'Chimney tree' leads artist to Valley

Journey of creativity leads the Jacksons to Black Mountain

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

Sometimes when we look back we remember an incident that became a turning point in our lives.

Leaf artist John Wayne Jackson was only 19 when he picked up a young hitchhiker near California’s Big Sur who sparked his interest in a mysterious chimney tree.

“After we camped out for the night,” Jackson recalls, “the kid said to me ‘I’ve got to find it. My brother was here and he actually saw one.’ And so we hiked around until, sure enough, we came upon a brace of giant redwoods and a slender tree in between shaped like a chimney. With just enough space to cram your backside and feet, we shimmied up over forty feet. Then hoisted ourselves limb by limb until we were 300-feet above the ground. Perched on the uppermost branch, we started screaming as we looked down at the tops of all the magnificent trees in the forest. That changed me and infused me with the love I have of nature and a huge regard for natural things.”

Later on, in tandem with Paige (his guiding light, wife and business manager), he developed a way to preserve all manner and sizes of venerable leaves, some as large as eight feet, gleaned from various botanical gardens. As he solidified and embellished each intricate vein pattern, the final product became reminiscent of fossilized images in stone.

After a great deal of trial and error, through this process and marketing endeavors the couple were eventually able to support themselves and give vent to what Paige calls her husband’s “creative wanderlust” as they travel to twenty-five art shows around the country each year.

“At first,” Paige pointed out, “it wasn’t easy. We stumbled lots of times but there was this inner voice telling me, ‘Keep going, keep going.’” Relying on this mantra, and as an artist in her own right taken with the beauty of these preserved sculptures, they did, indeed, keep at it.

But exhibiting their wares at craft shows and home improvement shows around their home base of Phoenix simply didn’t pan out. Then, purely by chance, a friend offered them the use of a booth at an art show in Tempe, they made $5,000 and, at long last, found their ideal venue.

“As it turns out, we appeal to a broad spectrum of people,” Paige added. “I think everyone relates to leaves. If you go to Seven Sisters Gallery in Montreat, for instance, the buyers are more than happy to carry our things.”

Which brings up the question, how did they decide upon a new base of operations in Black Mountain?

The answer is twofold. As their universe expanded, they reached out to a major show and gallery in Philadelphia. Realizing that Tom and Libba Tracy, their old friends from Phoenix, had settled here at a virtual halfway point in their travels, they stayed with them six or eight times and immediately fell in love with this valley.

“For my part,” said Paige, “I was craving moisture and green and a temperate climate instead of those hot, hot summers. Too cold in Minnesota where I grew up, too dry and hot in the desert, and now I’m just right. Plus the proximity of way more people and shows to choose from. Now add an almost mysterious, special vibrancy we haven’t found anywhere else.”

At present, the colorful contemporary fossils that John Wayne Jackson creates range from maple and cabernet leaves, Victoria water lilies, lotus leaves, and a Huntington Gunnera measuring 25x28x10 as a prime example.

When the couple are not on the road, you can find them and their assistants busily at work at their Black Mountain studio in the Eastside Business Park.

Their web address imaginethatcreations.com links directly to Facebook. Their e-mail address is john@imaginethatcreations.com. You can also try their cell number at 480-528-6775.