I knew her when


Above, the marvelousSelf Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, one of Frida Kahlo’s most iconic works. It’s just one tiny part of the ginormous holdings of the University of TexasHarry Ransom Center. Not kidding folks, they have alot of stuff. From theoriginal manuscripts and private papers of Virginia Woolf to the blurryView from the Window at Gras, or as they call it at the HRC: The First Photograph (Ever). AGutenberg Bible here, a first draft ofCat on a Hot Tin Roof there,
Walt Whitman’s original edits forLeaves of Grass over here, and well, things add up. We’re talking stacks and stacks, the final scene ofCitizen Kane, orWarehouse 13. Anyway, I digress.

The video is about the great lengths taken to protect and care for Frida’s painting, which happens to be one of the most-loaned pieces from the HRC’s massive collection, having loggedthousands of miles in travel from one exhibition to another. In and of itself, it’s a fascinating look at the life of one work of art and the archivists who care for and protect it but that’s not the only thing I find interesting here.

In my last year of school at UT, in the fall of ’79 to be exact, I took an extraordinary women’s studies class, one of those experiences that we’ve (hopefully) all had, where the perfect subject matter presented by the perfect teacher at the perfect time in your life all collide into an experience you’ll never forget.

And that’s where I first learned about Frida Kahlo. This was four or five years beforeHayden Herrera’s groundbreaking biography (the latest edition of which now has Selma Hayek on the freaking cover) turned her into an icon. This was before Frida postcards, handbags, t-shirts, fake Frida eyebrows, and assorted other merch.

So there I was, just learning about this fascinating obscure Mexican artist, and lo and behold, there was an original Kahlo accessible right there on my campus. Very accessible, as it turned out.Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird wasn’t even in one of the HRC galleries. The same painting in the video below was at that time hanging on a wall in an open reception area of a fourth floor office in the Undergraduate Library, behind the desk of an admin. For real, I used to go look at it all the time. I mean really look at it. Like most of her work, it’s a fairly small painting. Said admin was amused by the stream of foot traffic to her desk as visitors scrunched in behind her to better study Frida, the cat, the monkey, the hummingbird and all those thorns.

Happy trails, Frida. Vaya con dios.

3 thoughts on “I knew her when

  1. Hey, I was at UT law when you were there!!! I graduated in ’81. UT was building the “new” law school library that was finished in about 1980. There was some magnificent artwork and artifacts included in that building.

  2. helena, do you remember when the HRC “lost” some Rembrandt etchings? They had so much stuff, they lost track of some of it. IIRC, the etchings were later tracked down, and had been loaned out to Lady Bird’s office.(She was a UT Regent at the time.)

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