Backpedal: Cycling Claremont, The Martinez Frescoes

This was originally published as a Monday's Mural at the Claremont Cyclits, 14 June 2010. Over the intervening period of time, those original photo files were lost. This was not all bad, as it presented me with an opportunity to go back to the space, take some more photos and expand on the text.

The frescoes of Ramos Martinez are such an integral part of the setting in which they were created that it is virtually impossible to separate them. The setting is the Margaret Fowler Garden on the campus of Scripps College in Claremont. The Fowler Garden occupies a Mediterranean-style wall-enclosed courtyard. Its architecture, fountains, sculptures and plantings compliment the frescoes, which were painted along the entire south wall of the enclosure between 1945 and 1946.

The frescoes consist of nine panels, each measuring 9' x 7', though the two end panels each wrap around a doorway, and are less descriptive by their nature. A description of the mural by Claremont Heritage describes them as depicting the progress of "human achievement of civilization and culture", from an early state of natural being, to bearing the "burden of artistic creation and cultural heritage."

Apparently, Martinez completed the two end panels first before moving on to the others and, passed away before the frescoes were finished. You will notice that they are in various stages of completion; panel three, for instance, is only sketched and shaded. Panel six, though further along than panel three, is likewise incomplete. Martinez studied art in Mexico City at the National Academy of Art, before journeying to France for additional training. While in France he became acquainted with other styles and painters - post-impressionism, symbolist, and cubist, Paul Gauguin, were among his influences at this time. Pablo Picasso, and fellow countryman, Diego Rivera, were counted among his friends. It wasn't until he returned to Mexico that Martinez's style really blossomed, combining images from Mexican culture with the European mural tradition. His impact was so significant that he has been described such: "the true force behind contemporary Mexican painting wasn't Diego Rivera, it was Alfredo Ramos Martinez." Mexican contemporaries of Martinez, such as Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, gained wider attention due at least in part to their focus on political and social upheaval, whereas Martinez largely painted images of daily life. Martinez gained wider acclaim after moving to Los Angeles in 1930 when his work became popular with the Hollywood elite. Exhibitions in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego increased exposure of his artistry. Beside the frescoes at Scripps College, two additional large-scale murals have survived - at the chapel of the Santa Barbara Cemetery (1934) and the Coronado Public Library, originally at La Avenida Cafe (1938).

As you enjoy the Martinez frescoes, be sure to not ignore the Margaret Fowler Garden which, on its own, is an intriguing space with its arched porticoes and doorways, colorful tile work, fountains and trailing vines. The garden comes alive in the brightness of Spring, and is a cool cloister during the hot Sumer. Certainly worth a visit.

The Cycling Claremont series of posts highlight some of the local businesses I have been known to frequent because I like what they offer, because they are bicycle friendly, or because they provide something unique or interesting, and which visitors to Claremont may also like.


  1. To my mind, Scripps College is perhaps the most beautiful of all small colleges in North America.

  2. Hard to argue with that. From the architecture of the buildings to the spaces between them, it is a very nice campus.


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