Near-Death Experience Leads Woman To Art



Carolee Jackson is a woman with a mind of her own, who wakes up each day with a smile.

A diagnosis of chronic severe asthma ended her career as a dental office manager and kept her homebound for six years.


Carolee Jackson began taking art courses after a near-death experience.

While hospitalized in 2001 she had a near-death experience.

"As I was struggling, I heard a voice prod me back from the blue light," Jackson said. "She told me my journey was not over and my voice would be heard through my hands."

When her eyes popped open, the doctors were startled and Jackson was already pondering what the experience meant.

"Could it be art," she thought. "I suck spit. I know nothing about art."

Jackson decided to enroll in art courses at a community college in San Diego.

Her doctors told her she would have allergic reactions to the clays and paints and chemicals used in class.

The doctors told her that her lungs were functioning at 50 percent and that art would kill her.


Flower with ladybug

"Who am I to listen," Jackson said with a shrug.

(She does have the most spotless art studio you are likely to see.)

In January 2002, Jackson's mentor and professor, Yoshimi Hayashi, steered her to ceramics and said, "Through clay, your voice will be heard."

"I about fell off my chair," Jackson said. She went on to study ceramics as a private student of Tony Richards for four years.

Jackson's ceramic works are quite often vividly colored and express her pleasure in life.


Pine tree

"My husband Steve (Small) supports my art and that's one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given," she said.

With her sculptures, Jackson seeks to explode people's assumptions of behavior based solely on physical appearance.

When she gets out of a car, she looks too hale and healthy to be using a disabled plate. The reality is, if she walks too far, she will not be able to breathe.

"All Is Knot What It Seems" is a series of what first appear to be abstract sculptures in earth-colored clay.

"People keep coming up with titillating suggestions as to what they are," Jackson said.

The reality is they are reverse impressions of tree knots.

Individuals can walk inside the barriers of "Take II."


Orange ceramic

Health care costs can break budgets and prescription bottles are a huge part of that cost.

"Take II," as a statement of lives dependent on medication, has grown from 900 to 1,700 prescription bottles in the four years since Jackson conceived the intensely interactive piece.

The public is free to participate in the project by donating empty pill bottles to Jackson.

The sculpture is on display at Artists of the Rim Gallery this month.

"The Shattered Self" is a series of five masks: anger, fear, anxiety, happiness and "the key to survival," laughter.

Looking out her art studio window Jackson can watch birds singing in a rose bush.

"I'm excellent," Jackson said. "Look at the alternative."


Name: Carolee Jackson

Mediums: Clay, metal, acrylics, found objects, performance art, textiles and a little beading and photography.

Motto: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.

Advice to beginning artists: Stay true to yourself.

Award most proud: "Take II" won Best of Show in 2003 and gave me a membership to the San Diego Art Institute. It was my first show and my first sculpture.

Why Strawberry? My family has had roots in Apache Junction since the 1940s, but I traveled as part of a Navy family, so I have that gypsy spirit. My husband and I moved to Payson three years ago to work on our marriage and discovered Strawberry -- it's so conducive to creativity and peace.

Upcoming project: Lots. There is not enough time to accomplish all the art I would like to present to the public.

Hobbies: Puzzles, gardening and my pets.


Food: Anything but octopus and I love ethnic foods.

Music: The old hippie in me likes classic rock, but in my studio I listen to instrumentals or New Age music.

Movie: I like the Turner Classic Movie channel.

Points of contact: In my home studio at (928) 476-6423 or through Artists of the Rim Gallery, 408 W. Main, Payson (928) 472-1159.

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