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At the American Folk Art Museum

By Glenn Loney


The American Folk Art Museum
945 Madison Ave. at 78th St

Closing April 29, 2007

Martin Ramirez flyer. On the frontpage it says: ''January 23 - April 29 ,2007. AmericanFolk Art Museum.''

In 1948, the possibly catatonic/schizophrenic Mexican immigrant-worker Martin Ramirez was moved from Stockton State Hospital to DeWitt State Hospital, near Grass Valley, CA, where your scribe had recently attended GV High School.

Had I known that an Outsider-Art genius was then a patient in DeWitt, I would have got off the Greyhound-bus that always stopped at DeWitt, on its route between Oakland, Sacramento, Auburn, & Grass Valley. [I was then a student at UC/Berkeley.]

The problem for the unfortunate Ramirez was that he had spent years in Stockton, where he was thought to be deaf-mute, as well as psychotic. Actually, he could neither understand nor speak English.

But he had begun making his strangely Surreal drawings--some reminiscent of Saul Steinberg’s--of Mexican Caballeros on horseback, Railroad-trains entering fearsome Tunnels, of Blessed Virgins & Other Saints, as well as of bizarre landscapes.

Ramirez also used images from popular-magazines--especially ads--for collages in which the images were embedded in seas & streams of his obsessive swerves & curves of repetitious-lines.

Psychology Professor Tarmo Pasto effectually “discovered” Ramirez at DeWitt and began researching the relationship between Mental Illness & Creativity, using his unusual visions. Previously, hospital personnel had confiscated his drawings.

Since then, much more has been learned about Ramirez and his past. And a number of his compelling drawings have survived: some of them large-scale, drawn & painted on patched-together brown paper.

[Incidental Intelligence: DeWitt General Hospital was constructed during World War II for the use of the US Army & Air Force, only later becoming a State Hospital. Friends & relatives worked there, as at Beale Army Base, now Beale AFB, below Grass Valley.

[The facility was named for General John L. DeWitt, the West Coast Commander of the Sixth Army Area, who was responsible for issuing the infamous Military Order that sent thousands of Japanese-Americans into so-called “Internment Camps” for the “Duration of the War.”]