Califas Legacy Project: Ralph D'Oliveira

Stories in transition: public murals and easel paintings

From a young age Ralph D’Oliveira found safe haven in art. Throughout his life he wanted to provide that experience to young people. In his community mural work he opens the door for kids to find their own voice through art which is viewed by many people. The art is free to access and this is crucial to D’Oliveira.

Ralph D'Oliveira: Passion for being a community artist (2020) by Museo Eduardo Carrillo and Wallace BossMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Watsonville Landscape (1979) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Watsonville Landscape

Working with school children on site specific murals that beautify places and leave a lasting mark of the young people’s impact, Ralph works in the community and his art reflects the abundant fertility of the land and the labor of the workers.

Aztec Calendar (Hollister Drive-In Market Mural) (1983) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Aztec Calendar

The historic and emblematic Aztec calendar reflects stories, guidance and symbols of cultural strength that are shared throughout generations.

Maternal Tree (1999) by Ralph D'Oliveira, Guillermo Aranda, and Lorena CastilloMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Maternal Tree

One can still visit Ralph’s alma mater University of California, Santa Cruz, and go to Cowell College to see this mural co-painted with Guillermo Aranda and Lorena Castillo. All are still active community muralists.

Ralph D'Oliveira: Finding a mural program at UCSC and a maestro (2020) by Wallace Boss and Museo Eduardo CarrilloMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Flower Girls (2009) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Flower Girls

You can recognize the iconic artist Frida Kahlo with a young girl holding an historic map.

Layers of history are embodied in Ralph’s iconography.

Chumash Tomol (2013) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Chumash Tomol

The Chumash indigenous peoples of the California Coast used a tomol (or ti'at to the neighboring Tongva people ) to cross from Santa Barbara to the Channel Islands. The current generation has revived this activity connecting long standing cultural traditions to the present day.

Tongva tribal member Cindi Alvitre , co-founder of Ti'at Society which includes a number of tribal communities, in describing the ocean going vessels said that the traditional canoes were, "a vessel that allows humans to connect to the underworld."

In the Indigenous worldview, Tongva tribal member Cindi Alvitre continues, "you have the underworld, which is watery existence, those deities that live underneath the ocean in their caves, the middle world, that's the existence of human beings, to the upper world, that's ancestral space. The ti'at is like an observation point, it's like you're hovering over the heavens of the underworld and being able to still have that connection to that ancestral space, to the stars, to the Milky Way.

Land Breaker (2017) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo


The trauma and displacement caused by the European settlement in the Americas was like a ship roaring up on dry land and breaking apart people’s lives and their cultural roots.

Efforts are underway for cultural reclamation, learning the traditional language and connecting to long held traditions and practices. But the break like in this painting is long and still remains.

Ralph D'Oliveira: Tortuga Patrol and starting a community arts center in Watsonville, CA (2020) by Wallace Boss and Museo Eduardo CarrilloMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Huitzlipotzli (2019) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo


Huītzilōpōchtli is considered the Aztec God of war and is a primary figure in the cosmology of the Aztecs and their heirs

Both men and women, warriors and women whose lives were lost in child birth, are considered part of his following.

Mestizo (2020) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo


Racial profiling and harassment exists in our times as well as in the past. Our current era has repeated historic events for many found at the margins or in the minority.

Welcome to Amerika (2020) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Welcome to Amerika

The dream of starting fresh in a new country of opportunity comes into sharp focus in this painting by D’Oliveira. In 2019 he started to explore themes of oppression which he had been thinking about for decades. 

With the pandemic lock down of 2020 he had time to turn to his studio painting in ways previously occupied with painting murals.

Madonna of the River (2019) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Madonna of the River

As the world situation became more turbulent with the truth of the boarder situation revealed we were confronted with the knowledge of the true victims of American policies. Inspired by Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks a contemporary Madonna is commemorated.

New Bogeyman (2020) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

New Bogeyman

A trinity of emblematic oppressive figures from American current history populate this cinematic dreamscape. As a man of indigenous and Mexican heritage, D’Oliveira depicts the figures of ICE and the klansmen as the threat they are always.

A new embodiment of this insidious threat is the bloated American engaged in leisure, taking aim at the covid virus, batting at it like it is a sport rather than a killer.

Red White Blue (2020) by Ralph D'OliveiraMuseo Eduardo Carrillo

Red White Blue

Living in Santa Cruz, California for many years, D’Oliveira features a little-known historic event in the town’s history, a lynching of two Mexican men accused of a crime but tried in the court of public reaction. Not many knew this buried history. Now they do.

Credits: Story

The Califas Legacy Project grew out of the recognition that our region represents an opportunity to fill in a missing piece of American art history. The Project features the art and ideas of our region’s Chicano/a/x and Latinx creative leaders, our elders in the movement and the next generation artists across the Monterey Bay Crescent.

Visit our website for more information about the Califas Legacy Project and full schedule of events.

The Califas Legacy Project is supported by the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County. The nine organizations participating in the Project are:

Museo Eduardo Carrillo
Monterey Museum of Art
Moving Parts Press
Santa Cruz Art League
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
Watsonville Public Library
UCSC Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery
UCSC Institute of Arts and Sciences
UCSC Library Special Collections & Archives

Videos by Wallace Boss.
Translation provided by Irene Rodriguez.
Photos provided by artist. Artwork copyright retained by artist.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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