Archive for Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Artist delights in early architecture

December 28, 2005

When local artist James Jackson was assigned the Wells-Fargo building for Shawnee's Sesquicentennial Calendar, he immediately imagined it as it might have been during the holiday season in the mid-1800s.

He got to work on the image so quickly, having seen only a picture of the building at 5707 Nieman, that it was only after he had completed the painting that he realized the building's history: it was once a station for Wells Fargo and provided services to travelers on the Military Road and Santa Fe Trail.

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But the winter scene, showing a pony and a horse and buggy tied outside of the little brick structure, turned out to be perfect for the calendar's December artwork.

"It was just a nice Christmas gathering," Jackson explained. " ... Old buildings have always fascinated me. It didn't matter about the history; I just liked the building."

The Wells-Fargo building is believed to be the oldest building in the city, and local history credits it with being built in 1824. However, like the Shawnee Jail, history also credits Chris Fangro with building the small brick structure, and records indicate Fangro didn't get to the area until the 1850s.

Jackson has had a lot of experience painting buildings; one of his favorite subjects has been interesting homes, and he adds a church into a painting whenever possible. He also specializes in portraits, something he now is turning into a business, Special Occasions Portraits.

While growing up in Winfield, Kan., it was Jackson's mother who introduced him to art, mainly creating pencil and charcoal drawings.

"Me and my younger brother looked over her shoulder and picked it up from there," Jackson said.

At age 7, his mother gave him is first paint-by-numbers kit, and he was hooked. But it was an art teacher in high school who really pushed him to excel in his artwork. Jackson continued to take art classes in college, but he said his teacher in high school was so good that it wasn't very interesting.

"It wasn't challenging anymore -- I thought, 'well, I already learned that,'" he said.

The Vietnam War interrupted Jackson's college work, and he joined the Air Force in 1965, working in radar and air traffic control. Airplanes were one of his many interests, although it was only after he got out of the Air Force that he learned how to fly.

Jackson and his wife lived in California for several years, Jackson working as a flight instructor, before he moved to Shawnee 26 years ago to take a job flying cargo planes.

But art has always been a hobby, and Jackson has continued to teach himself new techniques through books and videos.

Though he now lives in Lenexa, he said he loved his time in Shawnee and was happy to contribute something to its Sesquicentennial. It was just another new thing to try for an artist who loves to paint many subjects, from portraits of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen to nature scenes from his imagination.

"I have many interests in life," Jackson said. "I jump from thing to thing ... so I've done the whole gamut, abstract to impressionists and realism."

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