Emmy Lou Packard papers, 1900-1990

A Finding Aid to the Emmy Lou Packard Papers, 1900-1990, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

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Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Emmy Lou Packard was born in Imperial Valley, California on April 15, 1914, to Walter and Emma Leonard Packard. In the late 1920s she lived with her family in Mexico City where she became acquainted with Diego Rivera, from whom she received regular art criticism and encouragement. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and completed courses in fresco and sculpture at the California School of Fine Arts in 1940. That year and the next, Packard worked as a full-time painting assistant to Rivera on his 1,650 square-foot fresco at the World's Fair in San Francisco. During this project, Packard became very close to Rivera and Frida Kahlo and returned to Mexico with them and spent a year living with the couple.

From then on, except for in 1944-1945 working for a defense plant, Packard worked and grew in various aspects of her art. In addition to her work in fresco, Packard is known for her work in watercolor, oil, mosaic, laminated plastic, concrete, and printmaking, both in linocuts and woodblocks. She received numerous commissions that included installations for ships, hotels, and private homes for which she executed large woodcuts and mural panels. During the 1950s and 1960s, Packard was hired to restore several historic murals, most notably the Rincon Annex Post Office mural by Anton Refregier and the Coit Tower murals in San Francisco.

Between 1966 and 1967 she was commissioned by architects to design and execute a number of concrete and mosaic pieces, one of which went to the Mirabeau Restaurant in Kaiser Center, Oakland. She also designed and executed a mural for the Fresno Convention Center Theater during that same period. In 1973-1974, she designed and supervised a glazed brick mural for a public library in Pinole, California.

Packard had one-woman shows at the San Francisco Museum of Art, Raymond and Raymond Gallery (San Francisco), Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, Mass.), Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Pushkin Museum (Moscow), and March Gallery (Chicago). Emmy Lou Packard died in 1998.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The Emmy Lou Packard papers measure 9.4 linear feet and date from 1900 to 1990, and focus on the career of painter, printmaker, muralist, and sculptor Emmy Lou Packard. Also found are extensive materials relating to Packard's personal and professional relationship with muralist Diego Rivera and painter Frida Kahlo, with whom Packard lived for one year in Mexico. Papers include correspondence, financial records, notes, writings, exhibition files, photographs, and printed material.

Biographical materials include resumes, personal forms, and certificates. Correspondence is with family, friends, and colleagues, including muralist Anton Refregier, songwriter Malvina Reynolds, and composer John Edmunds. There is one letter from Dorothea Lange. Also found is correspondence with various political and arts organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Russian magazine Soviet Woman. Much of the correspondence discusses personal relationships and political and art-related activities. Additional correspondence with and concerning Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is arranged in Series 6.

Personal business records found within the papers include studio real estate and rent records, insurance records, price lists for artwork, consignment records, and miscellaneous receipts. There is one interview transcript of an interview with Packard for the Radical Elders Oral History Project. The papers include a series of notebooks/diaries, address lists, and other notes.

Packard's reference files and personal papers documenting her professional and close personal relationship with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are arranged into a separate series. They include her research files for a planned book on the two artists, personal letters between Packard and the couple, as well as several interesting photographs. Also found in this series are notes, writings, and printed materials relating to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and other Mexican artists, such as Covarrubius, Juan O'Gorman, and Pablo O'Higgins.

The collection also includes typescripts and additional writings by Packard and others. Artwork consists of orginal drawings and prints by Packard and others not directly associated with projects. Exhibition and project files for many of Packard's commissioned projects are also found within the collection, including her files for the restoration of Anton Refregier's Rincon Annex Post Office mural in San Francisco and the Coit Tower murals in San Francisco. Many of the project files contain correspondence, reports, contracts, printed material, photographs, and artwork.

The papers also include photographs of Packard, her family, residences, artwork, friends, and colleagues, including Cesar Chavez, Juan O'Gorman, Malvina Reynolds, Charles Safford, Ralph Stackpole, and Tennessee Williams. Two scrapbooks are found, as well as additional printed materials such as clippings and exhibition announcements and catalogs. There are also two artifact items, a vinyl record of Malvina Reynolds and a political campaign button.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into fifteen series.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:

  • American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Covarrubias, Miguel, 1904-1957
  • Edmunds, John, 1913-
  • Kahlo, Frida
  • Lange, Dorothea
  • O'Gorman, Juan, 1905-
  • O'Higgins, Pablo, 1904-
  • Public Works of Art Project
  • Refregier, Anton, 1905-
  • Reynolds, Malvina
  • Rivera, Diego, 1886-1957
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Mural painting and decoration, American
  • Mural painting and decoration, Mexican
  • Muralists--California--San Francisco
  • Painters--California--San Francisco
  • Photographs
  • Printmakers--California--San Francisco
  • Scrapbooks
  • Sculptors--California--San Francisco
  • Sketches
  • Works of art


Emmy Lou Packard donated her papers to the Archives of American Art from 1984-1988.

Separated and Related Materials

Also found in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Emmy Lou Packard conducted by Mary Fuller McChesney in 1964.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed and described by Jean Fitzgerald in 2002. The collection was microfilmed on reels 5812-5820; the microfilm is no longer in circulation. The collection was prepared for scanning by Judy Ng and digitized in 2012 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Emmy Lou Packard papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2012 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Blank pages, blank versos of photographs, photographs of artwork, duplicates, and exhibition catalogs of other artists have not been scanned. In most cases, the cover, title page, and individual relevant pages have been scanned from published materials.

The unpublished sound recording in this collection was digitized for research access in 2012 and is available at the Archives of American Art offices. Researchers may view the original cassette for the archival notations on them, but the original cassette is not available for playback due to fragility.

How to Cite this Collection

Emmy Lou Packard papers, 1900-1990. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory