Jansen Art Center • Lynden, Washington

Tuesday, November 02, 2021 10:34 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

In 2012, a new arts organization opened on Front Street in Lynden. Entitled the Jansen Art Center in tribute to the Eleanor and Henry Jansen Foundation, this non-profit is part art school, part exhibition space, and also recognizes the historic buildings in which it is housed. With quarterly rotations of classes, programs, and exhibitions, the organization seeks to bring to life its mission: “The Jansen Art Center creates opportunities for the community to engage in the arts.” With several exhibitions ending in November to make way for new shows, this is a busy winter for the staff of the Jansen who serve not only Lynden, but all of Whatcom County and beyond. Classes are filling up again after the challenging past years and guests are returning to the admission-free exhibitions that celebrate and highlight artists of all backgrounds. 

Susan Bennerstrom’s architectural and light focused paintings are displayed in the Fine Arts Gallery on the main floor. In her statement for the show, Bennerstrom reiterates her renewed focus on light and shadow as a method for grappling with the changing world. Her paintings are like a metaphor for what many people felt and continue to feel during these times. Bennerstrom’s interiors are intimate and can be visually restricted. However, she masterfully directs light across the picture plane as if to encourage the viewer that there is something better on the other side of the door. Her paintings are a visual guide through a very real place and can recede far into the distance. In this writer’s opinion, the interiors that lead into exteriors are particularly fascinating. “Passage,” for example, illustrates not only an interesting composition, but how the artist is able to push the boundaries of a 2-dimensional space to create depth and movement. These paintings are representational, but still utilize geometry and abstraction to bring these spaces to life. 

After experiencing Bennerstrom’s paintings, the guest continues through the historic space. Along the way, dozens of artworks from the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour remind the viewer of the organization’s mission. A short journey to the next floor leads to the Library Workshop, another exhibition space. In November, paintings by Antonio Gonzalez are on display. Bennestrom’s paintings are focused on light and shadow, while Gonzalez highlights the figures in his work. But the paintings are more personal and intimate than simple figures, and Gonzales wrote that his identity as a Chicano artist continues to be affected by the people and culture of the Lower Yakima Valley. The artist treats everyone with reverence, even including a nimbus, or halo, around their heads. These art historical references are continued with “Sacred Heart Guitar Man,” which draws from centuries of paintings of musicians. But unlike Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” Gonzalez included rays of energy and light emanating from the guitarist. These subjects are active, direct, and represented with attention. Antonio Gonzalez worked with a non-profit that assisted farm workers and their families, and he cared deeply about these individuals. Sadly, Gonzales passed away several weeks before his exhibition opened. 

December brings three new Washington state-based artists to the Jansen Art Center: John Keppelman, Maxine Martell, and Chris Beaven. Keppelman and Beaven bring an almost hyper-realism to their work. Each human subject is represented in detail with confident brushstrokes and an intimate look into the scene. Both artists utilize an internal tension to their work, and it is as if the viewer has happened upon a moment before action. Maxine Martell’s recent paintings explore her identity and heritage couched in the visuals of vintage photographs. Her portraits are also a moment in time, with the subjects staring at the screen as if Martell herself is painting them directly. 

The Jansen Art Center is filled with art. Display cases exhibit ceramics by students and teachers, paintings are displayed at the entry to the building, and all available wall space is used to highlight artworks by local artists. It is work exploring the building during a visit. The historic buildings were once the City Hall and Fire Hall, complete with a jail and morgue. The buildings are surprisingly sprawling and the organization appears to utilizes every square foot. There is a music practice room, ceramics, and jewelry studios, a large textile studio with windows onto Front Street, and a room for dancers to practice. This relatively young organization truly holds a wonderful resource in trust for the public. In speaking with their staff, it appears that the community is eager to visit the exhibitions, participate in classes, and attend music performances once again.

Chloé Dye Sherpe

Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.

On view through November 26, are exhibits by Susan Bennerstrom and Antonio Gonzalez. The winter shows featuring John Keppelman, Maxine Martell, and Chris Beaven, are on view from December  2 through February 25.  Jansen Art Center, located at 321 Front Street in Lynden, Washington, is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M.and Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information, visit www.jansenartcenter.org.

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