Ramona pioneers to ‘attend’ Town Hall celebration
By Jessica King
On Sunday, townsfolk will gather in the newly renovated west wing of Ramona Town Hall to celebrate its 118th anniversary. Two very special faces in the crowd will belong to Augustus and Martha Barnett, thanks to longtime Ramona resident, artist and preservationist Judy Nachazel.
The Barnetts donated the Town Hall to Ramona in 1894. Using old photographs, Nachazel created three-quarter life size portraits of Augustus and Martha in charcoal and graphite. The framed portraits, which now hang in the west wing, will be unveiled at Sunday’s celebration.
According to ramonatownhall.com, Augustus thought it improper for dances to carry on all night at the schoolhouse, and that the growing town needed a place to serve that purpose as well as a library.
Town Hall operates solely on private donations, fundraisers, grant money and rent collected for use of the building.
Renovations have included seismic retrofitting, new plumbing and electrical wiring, new roof, fire sprinkles and improvements to the façade.
Capturing the essence of one of Ramona’s most prominent early couples was no easy task for Nachazel, who retired as editor of the San Vicente Valley News three years ago and until now has done mostly portraits of living family members.
Still, her decision to take on the challenges of the Barnetts’ portraits was a no-brainer.
Nachazel moved to Ramona 30 years ago and immediately joined the local art guild. At the time, the art guild met in Town Hall.
“The Town Hall was where I made my very first friends in Ramona and those people are still my very good friends today,” Nachazel said. “Town Hall was my first connection to Ramona.”
Nachazel spent several months on the Barnetts’ portraits, beginning with a search for old photographs that contained enough detail to accurately depict the 19th century couple in the 21st century-made portraits.
As president of the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society, Nachazel certainly had the proper connections. The society runs the Guy B. Woodward Museum located just one block east of Town Hall.
But “nobody knew what they really looked like,” Nachazel explained. “Of all the photographs we had in the archives of the museum, there were no close-ups of Augustus and there were some of Martha but not any close up enough to be good enough for a portrait.”
That’s when Nachazel turned to the board of trustees that runs Town Hall.
Jackpot – in the files of the Town Hall organization were two professional individually photographed portraits of Augustus and Martha.
But there was still one more obstacle to overcome.
“When they take a photograph with a flash, a lot of the information is lost,” Nachazel said, noting that characteristics of the eyes and other facial features are more difficult to read.
To complete the puzzle, Nachazel met with fellow Ramona resident Dan Parker, the Barnetts’ great-grandson.
“I was looking for any features that I could get, to make it a little more accurate,” Nachazel said. “I wanted to put a lot of detail into the eyes since they’re the focal point of the portrait. They’re what you’re drawn to.
“And sure enough Dan has the same shape around his eyes,” she added.
Nachazel – and Parker – also learned Augustus’ mustache grew the same as his great-grandson’s, with a slight curl on one side.
Although Nachazel usually prefers to work with vibrant pastels, she chose to keep the Barnetts in black and white because the couple’s photographed portraits were done in black and white.
She also chose a soft vignette framing style for the portraits because that was how Martha’s photograph was printed and she wanted to be sure the portraits matched, knowing they would be hanging side-by-side in the west wing.
“They were ‘in’ my studio with me for quite a while because I wanted to be sure I captured their characteristics,” Nachazel said.
Due to plans for a big reveal this Sunday, only a few people have seen the portraits throughout the process and one of those people is Parker.
Nachazel said that Parker told her he saw his granddaughter in Martha’s portrait.
“That’s when I felt like I was getting them right,” she said.
Sunday’s celebration is scheduled to run from 1 to 4 p.m. and will include musical entertainment and refreshments, in addition to the unveiling of the portraits.
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