Ralph Borge, 1922-2008
The son of a Swedish immigrant mother and a father whose Portuguese parents had immigrated from the Azores, Ralph Borge was born in West Oakland, CA on January 11, 1922, the middle child of a working-class family of four boys and one girl. His ability in art surfaced at an early age. He drew and painted incessantly, winning numerous local school and newspaper contest awards, and even devising his own cartoon strips. But perhaps most notable of all, as a young adult he would spend hours creating elaborate stage sets in miniature, made mostly with wood scraps and other found objects, with different themes and figures but no particular story line and no one but himself to act out or attend his imaginary sketches.
Later, while in the US Air Force during World War II, Ralph would send his family richly humorous sketches in pen and ink or watercolor about military life. It also was around this time that his great love for classical music blossomed. While in the service, he later recalled, he would walk back at night to his base camp from some outing, alone and with no musical training, composing whole symphonies in his head. Just as he had waited in vain for performers and audiences to accompany his ornate stage sets, now his musical compositions went unperformed as well. After the conclusion of the war, he began a lifetime of collecting recordings performed on the best available high fidelity equipment, blasting and rattling the walls of his studio at times with the sounds of heroic music. Later, in his teaching days, he would only allow his kind of music--Beethoven and Mahler, Debussy and Shostakovich--to be played in the classroom.
Ralph's later, major work, that which earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship along with numerous other accolades, bore the mark of his youthful idiosyncrasies. His symbolic paintings had no story line, no clearly discernible narrative or message, and he left them untitled at first. He would prepare the atmospheric settings with symbols, waiting for others to give their impressions, their interpretations, their labels, and he loved it when they did. But the power behind these symbols in the form of material bric-a-brac, junk, things, sometimes people, was enormous. The ornately distilled expressions of what he had felt growing up in Oakland- in a family with limited economic means and very little dialogue or discourse or curiosity about life's deeper meanings - has moved others in a dynamic way. Still working alone, he finally found his audience.
Martha Borge, 1928-
Martha Borge was born in 1928 in Harrisburg, Illinois and moved with her family to Berkeley, California when she was 3 years old. She grew up in Berkeley, attending school there until, six months out of high school, she received a scholarship to attend CCAC (now CCA) in Oakland, CA. It was there in 1946 she met her future husband Ralph Borge, recently out of the Air Force in WW11, and they married in 1949 just before Martha received a BA in art and he an MFA.
She had various teaching jobs over the years, and had her work shown in various Bay Area galleries until becoming affiliated with Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco. There she sold landscape paintings over many years of scenes inspired by the Borges' move to Point Reyes Station in 1970. During their time here they started the Borge Point Reyes Gallery, a home gallery, and regularly participated in two benefit shows; Marin Agricultural Land Trust, or MALT, protecting open space from development, and Marinscapes, helping handicapped people blend into the community. Ralph died at the end of 2008 after 20 years of retirement and their marriage of almost 60 years. In the course of their raising 3 children, they never stopped painting.
Martha had received several painting awards over the years but most notably she was the overall winner of the $100,000. award at the Arts for the Parks show in 1989 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for the painting “Bishop Pines at Grossi Pond” inspired by a scene in the Point Reyes National Seashore. The painting was a purchase award for the show benefitting the National Parks, and is a part of the National Park Foundation collection in Manhatten, NY.
At present she is essentially a studio painter. Through the eyes of her camera, she draws inspiration from the outdoor beauty of mostly Marin and Sonoma counties to bring to her canvas.