The Mural in San Francisco

Rivera creating the sinopia mural drawing on the Portland cement substrate. WPA photographer Charles Hayes.

In 1940, Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) painted his vision of the unity of art, religion, history, politics, and technology in the Americas. Originally titled The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent (Unión de la Expresión Artistica del Norte y del Sur de este Continente), it is commonly known as Pan American Unity. Rivera created the work during the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) at Treasure Island on the Bay in San Francisco, California. The mural was the centerpiece of a program called “Art In Action” that featured many artists creating their works while the public watched.

“My mural will picture the fusion between the great past of the Latin American lands, as it is deeply rooted in the soil, and the highly mechanical developments of the United States…. it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent, that is all. I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo*, with the kind of urge which makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life, which is also an artistic urge, the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression.”

Diego Rivera
  • The term "Eskimo" is considered derogatory today and is replaced by either Canadian Inuit, or Alaska Native depending on the location. For more on the use of this term, please see the Alaska Native Language Center's contextual article.

Watch TV footage from the GGIE of the Art in Action pavilion. The first few minutes show Rivera painting the mural, including a demonstration of giornata.

View this pamphlet from 1940 - an interview with Diego Rivera about the mural and it's themes.

At 22 feet tall by 74 feet long, (6.7 X 22.5 meters) the 1940 Pan American Unity mural is Diego Rivera’s largest free-standing mural. The mural was intended for installation at a new library planned for City College of San Francisco (CCSF). The fresco was created on 10 steel I-beam, concrete and plaster panels to enable its de-installation at the end of the fair and subsequent installation. However, with the intervention of World War II, the planned library was never built. Transportable only with great effort, the panels were stored for 20 years after the fair. In 1961, the mural was installed in the lobby of the Diego Rivera Theater at CCSF.

Will Maynez gazes at the mural. Photo: Marlin Lum

Will Maynez and Pan American Unity go Back a Long Way

Twenty five years ago the mural adopted Will Maynez as its champion and steward. Will has faithfully honored his commitment to the mural ever since. Will is a mural scholar. He has gathered papers, diaries, original photographs, and interviewed the people who have touched the mural in some way. He works relentlessly to ensure the mural’s preservation and marshals the people, skills, and resources to get it done.

Many a work of art or human knowledge exists today because a person in the past took care of it, knew its value, and passed it on to younger hands who knew its value too. When the mural called to Will he knew its value. He has cared for it, saw to its conservation, and arranged to share it with the world. Now, a world community can visit it in person or online, know its value, see to its preservation, and in due time, like Will, pass it on to younger hands.

Visit the CCSF sponsored website where Will has gathered his knowledge and insights about the mural:

Installing upper Panel 2 in the Roberts Family Gallery at SFMOMA in June 2021. Photo: Carla Schroer

The Mural at SFMOMA

In 2021 the mural was moved to SFMOMA, where it will be on public view until 2023. After that time, it will return to CCSF in a new performing arts center.

Learn more about the Exhibition of Pan American Unity at SFMOMA.