Francisco.

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Photo: Paul A. Juley/Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

These days, Frida Kahlo’s photo is all roughly us. Her iconic eyebrows and piercing gaze have actually been immortalized on T-shirts, tote bags and tequila bottles. There’s also a Frida Barbie doll.

But before her image came to be so commercialized and also ubiquitous, Kahlo was just a budding artist wait for her huge break. Married to the larger and currently famous artist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was established to do a name for herself, and her time in san Francisco would assist her perform that.

Frida and Diego involved San Francisco

It was a location she called “the city of the world,” and she frequently dreamed of it together a teenager, claims University of mountain Francisco professor and also author of Frida in America, Celia Stahr. As she and also Rivera do their means to mountain Francisco in 1930, she doodles a portrait that herself collection against a background of just how she imagined the city come be.

“When they gain to mountain Francisco, she mirrors it come Diego and also he simply marvels at just how much that looks prefer what they"re seeing prior to them, sort of prefer she currently knew what it to be going come look like even though she"d never ever been ,” states Stahr. “So there"s a feeling of destiny the she was supposed to come here.”

Despite the reality that it to be the good Depression and also paid work methods for American artists were scarce, Rivera landed two prestigious mural commissions: one at the san Francisco art Institute and another at the Pacific share Exchange building, now referred to as the City society of san Francisco. His patrons hoped that Rivera’s fame would carry prestige to the local art scene and assist jump-start a mural motion in the bay.


Rivera at work on the "Allegory that California" mural in ~ the Pacific stock Exchange.

Photo: mountain Francisco history Center, san Francisco windy Library

But Rivera was a controversial choose for the share Exchange. Together a member that the mexican Communist Party, Rivera imbued his politics in his large-scale public murals. Countless San Francisco artists were outraged that an outspoken communist would paint in the city’s “citadel that capitalism” and took come the newspaper come express their opposition.

“I believe he is the greatest living artist in the world and we would do well come have an instance of his job-related in a public building in mountain Francisco. But he is not the male for the stock Exchange building,” argued painter Maynard Dixon.

Where his movie critics saw offense, his supporters experienced beauty. Rivera’s masterful usage of the fresco technique, applying pigment come wet plaster, fascinated regional artists that eagerly want to find out the craft.

In one of the numerous letters Kahlo composed to she family around the only Area, she note the nonstop fist Rivera attracted. “The negative guy can’t also go to the restroom in peace due to the fact that they’re bugging him every day,” she wrote.

The 23-year-old Kahlo had only been painting for 5 years, and the regional press merely regarded her as the wife of the famous Mexican muralist.

“She hasn"t had that much experience. She hasn"t really discovered her creative voice fairly yet,” describes Celia Stahr.

Soirees, Sketching and also Sightseeing

In their new home at 716 Montgomery St., not much from phibìc Beach and Chinatown, Kahlo was surrounded by artists who energized her creative process, states Stahr. For six months, the pair stayed in ~ the studio that Rivera’s old classmate and friend, sculptor Ralph Stackpole, who introduced them to an eclectic team of writers, painters and also photographers.


Rivera and also Kahlo continue to be at the studio that sculptor Ralph Stackpole while life in mountain Francisco in between 1930-1931.

Photo: Archives the American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Among the countless Bay Area-based artist they befriended consisted of Dorothea Lange and her husband Maynard Dixon (who had actually warmed come Rivera by this point).

“The foursome speak art, politics, and the cold times,” to write Stahr. “Dorothea’s should respond to these desperate times appealed come Frida and Diego’s working-class sympathies.”

Part of Kahlo’s program was getting in addition to Pele deLappe and Lucile Blanch to do art.

"We would draw these composite illustrations where every one would begin on a certain sheet of paper and then profession them off and also pass castle around,” recalled deLappe in an interview taped in 2001. “ to be usually very obscene or horrendous and also bloody or sensuous in part way.”

Pele de Lappe explains working with Frida Rivera

interview by chris Carlsson

Art chronicler Celia Stahr claims these hangouts were valuable for Kahlo’s imaginative development.

When she and also Rivera weren"t liven painting, they do plenty of time for sightseeing around San Francisco.

“In the Russia colony they dress together they carry out in Russia, and also the girls dance ~ above the hills. The Greek swarm is also really interesting and also the Japanese, yet most of all the Chinese,” Frida composed in a letter to her mother.

“She just gushes around Chinatown and she writes about it quite a bit. The reminded her an extremely much, she said, of home. She writes about how she"s persuaded that the mexican people and the Chinese human being are connected to one another,” claims Stahr.

Letters information how the firecrackers throughout Chinese brand-new Year festivities reminded Kahlo that street fairs ago in Mexico. Silks and other handmade fabrics marketed in the shops the Chinatown also caught she eye. She purchased a few to embellish she red leather boots and make into Mexican-style skirts.

Kahlo’s format definitely captured the attention of mountain Franciscans. Her indigenous dress, affected by the Zapotec ladies of Tehuantepec, stirred so lot excitement top top the streets of san Francisco the she supposedly stopped traffic.

“The gringas seem to prefer me a lot and also they are really impressed by all the dresses and rebozos I carried with me, castle gape at the jade necklaces and also all the painters want me to model for the portraits,” Kahlo composed to her mother.

Her interlocutor look captures the attention of renowned photographers Imogen Cunningham and also Edward Weston, who ask she to pose for them in san Francisco. Due to the fact that Kahlo to be the daughter of a photographer, she was a organic in front of the camera. A local writer additionally pens a play around her and also Rivera dubbed “The Queen the Montgomery Street.”


Kahlo paint a portrait the Mrs. Jean Wight in san Francisco.

Photo: mountain Francisco background Center, san Francisco publicly Library

This acknowledgment adds come Frida’s cultivation artist persona and also helped tree the seeds for her ultimate rise to symbol status.

But under her vivid garments, Kahlo’s body ached. At 18 she had actually suffered a horrific street car accident the severely damaged many of her body and exacerbated the chronic pains of she polio leg. Her long walks about San Francisco started to take a toll fee on her.

New Friends, new Places and new Ideas

That readjusted when she met Dr. Leo Eloesser, that would ultimately have a large impact on her life. Eloesser to be the chef of thoracic surgery at mountain Francisco basic Hospital and he went over and past to act Kahlo’s foot and also leg pain, even getting here at she doorstep when she’d miss out on her appointments.

Beyond his thorough care, he connected with Kahlo and Rivera ~ above a an innovative level.

“Leo to be a musician. He play viola and also he would have actually weekly soirees at his flat. And also so he to be a doctor, yet you can say he had actually the heart of one artist,” stated Stahr.

The 3 of them even traveled around Northern California together. One time, Eloesser took Kahlo top top her very first plane ride. Lock flew native Oakland to Sacramento to satisfy up with Rivera that was busy sketching mines and dredgers for his "Allegory the California" mural. One of these excursions showed to it is in a significant turning suggest for Kahlo’s art.

On a expedition to Santa Rosa, Rivera and also Kahlo saw the garden the the renowned horticulturist Luther Burbank, recognized as “the magician of horticulture.” he developed more than 800 arrays of fruits, vegetables and plants by cross breeding two type together.


Diego Rivera and also Frida Kahlo at the garden the Luther Burbank in Santa Rosa.

Photo: Luther Burbank residence & Gardens Collection—Sonoma county Library Digital Collections

Seeing just how Burbank precise fused with each other two organisms to create something brand brand-new mesmerized Kahlo. She uses Burbank’s hybrid method to her art, and what comes out is a portrait of the horticulturist as component human and part tree trunk with roots connecting to his buried corpse.

“This is really her very first major breakthrough creatively, in terms of developing a new style that was very different native what she"d been functioning on,” explains Stahr.

From this allude on, Kahlo continued to play v imagery of roots, plants and also hybrid body to portray themes the life and death. It"s a duality the was already part of her Mexican upbringing, states Stahr, yet a visual format that to be honed below in the only Area.

When Rivera completed his two murals in 1931, the pair briefly went earlier to Mexico before returning come the U.S. To repaint in new York City and also Detroit. However it wouldn’t be the last time they checked out San Francisco.

Frida and Diego take it on san Francisco a second Time

When lock return a te later, Kahlo and Rivera are divorced, and also they arrive adhering to dramatic circumstances.

First came Rivera, that fled mexico authorities who wanted to question him around the check assassination that his previous friend and exiled Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.

Kahlo wasn’t so lucky. Months later, as soon as Trotsky was in reality assassinated, the police detained she for questioning, believing she was an accomplice. (Years prior, she and Rivera readily available their Casa Azul come Trotsky and also his mam for politics asylum). The brief experience in prison left her traumatized.

“She remained in a terrible emotional state. Physically, she wasn"t doing well. She complained of earlier and foot pain,” says Stahr.

In response, her physicians in Mexico advised her to undergo an ext surgeries. However her friend and also trusted doctor, Leo Eloesser, didn’t agree. That felt she emotional wellness needed tending to, so he prescribed her a far better diet, less drinking and advised she to reconcile v Rivera in mountain Francisco.

play this important duty in your marriage. The was yes, really the go in between with your relationship,” describes Stahr.

Kahlo took his advice and also when she arrived, she resided with Rivera in ~ 42 Calhoun Terrace in Telegraph Hill prior to letting Eloesser admit her to St. Luke"s Hospital in the Mission District.

Meanwhile, Rivera was busy working on his largest solitary standing mural, known as the "Pan American Unity" mural. Because that months he and his aides painted in front of a publicly audience in ~ Treasure Island during the golden Gate global Exposition. (Watch this video clip clip that Rivera and his team paint at endowment Island.)

Once again, Rivera’s arts sparked controversy. Not because he painted his communist politics but due to the fact that he illustrated the cruelty the Nazi Germany. It was his method of urging the U.S. To intervene in world War II and also protect every one of the Americas, consisting of Mexico.

When Kahlo to be discharged indigenous the hospital and also felt physically and also emotionally stronger, she and Rivera remarried at san Francisco City hall on Rivera’s 54th birthday.

The Oakland Tribune breaks a photograph of the couple and this time acknowledges Kahlo together “an artist in her very own right.”

“By 1940 she has achieved quite a bit. You might say she"s in ~ the height of her career at the time,” says Stahr.

Her arts was showed at the World"s fair on sweetheart Island, the Legion that Honor and landed in the hand of an important collector, Albert Bender, that was affiliated v San Francisco Museum of modern Art — all things that helped provide Kahlo broader exposure approximately the U.S.

“You have no idea how marvelous the city is, it assisted me a lot come come due to the fact that it opened up my eyes and also I’ve seen many swell brand-new things,” composed Kahlo come a friend.(1)


Kahlo and Rivera remarry at san Francisco City hall in 1940.

Photo: mountain Francisco history Center, san Francisco publicly Library

A legacy That Keeps Evolving

As lot as the bay Area listed Kahlo and Rivera a platform to create and thrive, the pair also gave San Francisco a lasting blueprint because that creativity.

“In fact, Coit Tower and also the murals over there emerge due to the fact that of Diego’s influence,” claims Stahr. Few of the Coit Tower muralists in reality trained under Rivera, following in his footsteps by painting large-scale fresco murals that focus on workers and class issues.

His work additionally emboldened muralists at the beach Chalet and also UCSF. Ultimately, his patron’s desire because that a mural motion to take turn off in mountain Francisco concerned fruition.


Starting in the 1970s, exhibits and events at La Galería de la Raza in the Mission District helped generate interest and appreciation because that Kahlo"s life.

Photo: Courtesy that Rio Yañez

Kahlo’s body of work also had a monumental impact on bay Area artists, beginning in the 1970s.

As numerous Chicanos and also Latinos ongoing the hit for polite rights and representation, neighborhood artists favor Amalia Mesa-Bains turned come Kahlo and also Rivera’s art as a resource of empowerment and social pride.

“We had actually experienced racism and also discrimination and so we necessary to reclaim our sense of belonging. Frida and Diego became in plenty of ways models because that us, that an artist might be at the very same time political and also cultural,” claims Mesa-Bains.

Mesa-Bains and other Chicana/o artists to be so relocated by Kahlo’s complex and bold art that lock curated an exhibition referred to as "Homenaje a Frida Kahlo" at the Galería de la Raza in 1978.


Poster design by Rupert Garcia because that the seminal 1978 exhibition.

Image: Courtesy of Rio Yañez

Artists created works influenced by Kahlo and those that personally knew the pair in mountain Francisco, such together Emmy Lou Packard, were invited to re-superstructure memories that them.

This exhibit came at a time once there was very small published around Kahlo’s life and work, therefore it to be seminal to introducing Kahlo come a more comprehensive audience prior to Frida-mania ensued.

Today, local artists proceed to pay tribute to the two Mexican artists. Rio Yañez’s series, "Ghetto Frida," imagines Kahlo together a kind of comic publication character hanging out at miscellaneous spots in the pre-gentrified Mission District. And also the political ethos that street art in the bay hearkens ago to Rivera’s masterpieces.


In 2009, Rio Yañez developed Ghetto Frida"s "Mission Memories" to pay tribute to the above artist and also favorite spots farming up in the Mission district.

Art through Rio Yañez

In 2018, mountain Francisco city officials change the name a street after ~ Frida Kahlo in prior of City university of mountain Francisco"s main campus, additionally the permanent home of Diego Rivera’s "Pan American Unity" mural.

In what Kahlo dubbed the "city the the world" the lasting brush strokes that Mexico"s most recognized artists room as colorful as ever.

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The translated estimates from Kahlo’s letter to her household that appear in this article have been sourced indigenous Celia Stahr’s book, "Frida in America: The an imaginative Awakening that a great Artist."

1. Letter come Kahlos"s friend appears in Frida by Frida collected by Raquel Tibol.