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Work of WA Artist Who Depicted Farmworkers' Lives Recognized

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Monday, September 20, 2021   

LA CONNER, Wash. - The exhibit of an artist who depicted the lives of farmworkers in northwest Washington has been recognized for its quality.

The Skagit County Historical Museum has received an award of excellence in exhibits from the Washington Museum Association for its retrospective on Jesus Guillen's work.

Guillen was a painter and farmworker in the region who died in 1994. His son, Miguel Guillen, provided input for the exhibit and works as a program manager in grants to organizations for the Washington State Arts Commission.

He said his father had a love of the worker.

"He had a comprehensive understanding of the experience," said Guillen. "That was really one of the drivers. I mean, he was an activist, he knew what needed to be done, he knew what he wanted to see done. But it came from a place in him that was of experience."

Guillen was born in Texas, spent his childhood in Mexico and then moved to the Skagit Valley in the 1960s, where he lived for the rest of his life. The exhibit, which was on display at the beginning of 2021, included his paintings, drawings and a diorama of his studio.

Kris Ekstrand is an artist and friend of Guillen's who curated "Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage."

She said his work was under-recognized and had never been shown as a group before this exhibit. Ekstrand said the exhibit was not just about his art but the story of his life and experience living in the Skagit Valley, which he loved.

"What makes his work unique is that the perspective of his paintings particularly is from the farmworker's point of view," said Ekstrand. "So it's really from the field looking out rather than from our point of view driving by, looking in."

Guillen said his father's work lives on because honest art always resonates.

"The fact that he poured so much of his soul into that work, so much intention into that work means it will never be irrelevant," said Guillen. "It will always be relevant because it speaks directly to the experience."




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