Legacy of Mel and Leta Ramos

Not only was Mel Ramos a prolific painter, he and his wife, Leta, were impassioned arts educators, each working in their own realms with youth, university students, and adult learners with disabilities. After her marriage to Mel in 1955, Leta became an elementary school teacher, teaching first- and second-grade children, developing an audio-visual center for Chabot Elementary School in Oakland, and teaching adults at the Richmond Art Center.  Also a painter, one of Leta’s main commitments was teaching art at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. The family moved to Oakland in 1968 when Mel accepted a teaching position at Cal State East Bay, now California State University, Hayward. His range and precision as an artist are outgrowths of his teaching career, through which he mentored more than two generations of art students.

Mel Ramos

Legacy of the Artist and his Artwork

Mel Ramos (b. 1935) was an American figurative painter who is best known for his paintings of female nudes in the contexts of commercialism and sleek graphic design. Born in Sacramento, California, to a first-generation Portuguese-Azorean immigrant family, his work has become synonymous with iconic paintings of superheroes and voluptuous female nudes bursting through banana peels, stepping out of candy wrappers or lounging in martini glasses. His first exhibition in 1957 featured his early work in figurative abstractions at the Crocker Art Museum in a group show titled Seven Painters Under Thirty.  As one of the first artists to paint images from comic books, he exhibited at LACMA in 1963 with other emerging Pop artists of the time, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol – ranking him among the founders of “Pop Art” in America. As artists of that time increasingly questioned the rise of consumer culture, they also incorporated the solid colors and graphic forms of commercial art into their approaches to painting.  Following the more abstract style of his mentor, Wayne Thiebaud, Ramos’s distinctive flair for reinventing the classic female nude as a form of beauty, play, and even irony became more closely associated with other California artists of his time, especially the “cool school” of the 1970s.  His most notable Pop Art invocations brought comic book superheroes into new contexts of power and play – combined with his signature nudes into a 2012 retrospective, returning to the site of his first exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum: Mel Ramos: 50 Years of Superheroes, Nudes and Other Pop Delights.

Over a sixty-year career, Mel Ramos exhibited in more than 120 group shows and solo exhibitions worldwide, represented by galleries in California, New York, Spain, Austria and Germany, marking him as a foremost international artist of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Leta Ramos

Born Lolita (Helmers) Ramos and shortened to “Leta”

July 31, 1934- March 5, 2020

Leta was born in Auburn, CA and moved to Sacramento as a child. She attended McClatchy High School, where she met and fell in love with Mel. They married in 1955 and were married for 63 years before Mel’s passing.

Leta and Mel both attended Sacramento State University, where Leta earned a B.A. in Education. She taught 1st and 2nd grade, dedicated to teaching her students to read. Her second “profession” was as a model, and she posed for Mel for decades. She was his muse and his inspiration.

After raising three children, Leta returned to school, attending Cal State University, Hayward, where Mel was a professor. She attained her B.A. in Painting and Photography, studying under many of his colleagues but also learning from her husband. She did very well in his class!

Leta had many exhibitions of her work, originally painting portraits, still life and memories from her childhood. She received much praise for her paintings and drawings of “Artist’s Portraits and Palettes”, which she exhibited at the Oakland Museum, SF Museum of Modern Art, LACMA, Palm Springs Desert Museum and Collectors Gallery in Oakland.

Her later work, which was her most passionate, was a collaboration with the talented disabled artists at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. She incorporated the artist’s own work in her portrait of the artist. It was her finest work and demonstrated her huge, compassionate heart.

Leta received awards from California Arts Council and the Wilma Rice Photography Award. Her work is included in the permanent collections at The Oakland Museum, The DiRosa Foundation, Mills College, Southland Corp. in Dallas, and Bank of America in San Francisco.