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This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the November 6, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Mike Ramus’s `Fine’ Arts
Ask Mike Ramus about his art, and he’s apt to tell
you he doesn’t like "art talk."
"A lot of that stuff seems ridiculous." He makes art, and
just about always has, but that’s it — he’s not a gallery-talk
kind of guy. Harry I. Naar, Rider University gallery director, discovered
this during preparations for the retrospective exhibition, "This
and That: The Art of Michael Ramus," opening Thursday, November
7, at Rider, with a 5 to 7 p.m. reception.
An artist for most of his 85 years, Ramus is tall and spare, preppy-looking
and quietly worldly, with a low rumble of a voice that he expends
more on his golf game and the world scene than on his life’s work.
His attitude toward mixing words and art resembles the antipathy of
oil and water — the basis of lithography, one of the many media
of his long career, much of it spent in the so-called "commercial"
art field, and for the last 20 years, exclusively in the realm of
But in his case, ever the twain shall meet: Ramus’s "commercial"
art is always "fine."
For many years, starting soon after World War II, Ramus was a freelance
illustrator for advertising agencies, corporations, and numerous magazines,
including Life, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, Argosy, Playboy,
American Heritage. So much a fixture was he at Sports Illustrated
that he was invited to the in-house 20th anniversary dinner.
cross-section of a 24-floor department store in Detroit. It took him
two weeks to complete the pen and ink drawing for Life Magazine: during
the first week, he "went all through the place, taking notes and
photographs"; the next week he drew it, three floors a day.
"I don’t get involved in long-term projects," Ramus says.
So "illustration was perfect for me." He was struck by a quote
that appeared in Larry Rivers’ obituary last summer: "I go from
this to that, and why be ashamed of it? It seems to me this is the
human condition," Rivers had said. Noting that the different kinds
of work he’s done "have developed in parallel, rather than one
from another," Ramus decided he, too, is a "this and that"
sort — making an easy job of the exhibition title.
On top of his commercial "day job," entailing
regular commutes to New York City from his Princeton home, Ramus drew
for fun, with no preconceived notion of image or message. Instantly
funny and invariably satiric, these drawings have not been exhibited
before. Luckily, Ramus took the concept of "retrospective"
seriously, and together with other two- and three-dimensional work,
showed some of these drawings to Naar, who, recognizing buried treasure
when he saw it, counted them in — first requiring Ramus to name
Modestly dubbed "doodles," his drawings might be viewed as
microcosms of Ramus’s art. Finely wrought and caption-free, they capture
his irony and wit, a decidedly sharp-edged combination.
A nebbishy-looking little man, often balding and always endowed with
a big nose is a ubiquitous Ramus character. He may be dressed in fancy
military uniform ("I’m know for my irreverence toward military
pomp and circumstance") or wearing business attire. Regardless,
"The everyman figure expresses my basic view of the human condition
as a losing battle against ignorance and error. Source material is
"All cartoonists have to do big noses," Ramus says, brushing
aside any reference to his own petite proboscis. And that reminds
him of a story about the old cartoonists’ home, with "a string
of old guys sitting on the porch, and one’s saying, `I once drew a
nose this big!’"
consumer items as a man in suit and wings flies in with still more
stuff. Another drawing shows "The Money Tree, or, Dear Old Dad."
"I seem to have been able to render in various ways," Ramus
began, in considering what about his career he most proud of. Although
he thought of himself as a cartoonist, he could never manage punch
lines. "I found my niche in the illustration business doing humorous
drawings for otherwise serious articles."
"As a rule, the better the job, the less specific were the instructions
of the art directors. They would just give you the typewritten script
and the deadline. It was at the old Life magazine that I was first
able to bring my cartooning bent into my work," he says. "At
that time, there was not much `humorous’ illustration being done in
serious journalism. There were not really any precedents so what elements
of style I developed were pretty much sui generis."
and the itching they cause featured a nasty male chigger distantly
related to Thomas Nast’s "Boss Tweed" images. An article about
how doctors territorialize their patients was accompanied by Ramus’s
drawing of a Gulliver-like figure being fastened down by a multiplicity
of practitioners — "the system." He memorialized a dog
show in Connecticut with a scene of countless recognizable "dog-show
types" under a tent, Little Orphan Annie and Sandy among them.
To imagine Ramus’s "doodles," think of the drawings by Saul
Steinberg (1914-1999), a particular Ramus favorite: "He is closest
to my sensibilities. For me, the obvious view of the human condition
is satirical, and his marvelous drawings are perfection." Steinberg’s
"View of the World from Manhattan" provided a livelihood for
countless poster makers and artists who put their own spin on the
concept. Who knows what will happen once Ramus’s doodles are out there?
Doodles aside, Ramus’s two-dimensional art also includes paintings
and collages. "Poseidon’s Anger," his mixed-media collage
for the Princeton Artists Alliance’s "Odyssey" exhibition,
went on to become the catalog cover-image for the Newark Museum’s
recent reprise of that show. He has made oversized paintings of rusty
railroad bolts and such objects in photo-realism style, and created
a series of poster-size playing cards, giving them his own piquant
twists. Overall, though, "I’ve always been more of a drawer than
a painter," Ramus says.
His sculptures range from abstract ("Caribbean") to figurative-with-found-objects
("Old Man"), and from droll ("Fire Bird," a chicken
whose rows of feathers are made of paper matches) or outright whimsical
("Dry Fly," festooned with shocking pink feathers and American
flags, to lure a free-spirited and chauvinistic fish) to wistfully
charming: his much loved papier-mache "Chimp." Ramus’s paper
sculptures include giant tools, a banana and a peanut — all apparently
on steroids. His three-foot long lion, couchant, was suggest ed by
a stone sarcophagus from Cyprus, and he has tired, so far unsuccessfully,
to have it cast.
In all cases, Ramus’s witty art comes stocked with allusions and suggestions.
Charles McVicker, a colleague in the Princeton Artists Alliance, says,
"Mike is one of the serious artists who can combine that with
a wry sense of humor. He knows art history and incorporates that knowledge
in what he does."
"He never compromises the aesthetic integrity for the whimsy or
satire he expresses," adds Margaret K. Johnson, another PAA colleague
and one who has enjoyed a couple shared shows with Ramus. Gallery
director Naar sums up: "Mike’s work can be appreciated on a variety
"Part Danish, Irish, German, English — a typical American,"
Ramus was born in Naples, where his doctor-musician father was stationed
with the U.S. Public Health Service. He was the first of two children
(his sister lives in Doylestown), and his mother, who felt strongly
about the arts, encouraged his early drawing.
He attended Lincoln School, affiliated with Teachers College Columbia,
in New York, and while his father was stationed in Boston, Shady Hall
School in Cambridge. Then came two years at Exeter and a brief stay
at Yale before he quit to go to art school, starting at the Art Students
Ramus’s first job was drawing comic books, and it lasted till March
1940, when his draft number came up. ("I missed a $5 raise by
a week.") During more than four years in the Army, he spent some
time in the Recruiting Publicity Bureau on Governor’s Island. Some
of his art department colleagues came from the advertising business,
and before long he had his first commercial art job.
With his late wife, Grace, Ramus has three children; his two daughters
live in the area, and his son is based in New Hampshire.
Maybe of necessity, this "this and that" artist is ambidextrous.
He’s a lefty for drawing and painting, but spells himself by eating
and writing with his right hand. Those who have enjoyed his notes
and cards, often including quick sketches, can savor the fact that
two hands produced them.
Ramus is also left-handed in golf, which he took up at 75. "I
reached my peak a while ago," he claims — a statement disputed
by golfing partner Bill Dwyer, former columnist with the Trenton Times:
"I used to beat Mike," Dwyer said. "Now he beats me. He’s
in good shape. He’s accurate and he’s a great hitter." Dwyer and
Ramus were often half of golf and tennis foursomes with author J.P.
Miller and Governor Brendan Byrne.
The announcement card for Ramus’s retrospective at Rider shows his
"Egyptian Golf" (tempera on gesso), complete with what at
first appear to be classic poses, symbols, and hieroglyphics. Then
the mushroom cloud in the upper-right sequence, followed by a green
mutant form of life, suggest otherwise. His collage from earlier this
year includes a golf-ball image and the kind of delicious ambiguity
that marks his work.
"Retired Artist," a Ramus doodle, shows a man pushing a disk
on a shuffleboard . . . with a giant paintbrush. It is not a self-portrait
of Ramus — one more artist making "retired artist" a contradiction
in terms. Praise be!
— Pat Summers
Art Gallery, Student Center, Lawrenceville, 609-895-5589. Gallery
open Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.;
to December 17. An artist’s reception takes place Thursday, November
7, from 5 to 7 p.m.
609-924-6700. Jules Schaeffer Retrospective with more than 30 found
object-welded sculptures, assemblages, monoprints, and works on paper.
Gallery is open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To November 14.
is Just Better with Trento!" Trenton artist Thomas Reaves’ show
includes paintings, illustrations, and designs, created with the idea
of starting a souvenir shop for the capital city’s move toward becoming
a tourist destination. Open during school hours; to November 8.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "From Tow Path to Bike Path: Princeton
and the Delaware and Raritan Canal," an exhibition on the history
and creation of the canal, the life of death of its workers, and recent
environmental and preservation issues. Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon
to 4 p.m. Show runs to March, 2003.
Dining room show of original paintings by Livy Glaubitz. Part of proceeds
benefit the Medical Center. Show may be viewed daily from 8 a.m. to
7 p.m. To November 13.
Jorge Armenteros, owner of Little Taste of Cuba, introduces "Artista
Cuba," an exhibition of contemporary Cuban folk art presented
on the walls of Triumph. Show is on view through December.
New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "From the Old World to the New World,"
recent additions to the collection featuring works by nine Hungarian
Americans who emigrated to the U.S. between 1920 and 1957. Artists
are Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Bertha and Elena De Hellenbranth, Sandor Sugor,
Emil Kelemen, Willy Pogany, Tibor Gergely, Zoltan Poharnok, and Vincent
Korda. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. To April, 2003.
732-745-4177. "Uncommon Clay: New Jersey’s Architectural Terra
Cotta Industry," an exhibition of artifacts and written and oral
histories of New Jersey’s once booming architectural ceramics industry.
Open Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
On view to May 30, 2003.
215-340-9800. "Earth, River, and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania
Impressionism," an exhibition of notable and rarely exhibited
Pennsylvania Impressionist works drawn from the private holdings of
regional collectors. The touring show originates at the Michener and
is accompanied by a new, comprehensive study of Pennsylvania Impressionism
by Brian Peterson; to December 29. $6 adult; $3 child.
Also "The Berenstain Bears Celebrate: The Art of Stan and Jan
Berenstain," the storybook authors’ first museum retrospective,
organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum. The show coincides with the
publication of "Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography"
by Random House; to January 12. $10; $7 children.
Also, "Retreating to Ideal Environments," works from the New
Hope colony by Daniel Garber, Fern Coppedge, Robert Spencer, and others;
to February 2. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday
and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m.
Route 1, North Brunswick, 732-249-2077. "Barnscapes: The Changing
Face of Agriculture in New Jersey," photographs of New Jersey
barns and farmlands, with 42 images by New Jersey landscape photographer
Louise Rosskam. On view to January 17. $4 adults, $2 children.
609-292-6464. "Searching: New Jersey Photographers and September
11," works by Stanley Brick, Donna Clovis, Donald Lokuta, and
Phil McAuliffe; to November 24. "River of Leisure: Recreation
Along the Delaware," to November 3. "Cruising Down the Delaware:
Natural History You Can See," an introduction to New Jersey’s
natural features by the historic waterway, to November 10. Museum
hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon
to 5 p.m.
from the Collection;" "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The
Archaeological Record;" "Delaware Indians of New Jersey;"
"The Sisler Collection of North American Mammals;" "Of
Rock and Fire;" "Neptune’s Architects;" "The Modernists;"
"New Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and Iron;" "Historical
Archaeology of Colonial New Jersey;" "Washington Crossing
West State Street, Trenton, 609-292-6464. "A Decade of Collecting:
Works from the Museum’s Archaeological, Ethnographic, and Natural
History Collections." Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.,
to January 5, 2003.
New works by Bill Giacalone. Open Wednesday through Sunday and evenings
by appointment. To December 1.
609-298-6970. Group show by new gallery artists Eugene Maziarz, Joe
Kassa, and Ed DeWitt. Open Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m..
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To December 15.
Exhibition of works by members and their guests. Exhibitors include
Selena Persico, Peter Roos, Robert Borsuk, Ken Kaplowitz, William
van der Veer, Nancy Ori, and Frank Magalhaes. Techniques range from
platinum prints to manipulated Polaroids. Saturday and Sunday, noon
to 5. To November 17.
In the Broad Street Antiques Center, a gallery featuring the oil,
pastel, and watercolor paintings of Olga Holroyd. Open Wednesday to
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Sky Flowers," paintings by Hartini Gibson. Open Tuesday to
Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To December
Lawrenceville, 609-296-0334. Garden State Watercolor Society sixth
annual Associate Member Juried Exhibition, judged by Betty Stroppel
and Ed Baumlin. To November 22.
in Focus: Watercolors from the Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection,"
an exhibition of 16 rarely-seen works on paper by the precursor of
modern painting. Organized by Laura Giles, associate curator of prints
and drawings, the exhibition celebrates the publication of the first
scholarly catalogue on these watercolors which span the entire range
of Cezanne’s career. On long-term loan to the museum since 1976, the
works are rarely shown due to their sensitivity to light. To January
609-258-3184. "Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders, and Book
Designers," a Milberg Gallery exhibition curated by Rebecca Warren
Davidson. Show runs to March 30, 2003.
School, Robertson Hall, 609-258-1651. "After September 11,"
an exhibition that explores how area artists have been influenced
by the events surrounding September 11, curated by Kate Somers. Artists
represented: Robert Beck, Eleanor Burnette, Thom Cooney Crawford,
Alan Goldstein, Margaret Kennard Johnson, Amy Kosh, Ken McIndoe, Barbara
Osterman, Margaret Rosen, Ludvic Saleh, Sheba Sharrow, and Madelaine
Shellaby. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To December 1.
609-620-6026. In the Hutchins Gallery, Annual Faculty Exhibition with
Brian Daniell, Allen Fitzpatrick, Jamie Greenfield, Leonid Siveriver,
William Vandever, and Ed Robbins; to November 2. Also opening "Building
a Teaching Collection: New Acquisitions in Photography," to November
18. Gallery hours, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon; and 1 to 4:30
p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.
609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "The Faculty," paintings by Mel Leipzig
of his MCCC colleagues. To November 7.
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Mountain Tops," an exhibition
of miniature landscape sculptures of natural stones and sand by William
Brower, poet, sculptor, and seminary faculty member emeritus. Gallery
hours are Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to
8 p.m. To November 30.
Faculty Group Show by 26 full-time and adjunct faculty members in
painting, ceramics, photography, sculpture, graphic design, drawing,
and video. Open Monday 3 to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, noon to 3 p.m.; Wednesday,
1 to 8 p.m., and Thursday, noon to 3 p.m. To November 21.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Exhibitions include: "Sonia Delaunay:
La Moderne," celebrating the accomplishments of the key figure
(1885 to 1979) in the development of 20th-century abstraction; to
Also "Yurii Dyshlenko: Abstraction, Modernity, and Mass Media;"
to January 12. "The National Association of Women Artists Collection
at Rutgers," to December 8. "Identity and Resistance: Abstract
Painting from the Dodge Collection," to November 17. "Ben
Shahn: The Rilke Portfolio," to December 31. Museum hours are
Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. Spotlight tours every Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m. Admission
$3 adults; under 18 free; and free on the first Sunday of every month.
609-397-0275. "Prints, Paintings and Progression," group exhibit
by Bette Baer, Laura Blasenheim, Merle Citron, John Marcus, Lola Wykoff,
and others. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Friday
1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 22.
609-773-0881. November group show by Robert Allen, Connie Campbell,
Sheila Coutin, Wendy Gordon, Daniele Newbold, Jeane Nielsen, Nancy
Shelly, and Sandra Young. Open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
To December 1.
"Another Woman’s Dream," a group show of works by Stacie Speer
Scott, Kim Robertson, and Angela Del Vecchio. Open Thursday to Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. To December 2.
609-397-5679. Bob Beck’s "Excursion" series, part of his American
Road series, painted on site in Maine, Washington, D.C., and Bucks
County. Also featured is his Mississippi River series painted in September
aboard a working tow-boat pushing barges from St. Louis to New Orleans.
Open Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., and weekdays by appointment.
To November 17.
Fall exhibition features New Jersey artists, Alexander Farnham and
Charles McVicker. Farnham, a noted landscape painter, is known for
his interest in patterns of light and shadow. Open Wednesday to Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. To November 17.
Tom Kelly, Jack Knight, and Isabella Natale, an introspective and
humorous show by three area artists. Also "Crowns: Portraits of
Black Women in Church Hats" by Michael Cunningham. Museum hours
are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
To November 10.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. In the Museum, new work by glass
artist Dale Chihuly, to April 6, 2003. In the Domestic Arts Building,
work by winners of 2002 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary
Sculpture Award, to January 10, 2003. Regular park admission $4 to
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday
is Members Day. Adult admission $4 Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday
and Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Memberships start at $55.
609-252-6275. "Up the River, Now" an exhibition of works by
contemporary painters in the Delaware Valley area. Artists include
Elizabeth Augenblick, Joseph Barrett, Robert Beck, Malcolm Bray, Tom
Chesar, Anne Cooper Dobbins, Suzanne Douglass, Evelyn Faherty, and
James Feehan. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and
holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To December 1.
open auditions for its annual holiday musical, "’Twas the Night
Before Christmas," on Saturday, November 9, from 1 to 4 p.m.,
presented by the Kelsey Players and directed by Diane Wargo. Auditions
for ages 8 to adult; come with a short monologue and a Christmas Carol
to sing. Performances are December 12 to 15. Call Diane Wargo, 609-530-0912.
auditions Monday and Wednesday, November 11 and 13, at 7 p.m., for
the Jean Kerr comedy "Mary, Mary." All roles are open for
the show directed by Gerry Appel, to be presented January 3 to 26.
"Ten Little Indians," to be performed by the Yardley Players
in February. Auditions are Saturday and Sunday, November 23 and 24,
from 1 to 4 p.m. Schedule with Marge Swider at 215-968-1904.
illustrate the concept, "Behind Every Choice is a Story."
Any original artwork or graphic work is eligible. First place winner
receives $800; second place, $350; third place, $150. Scanned images
should be submitted electronically to www.roevbush.com by December
to perform at its holiday village in conjunction with the fifth annual
Holiday Light Spectacular. For application, call 732-335-0400.
volunteers familiar with model railroading to assist with its annual
free holiday exhibition of running Lionel 027 gauge model trains.
Show takes place at the center from December 1 to 27. Call 732-634-0413.
volunteer mentors to coach students in Trenton, Princeton, or Lawrence
high schools in their research projects. Website: members.aol.com/njenvmntor.
for Mercer County, is registered at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair.
Donors can stop by the Giving Tree, select a name tap, purchase a
discounted children’s book, have it wrapped, and place it under the
tree. For information call 609-396-1506.
paperback books for distribution to disadvantaged children throughout
Middlesex County for the program, Books to Keep. Books may be brought
to a book drop-off display in the lobby in the library at 2 Jean Walling
Civic Center, East Brunswick. Checks payable to Libraries of Middlesex
are also welcome. Call 732-390-6789.
Policing Unit, West Windsor Lions Club, and the American Legion Post
#76 seek Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, clothing, and toys for
families. If you know someone who can use their help please call.
RSVP by November 18 for Thanksgiving meal; by December 10, for Christmas
meal, toys, and clothing. Call 609-799-0452.
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