Professor’s legacy lives on

Ruben Trejo’s art pieces are personal interpretations of his past


Jose Trejo stands next to his father’s piece, “Three Brushes” (wood & acrylic). Ruben Trejo was an Art in Humanities and a Drawing & Design professor at EWU before passing away in July 2009 | Photo courtesy of Marshall E. Peterson.

By Sam Jackson, Reporter

Known for his modernist style and culturally influenced artwork, Ruben Trejo’s famed collection of pieces are going on display.

The nationally acclaimed artist’s work will be at the Marmot Art Space in Spokane throughout the entire month of December.

Even though Ruben Trejo died in July 2009, his legacy lives on. Trejo was a professor at EWU for 30 years, teaching Art in Humanities, Drawing, and Design, while primarily specializing in sculpture.

Some of the work that can be observed at the gallery features interpretations related to how Trejo grew up and where he came from. Trejo was part of the massive immigration from Mexico to the U.S. during the Mexican Revolution in 1910. At the time, Trejo worked at the railroad laying down tracks.

“My dad was born in a box car and because people were connected to family and there wasn’t as much mobility, they would put the entire family in the box,” said Jose Trejo, Ruben’s son. “Kind of like a two bedroom little apartment on wheels and that way they had however many workers they needed and they would just move them around on the lines. So my dad has a lot of rail spikes and those kind of things in his work, they are a part of that experience.”

Even though Trejo was recognized greatly for connecting his heritage into his artwork, in many ways he was known for incorporating a sense of humor, too.

“I think that he had a really good balance of seriousness and silliness,” said Ellen Picken, EWU alumna and former student of Ruben. “His subject matter seemed to be dealing with culturally significant topics to him. That depth of looking back on where he was from and the identity of being a non-white person in the United States has to be taken seriously. But at the same time he was such a jovial person. That kind of quirkiness and exuberance that he has for life came through.”

His work continues to be requested to showcase across the nation. He has two permanent pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Museum of Arts in Culture in Spokane regularly exhibits his artwork.

“Ruben was a major artist, so his work is still being sought because he had a major impact on people,” said Marshall Peterson, EWU alumnus and gallery owner.

For some members of the community, Ruben Trejo’s artwork will bring a sort of homecoming gesture.

“For me it’s sentimental but it’s also good for Spokane to recognize the artists who have called this place home and who have at least been part of the larger dialogue on art in the rest of the nation,” said Picken. “For me it feels like a family gathering. All the professors that were at or are at Eastern when he was there, the students that he had and his own family coming together in that space in particular is very intimate.”

The Gallery is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-9 p.m. The gallery will be officially showcasing his work, and many other artists, on Dec. 1 as part of the First Friday event in Spokane.