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Artist was a natural at creating woodland carvings

Scott Csernyik

2/9/2000 12:00:00 AM

A collection of his woodworkings have been admired by many at mid-Michigan museums and area art centers.

'Smokey' Joe JacksonNow, that meticulously created montage of Saginaw Chippewa Tribal member Smokey Joe Jackson's woodcarvings can be viewed on the Isabella Reservation.

The 33-piece group was acquired by Ziibiwing Cultural Society officials from the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland.

Jackson's creations were on display during a Jan. 20 ceremony and reception in the Three Fires Room at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.

"We are humbled at the thought of receiving a gift such as this," stated ZCS Director Bonnie Ekdahl. "It's just a great honor to have this collection back."

Chippewa Nature Center Curator Dennis Pilaske told the 100 in attendance he had gained more "than just a passing interest" of Jackson's works.

Plaque of appreciationJackson, a self-taught artist, captured in fine detail many of Michigan's woodland wildlife. His work included creative carvings covering several types of birds and fish.

The Chippewa Nature Center purchased the collection in 1975 through a grant from the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation. Jackson was born in 1921 and passed on in 1995. During his lifetime, his art was exhibited at the Saginaw and Bay County museums, as well as in the Hall of Ideas at the Midland Center for the Arts.

"His observation skills were so keen," Pilaske said. "He was not only respected as an artist, but as a man." Chief Phil Peters Sr. presented a plaque of appreciation to Dr. Eugene Kenaga, founding president of the CNC board of directors. Other CNC officials who attended the reception included Dick Touvell, executive director; Dr. Eugene Beckham, board of directors president; Jerry Ziarno, board member; as well as Eugene Yehle, chairman of the Strosacker Foundation in Midland.

Smokey Joe Jackson Collection Committee members for ZCS included Chairperson Alice Gardner, cultural arts specialist; Pat Wilson, curator; Jefferson Ballew, NAGPRA coordinator; Mae Pego, cultural resource manager; William Johnson, collection systems manager and Charmaine Benz, editor/publications specialist.

Ziibiwing officials also gave Chippewa Nature Center officials a stone sculpture created by renowned Tribal artist Dennis Christy.

Peters also presented plaques to his children, Forrest and Dawn Jackson.

"I am quite overwhelmed with all of the generosity people have contributed to this project," said Forrest Jackson, who traveled from Heighstown, New Jersey. "I am very proud of dad and I have lots of great memories of him. He had a great eye for things. He always thought everything had a humorous side to it."

Dawn, who resides in Santa Clarita, Calif., spoke of the humble nature which characterized her father.

"Every time he finished something, he would give it away," she said. "He never did it for money or to make a name."

Dawn, an accomplished artist in her own right, is currently a product designer for Disney Studios. She explained how she has all of his remaining unfinished pieces.

"I do hope that I can live up to his talent," she said.