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One More Line

Jack Mays -- capturing life on paper and on film


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This is a tale of two artists: the one determined to die without a legacy and the one determined to preserve it. Jack Mays and Carrie Grant met in Ferndale, back in ancient times. She was 19 and had no idea what a stunning, accomplished woman she'd one day become -- she just wanted to get away from Los Angeles. He was a gifted sculptor who worked in bronze. Ferndale is a small town, even more so in the 1970s. Carrie and her boyfriend had a bathroom. Jack didn't. An art community flourished.

And then the earthquake happened. Jack's gallery and foundry -- destroyed. Temporal nature of the universe realized, Jack eschewed bronzing for the simplicity of pencil and paper. Years were spent documenting slices of life as they unfolded in Ferndale. The cemetery. Main Street. The Fair. And then the diagnosis happened. Temporal nature of individual existence realized, Carrie decided she would not lose her friend without immortalizing him. Jack said of his drawings, "Burn them." Carrie immersed herself in his artwork -- his life -- instead.

They thought they had a mere three months before the cancer would take Jack away. "I was desperate to get all the stories while I could," Carrie explained. She had her friend John Howarth capture Jack on video. Originally, she thought the material would be for a book, but as they kept filming -- and Jack continued to defy the timeline the doctors had set -- the medium shifted from written word to spoken, from print to movie. All the while, the unspoken thought that Jack might die before Carrie could capture all the narratives haunted her.

Three years pass. Jack carries on, and Carrie's film, One More Line, is finished, bumped from a spring premiere to a fall -- skylights in the Morris Graves Museum of Art let in too much light to show movies in April -- and, despite Carrie's fear that One More Line might be too slow, the Ferndale Rep crowd loved it when it debuted there for the WildRivers 101 Film Festival. "They LOVED it! I couldn't be happier," said Carrie.

One More Line screens again on Friday, Oct. 23, at the Morris Graves (where the early nightfall is now conducive to film showings). An accompanying exhibit of Jack's drawings stands in the Knight Gallery from Sept. 17 to Nov. 8 -- you may have experienced the Arts Alive! reception.

And what of the drawings? They're luminous renderings of moments in time, history in Prismacolor -- we should have a Jack Mays on every corner of America. Some drawings span 27 feet when placed together. "I didn't understand the composition," Carrie said, upon viewing the individual pieces of Jack's puzzle. The drawings lay in heaps around his home, waiting for Carrie to organize them into a coherent storyline. "It was tricky," she said. "I had to connect them, create bridges" from one geographical point to another. Jack spent 15 years chronicling Main Street; then "tired of the crowds," he moved to the cemetery, Carrie said. There, after a while, he'd get lonely and shift his attention to the Ferndale Fairgrounds. "He did this circuit for years."

As Jack studied Ferndale, so Carrie studied Jack in One More Line. Her initial impulse could be seen as selfish: "I had to satisfy my own need," she explained, "to make sure I spent enough time with my friend." Her greater purpose, however, was altruistic: "I wanted to allow other people to share his work." Part of what convinced Jack to refrain from immolating his drawing upon passing stemmed from the creation of Ferndale's Amazing Grace charity, a group that assists families of children with cancer. "If his work can benefit others, if it has that sort of value," Carrie said, he would be willing to contribute.

And so one man's sketches of small town moments ripple out into the greater world. As One More Line continued to take shape, esteemed BBC filmmaker John Howarth's experience grew even more valuable in molding it. Howarth's credits include Emmy nominations and BAFTA awards for his numerous meaningful documentaries -- he's worked with Laird Hamilton and Meryl Streep, among others.

For Jack, Carrie says One More Line makes him feel a bit "exposed, embarrassed... but flattered." It isn't his, it's hers, he says. In his artist's statement, Jack is similarly understated:

"In my earlier days as a sculptor, I reacted to the news and worldly themes: Nixon, the shootings at Kent State, as well as local issues and Western themes. I was playing with images that were important to me as a child: Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. But it was a generic kind of art and was suitable for shows. In 1992, we had a huge earthquake and my foundry was wiped out. At that point I started drawing full time. I realized that the casting process was 99 percent labor and one percent creativity. Drawing was the opposite. It was also at this point that I went from the generic to the specific and from the national to the local."

He took a position teaching at Ferndale Elementary and, impressed with children's ability to focus on the essential, began his own project.

"The project in question -- the study of Ferndale through colored pencil drawings -- I knew was a process in which I would give up other opportunities. My way of working is like going into the monastery. I was uninfluenced by galleries, the art world, and staying on top of trends.... My art, audience and goals were very specific.... In retrospect, I would never have envisioned these panoramas. I chose this manner of working in isolation, seven days a week, day and night, for years. It was a total fascination, and the results turned out pretty good. I feel like my life is well spent in doing this."

Carrie also feels her investment has paid off. "It was intense, hard and focused," she said. "The first time I interviewed Jack, I had no idea what it was going to be about. By the time we finally finished, I understood." She couldn't necessary keep Jack alive -- though he is -- but she could ensure his art lives on forever.



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