New Jesus Guillen exhibit at Historical Museum reopening
March 3, 2021
Good things are worth waiting for. And when it comes to the recently re-opened Skagit County Historical Museum in La Conner, so, too, are great things.
In this case, an exhibit of the works of the acclaimed late La Conner artist Jesus Guillen, whose images capture both the beauty of the Skagit Valley and the workers who have harvested its agricultural bounty.
“Guillen (is) a noteworthy regional artist who died in 1994 but remains an important part of the art history of the Skagit Valley,” says Kris Ekstrand, guest curator of the exhibit. After having been closed due to the pandemic, the local museum has chosen a truly impactful subject with which to greet its returning visitors.
Guillen was born in Texas and spent his early childhood in Mexico. He showed an interest in drawing at a young age. He would cultivate that talent after arriving here in 1960 as an agricultural worker.
Guillen would eventually relocate his family to the La Conner area, an ideal setting from which to launch the artistic career that would garner him many accolades through the years.
Among his biggest fans was then-Marysville Globe publisher Sim Wilson, also an influential state lawmaker, who held a master’s degree in fine arts.
Wilson, who specialized in ceramics, became acquainted with and an admirer of, Guillen’s work in the early 1980s after reading a feature article on him in the Channel Town Press. Guillen was one of 50 residents profiled in the paper’s “Making La Conner Go” series.
Wilson was not alone in holding Guillen in high esteem. And for good reason, Ekstrand says in a release announcing the exhibit.
“Throughout his working life,” she explains, “Guillen maintained a disciplined artistic practice.”
Ekstand says the exhibit, which runs through May 3, “places Guillen in context with the art history of the Skagit Valley and illuminates the connection between his identity as an artist and the many other aspects of this life – his beloved family, his interest in social justice, his lifelong passion for education and literacy, his experience as a farmworker and the root of his aesthetic and spirit in Mexico.
“The exhibit,” says Ekstrand, “includes drawings, paintings and three-dimensional pieces plus a diorama/re-creation of Guillen’s La Conner studio with very early paintings, working sketches, materials and ephemera.”
Ekstrand collaborated with two of Guillen’s children, Rosalinda Guillen and Miguel Guillen, on the project.
Titled “Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage,” the exhibit is in the East Wing of the museum, says its director, Jo Wolfe.
“The work of Jesus Guillen occupies a unique place in the art history of the Pacific Northwest and the Skagit Valley,” Wolfe and museum staff emphasize in a social media post introducing the exhibit. “He put down deep roots in the Skagit farmland of his new home and his work manifested a profound respect and affection for the farmworkers who labored within it.”
The Skagit County Historical Museum is located on top of the hill, within walking distance of the Guillen family home and the artist’s studio.
The museum is open at 25 percent capacity Fridays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., with COVID-19 protocols in place. Masks are required at all times while in the museum and social distancing will be observed, with visitors spread through its three galleries.
“We are so excited,” Wolfe says, “to have people back in the museum.”
It is exciting that those visitors will be greeted by an exhibit that celebrates the life of an artist who pursued his creative vision, one that allows them to see in vivid detail the perseverance of the area’s farm workers.