Seeking Inspiration — Frida Kahlo: Part 2


In Frida Kahlo: Part I, I set out to build a picture of her life before her artistic success. I wondered how nature and nurture worked together to form this determined artist. Her first years were undoubtedly tumultuous, coping with her mother’s of affection, her sisters being sent away, and the affects of polio in her right leg.

Frida spent a lot of time in Guillermo Kahlo’s photography studio, learning about his craft. The meticulous brushstrokes she used to retouch and colour his photographs would later show in her own work. She developed a love of nature, often seen in her paintings, during photography expeditions with her father. Frida recounted that she learned to help him when he succumbed to epileptic seizures on such outings. One can’t help thinking that the experience must have been traumatizing for a little girl and particularly in the early 1900s with the laymen’s limited access to medical information.


Frida enjoyed shocking people with her fashion sense — German school girl attire, severe hairstyles, or traditional Mexican costume. She poses in in male attire with school friends. (Photo: Guillermo Kahlo, 1925)

Matilde, her mother, schooled Frida in embroidery, sewing, cooking and housekeeping in addition to forced Catholic practices. This was a steep contrast the offerings of her father’s library full of Goethe, Schiller, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Frida was one of the first girls to attend Mexico’s top schools,  Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. She passed the entrance exams with impressive scores and an intent to study anatomy, biology and botany in preparation for medical school. The influences of these studies are evidenced in her paintings. Mexico was undergoing a rebirth and so was Frida. She became involved in a student group called Cachuchas; their focus was intellectual and political. Meanwhile, Matilde opposed Frida’s moving away for an education.  Girls attending university was unheard of at the time and Frida was only 14 years old. Also, her mother disliked the co-ed school; 35 girls and 2000 boys.

Guillermo was the first official photographer of Mexico’s “national cultural patrimony” but when the dictator Diaz fell from power, the flow of commissioned work dissolved and the family fell on financial hard times. Frida helped by working odd jobs in a sawmill, a pharmacy and a factory. She also worked for family friend and respected print maker, Fernando Fernandez. He taught her to draw, and subsequently, was the first to recognize her artistic talent.

Frida Kahlo lies in hospital bed painting a collage on her plaster corset Photo: Juan Guzmán, 1951

Frida Kahlo lies in hospital bed painting a collage on her plaster corset (Photo: Juan Guzmán, 1951)

On December 17, 1925, Frida’s life took a fateful turn when the bus she was riding was struck by a tram. The wooden bus was crushed upon impact and Frida received devastating injuries: “fracture of third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, triple fracture to pelvis, approximately eleven fractures to right leg, dislocation of left shoulder, stomach wound due to metal rod entering left side an exiting by the vagina … acute peritonitis. Cystitis.” (consultation notes by Dr. Henriette Begun, 1946)

Matilde did not visit Frida over the duration of her hospital stay. It took her father three weeks to visit, his shock and grief was too great. Her sister, Matita, was the only family member to visit her in the hospital. Frida would later tell her artist husband, Diego Rivera, that she could live with infidelity, but never without loyalty. Perhaps this was the beginning of that need.


Frida Kahlo endured 22 surgeries over the course of her life. This photo was taken in 1940.

Frida Kahlo inspires me. She painted courageous and self revealing works of art through her physical and emotional suffering. She applied her pain to the canvas to tell her story. Her creativity distracted her from her situation. I will remember her persistence the next time a migraine strikes. The after effects can set me back creatively as they last for a few weeks. I find this derailment frustrating, but after researching this woman, I’ll call on my inner Frida. Also, the importance of forming a back story of family history for the characters I develop is further affirmed. We are the bits and pieces of the people, environment, and experiences that encounter as we journey through life. This context makes our story, and our characters’ stories, all the more gripping.

 Lead photo: by Nickolas Murray

Do you have something to share?  Perhaps a question?

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.


Categories: Seeking Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Curating Wonder — Off to the Sawmill





(A four photograph series)

Photo 1: Library and Archives of Canada / Photo 2 and 3 and 4: unknown source


“I wonder …”

How would you finish this sentence?

Categories: Curating Wonder | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seeking Inspiration — Frida Kahlo: Part 1


I first became aware of Frida Kahlo, as I suspect many people did, through Salma Hayek’s portrayal of her in the self titled movie Frida released in 2002. The imagery and music captivated me as did Frida’s complex multi faceted character. She lived in chaotic circumstances among an evolving cast of troubled figures, political activists and social nonconformists.

Much has been written about her life and art  and I confess a general awareness of  these. We are a sum of our parts, as they say, and it is these parts that I find interesting. Before she was the world’s Frida, who was she? What were the underpinnings of her rebellious and provocative personality? How did nature and nurture equip her to fight through the pain to produce the body of art work that still captivates audiences today?


Magdelena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón was born in a town south-west of Mexico City on July 6, 1907 to Karl Wilhelm Kahlo and Matilde Calderón y Gonzalez.  Frida’s father immigrated from Baden Germany with empty pockets and unable to converse in Spanish. His father, one of a long line of jewelers, had remarried following his wife’s death. Also, Wilhelm’s university education was derailed by a serious fall that resulted in a series of epileptic seizures. The culmination of these events strained the relationship between he and his father, hence the desire for a fresh start far from home.

Wilhelm soon changed his name to Guillermo and married a young Mexican woman. She sadly died giving birth to their second daughter. He later met Matilde Calderon at La Perla, a Mexico City jewelers where they both worked. Matilde was raised in a strict Catholic household, strongly rooted in Mexico’s history. Her grandfather had been a Spanish general. As the eldest of twelve children, she grew caring for her younger siblings. In the absence of maternal affection, she would be ill equipped to show love to her own future children.

Frida Kahlo at age 4 (Photo: Guillermo Kahlo)

Frida Kahlo at age 4 (Photo: Guillermo Kahlo)

Matilde married Guillermo and convinced him to follow along in her father’s photographer footsteps. She rejected the two daughters from Guillermo’s first marriage; the youngest was raised in a convent. She and her husband went on to have four daughters of which Frida was the youngest. The death of a son, at one years old, devastated Matilde. Baby Frida was put in the charge of a wet nurse. Matilde sank into a pattern of depression and illness that made it necessary for their two oldest daughters, Matita and Adriana, to care for Frida and her other young sister, Cristina.

At the age of six, Frida contracted polio, and for a lifetime suffered shooting pain through muscles in her right leg. She was bed ridden for nine months and received around the clock care. During this time of isolation, Frida developed an inner world, an escape of the imagination that would form the basis of her art


Frida Kahlo, age 12 (Photo: Guillermo Kahlo)

Guillermo devised an exercise program to help her regain strength. This was a novel approach for the time made even more forward thinking because of the traditionally male activities that it included: roller skating, biking, rowing, and wrestling. Frida’s leg remained thin, a fact she disguised with her attire,  and she walked with a limp. She developed a tough attitude to conceal her hurt feelings from other children’s mockery. “Frida pata de palo”, they called her, “peg leg Frida”.

Next week’s post, Frida Kahlo: Part 2, will continue to explore the ill fated youth of this extraordinary woman.

Lead Photo: by Mario Salmi

Do you have something to share?  Perhaps a question?

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.



Categories: Seeking Inspiration | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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