Trinity University Press

Terra Firma: Trinity University Press blog

Posts by Catherine Nixon Cooke

A Confluence of Civilizations

Dec 2, 2016 (3:05 pm)

Imagine 25,000 square feet of colored stones telling a story about people of diverse cultures and civilizations “meeting in the middle” to create a harmonious world. 

I am in love with the vibrant hues—and this message! It’s as relevant today as it was fifty years ago, when Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman created his Confluence of Civilizations mural for San Antonio. 

With a strict Irish father, a devoutly religious Mexican mother, and a grandmother who taught him to look for beauty in his own backyard, O’Gorman grew up in Guanajuato during the Mexican Revolution, and his life involved a fair amount of personal revolution as well. As a young architect, he designed Mexico’s first modern buildings. He was also recognized for his paintings and murals, which today are world renowned. 

Writing the biography of this complex and talented man was both a challenge and an opportunity to learn more about art, Mexican history, and the human spirit. I took several trips to Mexico to research the story; sipped tequila at the beautiful San Ángel Inn, where O’Gorman often entertained his international clients; and met architects, artists, and personal friends who shared insights and stories that helped me bring him to life. I even visited the house and studio that O’Gorman designed for his close friends Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and I sat on the austere twin bed where Rivera slept when he was mad at Frida. 

Now that Juan O'Gorman: A Confluence of Civilizations is published, I like to stop by O’Gorman’s famous mural in downtown San Antonio from time to time. It was the cornerstone of the city’s World’s Fair in 1968, and it will be a focal point for the new Hemisfair Park going forward, still telling its great story of diversity and harmony. It’s worth a visit!