Updated: Aug 26
We invite you to join Carol Trittschuh, a dedicated board member and volunteer for the South Haven Center for the Arts, as she shares stories from her visit to Frida Kahlo's home in Mexico City, Casa Azul. Written below is Carol's narrative.
My husband and I spend many weeks in Mexico every year and, as a former Spanish teacher who loves to practice her language skills, we always feel comfortable there. Knowing that Frida was coming to South Haven, we decided to pay a visit to the home where she and her husband, Diego Rivera, lived in Coyoacan just outside Mexico City. John and I took a bus from Acapulco to Mexico City (5 hours each way). The next day we headed out to Frida's and had no trouble spotting her aptly-named "Casa Azul" - Blue House. We joined the line for reservation-holders and were happy to see it was only half a block long. We entered and immediately caught a glimpse of her garden area; so beautiful and welcoming. The tide of visitors, however, was quickly directed to make a sharp left and enter the first wing of her house. The garden would have to wait!
THE TOUR OF "CASA AZUL" BEGINS
Frida Kahlo lived in this house, with its exterior and garden-facing walls of vivid blue for 25 years. In her diary she described the palette of colors she used in her artwork and the emotion each color brought forth. To her, this bright blue suggested electricity, purity and love.
The interior walls were painted in very subdued neutrals and they formed a perfect backdrop for her own work and that of others. She painted many self-portraits at all stages of her life and she explained this by saying "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best."
Her father, German-born Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo, was a photographer and below her portrait of him, she described his qualities in a loving manner. She also included mention of the epileptic seizures that he suffered. Her own life was filled with misery and pain. Polio, as a 6 year old, left her right leg thinner and shorter than her left and she adopted long skirts later in life, in part, to conceal it. At her father's urging, she began to draw to occupy her many hours spent in bed.
In "El Autobus", painted after the accident, she depicts herself at age 18 riding the bus with a fellow student just before an oncoming electric streetcar crashed into it. She was horribly injured with many broken bones and internal injuries. Her lifestyle, as she had known it, was ended. The relentless pain of her injuries and the many resulting surgeries, along with her limited mobility, would profoundly affect her and this was reflected, sometime gruesomely, in her paintings.
This introduction to Frida gave us a new understanding of all that shaped her life and art.
FRIDA'S "CASA AZUL" CONTINUES TO FASCINATE US
The house tour progresses past a display of the authentic Tehuana-style, long-skirted clothing that she favored and that became a part of her "look". The Tehuana society, from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, was strong and matriarchal. Frida chose to emulate it for several reasons. She felt herself to be strong in the face of adversity, she embraced it as a celebration of the Mexican people, and, lastly, it concealed her bodily imperfections while showing her love of her country's working class.
Frida faced a difficult life. It was not only her physical injuries that challenged her, but also the tumultuous relationship she shared with her older and more-famous husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. They married, divorced and remarried and both were known to lack constancy in their life as husband and wife.
Throughout her life, Frida had to adjust to her physical limitations: first as a child with polio learning to draw and express herself from her bed and later, after her bus accident, painting from her bed and a wheelchair. Her easel was adapted to allow for enough up and down movement so that she could have access to every part of her canvas. Her bed in the next room was small, but the canopy above it boasted a framed collection of butterflies. It was given to her in the hopes it would cheer her with its beauty and inspire her to "fly" beyond her limitations. As with a typical Mexican home, the bedroom's window looked out on a central patio with gardens, seating areas and a pool with a mosaic tile design like this one depicting a frog.
This glimpse of her garden makes us even more eager to be outside.
AT LAST WE HEAD FOR FRIDA'S GARDEN!
The interior tour concludes with a view of Frida's kitchen. One is reminded that they often hosted friends and fellow artists around their table where politics, as well as art, was enthusiastically discussed and debated. And now, finally, we exit into Frida's garden.
The central patio abounds in native plants and trees and it is easy to understand why Frida found both solace and inspiration here. Gone were the parrots, monkey and dogs that appeared with her in photographs and paintings; however, it was easy to understand her fascination with the regeneration and beauty she saw in her garden. Native Mexican fruit, whether from her garden at that time or from the market, also appeared in her paintings. To me, these themes represented the lushness and fertility of the earth. Frida's grief over her inability to bear children is depicted in a number of her works and is often accompanied by elements of the natural world.
Both Frida and her husband, Diego Rivera, loved Mexico and had a strong sense of national pride in the working class. She adopted representative clothing, and banners and flags in celebration of Mexico were included in the artwork each created. They also both shared a fascination with collecting ancient Mexican artifacts. The large pyramid in her garden not only represents the history of long-ago Mexico, but provides a spectacular display of their collection. We linger awhile, admiring all that we see, before moving towards the exit.
GOODBYE, FRIDA! WE HAD A GREAT TIME!
I have formed numerous opinions about Frida over the course of several months and it has been a pleasure to share some of them with you along with a few of our photos of her house, "Casa Azul".
She seems to have been a woman of many parts and passions. She suffered from polio as a child and endured horrific pain and multiple surgeries after her trolley accident at age 18. She was forced to wear uncomfortable and limiting, but supportive, corsets for all of her adult life. The medical devices she wore are often seen in her work and frequently appear tortuous. A fascination with fertility, while unable to bear children, is a theme shown in some of her work, often depicted in a disturbing way. She was a staunch supporter of her country and its working class and reflected this in her choice of clothing. The themes of her paintings could be both universal and, sometimes, graphically personal.
As we left Frida Kahlo's garden and her beloved "Casa Azul", several thoughts ran through my head. Surely, she must have had many happy moments in her life; however, I couldn't remember ever seeing her fully smiling or laughing, whether in photographs, self portraits or those portraits painted by other artists. I also had the thought that she would be smiling, and maybe laughing, today to see how revered she is and to see the large number of people who come to pay her a visit.
HASTA PRONTO, FRIDA. MUCHAS GRACIAS!
MANY THANKS, FRIDA. SEE YOU SOON!
Carol Trittschuh grew up in Kalamazoo, but remembers day-tripping to SH for the beach and fishing off the pier. She also has fond childhood memories of taking clay and painting classes at the KIA. Much later, as an empty-nester and property owner in SH, she gladly accepted when, in 2009, she was asked to join SHCA and serve on the Board. As a self-described non-artist, she found her niche in Membership and has continued serving in that position throughout the years, nearly 8 of which have also been spent on the Board. Co-Chairing the Frida Kahlo's Garden Exhibition Committee is a challenge she meets with excitement and in her own words, "... it renews my admiration for the knowledge, energy and skills of our ED, staff and amazing volunteers."
Interested in becoming a member of the South Haven Center for the Arts? Join today!