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“La carta de amor”

The life of Fernando Ramos was a story of love; a love of home, of his native country, of art, of dance- and, of course, a love of a beautiful woman.

Ramos was a handsome young man when he made his way to San Antonio from his revolution embattled home of Mexico in 1913. It wasn’t long before Fernando made his mark with his picture in the local newspaper as the winner of a $10 prize for his Fiesta Poster design. Not even out of high school, he soon followed up by winning another $25 for his design of a poster to sell poppies for Armistice Day in a national competition for the American Legion.

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Fernando Ramos in the San Antonio Light at the age of 19

Fernando quickly found himself at the studio of Mexican Arts & Crafts as the head designer of San Jose tiles. Here, he used his love of his Mexican culture, Spanish dance and his life in San Antonio as inspiration for his work. Working along side of owner, Ethel Wilson Harris, he produced a dizzying array of tiles that were as colorful as the life he led.

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The panel for “La serenta” and preliminary sketch

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Fiesta scene on a sconce

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Guitarist on 8 inch tile

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“Jarabe” a traditional dance, on a small tray

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2 6 inch tiles showing the chili queen and a candy man

At the age of just twenty, driven by his love of Spanish, Mexican and folk dance- as well as his fear for the dying of Mexican cultural traditions, Fernando journeyed back to his home of Mexico City where he dove into dance lessons with the same passion he had shown for his art.

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Soon, this passion led him to his destiny. The beautiful and glamorous Carla Montel fell for the handsome young Fernando in one of their dance studios.  Born in San Antonio and raised in California, Carla would wed Fernando and they forged a bond and partnership that would endure for decades.

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Original drawings for 8 inch tiles as they get ready backstage

The fiery Carla & Fernando, as they would be known, quickly became a phenomena. Mexican President, Lazaro Cardenas declared them “the greatest interpreters of Mexican and Spanish folk dancing he had ever seen”. They began touring widely, dancing for crowds in such famous venues as the Copacabana and El Morocco Clubs in New York, the El Trocedero in Reno and the Riviera Room in Long Beach.

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While the San Antonio Light reported on their exciting exploits, the famous couple would appear in Newspapers from London, Cuba, Paris and Madrid. Sponsorship of the couples dance tour would be picked up by the Rockerfeller Foundation and they would inevitably become the darlings of Hollywood, appearing with Gene Autry in The Bells of Capistrano, among other popular films.

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Although they would divorce by the 1950’s, the couple would continue to tour the county with the New York Symphony, as well as other Ballet troupes and opera companies. They would even open a dance studio together in FT. Worth in the 60’s.

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Although, Fernando’s passion for dance carried him afar, his heart remained in San Antonio, to where he returned often to visit and collaborate with his old boss Ethel on tile designs depicting his romantic and timeless views of culture of Texas and Mexico- erasing boundaries between people for generations.

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Drawing for 8 inch tile

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Don Quixote & Sancho Panza on 4 6-inch tiles

Blog inspired by the book, Colors in Clay by Susan Toomey Frost

See Susan Frost’s collection of San Jose Tile at the new Witte Museum, opening to the public this Monday.