Lake County Artist Exhibit
"Reima Ratti: Life and Art in the Great Depression" is opening this month at the Dunn Museum, 1899 W. Winchester Road in Libertyville. The exhibition will run Saturday, January 25 through April 12 at the nationally accredited museum, a distinction held by only 3% of American Museums.
Artist Reima Ratti (1914-1945) was born in Waukegan to Finnish immigrants and came of age during the Great Depression. His realistic art, classed in the American Scene movement, shows the economic and social changes he experienced during the depression in Lake County. "From a dark 'muddy' palette, Reima showed beauty in the toil of fishermen working their nets, the culture of Finnish baths, and everyday activity inside a local diner," said Dunn Museum Curator Diana Dretske.
Known as "Ray" to his friends, Ratti’s love of art guided his life as he documented the world around him in sketches and paintings of landscapes and his community, until his untimely death at the age of 31.The Dunn Museum has the largest known publicly held collection of Ratti's work. In 2004, his work was donated to the Dunn Museum from the estate of his fiancee, Mary Sadler.
"This is the first time the public will have the opportunity to see the range of Ratti's work," said Andrew Osborne, superintendent of educational facilities at the Lake County Forest Preserves. "The exhibit allows visitors to explore the Great Depression through the eyes of one of Lake County's most famous artists," Osborne said. While about 20 paintings make up the majority of the exhibit, framed sketches, 3D sculptures and memorabilia from his personal life are also included. "Visitors also will discover why sketches are an important part of the creative process for an artist. They will have the ability to digitally flip through Ratti's sketchbook," said Steve Furnett, Dunn Museum exhibitions and collections manager.
Ratti worked in all mediums including oil, graphite, ink, pastel, gouache, and woodcut prints. His subjects included friends and family, working-class people, and buildings and landscapes. Some of his art was created in the studio he built in the backyard of his family's Waukegan home. Since he worked as a baker at the the Co-operative Bakery in the early morning, he was able to paint during the day when natural light was best. "Ratti's art studio became a haven for himself and his artist friends," Dretske said.
His Finnish heritage and living in Waukegan's Finnish working-class neighborhoods inspired much of Ratti's work. His parents were part of a wave of Finns that came to Waukegan in the 1890s to work in its growing industries. By 1916, an estimated 1,500 Finnish immigrants and their children lived in Waukegan.
The Great Depression brought a great strain on the Ratti household. Ratti's father, Victor Ratti, lost his job at American Steel and Wire Company, where he worked from 1906 to 1929, after which he did his best to make a living as an independent truck driver.
One of the most influential events in Reima Ratti's life was his acceptance as a laborer with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a voluntary public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 for unemployed, unmarried men. The backbreaking work he did as a rock crusher while stationed near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, became an inspiration for his art. When he learned the CCC employed artists, he proactively sent his sketchbook to the program's director. His status soon changed from laborer to artist when his creative talents were recognized and he was accepted as an official artist of the CCC Art Program. As a CCC artist, Ratti remained at Camp Estabrook near Milwaukee where he sketched and painted, gave drawing lessons, and was the art editor for the Camp's newsletter.
The Dunn Museum is offering a wide variety of programs and events that correlate with the exhibit. Several of the programs, including a lecture, paint therapy workshop and other painting workshops are being funded by a grant from the Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves. A special event is taking place for adults on the night before the opening. To get a sneak peek of the exhibit and find out more about Ratti, visit the Museum from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, Friday, January 24.
Diana Dretske, Curator, ddretske@LCFPD.org, 847-968-3418
Kim Mikus Croke, Communications Specialist, kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org, 847-968-3202