She’s been photographed by Edward Weston, knew Jean Charlot, and is honorary co-chair of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco. And art isn’t even her calling. Last Thursday, Guadalupe Rivera Marín, in town to judge the Miss Hawaii Latina Scholarship Pageant that took place on Saturday at Mamiya Theatre, visited the museum to see two paintings by her father—famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Marín, 90, had a distinguished career as a law professor, economist, ambassador, congresswoman, and mayor in Mexico before turning her talents to writing—her third volume of a science fiction trilogy comes out this week.
The museum was honored to welcome Marín, who was accompanied by Andrew Kluger, chair of the board of trustees of the Mexican Museum. The director of the Mexican Museum is David de la Torre, who is a former deputy director of the Honolulu Museum of Art—he put Kluger in touch with James Jensen, our curator of contemporary art.
As Marín, who divides her time between Mexico City and Cuernavaca, walked with Jensen and Kluger (and me) to the Modernism Gallery, she recounted how as a very young girl she knew Jean Charlot “when he came to paint with my father and became his first assistant.” (For those who know Charlot only as a Hawai‘i artist, his great grandmother was half Aztec and he lived in Mexico from 1921 to 1928.) “Muy bien,” she said as we approached Flower Seller, which Rivera painted in 1926. Jensen told her about the painting’s history and pointed out how curator of European and American art Theresa Papanikolas paired the portrait with Matisse’s Annelies, White Tulips, and Anemones (1944).
Marín noted that the painting is in its original frame. “In the 1920s, all my father’s paintings had frames like this. Every day carpenters went to my father’s house to carve frames,” she said.
“It’s one of his most important paintings from that epoque,” she continued, “when he started to paint Mexican art—depicting Mexican culture. He started to paint women with children and flowers—they represent 100 percent Mexican culture.”
In a crisp twill suit, Marín studied works in the adjacent Impressionism Gallery, saying with her busy schedule and social obligations she didn’t get a lot of art-viewing time. She clearly relished the quiet contemplation.
Then it was on to a lunch at the museum’s café with Bronwen Solyom, curator of the Jean Charlot Collection at the University of Hawai‘i. As they sat down, docent Barbara Higgins came over to present Marín with a beautiful lei. Marín and Solyom had a lot to talk about, swapping stories about Rivera and Charlot. Marín revealed that as a little girl, she thought Charlot was “a very handsome man. He was the first man I met who had pana (corduroy) pants. Compared to my father he was so elegant.”
From there, Jensen took Marín and Solyom to the office of Hathaway Jakobsen, the museum’s chief advancement officer, where Rivera’s painting of a child hangs. They discussed how that child is the barely visible baby in Flower Seller—the daughter of well-known artists’ model Luz Jiménez, who is the depicted flower seller. And Solyom said that Jean Charlot was Concha’s godfather, and today Concha’s son Jesús Villanueva Hernández continues to keep the legacy of his grandmother alive. All the art connections between past and present, Charlot and Rivera, Hawai‘i and Mexico were flying.
Since retiring from public service in the 1980s, Marīn has focused on her writing career. Her books include the cookbook Frida’s Fiesta’s (reminiscences and recipes of Frida Kahlo—Marīn’s stepmother), books about her father, including the bilingual children’s book My Papa Diego and Me, and her historical-science-fiction trilogy which began with Los Círculos de los Dioses and La Sabiduría de los Dioses, and is completed this month with the release of Los Círculos de los Dioses.