The years Emmy Lou has lived have enriched her pictorial language but have not destroyed in this fine painter of today, who handles beautifully, fresco, watercolor and oil, with masterly drawing, the precious qualities of the child I met in Mexico thirteen years ago.
- Diego Rivera, The Paintings of Emmy Lou Packard, 1941
Born in the Imperial Valley of California in 1914 to social activist parents, Packard was exposed throughout her childhood to the woes of mankind, and quickly learned to express these feelings through her art.
At the age of thirteen she first met and befriended Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Being exposed to thinkers and artists concerned with social issues encouraged her to study art as a vehicle for political speech and human rights activism. In 1935 Packard received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of California, Berkeley, where she became the first woman art editor of the Dailey Californian, the Occident (campus magazine), and The Pelican (campus humor magazine). She went on to study sculpture and frescoes at the San Francisco Academy of Art.
While Packard was in San Francisco, she worked with Diego Rivera on his fresco that is now at City College and afterwards joined him and Frida at their home in Mexico City. She stayed there for a year working on her photography, and painting in oils and watercolors, and returned to exhibit them at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
In the following years, Packard worked on many murals, mosaics, oil paintings, prints and photographs. She worked to achieve a universal human spirit in her work that corresponded with the world’s wars and turmoil. Throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars, her powerful prints of wounded babies sketched in black lines punctuated by an explosion of blood red, created visceral responses in their viewers.