The wire figure, a purple heart held above her head, wobbles slightly in the breeze. Her curvy figure is made of miles of intertwined chicken and electric fence wire. Bright purple clay lavender stems set upon bright green wire stems dance to the same beat as the rest of the body. They never bend too far due to the heavy cement heart that weighs them to the rich earth below.
This piece by Sherryl Jackson shows both her artistic style and outlook on life. A multiple sclerosis diagnosis, losses and struggles pushed against her through the years but a solid foundation of family has kept her standing.
Land brought Jackson and her family to North River more than 15 years ago.
“I wanted to raise my kids in the country,” she said. “We found the perfect place here so that’s why we came out and stayed.”
Of her 30 acres of land, five are devoted to a homestead. Her menagerie includes three horses, two cats, three Newfoundlands and several chickens for eggs. She also has a large aviary of “broken birds” who have been injured and can’t be released back into the wild.
Many vegetables are grown in the large garden she keeps. She lives off the grid but with the convenience of satellite Internet.
“Anything I add to my place, I make sure it will be accessible if I end up in a wheelchair,” she said. “The way I live keeps me away from chaos … from the phone, from TV, from lots of distractions.”
Newfoundlands, furry dogs often between 100 and 150 pounds, came into her life after she was diagnosed with MS. These dogs were the perfect size for her to put her hand on when her balance begins to tilt. She now breeds the dogs and has new puppies. Currently, she is training one of the puppies to someday take over for her therapy dog.
Her art is therapy. Although doing it too often wears her out, Jackson began working with wire as a way to keep her hands busy once her three grown children moved out.
“I started my art at the encouragement of my kids,” she said. “They told me, ‘Mom, you’ve gotta take this further.’ So I did.”
She used to draw but the MS makes that difficult now.
“My art keeps my hands in shape because it is very physical and also keeps my mind alert. So, I call it my physical therapy,” she said. “These pieces pushed me to my limits and took me a long time to recover from.”
She now takes weekly injections to keep herself moving. Since her diagnosis, she has had to use a cane, a walker and a wheelchair in the past. Although she now walks on her own, she frequently falls and quickly becomes fatigued.
This doesn’t keep her from creating.
“I have small wire figures all over my garden and do different ones every year,” she said. “They all rust so it’s interesting to watch them change and eventually dissolve to make room for new ones.”
Her favorite pieces are those she hides in plain sight, to give people a chance to look for something.
The wire figure holding a large clay occupies the middle of the lavender maze at Westport Winery. Here, small weddings will eventually be held.
Kim Roberts, one owner of Westport Winery, was struck with Jackson approaching her with ideas and mock-ups when she usually had to look for artists.
“I instantly liked her and her style so I knew that I would love whatever she brought to the table,” she said. “She has met — no, exceeded — my expectations. I feel pretty darn blessed to have her.”
Roberts’ once had a Newfoundland, which also cemented the bond between the two. One of Jackson’s pieces, a wire girl with an antique bike and her trusty Newfoundland companion, is Roberts’ favorite because of the wire-furred canine.
“I think it’s interesting that she can make such fluid movement out of rigid material. That is a particularly unique gift. Her work seems to conjure up memory and I swear I can feel my old Newfoundland’s hair just by looking at the wire one,” Roberts said.
Jackson is not limited to just wire. Like her muses for making pieces, it depends on what she’s thinking at the time. Clay, paper mache, resin and used materials, such as second-hand wood, have made appearances in different pieces.
Much of her art is political, including global warning, gender equality and accepting diversity. Sometimes, however, it is just for fun.
She works as a librarian for the North River School library. Originally given to the school through Timberland grant, it is the only school library through this program still standing. Everyone in the small community uses the library, which allows her to know who comes through. She often takes books aside for particular people she know will enjoy them.
She reads many different subjects herself, including young adult books. This is partly due to needing to know exactly what these books are about to recommend them and because she loves a quick read now and then, she said.
“I love everything about books. I feel like I’m on vacation when I’m reading, it’s the best,” she said. “When I’m working at the library, I usually have a book on tape going while I’m sorting.”
Although it’s difficult to pick just one favorite book, as she’s always reading something new, she does have an author and genre that she keeps returning to. She loves the work of Washington state author Jane Kirkpatrick, who writes a lot of historical fiction. In fact, Jackson is working on her own historical fiction book as well.
She also put together a book in honor of her grandchild, named Emerald, who had just been born. The book, titled “Huckleberry Creek” features clay creatures Jackson made by hand. They are set upon used shoes donated by children throughout North River. To illustrate the story, she set the figures up in her backyard and had her photographer friend, Gary Douglas Lennon, take photos.
Back in the lavender labyrinth, a crack has developed in the purple heart of the wire figure surrounded by young lavender plants. However, it has only made he heart bigger.
Jackson squints up at it with a smile as she said, “Well that explains why it seems a lot bigger than before. How poetic is that?”
Her work can be found at twistedsisterstudios.com or on her children’s book huckleberry-creek.com.
Alexandra Kocik: 537-3928 or akocik@thedailyworld and @DW_AKocik on Twitter.