Aug 23, 2019 | By: Rachel Johnson

Brainerd Man Credits Art For Helping Him Survive Life’s Hardships

For one man currently living in Brainerd, art has been more than just a hobby – it has gotten him through some of the toughest times in his life.

Jim Vargas started creating his artwork when he was in prison in the late ’80s as a way to distract himself from his surroundings.

“He had a very hard time in his life but he was always a hard worker. So when he got there, he’s always been a survivor, so I think the first thing he did was to build relationships,” said Vargas’ sister, Antonia Vargas.

“I don’t know how I got through it but I did,” said Jim Vargas.

With no formal training, he started by using whatever supplies he could find to make paper mache and paint for his art. He started making art as an homage to his Aztec ancestry, and he would mail his creations to his family directly from the prison.

“We were thrilled that he was able to be focusing on something else,” added Antonia.

“I never read about it, I’ve never seen nobody make them, nobody told me how,” said Jim.

Now, Vargas is living at Bethany, Good Samaritan Assisted Living Apartments in Brainerd, and though his surroundings have changed, the purpose behind his art has not.

“He has never given up. He’s always been able to survive by focusing on his art. He spends hours on it and I think it makes the time pass,” Antonia explained.

Though Vargas’ health is declining, he says he will keep creating his art as long as his body lets him.

“It keeps me going. Even though I have a bad back, bad spine, but that doesn’t stop me,” Jim said.

Vargas’ art has not only impacted him, but also his family over these last decades.

“It has meant so much for his survival. I think art does that. Art, reading, writing, are survival skills that I think our family has. When you think of what he could have become, I am not bitter about it,” said Antonia. “Because I think everything he has done here is a testament to how skillful and intelligent he is.”

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