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  • by Steve Platt

An Interview With Chief Justice Ramirez

The Jonathan Art Foundation has scores of works on loan to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside. I recently spoke with Justice Manuel Ramirez, the Presiding Justice of the Court, regarding the importance of the art collection to the Courthouse. The following are excerpts from our discussion.

Steven Platt: What is the origin of the Court's relationship with the Art Foundation?

Presiding Justice Ramirez: While construction for the Courthouse was underway, I mentioned in passing to Bill DeWolf, a Riverside attorney who is a close friend, that there was no money allocated for art in the construction budget. Bill said that he might be able to help, and he put us in touch with Thomas Higgins. Within a year or so of my comment to Bill, a group of judges from the Court was invited to lunch at the Jonathan Club. After lunch, we were taken to an area of the Club where numerous paintings were displayed, and we were told that we would be able to display some of the work at the Court. The Jonathan Art Foundation’s advisor, Jay Belloli, selected the works for the Courthouse. Needless to say, we were ecstatic at the opportunity.

There are a number of foundations who have art on loan to the Court, but the majority of the art is from the Jonathan Art Foundation.

SP: Does the Court host events to allow the public to view the collection?

PJR: We host historical oral argument events at the Court every couple of years. In fact, a few weeks ago we had an event that focused on the Nuremburg trials. The events are well-attended, and people who attend the events have a chance to tour the building.

We have many other opportunities to tour the building. Just yesterday I toured the building with 50 law students from all over the country, and during the tour the students had a chance to see the art collection. The Court hosts perhaps two or three big events throughout the year, in addition to many smaller events, and there are always opportunities for guests to view the collection during those events. I would guess that from the time we moved in to the building roughly two decades ago to the present, there have been 10,000 people who have toured the building and the artwork.

SP: Do you have any favorite works in the collection?

PJR: There is a stunning work of a forest brimming with trees with red leaves by Robert Ketchum in the robing room. It is entitled An Ecstasy of Contrasts. The robing room has a carpet that depicts the scales of justice, and the tones in the carpet compliment the Ketchum work very well. We are the first Court of Appeal Courthouse in California to have a robing room, which I think adds to the experience of admiring the Ketchum.

We also have a few dozen small works by Theodore Lukits, each hung in a gold frame, on display in a long hallway that I enjoy very much.

SP: Do you personally lead tours of the collection?

PJR: Yes, I lead many tours. Most of the groups that tour can sense that I have a passion about the building, architecture, and artwork. I remember reading a quote from Winston Churchill regarding the plan for rebuilding London after World War II. He was pondering whether they should rebuild London with a modern look, or whether they should rebuild it to look the way it did before it was destroyed in the war. Ultimately, he concluded that it did not matter. He said something like, “[f]irst we shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.” This quote resonates with me. People are shaped by the artwork they see. It both promotes and enhances the building from within.

I am a public servant, and this is the public’s building. The public is always welcomed into the building. We have now been in the building for 20 years, and I am as excited today about the building as I was on the day it first opened.

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