CASUAL COUNTRY 2019: Artist, rancher, adventurer Jack Peterson and his Mountain North Art Gallery

Here, Corky Williams is with Jack and Sandy Peterson and writer Sage Birchwater at the Kamloops Cowboy Festival.
Three of a Kind by Jack Peterson.
Looking for Lunch by Jack Peterson.
This is one of several ink and pen drawings by Chilko River artist Mike Yates on display at the Mountain North Art Gallery.
Artist Mike Yates.
Jack Peterson has the Mountain North Art Gallery at his home in the Tatlayoko Valley. Sage Birchwater photos Jack Peterson at the Mountain North Art Gallery in his home in the Tatlayoko Valley.

By Sage Birchwater

Casual Country 2019

Two kilometres from the bottom of Tatlayoko Hill, first left after the Crazy Creek Bridge, is Jack Peterson’s Mountain North Art Gallery.

Five years ago Jack and his wife Sandra bought the old Combs Place in Tatlayoko Valley and moved there from Prince George.

Jack and Sandra are no strangers to Tatlayoko. They first came to the valley from Seattle, Washington with two of their five children in the fall of 1966 and bought 800 acres at Skinner Meadow from Harry McGhee.

“It was the old Lloyd McGhee Place,” Jack says. “We paid $14,000 for it.”

They lived at the Lignum Sawmill camp on Tatlayoko Lake for the first year when Jack got a job working in the mill. Then he learned how to fall the big Douglas fir trees that were being harvested for the mill, and he started working in the bush. Sandy was a nurse and she eventually got a job at the health clinic in Tatla Lake.

During his time off from working at the saw mill and logging show, Jack built a big house for his family at the Lloyd Place. Soon added barns for livestock and hay storage, and got some cattle.

“The first year we only had ten cows but we had a range permit for 100 cows. So Doug Schuk took me up to the north end of the Potato Mountains where we had our range. Where the first creek crossed the trail, Doug got down on his hands and knees and drank right out of the creek. I got my cup out of my saddle bag and dipped it in the creek for a drink and Doug started laughing at me. Only a city slicker would do that he said. So I threw my cup away.”

The next morning Jack found it kind of hard drinking his hot coffee using his hands…

In 1979 Jack and Sandra sold the Lloyd Place and moved to Prince George where they bought some acreage. Sandra worked as a nurse and Jack continued ranching.

Read More: CASUAL COUNTRY 2019: The Homathko River Inn

But Jack’s big love was art.

When he was a teenager, he enlisted in the United States military and spent 18 months in Korea during the Korean War. When he came back he used his GI Bill to go to commercial art school.

“I got tons of work as a commercial artist in the Seattle area. Then a friend who hauled a load of horses to Anahim Lake told us we should check that country out.”

So Sandra and Jack came up to the Chilcotin to look around and met Ed and Helen Schuk who told them that the Lloyd McGhee Place was for sale.

Jack had a few hair-raising experiences during those early years living in Tatlayoko country. He must have had a host of guardian angels looking out for him when he told the Lignum logging boss he knew how to fall the giant fir trees growing on the ridges along Tatlayoko Lake sidehill. But as the 4-H motto goes, Jack learned by doing.

One of his more profound adventures was a trip he took with Terry Jordan bushwhacking down the Homathko River to Bute Inlet. The men ran out of food because the trek took several days longer than they planned. They also had to cross several raging torrents either on cross logs or by falling trees to cross rivers. It was the trip of a lifetime that put the men up close and personal to some of the wildest most rugged terrain in British Columbia.

Jack says he met Lester Dorsey one year at Anahim Lake. They went into Lester’s place just after he’d killed a moose and he was frying up some moose meat in a big frying pan. He also had a big bowl of bread dough rising next to the stove to fry up some bannock.

Jack looked over and saw what he thought was a big raisin in the bread dough. Then he looked more closely and discovered it was a horsefly.

“Don’t you ever check your bread dough? I asked Lester. Then he walked over and plucked that horsefly out of the dough and said: ‘That dough has been checked!’”

The first project Jack undertook after buying the Combs Place five years ago, was to build an art studio and gallery to show his work. He and Sandra had been out of the country for 35 years.

“The Mountain North Art Gallery is open all the time,” he says.

Besides showing his own work, Jack is committed to displaying the work of other artists in the community.

“There’s a lot of talent in this country. I’ll put on a special show for other artists to show their work for a couple of weeks.”

In May 2019 he featured the pen and ink drawings of Chilko River artist Mike Yates.

In the past he has highlighted the acrylic and oil paintings of Tatla Lake artist Marilyn Berwin, and has one of Charlie Travers’ masks on his wall.

Read More: Station House cuts the cake on 100 years of history

Jack also gives art classes to both adults and children. He put on a six-week course for adults in Tatla Lake Community Hall, one day a week, teaching the basic techniques of water colour.

Then he had five or six kids from Tatla Lake School come down to his studio for a three-hour intensive session. Students from nearby First Nations communities also came down to the gallery for art classes.

“I taught art classes in schools in Prince George for eight years,” he says. “With my commercial art background I was able to get certified to teach art in the schools.”

He also taught adult art classes in Prince George for ten years.

Jack describes his art style as “loose” water colours. He actively paints the wilderness beauty of his surroundings, and says the beautiful and rugged landscape of the Canadian mountains has been a major influence and inspiration for his art.

“I always believed in using top quality art materials. The paper is very expensive and so are the paints and brushes. I figure we need all the advantage we can get.”

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