Richmond Art Center exhibit to explore works of Emmy Lou Packard

RAC’s ‘Artist of Conscience’ to explore the art, activism of Emmy Lou Packard
Emmy Lou Packard, Artichoke Picker, circa 1955. (Photo courtesy of the Richmond Art Center)

By Kathy Chouteau

The Richmond Art Center (RAC) will feature Artist of Conscience, an exhibition, from June 22 through Aug. 2, that will explore the life and work of Emmy Lou Packard (1914-1998), an artist not only known for her paintings, prints and murals, but also for her activism, per the center. Robbin Légère Henderson and Rick Tejada-Flores are curating the exhibition.

An Open Reception will be held Sat., June 18, from 2-4 p.m. at the RAC, 2540 Barrett Ave. in Richmond.

According to the RAC, the exhibition will be organized around significant periods of Packard’s life and “will tell the story of this remarkable, though overlooked, artist” via her artwork, photos and ephemera.

Packard had strong local ties. She worked at Kaiser Shipyard’s Fore ‘n’ Aft newspaper in Richmond during WWII, during which time she created images that “urged ending racial segregation and supported voting rights,” said the RAC. She also assisted her mentor, Diego Rivera, on a mural he painted in 1940 on Treasure Island for the Golden Gate International Exposition; the work is currently on display at SFMOMA.

Later, she was a mentor to many Bay Area female Chicana artists, and a few hours north, headed up an effort to keep the Mendocino headlands from development, said the center.

The artist was also a printmaker who created “portraits of workers, explorations of the joys of childhood, the beauty of nature and the importance of history,” per the RAC. A signature image she created—Peace is a Human Right—earned global distribution and featured three children of Asian, black and white ethnicity sitting around a sunflower. “The message is framed in human terms—children are not political; they are just children.”

The Emmy Lou Packard: Artist of Conscience exhibition will overlap SFMOMA’s own exhibition—Diego Rivera’s America—which will open July 16 and provide the opportunity to “learn about Packard’s mentor and understand her oeuvre within a broader artistic movement focused on social change and justice,” said the RAC. The center will partner with SFMOMA on a collaborative public program to be announced at a future date.
Funding from California Humanities and The Jay DeFeo Foundation have supported the upcoming exhibition, as have collectors and organizations that have loaned their work, including the Mendocino Art Center and Emmy Lou Packard’s son Donald Cairns and granddaughter Shannon Cairns. 

To learn more about events related to the exhibition, click here.