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Media Life: What's in your garage? Auburn trove instills hope

Auburn artist’s works stored for decades fetch six figures
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The value of the Martin Ramirez drawings that had been stored unknown to the art world in an Auburn garage is starting to surface. And the numbers are inspiring to anyone with one of those Antiques Roadshow type dreams. A total of 140 drawings by Ramirez were stacked on top of Peggy Dunievitz's garage refrigerator for decades. Four were sold in the first offering from the collection during last month's American Antiques Show in New York City. And they went fast. More sales and higher prices followed at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. Antiques and the Arts' online site was able to put dollar values on the sales “ which indicate the growing popularity in the art milieu for Ramirez. The artist, confined to DeWitt State Hospital as a mental patient from 1948 to 1964, has been on a critical and popular roll since the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan held a retrospective last winter of almost 100 Ramirez works. The show also delved in detail into the Ramirez back-story, taking him from his beginnings in Mexico to his time as an immigrant laborer and finally, institutionalization for the last 33 years of his life. Ramirez drawings had already achieved six figures in previous sales but the quick sale of six works at the Outsider Art Fair was a breathtaking signal that the art world is continuing to embrace his works “ 44 years after his death at the Auburn institution. The highest priced of the six was for an untitled work that shows off the trademark Ramirez use of repetitive, looping shapes. Drawn by Ramirez circa 1960, it was priced at $180,000. The other five drawings were offered at around $90,000, the report said. All six were reportedly sold at the show. The works sold were some of the better examples in Ramirez' large-format portfolio. Larger works are still part of the unsold collection. They're expected to be shown next fall when the Folk Art Museum puts on an encore Ramirez display highlighting the recently revealed drawings. Until then, Ramirez' art can bask in the incandescent glow of yet another landmark show “ and pricing benchmark “ in what is increasingly looking like a leap outside the outsider niche into greater acceptance of his work on a broader stage. Critics at the time of the Folk Art Museum show were already lumping him in with the great draftsmen of the 20th century. The New York shows last month find an artist sticking hard to newfound footing. The recently unearthed cache of Martin Ramirez drawings displayed by Manhattan dealers Ricco/Maresco was a highlight that will probably not be outdone at the show for years to come, was the verdict of Antiques and the Arts writer David Smith. POP-UP HONOR Auburn pop-up book author David A. Carter's latest volume is a collaboration with the late Dr. Seuss, otherwise known as Theodor Geisel. Random House wasn't dealing with an unknown entity when it approached Carter to create the first pop-up of a Seuss book that utilizes the complete text. Carter is author of 75 pop-up books and has sold more than 6 million volumes of his Bugs in a Box series for younger book lovers. With 20th Century Fox Animation's CGI Horton Hears A Who film set to open March 14, Carter created a book that includes five big blowout pop-ups, 11 booklets and several pull tabs. And he completed it in time to have the book in stores before the big buildup to a movie voiced by the likes of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and Carol Burnett. The initial print run is 100,000 on a book that should find favor with both children and the young at heart. As part of the hoopla, a signed-and-numbered deluxe limited edition of Horton Hears A Who Pop-Up! has also been published with a special pop-up. For Carter, it's his fourth signed and numbered edition. Geisel died in 1991 so the collaboration was a cerebral one. Carter said that it's challenging to get into the head of another author when you're used to doing your own work. But I've enjoyed the experience, Carter said. While the original drawings are being used, the book is more colorful, with a decision to opt for full colorizing what was a three-color scheme in the original 1954 Who. Carter has been on the road, with book signings in Chicago, Seattle and Illinois. But he'll be closer to home this coming week. The Creekside Town Center Barnes & Noble, 1256 Galleria Blvd. in Roseville will play host to a signing at 11 a.m. Wednesday. On Saturday, March 8, the Barnes & Noble Birdcage Walk store, 6111 Sunrise Blvd. in Citrus Heights will hold a signing. Seuss could become another franchise for Carter, who can claim Green Eggs and Ham as the first book he was able to read by himself. He's already in the planning stages on a second Seuss book to come out in 2010 and Random House is talking about a third. Media Life's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or (530) 852-0232. Or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.