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News / Clark County News

Artist spreads cheer with Christmas murals in downtown Vancouver as he seeks redemption from former life as ‘a mean fellow’

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: December 22, 2023, 6:04am
7 Photos
Artist Kent Huggins puts the finishing touches on a painting of Santa Claus while creating holiday scenes on businesses&rsquo; windows in downtown Vancouver for free, as seen at Center Stage Clothiers on Wednesday afternoon.
Artist Kent Huggins puts the finishing touches on a painting of Santa Claus while creating holiday scenes on businesses’ windows in downtown Vancouver for free, as seen at Center Stage Clothiers on Wednesday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in downtown Vancouver. But instead of Old St. Nick with a sled full of toys spreading holiday cheer, it’s a man with a wheelbarrow full of paint.

The artist, Kent Huggins, has painted the windows of more than 30 businesses and nonprofits this holiday season; and he does it without expecting anything in return. Huggins, 57, said he wants to share a bit of Christmas spirit with the Vancouver community and pay his deeds forward.

“I paint because it’s a way for me to share my talent, but I also just love the holiday season,” Huggins said. “I love when people stop and take a look at my paintings or when a child and parents take pictures in front of my paintings. I like the way it’s just a very positive thing.”

Businesses could donate whatever they had toward the painting; Huggins said he even accepted two lattes as payment from a local coffee shop.

How to help

To donate to Kent Huggins’ GoFundMe,
visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/deck-the-couve.

Huggins, a disabled veteran, moved to Vancouver about five months ago. He said the festive murals are his introduction to the city that already feels like home.

In November, Huggins walked into the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, he said, and offered to paint the windows for the holiday. From there, word got out about Huggins’ talent, and inquiries from other local businesses snowballed.

Huggins said he has been booked every day since Thanksgiving.

“He’s just been a blessing around town,” said Diana Kirkpatrick, owner of Center Stage Clothiers, where Huggins painted a Whoville village. “I think it’s just amazing that he is doing this out of the kindness of his heart for people.”

Huggins began painting as a child. He said the first time he picked up a paintbrush it was evident he had a knack for it.

“I see in paint. … I was probably born a painter,” Huggins said.

A story of redemption

Huggins describes his story as one of redemption.

With each painting, he is not only trying to pay it forward but generate a bit of good karma.

Huggins described his former self as a “mean fellow.” He said he has a “couple of regrets” that ultimately led him to serve a few years in a Florida state prison decades ago for written threats, battery and burglary.

But one day while serving his time, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

“For the first time, I realized who put me in prison,” Huggins said, pointing to himself.

From there, Huggins vowed to redeem himself and work toward being a better person.

With a flick of the wrist, Huggins strokes his paintbrush dipped in red paint onto his translucent canvas — the bright red filling in the fabric of Santa’s cap.

As traffic flows behind Huggins as he works on Main Street, one woman leans her head out of a car window to get a better look.

The window art piece, displaying a portrait of Santa, Whoville houses and twinkling stars, is one of Huggins’ last paintings he will do before retiring this holiday season.

Next year, he will make a call of action for other artists to “Deck the Couve” with him, he said, and spread holiday cheer as a community.

“I truly believe in peace on Earth,” Huggins said. “And I think the feeling from Christmastime is one of the things that prove we can all get along.”

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