Dunya Ramicova's costume designs have enchanted audiences for decades, but some of her biggest fans now sit in UC Merced classrooms.
Ramicova, the university's first arts professor and one of its founding faculty members, also is an acclaimed costume designer. Last year, she worked on four projects that included the Metropolitan Opera production of “Nixon in China” and the Santa Fe Opera's “Griselda.”
But home base is UC Merced, where the Emmy-winning designer draws on a wealth of experience to teach students about art, fashion and the relationship between clothing and history, politics, culture and more.
“Our students are something special,” Ramicova said. “It is such a privilege to teach them.”
A native of the former Czechoslovakia, Ramicova immigrated to the U.S. in 1968 and studied at the Goodman School of Drama and the Yale School of Drama. She taught costume design at the Yale School of Drama, Harvard University, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA before moving to UC Merced in 2004.
Ramicova has developed an international reputation by designing costumes for about 150 productions, including theater, opera, ballet, dance, film and television in the United States and Europe.
One frequent collaborator is Peter Sellars, the director of “Nixon in China.” The two worked on the original production in 1987 and others through the years before again joining together at the Met.
Ramicova said costumes for the opera — based on President Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s — are designed by history. She studied film and photographs to help capture the styles.
She brings the same focus and dedication to UC Merced, where her courses include the History of Clothing, Costume and Fashion, the History of Ethnic Costumes, and Theatre and Social Responsibility.
Ramicova teaches from the perspective of a practicing artist with more than 30 years of experience. While the arts can't be quantified through statistical models or theories, they are an important part of life, she said.
Her students often are asked to look at clothing by studying their own families. They use photographs, interviews and research to draw a picture of their own history and culture through generations.
“The idea is for them to understand how clothing is intertwined with life,” Ramicova said.
UC Merced senior Michelle Deco, a psychology major and arts minor, gives her professor high marks.
“She's inspired me to explore and research other cultures, which has reshaped me and exposed me to other people's walks of life,” said Deco, of Los Angeles.
Third-year student Stephanie Chen praised Ramicova as a great professor whose background provides a strong foundation for the classroom. Chen, a Bay Area native majoring in psychology and cognitive science with a minor in arts, now is more appreciative of clothing, costume and fashion.
“She brought back my love for art and history, which I thought I had lost long ago,” Chen said.
Ramicova said she will teach this spring and then take a year-long sabbatical to work on a new project: the donation of 35 years of costume design work to the UC Merced library. She also plans to write an article about her roughly 50 collaborations with Sellars.