In 2004, a collection of work by Waukegan-born artist, Reima "Ray" Ratti (1914-1945) was donated to the Bess Bower Dunn Museum from the estate of his fiancee, Mary Sadler. It is the largest known publicly-held collection of Reima V. Ratti's work.
During his short life, Ratti produced an impressive amount of sketches, drawings and paintings influenced by the vibrant and diverse community he lived in and the challenges of life in the Great Depression.
Waukegan Township High School portrait of Reima Ratti, circa 1934.
Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.129
The son of Finnish immigrants, Victor Ratti (1886-1933) and Hilja Touminen Ratti (1889-1962), Reima's passion for art developed and matured through Waukegan Township High School's robust art program and dedicated teachers.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Ratti was able to take advantage of a New Deal program to gain full-time work. In 1935, Ratti was accepted as a laborer in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) with Company 1699 at Camp Estabrook near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
While working as a rock-crusher, Ratti continued to sketch and paint, finding inspiration in the back-breaking work.
At Camp Estabrook, Ratti painted the quintessential CCC laborer in this work titled, "Driller." Utilizing dynamite, drills and man-power, the CCC workers removed a nearly one-mile rock ledge as part of a flood control project along the Milwaukee River. "Driller" oil on canvas, 1935.
Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.7
In September 1936, Ratti requested to be accepted as a CCC artist, sending a letter and his sketchbook to the head of the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture in Washington, D.C.: “I have heard much about CCC artists and the fine work they have done. I would very much like to be a CCC Artist myself.” His request was accepted and his status changed from "enrollee" to "official CCC artist."
While Ratti became an artist with the Civilian Conservation Corps, most artists employed by the U.S. Government's New Deal programs worked through the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
In July 1937, Ratti returned home to Waukegan to work full-time as a night shift baker for the Co-Operative Bakery. Since he worked as a baker in the early morning hours before dawn, he was able to paint during the day when natural light was best.
Reima Ratti sketching in the back alley of the Co-Operative Bakery in Waukegan where he worked from 1937 to 1943.
Waukegan Post, May 3, 1940.
Ratti worked in oils, graphite, ink, pastel, and gouache. He often painted friends and family, and some landscapes as well. The oil portraits were done in the cottage studio he built at the back of the lot of his family's Waukegan home.
"Landscape" by Reima Ratti, oil on canvas, 1944. This painting was done while on a trip to Wyoming to see relatives.
Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.9.b
"Young Man Carrying Pail" by Reima Ratti, pastel, circa 1940. One of Ratti's many drawings done at the Finnish baths in Waukegan.
Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.2
"Portrait with Puffed Sleeves." Oil on canvas. Circa 1943.
Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.30
During his lifetime, Ratti's work was recognized locally and regionally. His art was exhibited at the Milwaukee Public Museum and Art Institute of Chicago.
|Uncited Waukegan newsapaper article about Ratti's death, November 15, 1945.|
After his untimely death at the age of 31, his fiancee, Mary Sadler (1916-2003), and friend and art pupil Carl Austen (1917-1999) memorialized and promoted his work with local exhibitions. For many years, Sadler continued to search in local resale shops for Ratti's work.
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In 2018, a biography of Reima V. Ratti's life, art and work in the CCC was published by Kathleen Duxbury. CCC ART Artists of the Civilian Conservation Corps: Reima Victor Ratti.