Timeline: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Oct. 19, 1929: The stock market crashes, sparking a worldwide economic collapse that lasts a decade — the Great Depression.

December 1931: New York's Museum of Modern Art opens a solo retrospective of Mexican artist Diego Rivera. His art focuses on violent political revolution and the plight of laborers. The exhibit breaks attendance records.

January 1932: An estimated 300,000 Detroit workers have lost their jobs since the Great Depression. The city's 50 percent unemployment rate is double the national average.

March 7, 1932: Dearborn police and Ford Motor Co. security shoot into a crowd of 5,000 who demanded jobs and benefits for the unemployed outside the Ford Rouge complex. Five "Hunger Marchers" die; dozens wounded.

April 21, 1932: Rivera and wife Frida Kahlo arrive at Detroit's Michigan Central Depot, greeted by reporters and fans. Rivera has been commissioned by Edsel Ford, president of Ford Motor Co., to create two murals that will celebrate Detroit manufacturing.

The Garden Court before the murals.

April–May 1932: Rivera tours Detroit-area factories for inspiration. "It is the Great Saga of Machine and Steel."

May 26, 1932: Kahlo writes her doctor revealing she is pregnant. The physically challenged Kahlo agonizes whether she can have a safe pregnancy.

May 30, 1932: Rivera informs DIA officials he needs the entire Garden Court to capture the essence of Detroit industry.

June 2, 1932 : Rivera's praise of Marxism offends the YWCA banquet crowd at Belle Isle Casino. His English-language interpreter refuses to translate Rivera's declaration: "All progress is the result of class struggle."

July 4, 1932: Kahlo has a miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital. As she recuperates in her hospital bed, she sketches images of a fetus and her own damaged body.

July 6, 1932 : Kahlo turns 25.

July 25, 1932: After weeks of plastering, sketching and outlining, Rivera paints the first image of the mural: the sky and hand of a Native American woman on the north wall.

July 26, 1932: The U.S. Secret Service foils a national plot by "radicals" to cause a run on major banks, including Detroit, in hopes of sparking political revolution.

July 1932: Kahlo takes a lithograph workshop somewhere in Detroit.

A Detroit News article focuses on Frida Kahlo.

Aug 30, 1932: Kahlo begins to paint "Standing on the Borderline of U.S. and Mexico."

Sept. 4, 1932: Kahlo rushes back to Mexico City to see her mother, who has fallen deathly ill. She returns to Detroit Oct. 21.

Sept. 9, 1932: Rivera leaves for two-day trip to New York to meet with the Rockefeller family to paint a mural at new Rockefeller Center.

Oct. 3, 1932: Rivera visits the Michigan Alkali plant in Wyandotte.

Oct. 20, 1932: An exhibit of Rivera paintings opens at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts; a precursor of the College for Creative Studies.

Jan. 1, 1933: Ford cuts workers wages for the second time in three years; 9,000 strike.

Jan. 3, 1933: Rivera finishes the north wall.

Feb.2, 1933: The Detroit News publishes a feature story on Kahlo and a photo of her painting a self-portrait.

Feb. 13, 1933: Auto workers across the region strike. Industry comes to grinding halt.

Feb. 14: 1933: To prevent a run on the banks, the Michigan governor orders all banks in the state to close indefinitely. In Miami, an anarchist fires five shots at president-elect Franklin Roosevelt.

Feb. 19, 1933: Rivera's huge sketches, or cartoons, of Detroit Industry murals are publicly displayed at DIA.

Feb. 20, 1933: The Detroit Catholic Students Conference urges local Catholics groups to consider protesting murals.

March 13, 1933: Rivera completes the Detroit Industry murals.

March 17, 1933: Various religious leaders charge a mural image of a child being vaccinated mocks the Holy Trinity. DIA call police to guard the art.

March 18, 1933: A Detroit News editorial says the murals are "foolishly vulgar … un-American" and must be "whitewashed."

March 21,1933: The murals debut. Religious, academic and civic organizations demand removal of the art. In a News article, architect Albert Kahn defends the murals and lambasts critics. "The world has seen many examples of religious fanaticism."

March 23,1933: 10,000 jam the mural courtyard on the first Sunday viewing. Many Detroiters praise the murals.

March 25, 1933: City Councilman William Bradley introduces a measure declaring the "paintings be washed from the walls" and DIA lose all its tax funding.


April 1933: The Rev. Charles Coughlin in Royal Oak begins to attack the murals in his popular national radio show.

April 12, 1933: Edsel Ford defends Rivera's art.

May 1933: The more the public sees the Detroit Industry murals, the more the controversy fades.