Media Life: Auburn artist Martin Ramirez poised to extend reach to Europe

Outdoor premiere for American River documentary; Digital TV means more channels to surf
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The arc of Martin Ramirez’s art is continuing to soar, with an exhibition at a major European museum next year bringing his genius to an even wider audience. An absorbing mélange of trains, tunnels, horses, gun-toting cowboys and religious imagery, Ramirez’s surviving artistic output was created while he was a patient at Auburn’s DeWitt State Hospital from 1948 to his death in 1964. Two years ago, Ramirez’s star in the world of art ascended perceptibly when record crowds flocked to an American Folk Art Museum exhibition of more than 90 of his works. That helped touch off a critical re-evaluation of an artist who had been initially categorized as an outsider artist. By the end of the exhibition he was being hailed as one of the great draftsmen of the 20th century and the value of his work in art markets rose accordingly to hundreds of thousands of dollars for some pieces. Brooke Anderson, curator at the Folk Art Museum, said this week that she has taken on the task of organizing an exhibition for Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum. The showing of about 70 Ramirez drawings in a one-artist exhibition is a first for any museum outside the United States. The Reina Sofia Museum is home to Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” among many other major artworks, and is the principle Madrid location for important international exhibitions. Anderson said a publication in at least two languages is also being planned to accompany the exhibition opening in March 2010. She’ll be contributing to the book, as will Ramirez scholar and biographer Victor Espinoza. OBSCURE IN LIFE Ramirez lived in virtual obscurity while at the DeWitt Hospital and creating his dreamlike works. His story is one that highlights the challenges of the immigrant in California and the world he lived in from the 1930s on at California mental institutions. But the Ramirez story is also Auburn’s story. It’s about how DeWitt Hospital employees worked with a Sacramento psychologist to preserve drawings made with found materials that could just as easily have been burned or thrown out. It’s about Max Dunievitz, an Auburn doctor who provided colored pencils and other art supplies to Ramirez during the artist’s final years and collected many of his later works. It’s also about members of the Dunievitz family recognizing value in a pile of drawings that were bound for the trash after the doctor’s death in the 1980s. Those drawings – more than 120 of them – have become the rediscovered drawings that went on exhibition last year at the Folk Art Museum. Anderson said examples of the Dunievitz collection will be traveling to Europe for an exhibition that may also land in two other cities there. And they’ll be telling Auburn’s part in a story of an artist whose greatness is only now beginning to be recognized on what will soon be a much larger stage. Anderson said part of the story she’ll be exploring at the exhibition will be the role the DeWitt Theater played in Ramirez’s works. The theater still stands and Anderson said she’d like to hear from people with photos of the building – interior and exterior – during the time the artist was there. Her phone number is (212) 265-1040 Ext. 104. Her e-mail address is MORE MOVIES Saturday’s outdoor “night at the movies” brought to you at Overlook Park by Protect American River Canyons just got a whole lot better – and bigger. Originally billed as the world outdoor premiere of the great Western States Trail documentary “They Crossed The Mountains,” the free presentation in conjunction with the next day’s American River Confluence has just added a second flick. That would be the global outdoor premiere of “Above the American,” a documentary that debuted to raves as a pledge-drive program Monday on Sacramento’s KVIE. PARC board member Eric Peach said that the outdoor presentation at the Pacific Avenue venue in Auburn will start at about 8 p.m. with slide shows on the American River by photographers Gary Hughes and Tom Thompson. “They Crossed The Mountains” will follow, showing the broad sweep of the Western States Trail over the ages. CHOPPER SHOTS “Above the American” will follow that. It’s a high-definition look from both terra firma and on high via helicopter at the north, middle and south forks of the American River. Producer Kelly Peterson (“California Heartland”) has teamed with narrator Laurie Sacco (formerly on radio’s Y92 with “Paul & Phil”) and director of photography Esther Ritter on a 40-minute documentary that shows the river at its spectacular best. Sacramento’s Bryan Shadden co-produced the history section that sets the stage for 40 minutes of outstanding footage. Beverly Lewis, director of the Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office, said Peterson incorporates quite a bit of the county’s North and Middle Forks of the American River , including the confluence, Yankee Jim Bridge outside of Colfax, the Tunnel Chute, Iowa Hill and the new Placer County Water Agency pumping station in Auburn. Locals are all over “Above the American,” with Auburn director of public works Jack Warren, Guy Cables of Sierra Outdoor Center, geologist Laird Thompson, Einar Maisch of the water agency, and Mike Lynch, acting supervising ranger with the Auburn State Recreation Area, stepping up for interviews. Peach said that “river time” is in effect during the film showing so he won’t commit to exactly when start times for the later documentaries will be. But the whole shebang is seen as a nice warm-up for Sunday’s festival. See today’s Journal Arts & Entertainment section for more on that. TUNING IN The switch to digital starting today means some additions to the Journal’s TV listings. Check out the new offerings of four digital channels to the TV grids. KQED Channel 6.2 is a second level of PBS broadcasting from the Sacramento station. KQCA 58.2 went on the air earlier this spring and shows movies from the voluminous MGM vault. Children’s channel IPAX 29.2 gets a listing now. So does lifestyle programming on IPAX 29.3. But as signal strengths in the new digital era become finalized – and new stations pop up – let the Journal know and adjustments can be made to tailor listings for local readers. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at