The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Hamilton Library was a key partner in an international exhibition in Mexico City celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Muralist Movement.
A major holder of the works of renowned muralist, writer and former UH faculty Jean Charlot (1898–1979), Hamilton Library staff and students were involved in a year-long process to loan 25 of Charlot’s artworks for The Spirit of 22, A Century of Muralism in San Ildefonso, which opened in January 2023 at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, México, D.F. The venue is the location of Charlot’s first fresco mural, started October 2, 1922 and completed January 31, 1923.
Being able to play such an active part of the process…will eternally be a highlight for both my academic and professional careers.
—Kate Marsi, LIS student
“This was an incredible opportunity to feature one of the library’s special collections in this international exhibition,” said Art Archivist Librarian Malia Van Heukelem. “It has been a learning experience for all involved, but particularly for students to have the opportunity to learn and contribute. It is also important to our stakeholders—the Charlot Family, the Jean Charlot Foundation, local community members and Charlot scholars—to continue to share his art with the world.”
The exhibition includes 246 pieces featuring works by Charlot, and artists Diego Rivera, Fernando Leal, Ramon Alva de la Canal, Fermin Revueltas, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozo. In 1922, government officials commissioned the artists to create art on the walls of the former Jesuit school of Ildefonso that would educate the population about the country’s history and present a powerful vision of its future.
The collection of easel work, drawings, sketches, photographs, magazines and videos highlights the motivations that moved these young artists (ages 21 to 39 at the time), and delves into the avant garde cultural environment and ideas that animated life in Mexico 100 years ago.
In January 2022, over a dozen library staff and students began working on the loaning process to send off Charlot’s artwork to Mexico, a major undertaking for a library.
Students assisted with cataloging artwork, scanning images for publication, researching insurance replacement values, determining specifications for framing, helping paper conservator Liane Naʻauao with assembling the frames, and packing and sending off the crates that carried the art pieces. Staff were responsible for everything from preparing the loan agreements, working with the Charlot Estate on additional painting loan and copyright clearances and overseeing the logistics of the shipment.
“This opportunity with the Jean Charlot Collection is one of the most interesting things I have ever been able to take part in,” said Library Information Sciences graduate student Kate Marsi. “Being able to play such an active part of the process of preparing and lending pieces for an international exhibition will eternally be a highlight for both my academic and professional careers.”
In addition to viewing the exhibit, Van Heukelem presented at Transformacion ARLIS/NA held April 18–21 in Mexico City, a national conference of art librarians from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and a few other countries. Her two talks covered the process of supporting an international exhibition and the rare photographs of the first Mexican murals found in the Jean Charlot Collection by famous photographers Edward Weston and Tina Modotti.
Van Heukelem said she was thrilled to be able to see the exhibit in person and is proud of all the hard work the UH Mānoa Library and supporters put into making it happen.
“It was wonderful to see Jean Charlot receive the same recognition as the other Mexican muralists,” said Van Heukelem. “There was a dedicated gallery for his mural and other works, as well as a chapter in the exhibition catalog and booklet. It was rewarding to see all the work we put into supporting the international exhibition finally realized.”
The Spirit of 22: A Century of Muralism in San Ildefonso will be open for public viewing until June 12, 2023.
—by Arlene Abiang