Martín Ramírez, The Last Works
Folk Art – 2008
“In January 2007, after several years of research and development, the American Folk Art Museum mounted a major retrospective of the Mexican American master draftsman Martín Ramírez (1895-1963), who created hundreds of drawings and collages of remarkable visual clarity and expressive power within the confines of DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, California, during the last fifteen years of his life. The exhibition resonated with critics and the public, not just for the stunning artwork on view but also for new research into Ramirez’s background that corrected some information published in previous decades.
Because I suspected that undocumented Ramírez works survived in Northern California homes and attics, I worked with Susan Flamm, the museum’s public relations director, to publicize the project in local papers in the Sacramento area— the region where Ramírez had spent the second half of his life. Thinking that a general-interest angle along the lines of Antiques Roadshow would capture readers’ interest, I was certain that a few drawings would turn up. In short order, I received three e-mails from people who believed they possessed works by Ramírez. Two of these responses led to dead ends, but the third inquiry proved to be very exciting. It came from two descendants of a Dr. Max Dunievitz, who, in the early 1960s, had been a staff person at DeWitt State Hospital, and this fact indicated that the senders might indeed own work by Ramírez.
The message was a curator’s dream come true: in it, the descendants described a group of drawings that had been stored by their family for several decades, and the images that accompanied the message clearly depicted drawings in quite a while. At that time, Peggy thought she had approximately fifty works. With the encouragement of Executive Director Maria Ann Conelli, I promptly flew to California to see the artwork in person and to verify its authenticity.”