NEA National Heritage Fellowship Tribute Video: James Jackson

NEA National Heritage Fellowship Tribute Video: James Jackson

My name is James Jackson. I’m from Sheridan, Wyoming. And I am a recipient of the
National Endowment for the Arts, their National Heritage Fellowship. And it’s a great honor for me to represent
the state of Wyoming. Doing leatherwork as a career, it’s had
some interesting twists and turns and so forth. Basically what you do is you start with hides,
animal skins. These skins are tanned in a certain way so
that you can carve and tool and work with them. When I start on a leather panel, I’m already
thinking about how I can get some energy out of that particular flat piece. And so when I design on the leather, I will
draw. And even the strokes I make with my little
stylus, like this, are up and down, and I’m thinking how I can charge that surface with
some energy. My father, Edward Jackson, he was a saddle
maker. And I was raised in a saddle shop. When I was a small kid, I remember falling
asleep in the bins, leather bins of my father’s shop. Early on, I didn’t have any real thoughts
about being a leatherworker. I thought
this was something I had to do for my family and for my father, and to help with those
things, and then I would go off to college. I would go to school all day, stamp belts
until 1 or 2 in the morning. And I got through all that. And then of course, then I went to work at
King’s. Well Don King started this in 1961 as a downtown
business. Before he had it out at the ranch, and just
kind of night worked. But he decided the public needed to service
us a little better, so came downtown. Then Jim came along when he was in high school,
he’s been in and out of the place ever since. You know I worked there it was a 6 day a week
job, 8 or 9 hours a day. It’s not an easy job. Sheridan has had a real rich history of saddle
making, for many, many years. Because of all the horses we’ve had in this
area. Saddle makers, it’s a natural place for
them. Sheridan Style, the kind of carving I do–If
i’m trying to explain the Sheridan Style you will look at it and there’s a certain flow
that goes through the flowers and the image. It’s like a piece of music in the sense
that there’s an ebb and a flow and a rhythm that goes through the whole style. So, Jim is really recognized by his peers
here in Wyoming, and across the world actually, for being a master leather carver, and also
for being somebody who is willing to teach that leather carving to others, as well. He has taught classes in Australia, in Japan,
across Europe. Every May, in Sheridan, we have the Rocky
Mountain Leather Trade show, which brings leather carvers from all over the world to
Wyoming, and a big part of the draw is for folks to see Jim, to see his work, and for
the chance to learn under him a little bit as well. You know, growing up in northern Wyoming,
I guess I never realized what a remarkable place Sheridan was for saddle making and for
carving. You know Don King, Ernst Saddlery, and now
Jim. It’s amazing to see the work he’s done,
the recognition he’s had. His artwork is just phenomenal, and it’s practical
too. One of the cultural things for Wyoming is
having a saddle you can stay on and that carving really helps. So you know, just congratulations goes to
Jim from Wyoming. We’re so proud, it kind of comes back to
that cowboy heritage, and knowing what real art feels like when you see it worn on the
range like that. My career in leather, I’ve been really fortunate
in a lot of ways. Because working in a
place like Kings Saddlery, and I’ve worked there almost 30 years, working at a place
like that where you do custom work, was really important for my development. I wasn’t just building saddles or something. I was building belts, purses, wallets, briefcases,
photo albums, all kinds of riding equipment, all kinds of things. So when you work and when you’re doing that
and every customer that comes in has a different idea of what they want.. And so it was difficult at first, but as I
worked and developed my skills and so forth, I got to a point where I welcomed a challenge. You know, so bring it on, I can handle it.

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