Detroit – April 2019 – Diego Rivera Murals

In 1932 famed artist Diego Rivera was commissioned by Edsel Ford and the Director of the Detroit Institute of Art Wilhelm Valentine to produce 27 fresco murals depicting the industry of Detroit, specifically the automotive industry.




The timing and subjects continue to this day to be controversial. Rivera had a socialist view towards society, while he was commissioned by one of the great capitalists of all time, the Ford family. In addition just before Rivera arrived there had been a protest at Ford by workers, who were fired upon with gunshots resulting in the deaths of six marchers.

The courtyard that contains the murals is oriented on a north-south-east-west orientation. Starting with the east wall (where the sun rises each day), there are symbolism of birth. A close look at the wider fresco shows a baby in the bulb of a plant. The two nudes hold grain and fruit, symbolizing a bountiful harvest of America, and show some of the earliest technology in agriculture.





The west wall, sunset, represents endings and last judgement. It shows both the good and bad of technology, as represented by airplanes that can transport people but also be used as an instrument of war.

The large narrow middle panel is tying together the agricultural south and industrial north, as well as the shipping industry present in Detroit to bring the two together.




The top panel of the north and south walls are known as the ‘four races’. The faces represent African, European, Asian and Native Americans, in a look of deities. Beneath this panel geological requirements for the production, associating it with the races above (which I am certain would be met with disdain today)

The panel on the upper right was the most controversial of all. It’s interpretation of a Renaissance view of Jesus’s birth, only the figures include actress Jean Harlow (making a second appearance) as the nurse and the Lindbergh baby as the infant. Most of Detroit religious community wanted the entire work destroyed because of this panel but Edsel and Wilhelm held firm.

The main panel on the north and south walls represent the production of a 1932 Ford V8.




As with the north wall, the south wall has a number of panels. The top center are figures holding raw materials used in the production of the automobile, continuing with the various races of mankind.

Below them are limestone, and various fossils used in glass manufacturing.

As with the north wall there are other smaller panels depicting other Detroit industry, as well as a continuation of the small monochrome panels of ‘a day in the life of the worker’.





A closer look at the north wall panel shows the workers with green skin, as a result of the formaldehyde used in the manufacturing process. It was in this type of symbolism that Rivera is showing what the workers ultimately have to pay to have jobs.




Ford Motors had long been ahead of the industry in employment of all races, and it is represented in the mural where the white and black workers are working for the common cause (capitalism, not for themselves).




The assembly of the chassis is coming together, with the steering columns and other components. Nearly every item had symbolism.




A notorious floor supervisor, who made life difficult for the workers was represented as a stern manager in this panel. This real life person was M.L. Bricke.





Also on this wall is a panel of the door manufacturing.




In this panel you see a number of visitors to the factory floor including religious leaders. The women in the brown plaid dress was done in the image of an actress of the time, Jean Harlow.




The small red car in the middle of this photo is the only fully assembled automobile in all of the 27 panels. Rivera was more interested in the process, rather than the result.





The stamping machine was chosen to represent the Aztec deity Coatlicue, a goddess of creation and war that required much human sacrifice. In this panel Rivera is clearly stating the workers have to sacrifice much for the company.




This panel on the west wall features the boss, who is an amalgamation of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.





In one of the ‘day in the life’ panels, it shows Henry Ford teaching the workers (including the famed ‘The Thinker’) how an engine works.

Note the engine is actually a dog, with the gear shift knob being his tail.




A close up of the west wall shows the aforementioned airplanes, as well as the shipping panel.




A close up of a north wall panel depicts insect like figures in gas masks making gas weapons. Given that this was completed less than 20 years after World War I where gas warfare became common, it is clearly a statement on the evil of such an en devour.





With an accurate rendering of the Rouge Factory powerhouse, it is a symbol that the worker too has some level of power.





River even worked himself into the piece. He is the worker in the bowler hat.

While his spouse Freida Kahlo assisted him in the drawings to prepare for the commission, Rivera did all of the painting. He was known as a task master who overworked his underpaid assistants, and eventually drove Freida away as well, but for this series of murals Rivera was at his finest artistically.








Detroit – April 2019 – Controlled Urban Exploring

Unfortunately for Detroit when your population goes from nearly 2 million to 600,000, and most of the jobs leave the city you are left with a lot of vacant properties. One of the most famous is the 3.5 million square foot Packard Automobile Factory.




Completed in the early 1900s, it was state of the art for it’s time.




At one point there were 90 buildings in use across the campus. Today only one remains in use, the rest are decaying to various degrees.




Designed by Albert Kahn it was a model factory for 1911. This view is of the former administration office building.




The complex has been vacant so long a tree has grown over a fire hydrant.




At it’s peak 40,000 people worked here.




Today bridges lead to nowhere.




While it closed in the 1950s as a car factory, portions of it were used for a variety of other purposes until the 1990s.



There is a large amount of graffiti throughout.




Including places you wonder how they got up there.




Debris is strewn about everywhere, including this column from one of the buildings with the rebar wrapped around it.




The campus has a tunnel complex throughout – originally used to provide electrical and other utilities.




Today it is mostly filled with debris like tires. The light down the tunnel is from collapses on down the line.




This bridge ‘sort of’ connects two buildings.




Some random dumping, including a boat that was then covered in graffiti.




A bumper – but no car.




Our intrepid white hard hatted group wandered about with the Pure Detroit guide learning about the history of the Packard Company and the facility.




At last we made our way up the ramp to where the assembly line ended.




With a look down the line. In the history of the factory over 1.5 million cars and trucks were produced here.




Some of the more artistic graffiti.




One of the buildings minus every single window frame (the glass has been gone from the buildings for decades).




Some of the buildings were originally built with 2 floors, but later expanded. Look closely you will note that the columns are slightly different between the floors indicated a later construction for the upper floor.




There were a number of hard core photographers in the group.




This building still has some remaining window frames, at a great happenstance view.




An elevator building that is amazingly still somewhat standing.




Ironically the complex has become popular with large scale movie production – this ‘concrete’ is actually a piece of Styrofoam painted to look like concrete from the latest ‘Transformers’ movie.




The last bastion of glass…




A survivor of the apocalypse – or a slightly burnt teddy bear in a factory in Detroit, minus one arm but still a smile.




The front building area has been cleared of debris as they try and restore it to a functional state.




While the office area has been cleared out waiting for a lot of money to come along to rebuild.




The funeral for the Packard Automobile Company was held over 60 years ago, and the factory itself over 20 years ago – but Detroit still holds out hope someone will bring this amazing place back from the dead. (and it was total coincidence a vintage hearse drove by while we were standing there waiting on the tour).







Detroit – April 2019 – The Fisher Building

A weekend in Detroit touched on a significant amount of the auto industry history without really seeing an actual car (except the obvious high percent of American made cars on the streets and freeways of the city).

An organization called ‘Pure Detroit’ offers tours of historic structures, including the Fisher Building. Completed in 1928 as an Art Deco masterpiece, the Fisher was designed by noted Detroit architect Albert Kahn.





Despite being one of the tallest buildings in the city when completed, it is not downtown, rather about 3 miles north in an area that was named ‘New Center’. Developed in the 1920s New Center was envisioned as one of the original ‘edge cities’.

In reality the Fisher Brothers had tried to purchase a complete city block downtown, but at that time Detroit was a boom town and no land was available, making the New Center option even more attractive.




The Fisher Brothers founded Fisher Body, who provided the automobile bodies to General Motors. Most of the office space in New Center was occupied by GM, and their suppliers.

They chose this area to be closer to their factories.





As you enter the three story barrel vaulted concourse. The building is noted mostly because it contains forty (yes 40) different types of marble.

The Fisher Brothers were noted for their philanthropy and they felt that by providing a grand space for their business, as well as the public in general, they were giving back to the city.





As an architect Kahn had to be elated when the Fisher Brothers essentially said, spend what you need, make it memorable.





Including in the building is the Fisher Theater. With over 2000 seats it remains one of the oldest theaters in the city. The day we were there a matinee of ‘Hamilton’ was performing, resulting a large crowd gathering as we completed our tour.





Even areas like a small food court is opulent.





The mosaics, as well as other pieces of sculpture and frescoes were completed by Geza Maroti. As with much of the art in the period, the works have symbolism, including numerous eagles symbolizing America stretching to greater heights.





Lighting is always difficult to capture properly but when made the focus they make an interesting look.





A close up of the ceiling reveals one of the numerous tributes to knowledge.





The mezzanine level offers a nice glimpse of the ceiling, along with the main concourse.





The railing are very stylish….





… but obviously not OSHA complaint height.





The mezzanine level has great symmetry.






Just across the street is Cadillac Place. From the 1930s until the 1970s, this was the headquarters of GM.





From the 26th floor there was a nice view back toward downtown Detroit on this hazy day.

Our effervescent tour guide Jordan was great. She was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable – Pure Detroit should be proud to have her.






Cleveland – March 2019 – People, Art & Machines

Mid March means it is time for the Piston Powered Show at the IX Center in Cleveland. As the name indicates this show features all things with a piston: Cars, Motorcycles, Trucks, an Airplane, Tanks, Snowmobiles, and even a Steam Shovel – plus a few things without pistons.

Most of the cars are ‘by invitation’, which means they are the best of the best. To make it to be one of the best in a custom car show you must have good graphics – and this show has that. It also has a great collection of people who have as much character as the vehicles – all filling the million square foot (93,000 square meters) building.

As you enter the vast hall you are immediately greeted with some really nice restorations.




As noted previously, many had customized paint jobs including this mid 1960s Chevy El Camino hood.




A number incorporated famous graphics, like Speedy Gonzalez.




This customized Willy’s sedan had a matching mannequin.




The participants came from numerous states in a 500 mile radius of Cleveland, including this great paint job from Kentucky.




For some the audience made a good match for the car.




A Zombie car – because why not.




The Zombie car’s door art.





Most of the motorcycles were customized Harley’s, many containing skulls.





Some craftsmen were displaying their skills – he was cutting leather.




This car was a repeat from a couple of years ago that was my posting’s feature photo – still one of the very best custom designs I have ever seen.




An aptly named 1957 Chevy.





A group of local technical high schools were having a competition to tear down and rebuild an engine in less than 30 minutes. Not sure why these guys were wearing helmets though.





While most of the custom bikes were Harley’s this great sport bike paint job features a customization of the ‘Guardians of Transportation’ sculptures on a large Cleveland bridge. Ironically I was wearing my ‘Dia de la Muertos (Day of the Dead)’ T shirt that featured the same sculpture in a skeleton look, so I fit in with the theme on all the bikes.




There was a classic wooden boat display as well. The boats themselves are works of art!




As is this sweet 1948 Buick Convertible.




Even a plain old 1960s Ford Station Wagon can be made to look great.




There were a couple of internet radio stations present – this one is a community station that, among other things, featuring racing.




I am not positive what it is, but I am certain it is NOT a Prius.




Mixing classic art and hot rods.




Many had names.




Most had pistons, but not this turbine jet car.





Some cars like the ‘rat rod’ rusty, beat up look – some like the pristine restoration. This Paddy Wagon was somewhere in between, but still cool.





Also featured were a number of artists showing how they make the great graphics we saw on all the vehicles.




All obviously have very steady hands.




The detail is amazing.




His shirt says it all.




It is amazing on the metal how little paint it took to go a long ways.




This guy had great pedal cars.




Not sure how a bowling pin got into a car show – but hey it is Cleveland.




Ready for St Patricks Day.




The emcee, and auctioneer, had character. She was auctioning off the finished pieces for charity.

Once again the Piston Powered Show was a great way to spend a day inside checking out a great collection of vehicles, people and art.







Cleveland – March 2019 – Check Out Those Wheels

Since we were in Cleveland, and the car show was going on – well everyone has their addiction. For this show the focus is on the actuals wheels.

I would assume some car today would come with hubcaps, but I didn’t see any.

We did check out complete cars, including this bright orange Camaro.







What’s a car show without ‘Product Specialists’. This guy was so still I thought at first he was part of the sign. Once again each car company had their Product Specialists dressed the same.







The amazing Lego Chevrolet Pickup made it’s way over from Chicago. Either they are glued together or those are some amazing Lego’s to stay together on the Indiana Toll Road.







While the really cool Camaro had all black wheels that didn’t make a statement this simple Chevy SUV had really stylish wheels.







Most high performance cars, like this Dodge Challenger, have their brake calipers in red to show off how large they are. I can see the all black wheels here.






Again – a high performance car with all black wheels. The Alfa Romeo Gulia.





A Nissan Altima near production prototype has fairly basic, but nice looking wheels.





Another excited Product Specialist. Although to be fair this has to be a tough job standing their all day as thousands of people come by asking questions. I love her look of ‘Scotty Beam Me Up’.





The Honda electric cars have these quasi fender skirts.





While this Toyota has also gone with the geometric styling approach.





Also at the show this year were a few movie cars, including the Scooby wagon and the Dumb and Dumber van.







A Product Specialist doing her thing.





If you surmised this is a sports car with the massive brake calipers, you would be correct – a Ford Mustang.





The Cleveland Browns have their first winning season in forever with a rookie quarterback named Baker Mayfield and they are painting cars for him.

To be fair a main street through the eastern suburbs is (and has always been) Mayfield Road.

Being the Browns I will bet they crash and burn this year, going back to their familiar last place 🙂





This Product Specialist is extolling the virtues of her car – but by the looks of the people in the background they aren’t buying what she is selling.







The dad – how cool is this. The mom – where does the car seat go?





I have been thinking what I will do when I retire, and really like cars. Maybe go into a auto detailing business….nah I will keep my day job.





I have found the next ride! And the wheels aren’t all black.









Chicago – February 2019 – The Cars and People of America’s Largest New Car Show

What do you get when you take America’s third largest metro population combined with the largest convention center in the country – the largest new car show!





With over 1000 cars and trucks scattered over two of the halls, each auto maker had room to show their standard cars (and trucks) and some special ones, like this Chicago Bears football team truck.





Alfa Romeo brought an F1 car.





To be honest most new cars are boring, and all look alike, so for this show I emphasized on the cars and people, including the ‘Product Specialists’.

Fortunately the auto shows have moved away from the ‘booth babe’ concept and the presenters actually know what they are talking about.





I have found that the larger shows like here and Detroit have a lot of extra features, like this engine display. There were over 10 different engine displays like this scattered throughout the hall.





Cadillac took an interesting approach and displayed this mint 1959 next to current cars. The ’59 showed them all up, as far more people surrounded this car than all the new ones in their display put together.





Like this boring box on wheels. Good luck to the Product Specialist to bring something exciting about this car.





All car shows have people who are constantly wiping finger prints off the cars. Here they all were dressed in these cool overalls like a New Car Show Pit Crew.





Even Porsche has mostly boring SUVs and sedans – but at least the 911 lives on!





Somehow 1974 got mixed in with 2019.





Land Rover had a huge area in the back where they showed the joys of all wheel drive. Jeep and Dodge Trucks had similar setups but they pale in comparison to this.





Not sure exactly what they were seeing but they were getting into it.





I believe this group was shopping cars for their grandparents, because I can’t imagine anyone of this age would have any interest in the ultra safe, boxy Volvo.





Another Product Specialist excited to tell us about their vehicle. All the presenters were very professional and could talk for hours (well minutes) about their car.





There were a few concept cars present, but this one from Lexus looks close to production.





Does this car have enough room in the rear seat for my friend?





Locked? How can I get in?





Hit the starter and lets get out of here – even if you can’t see over the steering wheel.





Thank a Robot for staying off the display and automating most of the production jobs. Thanks Robots!





I will take the dirt bikes and leave the Jeep.





Easily the most passionate presenter was for the Dodge Hellcat – 800 HP of smoke and noise.





The Toyota Impossible – like it will be impossible for this to sell in America.





Where are we – oh yeah – Chicago.





It was Latino Day at the Car Show – even Telemundo Chicago had their new truck (or camión de noticias). Especially cool was the singer doing Sinatra in Spanish.





Did you ever wonder why the car next to you has to blast their music so loud you can hear it through their closed windows and yours. Well they have taken care of that – the speakers are on the outside!

Oh boy.





Yes it really is a full size Chevy Silverado made entirely out of Legos.





Enough of this reality – lets go virtual and get out of here.







Cleveland – February 2019 – Radwood

There is a group of auto enthusiasts who celebrate the 1980s and 90s automotive style couple with the overall feel of the time. They encourage period correct dress to go along with the cars.

Normally held outdoors with large audience participation I read online that the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum was holding an exhibit.





The small display of about a dozen cars did feature some fashion.





Some of it the classic (some would say tacky) look straight from Miami Vice.





It is not their goal to have the best, or most expensive cars presented, just ones that are representative of the era.

Overall the exhibit was disappointing because it lacked that audience participation. Fortunately there is more to see at the Crawford.





Most of the museum celebrates the long history of auto making in Cleveland and northern Ohio. One of the longest in business was White Motors who started building cars and trucks in 1900.





In addition to the cars and planes there are numerous large banners celebrating historic Cleveland events including the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition.








For many years Cleveland held the national air races. The exhibit includes a couple of the planes.





The lower level featured more automobiles with historic significance..













We finished by checking out this sweet Cleveland motorcycle