New Jesus Guillen exhibition at the reopening of the historical museum – La Conner Weekly News
Good things are worth the wait. And when it comes to the recently reopened Skagit County Historical Museum in La Conner, those are big things too.
In this case, an exhibition of the works of famous La Conner artist, Jesus Guillen, whose images capture both the beauty of the Skagit Valley and the workers who reaped its agricultural bounty.
“Guillen (is) a remarkable regional artist who died in 1994, but who remains an important part of the art history of the Skagit Valley,” says Kris Ekstrand, guest curator of the exhibition. After being closed due to the pandemic, the local museum has chosen a truly impactful topic to welcome 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 will cultivate this talent after arriving here in 1960 as a farm worker.
Guillen will eventually move his family to the La Conner district, an ideal setting to launch the artistic career that has earned him many accolades over 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 majored in ceramics, became an admirer of Guillen’s work in the early 1980s after reading a feature article about him in the Channel Town Press. Guillen was one of 50 residents featured in the newspaper’s “Making La Conner Go” series.
Wilson wasn’t the only one who held Guillen in high regard. And for good reason, specifies Ekstrand in a press release announcing the exhibition.
“Throughout her professional life,” she explains, “Guillen has maintained a disciplined artistic practice.
Ekstand says the exhibition, which runs until May 3, “places Guillen in the context of the art history of the Skagit Valley and highlights 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 farm worker and the root of his aesthetic and his mind in Mexico.
“The exhibition,” explains Ekstrand, “includes drawings, paintings and three-dimensional pieces as well as a diorama / recreation of Guillen’s workshop in La Conner with very old paintings, working sketches, materials and ephemera.
Ekstrand collaborated with two of Guillen’s children, Rosalinda Guillen and Miguel Guillen, on the project.
Entitled “Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage”, the exhibition is located in the east wing of the museum, explains its director, Jo Wolfe.
“Jesus Guillen’s work has a unique place in the art history of the Pacific Northwest and the Skagit Valley,” Wolfe and museum staff point out in a social media post featuring the exposure. “He took deep roots in the Skagit farmlands of his new home and his work has shown a deep respect and affection for the farm workers who worked there.”
The Skagit County Historical Museum is located at the top of the hill, a short walk from the Guillen family home and the artist’s studio.
The museum is open at 25% of its capacity Friday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with COVID-19 protocols in place. Masks are mandatory at all times in the museum and social distancing will be observed, with visitors spread across its three galleries.
“We’re so excited,” says Wolfe, “to have people back in the museum.”
It is exciting that these visitors are greeted by an exhibition that celebrates the life of an artist who has pursued his creative vision, one that allows them to see in detail the perseverance of agricultural workers in the region.