Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history

Season 4, Ep. 5, “Soul of God” – the Life & Works of Utah Raised Mexican Muralist Pablo O’Higgins – A Conversation with Susan Vogel, Fanny Guadalupe Blauer and Catherine Aviles

July 20, 2022 Brad Westwood, Senior Public Historian, Utah Dept. of Culture & Community Engagement Season 4 Episode 5
Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history
Season 4, Ep. 5, “Soul of God” – the Life & Works of Utah Raised Mexican Muralist Pablo O’Higgins – A Conversation with Susan Vogel, Fanny Guadalupe Blauer and Catherine Aviles
Show Notes

Date: Feb. 28, 2022 (Season 4, Episode 5: 73 minutes). Click here for the Utah Dept of Culture & Community Engagement shownotes for this episode.  Click here for more SYP episodes.

The episode’s focus is on Paul Higgins, a 20th century artist, Utah born and bred (middle class, Presbyterian, his father a mining attorney), who became "Pablo Esteban O'Higgins," a beloved Mexican muralist. His devotees thought of his work as expressing the "Soul of God," through his empathic capturing of everyday life.  At his death he was a recipient of a Mexico state funeral. Pablo was also an ardent Communist. The book, Susan Vogel’s riddle-of-a-life story entitled Becoming Pablo O’Higgins: How An Anglo American Artist Became a Mexican Muralist (2010). Vogel is joined In this conversation by co-host Catherine Aviles and Fanny Guadalupe Blauer, Executive Director of Artes de Mexico en Utah.   

The conversation begins with post-Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)“Muralism” (large-scale, socially conscious public art, expressing political and cultural identities) which remains today a worldwide art movement, inspired by murals of everyday people, laborers and heroes. The conversation then turns to Salt Lake City’s many public murals and to one of the city’s most vibrant cultural organizations, Artis de Mexico en Utah (est. 2011).

O’Higgin’s story includes his early work with Diego Rivera (1886-1957, who redefined Mexican culture after the Mexican Revolution), knowing Frida Kahlo (1907–1954, beloved Mexican artist and femanist), watching the intrigue of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940, Marxist theorist and politician, exiled and murdered in Mexico), mentoring Marion Greewood (1909-1970, American artist working in Mexco) and the artist’s unrequited love for Tina Modotti (1896-1942, Italian photographer, model and revolutionary acitivist). The episode also tells of O'Higgins father, Edward Higgins (surnames spelled differently), who in an ironic twist, plays a part in Utah’s execution of Joe HIl (1879-1915), possibly the world’s most lionized labor union martyr and hero. 

Pablo’s early art training was in SLC’s East High School with James Harwood (1860-1940, who studied at l'Ecole de Beaux Arts) and LeConte Stewart (1891-1990, perhaps Utah's most beloved rural landscape painter). O'Higgins was influenced deeply by Stewart, and repelled by what Harwood represented--formal, académie inspired art. Aided by his devoted mother Alice McAfee Higgins, O'Higgins was invited to Mexico City where he begins to work alongside Diego Rivera.

BIOS: Susan Vogel co-founded Artes de Mexico en Utah in 2011.  She is the author of the only English language biography of this Utah-born Mexican muralist. Susan’s gateway to loving Mexican art and history was by way of Mexico’s discotheques and marrying into a family from Guadalajara.  Fanny Guadalupe Blauer graduated from the Instituto Politecnico Nacional as a CPA, and holds a certification of an Anthropology from the Center for Research & Advanced Studies of Social Anthropology (CIESAS: Mexico City). Since 2019 Fanny has served as executive director for Artes de Mexico en Utah.  Catherine Aviles, co-producer of the podcast Speak Your Piece (2021-early 2022), has been an educator in Utah for 12 years. Cat has worked for the SLC Library, SLC School District, the Utah Dept. of Culture & Community Engagement and the Natural History Museum of Utah.  She is also the former director for Artes de Mexico en Utah.  Write us at – askahistorian@utah.gov