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A social and political activist, as well as a noted California artist, Emmy Lou Packard was born in 1914 in California's Imperial Valley, not far from the Mexican border. When she was 14, living with her family in Mexico City, her mother took her to meet Diego Rivera, who was working on his Secretariat of Education frescoes. Diego encouraged her art work and became a mentor and friend. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1936, a natural sciences major. While at UC, she was editor of both the daily paper and literary magazine, as well as the first woman editor of the Pelican, the humor magazine. During her junior year, she married Burton Cairns, an architect, and they had a son, Donald. Burton died in a car crash in 1939. In 1940, Emmy Lou studied sculpture and fresco at the California School of Fine Arts and became Rivera's chief assistant on the Pan-American Unity mural that he painted for the World's Fair at Treasure Island. The mural is now in the lobby of the San Francisco City College Theatre.
Detail from the Pan American Unity mural
During WWII, Emmy Lou worked as a draftsman at the Ames Company in San Francisco, and then moved across the bay to Richmond to work on the Kaiser Shipyards newspaper, Fore'n Aft, for which, among other things, she drew the comic strip Super Mac. During this period, she painted more than 100 paintings of shipyard work.

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Welder, 1944- watercolor
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In 1946 she started working in plexiglas as an artistic medium, doing edge-lighted tables, murals, and laminated screens.

Laminated plastic screen, North Beach scenes