Martin Ramirez

Mexican artist Martin Ramirez has been honored by the U.S. Post Office with a set of stamps of his art. He was born near Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1895 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1925, where he worked in the mines and the railroads. Like so many others, he lost his job in the Great Depression. Emotionally upset and in failing health, he was detained by police and committed to DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn for the remainder of his life.

It was in DeWitt that he began to create his works of art, using such materials as he could find there. The content of his work suggests that drawing was a prime means of preserving memory and identity, and giving some sense and order to the world around him.

Ramirez died in DeWitt in 1963, unaware of his growing popularity in the art world. Governor Ronald Reagan closed the hospital a few years later, along with many other in the state. Before it closed, I did a show there with a teenage rock band as part of an outreach program of a local church. DeWitt was known as the local “nuthouse” around the area, and  I still remember how frightened we were when they opened the doors and let a screaming mass of mental patients into the hall. They thought we were the Beatles.

Attitudes have changed somewhat since those days, but we still have trouble dealing with mental illness. Most of the homeless who wander these hills suffer from it in one way or another, and there are few facilities to house and treat them.

You have to wonder if Martin Ramirez would have recovered some of his dignity if he had been properly diagnosed and treated. In a better world, he may have died a rich man.

Ramirez Stamps035

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3 Responses to Martin Ramirez

  1. San French says:

    Bob~ Children of Stone!? You, Art, Myc and Jon (a sorta kinda predecessor of Absalom?).
    What was the year? Myc can’t recall , although I remember someone telling the tale upon my arrival in the Fall of ’69. You practiced at the Frank Buck Memorial Hall and Gram got you guys the gig?? Is this sorta correct?
    Thanks for this bit of great art history. I knew not of Ramirez but I’m off to the P.O. for a sheet of these beauties. Such unique and beautiful work. RIP Martin.

    • rlcrabb says:

      I can’t remember who all was with us that day. I do remember one of the patients coldcocked one of the other kids who accompanied us. (And that kid grew up to be a highway patrolman.)

  2. steve frisch says:

    Very interesting story Bob….I’ll be getting a sheet as well just to commemorate a great Sierra story. It’s always amazing to me how much talent needs to wait for the world to be ready for them. I got on line and looked at some of his other artwork and its amazing. Thanks for bringing Mr. Ramirez to our attention.

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