The Ford House

Edsel & Eleanor Ford House tells the story of the home life of a prominent American family.

The Arts: Diego Rivera

The Fords had a long association with the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Detroit's major art museum, where Edsel served on the Board of Trustees. The Fords' hope was that art would enrich the lives of others, as well as their own. During the Depression, they helped to pay the salaries of the professional staff of the Detroit Institute of Arts to avoid a shutdown.

When William Valentiner, long-time director of the DIA, conceived the project of having artist Diego Rivera transform the DIA's inner court with fresco murals, Edsel Ford underwrote the costs. Edsel and Rivera formed a curious patron-artist relationship, with the communist Mexican artist finding a genuine admiration for Edsel's commitment to esthetics and design in his automotive industry. Rivera not only immortalized Edsel as patron in the murals, but his canvas portrait of Edsel shows him, then president of Ford Motor Company, before a triptych of the long blackboards used in the automotive design process. Upon these blackboards appears a sketch of the current design project, reminiscent of a 1932 Ford Coupe, which seems to spring from Edsel's mind. According to Valentiner's biographer, Rivera came to feel that Edsel, as a car designer, was fully qualified to be considered an artist in his own right.

Though controversial in their day, the frescos, entitled "Detroit Industry," stimulated a large increase in attendance at the DIA, which pleased Eleanor and Edsel. Although many influential citizens wanted them destroyed, Edsel quietly stood firm in his defense of the murals as they were Rivera's artistic tribute to the quality of Detroit's automotive labor force. Most historians and art historians look upon Edsel Ford's determined stand as a major statement in the defense of politically controversial art.

Other Diego Rivera resources:

  • A virtual Diego Rivera Museum Visit the web site - www.diegorivera.com
  • Rivera, Diego, MY ART, MY LIFE, An Autobiography, New York, Dover Publications, 1991.
  • Pete Hamill, Diego Rivera, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1999. (both available in the Gallery Shop)
  • Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts, Diego Rivera, A Retrospective, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1986.

To view the Detroit Industry fresco murals, visit:
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48202
Telephone 313.833.7900
www.dia.org