Jack and Lynn Stoddart
|I suppose this story could
be compared to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The first piece of the
puzzle begins with the year 1951. The second piece is the city of Miami,
Florida. Eighteen years later, a young man named Jack, born in 1951, and
in the city of Miami, was living on his own. His fatherís business
producing billboards exclusively for banks and savings and loan
associations exposed him at a very early age to an interest he has since
perfected in art through the use of a camera. Even today, he says that
anywhere he goes, he is rarely ever without a camera. We now have piece
number three of this puzzle.
At the age of 19, he met the young lady who later became his wife and the mother of his four children, someone whose home was in New York. Her name is Lynn. When the young couple became acquainted, she was employed as staff photographer at the University of Miami. Isnít it interesting how well her position as staff photographer helps her to fit into this puzzle.
A tiny studio apartment in Coral Gables that rented for only $125.00 per month was where this couple began sharing their lives together, and another helpful plus for this young man was not only that their rent was extremely cheap for a very historical neighborhood, but guess what, the homeowners they rented from also had a dark room in their garage that he could use. Before moving into this apartment, Jackís home had been his VW bus.
While living in Coral Gables, Jack worked in a public school called the Pilot House. The students who attended this school were there because of discipline problems. Jack described the facility as being one that was run by hippies, and most of the teaching staff consisted of cast off teachers. His job included serving as a teacherís aid, and he also did what he referred to as "riding shotgun" on the school bus that took the students to and from school. While working there, he put together a dark room and taught some of the older students some photography work.
While renting the studio apartment, Jack and Lynn made the acquaintance of the son of the couple they rented from. His name was Eric, and it was because of their friendship with Eric that eventually brought them to Tennessee. Eric had, at some point prior to his becoming acquainted with Jack and Lynn, purchased 200 acres in a very remote area of Overton County that was given the name Nobodyís Mountain. So in February of 1971, with just $300.00 in cash, two Cannon 35 mm cameras, Jack and Lynn, along with Eric and his friend, Mary, and two other friends, Peter and Carol, left Florida behind and headed for Nobodyís Mountain in Overton County. In August of 1971, Jack and Lynn were married in an outdoor ceremony on Nobodyís Mountain.
Not long after Jack and Lynn married, they bought the first piece of property they owned in Overton County which they paid $7,500.00 for. It consisted of 48 acres located at the foot of Highland Mountain with a two room cabin. That cabin served as their home until 1976. Two of their children were born while they lived there. Jack described their source of water as being one from a rope. A job Jack had during this time was working for George Wright at a sawmill he ran near Doc Hillís pond in Livingston. His work at the sawmill consisted of edging squares for ax handles. Around this time, Jack learned that Dr. Wynn Easterly needed someone to help in his veterinarian clinic, so he stopped in one day to ask Dr. Easterly if he could apply for the job. After inquiring of Jack about his experience, especially with large animals, he was hired, even though Jack did admit he fibbed just a little to get the job. But as it turned out, Jack was quite successful in this profession also. He learned quickly how to do many jobs that a veterinarianís assistant does, and many who came in contact with Jack while he worked for Dr. Easterly referred to him as "Docís hippie."
Holding down jobs took Jack away temporarily from being able to devote all of his attention to his photography work, so he decided to look for a place he could rent cheaply to be used as a studio. His quest for such a place lead him to Vasco Bilbrey. Public bathrooms were once available for folks who came to the square of Livingston to do their shopping, and were located in the basement of Vascoís grocery store. After these were no longer being used, Jack rented this space, and while there, built a plywood dark room for use in developing his pictures. His memory is very vivid of Livingstonís street sweeper at that time who worked cleaning the street each week night. He doesnít know this fellowís name, but remembers well this man, who also had a dog with him, and a wheelbarrow he used in his work. Jack told me the square was completely dead after 6:00 p.m. Only the street sweeper and his dog could be found after the stores around the square closed down in the evenings.
In 1976, Jack and Lynn sold their Highland Mountain property and moved to the West Fork Community. The property they bought there has a wonderful old farm house that they lived in for many years. The West Fork river runs through their property. A chicken coop near the house was turned into a dark room for Jackís work. They heated their home with a wood stove and a fireplace. This was the first place they lived in Overton County that had water in the house, and this was achieved from a spring that was gravity fed into the house. They have always raised a big garden, and have chickens, cows and horses. Jack and Lynn have taught all four children to share in the responsibility of work on their farm as well as in their photography business.
Traveling to arts and crafts shows everywhere to sell his work was the beginning of getting Jackís name and reputation in the world of photography well known in those circles. One of the first places he participated in such a show was at the annual fish fry in Celina. The displays he used for this show consisted of a card table and chicken wire stands that his pictures were hung on. But it was with the help of someone named Nancy Saturn who invited him to participate in a two and one-half day arts and crafts event held each year in Nashville that resulted in his first well paying show. He brought home $876.00 the first time he displayed his work in this particular show, and it is one he still participates in today. He and Lynn had just returned for Nova Scotia when I visited with them for this story.
Jackís work is unusual in that he is one of the very few today that uses what he described to me as an extended wash period in his process of developing pictures. He strives to achieve an archive print of museum quality in each of the pictures he develops. His pictures contain no telling factors about when they were made, and as a result, his work truly is unique and his pictures one of a kind. Collectors from everywhere seek out his work.
One of Jackís concerns has always been for our environment, and he doesnít hesitate to let the "powers that be" know when he feels that the well being of man kind as well as all creatures great and small is being threatened. Lynn was expecting one of their children when spraying the undergrowth of power lines in the area of their home was being done by use of helicopters. It didnít take long for him to let it be known how he felt about this very hazardous procedure on the part of the utility company.
Another undertaking he and his family have gotten involved in recently was the filming of a documentary about the year long battle between Louisiana Energy Services and Trousdale County over a uranium enrichment facility proposed for the Hartsville area. Trousdale Countyís city commission eventually passed by unanimous vote a resolution adopting restrictions Louisiana Energy Services said it could not abide by. As a result, that company is now looking at New Mexico for a possible site. Jackís opinion about this is "Just because itís not good for Hartsville, doesnít mean itís good for anyone else." This documentary may possibly be aired on are public broadcasting television stations at some point in the future.
Little by little the pieces of this puzzle have come together, and should the last name of this family still be uncertain, it is Stoddart. Although itís a well known fact that most of the time, folks who are born and raised in this area donít freely accept those who are considered "outsiders", Jack told me he has encountered very little of this attitude. He has made some very close friends over the years he and Lynn and their children have lived here. Friends he has made that live in the Highland Mountain and the Pleasant Valley area he has nothing but praise for. Some others he mentioned that have been good friends over the years were Claude Ramsey, Lamar Lacy, Leland Allred, Speck Ogletree and Dr. Denton Norris. These names, Iím sure, are only just a few of the list he could count on as close friends.
After talking with Jack, I have wondered about how the type of childhood we each have influences the way we live out our lives. What contributes the most? Here is an example of someone who was born into a family that probably was financially well above average, yet Jack, by his own choice, walked away from that, and lived a very simple life that didnít even have for many years the everyday things we take for granted such as hot and cold running water. But everything that was done, he and Lynn accomplished by living within their means which he says is what itís all about. Itís Jackís belief that those four words (living within our means) hold the key to a successful life. Today, they have a beautiful home on a large farm in one of the most scenic areas of the county, a very nice studio where their photography work is fine tuned and made ready for shows they participate in all across the United States, and several vehicles that are used to transport their work. A simple life, but yet a very fruitful one, that came about in time by living within their means. Something else Jack believes strongly, and I quote him verbatim, is "To achieve greatness, you must ignore the fact that greatness is impossible." But there is one thing Jack shared with me that he would probably consider as an additional piece to fit into this puzzle, and thatís grandchildren. He said heís anxious to have them, and looks forward to the day when that will happen. Who knows how Jackís story would have been written had he not started out on his own at age 18. But one thing is for sure, there would have been one very interesting chapter of my journal missing had he gone in a different direction. Thanks, Jack and Lynn, for allowing me to share your story with my readers.
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