South Lake Tahoe artist Gilberto Ramos specializes in rustic pieces made from recycled items
Special to the Tribune
In the Bijou area of South Lake Tahoe, you don’t have to travel far to find original art.
Every person that has come to visit us in the last few years, we have treated to a tour that includes a certain property on Bobby Grey Circle. It’s hard to miss the place. The house, garage and entire property are covered in designs made of barbed wire, branches and old rusty tools.
The artist, Gilberto Ramos, is not new to South Lake Tahoe. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, he’s lived with his wife Lilliana (a dealer at Harveys Lake Tahoe) in South Lake Tahoe for 30 years and has been working at Cafe Fiore for 27 years — 25 of those years as the head chef. The restaurant on Ski Run Boulevard, is known for being a romantic place to go for a special occasion and to taste the delicious Italian cuisine, but it also is another venue to appreciate Gilberto’s rustic art.
You’re greeted at the door by a 9-foot tall weathered wood and rusty metal guitar.
“Nothing is thrown away,” he says, as proven by the rusty nails for tuning pegs and the old wrench as the guitar’s nut.
Diners are treated to smaller items while they’re sipping their wine. “The owner, Nick, lets me fill up the empty spaces. If someone likes them …” he gestures toward a heart, made out of wine corks, displaying a blue Lake Tahoe, “they can buy them.”
Back home on Bobby Grey Circle, we walk under this mare and her colt as we come through the gate.
“I don’t work so much with barbed wire any more. It’s too hard on my hands,” he says.
Still, he has a huge display of wire-made items, including what I call “Woman Walking,” which shows off his talent for design. Ramos has never been trained as an artist. He says, as he raises up his hands to the sky, “I just receive inspiration from God.”
Something that he says he’ll never sell is a replica of Roberto, a small donkey that he grew up with in Jalisco. The baby donkey’s mother died when he was 1 day old, so Ramos’ mama raised him indoors like a family pet. When he grew big enough he was put outside, but Roberto knew how to get into the house, which was made from adobe and sticks.
He commonly entered the kitchen on his own to pilfer some fresh tortillas and then ran back outside. The donkey lived till he was 25, finally succumbing to a rattlesnake bite. Ramos’ model of him is a loving tribute.
When asked which piece was the artist’s favorite, he thought for a moment and his eyes landed on the big wooden bird that stands in his yard. It’s also the favorite of a woodpecker that has bored a very round hole high up on its neck for a nest.
The majestic bird resembles a sandhill crane, and it is sturdily attached to the ground by rebar and made to hold fast against the wind by a hardly noticeable wire. The legs are made from branches that have tufts of moss on them, and the body is formed from only a few big pieces of weathered wood.
Finding the right piece of wood for the bird’s head is the deciding point of beginning your basic bird. It’s a gift that Ramos has, it appears.
There are a couple more of Ramos’ big birds hanging out at the pool at the Alder Inn on Ski Run Blvd. The owners, Mike and Laura, are big fans of Sandhill Ramos’ work, and have even included some of his smaller items in their room decors.
Probably the most surprising piece is yet another guitar. Ramos loves it when folks do a double-take and are shocked by his work — that’s his goal. This guitar is made mostly of branches, and is still a work in progress, but the decision has been made to leave the branches sticking out in the back. Now that makes it a “Wow” piece! It’s as if the guitar just blew into town, or it emerged right out of a tree. This piece should have Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s name on it.
His personal collection of cowbells, spurs and cow horns, reminds Ramos of his past, growing up in Jalisco with horses and cows. He once had a booth at the Cowboy Fest in Genoa, Nevada, where he appropriately displayed some of his baskets made from lariats. People told him “you’ve moved so far away from everybody else … your work is so different.” Those words are ones he loves to hear.
In his gallery of a backyard, nature has an effect on his work. The stream that runs right now at the edge of his property overflowed so much after the big snow in 2016-17, it crept up almost 2 feet on the “outhouse” he built to keep some of his supplies.
“It was kind of scary,” he says, his wife Lilliana nodding in agreement. “We could see the water coming closer and closer to our deck!”
Just imagine his big bird wading around in the marshy yard.
You’ll just have to make a trip to see Gilberto’s work for yourself. There is so much more to see, like the big wooden swordfish swimming on the side of his house. The tail was made from one piece and stripped of bark until he came down to the core. There’s the other metal fish jumping, it seems in mid-air, to be caught on the hook of a giant fishing pole.
Then, there’s the life-sized teepee made from barbed wire, rusted knife blades and railroad spikes.
“Everything is recycled,” he says.
This guy is prolific! And there’s going to be more — a beautifully made little wagon is stocked with more branches.
“It’ll all be used,” he says. “God always inspires me.”
Many of his items can be found locally at Wildwood Makers Market on Tallac Avenue, and more of his art is on display at Fire and Rain Gallery in Folsom.
“Not everyone wants to buy the big things, so I make some small things for them.”
Pat Reilly Harbo lives in South Lake Tahoe and is the author of a blog “Reilly’s End of the Day Stories.”