The Summer of Frida is my theme for this week’s Monday Window hosted by Ludwig Keck. People in the Chicago area – especially in the suburbs of Glen Ellyn and Wheaton – are going gaga over Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist who painted a variety of subjects reflecting her experience and Mexican culture, as well as many self-portraits meant to portray her own thoughts and feelings.
At the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the theatre on campus built a brand new gallery in 2018-19 specifically to house an exhibit of 26 Frida Kahlo works borrowed from the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City. After negotiating with the museum for the exhibit, they planned for it to take place in the summer of 2020.
We all know what happened in 2020 – Covid-19 – so the exhibit was postponed, and opened with great success and fanfare on June 5, 2021. It will run until early September.
The exhibit is expected to draw large crowds, so one must buy tickets online with a specific date and time for entry. Already reservations have come in from 48 states and 6 other countries! Not wanting to lose the opportunity to capitalize on this event, the suburban communities of Glen Ellyn and its neighbor, Wheaton, have decorated their downtown areas with festive “papel picado” (colorful banners of crepe paper with designs cut in them), large pots of colorful flowers (Frida Kahlo loved flowers, which figure prominently in her work) and by painting images of the artist on the windows of stores and restaurants.
I have a good friend who lives in Wheaton and is a Spanish professor at the college, so after we toured the exhibit, we went to downtown Wheaton for lunch, where we saw several of these windows.
Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacan, Mexico in 1907 to a German father and a Mexican mother. Her father was a photographer, so there are many photos of Frida and her family. At school, she was studying the prerequisites for medical school but in 1926, on her way home from school, the bus she was riding in was in a serious accident when it collided with another vehicle.
Frida was thrown to the ground and suffered serious injuries from which she never fully recovered, in spite of having several surgeries. While in a body cast, she began to paint on it, thus initiating her career as an artist.
She broke her pelvic bone, and fractured her back in three places, the result of which she was almost always in pain, and was not able to birth a child.
At the age of 20, she married the famous muralist Diego Rivera, and spent time in New York, San Francisco, and Detroit, where he had commissions to paint murals. Diego said of Frida that she was a better painter than he was! Anyone who sees the beauty of her subjects, and the intricate details and symbolism in her paintings would tend to agree!
Coincidentally, there’s a new biography out by Celia Stahr, called Frida in America. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in knowing more about Frida Kahlo and her work. Several of her works, mainly those painted while she lived in the United States, are featured in the book.