June 14, 2021

The bricklayers of Pablo O’Higgins find a house at UNAM | Culture


The admiration of Pablo O’ Higgins (Utah, 1904) by the Mexican muralism arrived in an envelope sent by his mother from the United States, during a trip that the budding painter made to the State of Sonora. The packaging contained the magazine The arts, which featured reproductions of the murals that Diego Rivera I was finishing in what is now the Old School of San Ildefonso. “This shook me so much that I wrote Diego a letter, like any boy who gets excited. And to my great surprise, Diego answered me and told me to go to Mexico to see closely what he was doing. It’s a very beautiful letter! ”O’ Higgins told the writer Elena Poniatowska. He was barely 20 years old.

When young Paul arrived in Mexico City in 1924, he went directly to Rivera’s house, who showed the young American painter drawings, notes and his first sketches for the murals of the National Preparatory School. The next day, he quoted him at the Ministry of Public Education, where he said “we will climb the scaffolding and show him the murals”. O’Higgins immediately joined to work with Rivera. That day, blond Paul became Pablo O’ Higgins, who would end up being considered one of the last pillars of Mexican muralism.

Detail of the study of the muralist in his house in Coyoacán, Mexico City


Detail of the study of the muralist in his house in Coyoacán, Mexico City

After installing in Mexico, and helping Rivera with his ongoing murals, both at the Ministry of Public Education and at the Chapingo School of Agriculture, won a scholarship from the Academy of Art of Moscow, where he perfected the foundations of the epic muralist. Always close to the peasants and workers, the painter continued his artistic life in a prolific way, because his concern for Mexican current affairs and his militancy in the Communist Party The reputation of an artist involved with the workers and peasants struggles.

His works included the workers, as shown in the collection ‘Construction workers’ consisting of 216 graphite drawings on paper that his widow, lawyer María de Jesús de la Fuente O’Higgins (Nuevo León, 1920), has donated to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “I saw that many friends around me were dying and I said: if I die, what will happen to the [dibujos de los] bricklayers? I loved that collection a lot, because I treated the masons a lot, I had to donate them to some institution that had a relationship with the construction, so I was between the Faculty of Engineering and the architecture facuilty, I decided on the second one and I thought it would have to be done quickly before I regretted it, ”says María O’ Higgins.

Detail of two of the drawings in which Pablo O'Higgins represented working men, women and children in Mexico from the 30s to the 50s


Detail of two of the drawings in which Pablo O’Higgins represented working men, women and children in Mexico from the 30s to the 50s

The painter’s life partner made the decision to start the donation process to the University because there were a couple of previous exhibitions made by Lucila Rousset, curator of the Faculty: “I had already exhibited Pablo’s work in the Abelardo Rodríguez market, there I founded a gallery with his name, then I made a new exhibition at the José Luis Benlliure Gallery, where the drawings of construction workers were exhibited under the name Pablo O ‘Higgins and the Abelardo Rodríguez market, for me it was very important to discover that the masons who painted O’Higgins had been working in the market and the surroundings ”.

The Abelardo Rodríguez Market, built in 1930, was designed both to control the mobile commerce of downtown Mexico City and to revalue the ownership of the area. The Government hired young muralists, mostly students of Diego Rivera, so that they spread the nutritional value of food in their murals. The team of contracted artists, in addition to O ’Higgins, were, among others, Miguel Tzab, Antonio Pujol, Ángel Bracho, Ramón Alva, Pedro Rendón, Raúl Gamboa or Isamu Noguchi. Some of the American painter’s drawings donated now to the UNAM They were made at that time.

The 216 drawings, in which he represented working men, women and children in Mexico from the 30s to the 50s, are sheltered in the Acervo de San Carlos, located in the basement of the Lino Picaseño library. The work, which cannot be permanently exhibited, is being classified and restored to subsequently hold an exhibition at the José Luis Benlliure Gallery, at the Faculty of Architecture of the UNAM. The drawings show men working on architectural works, dressed in blanket suits, straw hats and barefoot, carrying partitions or wood. There are also women and children working.

The director of the Faculty Marcos Mazari Hiriart tells EL PAÍS: “The beauty of the work conveys, through very simple but very clear lines, the reality of the construction worker. The reflection that leaves us is the importance of the work of a community. The community was the basis of the culture of the construction industry. They are still the ones they do, and the architects learn by doing but we learn from them. ”

Controversy over the fate of the work of Pablo O’ Higgins

Pablo O ’Higgins and María de Jesús de la Fuente O’ Higgins in the study of their house in Coyoacán


Pablo O ’Higgins and María de Jesús de la Fuente O’ Higgins in the study of their house in Coyoacán

Anna Lagos

The only heiress of the muralist’s work is her widow, lawyer María de Jesús de la Fuente O ‘Higgins (Nuevo León, 1920), who is about to turn 100. In the house they lived in, located in the Coyoacán neighborhood, in Mexico City, the work of the muralist, cataloged and documented by Verónica Arenas and María Pérez, researchers at the National Center for Research, Documentation and Information, remains intact in their study of Plastic Arts (CENIDIAP – INBAL). “When Pablo died, in 1987, I dedicated myself to ordering everything we had, I realized that there were drawings, sketches and countless works, some paintings I sold, but most of his work remains here, in the studio, and my wish is that his work remains in Mexico, ”explains María O’Higgins, who for years has tried to donate the file to UNAM, since José Narro Robles was rector of the University, from 2007 to 2015. The educational institution told him They could not receive the donation. He also tried it at the Ministry of Public Education, without much success. He sold three paintings to the National Institute of Fine Arts and it is this same institution that is cataloging the work. “The Cenidiap maintains a technical support agreement and the researchers of this center do not have authorization to be interlocutors before any means of communication by Mrs. María O’Higgins, since the collection is her property,” replied the Research Center to EL PAÍS.

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