Sunday, April 18, 2021
Cesar Chavez Painting Finds a Home in the Wood River Valley
Melissa Graves Brown and John Zender Estrada show off the painting of Estrada’s that Brown purchased this week.
Monday, March 29, 2021


The painting evokes thoughts of Superman flying through the air his muscular hand outstretched.

But the face on this super man is that of Cesar Chavez and he’s holding a candle in his outstretched hand.

The colorful, large-scale painting painted in 1995 was inspired by a mural that muralist John Zender Estrada made for the Cesar Chavez Foundation to educate those in East Los Angeles about the farmworkers’ activist.

This painting featuring labor activist Cesar Chavez is meant to inspire local high school students in the coming years.

And this particular painting was purchased by Calysta Phillips, an upper school French and Spanish Teacher at the Sun Valley Community School, to educate local high school students about the man who fought for better working conditions and pay for California farmworkers.

It’s intended that the painting will be displayed at the Sun Valley Community School one year, then taken to Wood River High School the next.

John Zender Estrada accompanied the painting to Ketchum this past week as part of a day-long event that included two screenings of the film “Hailing Cesar,” talks by Chavez’s grandson Eduardo Chavez and a march through Ketchum in honor of Chavez and what he stood for.

Estrada, who hails from Los Angeles, has painted more than 500 murals in public spaces since 1982. Murals, he says, date back to the paintings in the Paleolithic Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in France, the Egyptian tombs and Pompeii. They became particularly popular in Mexico during the 1930s when Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco and others painted them to provoke social and political commentary.

This large-scale painting was one of many that John Zender Estrada showcased at a pop-up Gallery Walk at The Spot.

“I wanted to tell everyone’s stories with my early murals. Now I do them more for inspiration than storytelling,” he said. “I’m even doing a mural for McDonald’s that depicts a train load of food touting healthy eating.”

Estrada met Eduardo Chavez, the grandson of Cesar, while restoring a couple outdoor murals depicting Cesar Chavez that had been covered with graffiti. The two became fast friends and since have gone on tours together to universities and other venues to keep Cesar Chavez’s legacy alive.

Estrada conversed with dozens of people who came to see his work at a pop-up gallery in The Spot. Among them, Hailey artist Melissa Graves Brown, who purchased one of Estrada’s pieces.

“As an artist, I love the colors—I love everything about his work,” she said. “And I’m inspired by his courage to step aside from what he’s known for and try new things. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been painting circles my whole life, and it’s hard when I try to do something different. His words when I first met him rang so true to my own life. He said, ‘I’m known for murals but I want to paint new stuff.’ As I got to know John, I came to respect him, and so I’m buying a piece of John.”

“Bestia,” a work in acrylic, was one of many paintings that went home with those who attended the show.

The painting bought by Calysta Phillips depicts Cesar Chavez as the light bearer or the bringer of light to a dark environment, said Estrada. The grapes in his other hand represent the strikes he held in grape fields, while the blood dripping from the grapes represents the death that came to some field workers because of the pesticides used in the fields.

“He brought light and justice to farmworkers,” said Estrada. “They were being exposed to chemicals. He wanted to make things safer for workers, safer for the food industry. He wanted to improve the quality of food.”

The candle also symbolizes wisdom and evokes thoughts of candlelight vigils marking the efforts of the courageous, Estrada said.

The eagle at the top of the painting is merged with an Aztec eagle, which he copied from an arch in a San Diego park. The pyramids represent the Aztecs, who lived north of the Gulf of California before settling in the Valley of Mexico.

John Zender Estrada titled this painting “Crossroads of Reason.”

“Murals are an important part of every culture from the frescoes in European churches to the petroglyphs of Native Americans,” Estrada said. “Every culture has incorporated murals to show what’s important.”


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