Wyoming Artist Receives Top National Award For Traditional Arts

Jun 25, 2019

Jim Jackson in his leather shop at the Brinton Museum in Big Horn, WY.
Credit Adam Jahiel

A Wyoming artist has received the nation's highest honor in folk and traditional art.

James Jackson of Sheridan received one of this year's National Heritage Fellowships . The award recognizes artists' contributions to traditional arts across the country and is given by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Jackson is well known for his leather carving at King's Saddlery in Sheridan. From 1990-2017, he worked on custom leather pieces including belts, bags and saddles. His work is primarily done in the "Sheridan Style" of leather carving, which was developed and popularized by King's owner Don King. Sheridan Style carving is marked by small flowers, stems and leaves swirling together in a tight pattern. King received the National Heritage Fellowship in 1991.

"At the same time, Jackson develops his own patterns, and also experiments with form, combining his painting and leatherwork," said Joshua Chrysler, a folklorist for the Wyoming Arts Council. The council nominated Jackson for the award.

Jackson said he has worked hard to represent Wyoming's culture through his art and this acknowledgement shows how the culture has impacted American art.

"It's hard to explain how tooling a flower in leather talks about your culture. But it does," Jackson said. "The things I've built over the years, there a lot of long hours and a lot of hard work. And I tried to absorb as much of the culture as I possibly could."

He also said it was an honor to receive the same award as King.

Jackson retired from King's in 2017 and now works at the Brinton Museum on the weekends, where he teaches visitors about leather carving and makes goods for the gift shop. He still practices his leather work and painting in his home studio.

Jackson holds both a bachelor's and a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Wyoming. He first learned leather tooling from his father and saddlemaker, Edward Jackson.

Jackson is the fourth artist from Wyoming to be selected for a National Heritage Fellowship. This year he is one of nine artists to receive the honor. He and the other winners will receive $25,000 and be honored at a gathering in Washington D.C. in September.