A Legacy To Be Honored: Ramon Oeschger

By Ron Levesque

A long-time member of the Retiree Chapter, Luis Gutierrez, asked me to contact him recently. He wanted to talk about a very special former colleague of his in the Art Department, Ramon Oeschger.  Ramon was likely the first art instructor hired at San Jose City College (SJCC) in 1960. By the time he retired in 1991, he had served as department chair and had led the drive to establish the City College Art Gallery.

Ramon Edward Oeschger was a highly successful artist, whose work was widely displayed in northern California at the time.  Even today many years after his death in 1992, his work is represented in collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Brooklyn Museum, fine arts museums in San Francisco, the Seattle Art Museum, and in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  (Source: The Annex Galleries, Ramon Edward Oeschger, www.annexgalleries.com)

When Luis Gutierrez was hired as an art instructor at SJCC in 1969, Ramon proved to be a very supportive mentor.  Luis, who was about 32, was already established as a painter and he was hired to teach painting.  When the dean wanted him to teach art history in his first semester, Luis had Ramon plead his case, that he was not hired to teach art history, and Ramon was successful, much to the relief of Luis.  Ramon then also negotiated Luis’ salary.  It turns out Luis had no teaching experience and he at first tended to be very critical of his students’ artwork. Ramon had Luis observe him for a few years and he learned to be gentler and fairer with students.  Luis observed how respectful Ramon was of students above all.

Ramon Oeschger photo
Ramon Oeschger (circa 1977)

Ramon was a natural leader for the Art Department. He was outspoken and was a straight-shooter. He defended the Art faculty to the dean when issues arose.  Luis will never forget how Ramon helped establish the first art gallery at the college.  A ‘design’ and ‘color’ studio became vacant for over a year.  Ramon organized his art faculty of five:  Luis, Steve Salisian, James Wayne, and Joseph Zirker, to convert this space into an art gallery. Over a weekend, they quietly brought in saws, hammers, and lumber and redesigned the room. Come Monday all hell broke loose!  The facilities manager was furious that Ramon had done this without permission or prior discussion. The dean came to Ramon to find out what was going on.  Ramon argued that an art department needed to display the art of its students and of its faculty.  A gallery, he argued, would attract other professional artists in the area to put on exhibitions as well as involve students in putting on exhibitions. And letting students display their art in a gallery would instill pride and confidence.  The dean was persuaded, and the City College Art Gallery was established around the late 1970s or early 1980s, Luis recalls.  Ramon Oeschger was the driving force behind this. The first gallery thrived until 2012 when it was replaced by the current state-of-the-art gallery.

Luis strongly states,” Ramon Oeschger should be remembered and honored for his leadership and many achievements as an art instructor at San Jose City College for some 31 years.  I would like to pursue the renaming of the present art gallery to Ramon Oeschger Art Gallery.  He was highly instrumental in creating the first gallery.”