An Art Historian Encounters a Hybrid Global History at Home: Alfredo Ramos Martinez’s Designs for Sacred Spaces

in Religion and the Arts
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‭Southern California’s hidden treasures include two church interiors containing elements designed by Alfredo Ramos Martinez (1871–1946). This Mexican-born artist trained in France, returned to take an activist role in Mexican revolutionary culture, and migrated to the United States in 1929. For sixteen years, his talents were in demand among members of the Hollywood elite. In 1934, he produced the fresco murals at the Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel, a jewel of Spanish Revival architecture. His images crossed over traditional boundaries between the sacred and the profane. He created odes to human rights and suffering humanity, depicting Christ and his mother as indigenous peasants with dark-skinned New World ethnicity. A decade later in 1946, Ramos sketched designs for his final projects at St. John the Evangelist Church in Los Angeles: a series of stained glass windows representing fourteen multiethnic saints as well as incomplete oil painted Stations of the Cross that recall his earlier pictures of suffering humanity. The architectural setting—a modernist church with stripped-down forms and materials of concrete, steel, and neon—announces a radically transformed post-war industrial culture. The contrast of these two aesthetics, the Spanish Revival and the modernist, demonstrates an evolution in liturgical forms as Californians came to grips with global migrations and an evolving modernist identity.‬

An Art Historian Encounters a Hybrid Global History at Home: Alfredo Ramos Martinez’s Designs for Sacred Spaces

in Religion and the Arts

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Figures

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    Figure 1

    Alfredo Ramos Martinez. La Guelaguetza, 1933. Mural commissioned by Jo Swerling for his home in Beverly Hills. © The Research Project, reproduced with permission.

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    Figure 2

    Alfredo Ramos Martinez. Painting in the Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel, 1934. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission.

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    Figure 3

    Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel Interior, 1934. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Gerard Vuilleumier.

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    Figure 4

    Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel Interior, 1934. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Gerard Vuilleumier.

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    Figure 5

    Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel Interior, 1934. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Gerard Vuilleumier.

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    Figure 6

    Chapel of the Santa Barbara Cemetery, 1934. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Gerard Vuilleumier.

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    Figure 7

    Alfredo Ramos Martinez. Zapatistas, c. 1932. Oil on canvas, 49.5×39.5 inches. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Albert M. Bender. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Ben Blackwell.

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    Figure 8

    Alfredo Ramos Martinez. The Bondage of War, c. 1939. Tempera on newsprint, 22×17 inches. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Gerard Vuilleumier.

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    Figure 9

    Alfredo Ramos Martinez. Christus, 1943. Tempera on newsprint, 21.5×16.3 inches. Scripps College, Claremont CA, Gift of Louis Stern. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Photograph: Gerard Vuilleumier.

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    Figure 10

    St. John the Evangelist Church, Los Angeles, designed by architect Ross Montgomery, 1946. Reproduced with permission from the Cummings Stained Glass Studio Archives, The Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning NY. Photographer unknown. Alfredo Ramos Martinez designed fourteen vertical stained glass windows depicting multicultural saints. They line the East and West walls of the nave.

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    Figure 11

    St. John the Evangelist Church, Los Angeles, designed by architect Ross Montgomery, 1946. © The Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced with permission. Alfredo Ramos Martinez was commissioned to design mural of Christ the King, fourteen stained glass windows, and fourteen Stations of the Cross oil paintings, but he died before they were completed, leaving attributions in question.

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    Figure 12

    Alfredo Ramos Martinez. Three half-size drawings (6 feet tall) of Saints for three stained glass windows at St. John’s Church. In center is a 12 foot tall stained glass window cartoon, as rendered by Wilhelmina Von Ogterop from the Ramos Martinez half-size drawing of St. Thomas Aquinus. Photographed in 1946–1947 in the Cummings’ San Francisco studio. Reproduced with permission from the Cummings Stained Glass Studio Archives, The Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning NY. Photographer unknown.

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    Figure 13

    Thirteenth Station of the Cross, Pietà; and Fourth Station, Meeting of Jesus and Mary. Photographed in 1946–1947 in the Cummings’ San Francisco studio. Reproduced with permission from the Cummings Stained Glass Studio Archives, The Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning NY. Photographer unknown.

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    Figure 14

    Twelfth Station of the Cross, Christ Dies on the Cross; and Second Station, Christ Bearing the Cross. Photographed in 1946–1947 in the Cummings’ San Francisco studio. Reproduced with permission from the Cummings Stained Glass Studio Archives, The Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning NY. Photographer unknown.

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