Edsel Ford and Diego Rivera

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Edsel Ford and his wife, Eleanor, became noted patrons of the arts and collectors, so it was not surprising that in addition to his other philanthropic and civic activities, Edsel was president of the Arts Commission of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the city's leading art museum. In 1931 the commission, under his direction, hired the noted Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to create a series of frescoes on the walls of the museum's Garden Court.

Although an avowed Marxist, Mr. Rivera was fascinated with the capitalist system and the working of factories, and the majority of the frescoes captured scenes at Ford's River Rouge facility. Worked into the frescoes were images of both Henry and Edsel Ford, as well as Mr. Rivera himself. The "Detroit Industry" frescoes, as they came to be called, were completed in 1933 and caused a civic uproar.

Objections were raised because of panels showing nudes and also because of the artist's leftist political views. Calls came to have the murals painted over, but Edsel Ford, the museum staff and others in the arts community rallied to save the artwork, which Mr. Rivera later called his finest achievement.

A postscript: Soon after completing his Detroit project, Mr. Rivera was commissioned to do a fresco for the new Rockefeller Center in New York, but this mural was destroyed soon after its completion because the artist had included an image of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin-an image that he refused to delete.

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