Rare show of two decades’ worth of unseen Ferndale drawings to kick off Amaysing Grace Foundation

The Ferndale Enterprise, December 2006

Just about two years ago, long-time Ferndale artist Jack Mays was told by a Eureka doctor to get his affairs in order. Kidney cancer, the doctor said, would claim the artist’s, sculptor’s, cartoonist’s, teacher’s, son’s, father’s, grandfather’s, friend’s and husband’s life in three months. If he was lucky, said the doctor, he’d have a year.

The Texas native, who moved to Ferndale in 1949 as a 10-year-old after his family inherited the Giacominis’ Sunny Brook farm (Silvia Giacomini was Mays’ great-grandfather), drove home that day and, during the discussion of what had to be done, talked about his 200-plus colored drawings of Ferndale that someone would have deal with.

Perhaps one day, long after he was gone, someone would organize and show the drawings, thought Mays, the son of Ferndale’s and Fortuna’s used-car salesman “Honest Tex.” A show would mean Ferndalers could see what he’d been up to for more than 20 years while sitting for hours at a time around town in that now-infamous white plastic chair. Until then, however, they’d remain stacked in boxes at his Centerville home.

In true Jack Mays tenacious fashion, however, the 68-year-old decided it wasn’t time to check out yet. He had too much to live for: New grandchildren, another cartoon for The Enterprise and his role as dedicated caretaker of his 92-year-old mother, Lyndell So, he headed to Seattle, got a kidney yanked, and tried a new experimental drug that caused his trademark wiry hair to fall out and made his feet burn so much he couldn’t do the daily three-mile hike around the town he loves like no other.

He quit the drug and turned to exercise, a macrobiotic diet (lots of seaweed), supplements and acupuncture and, voila, two years later Mays this week is finishing up his 197th cartoon.

But vital to his health, Mays is quick to add, was and is the support he constantly receives from Ferndale, which was highlighted almost two years ago when friends organized “Party in the Vineyard” for Mays, a theme derived from Mays’ wish to travel to Italy before it was “too late.”

Belotti Hall was transformed like never before into an Italian vineyard and more than 350 people turned out to pay tribute to Ferndale’s resident artist and bid on his first 100 “Jack’s Corners” from The Enterprise.

“That night was the night of all nights,” recalled Mays. “To know that many people cared and turned out to show it was vital in my battle against cancer.”

Now, Mays says, it’s time to give back.

While fundraisers have been held for individuals in recent years, Mays is well aware of many situations that go unnoticed, especially when it comes to families having to travel outside of the county for needed medical care for their children.

“Party in the Vineyard” co-organizer Karen Pingitore agrees.

“Individual fundraisers will always be held in Ferndale because this community is so close-knit and cares so much,” she said. “But, we’re also aware of many stories that don’t get told in the newspaper and families that need help paying for all the non-covered expenses involved when you have to take your child across the bridge for needed care.”

Pingitore and others talked several years ago, after organizing a major fundraiser, about starting a foundation to help pay for some of those costs. The idea was kicked around but never got off the ground. However, recent news of another Ferndale youngster facing a serious illness motivated Pingitore and others to stop talking and start acting.

They approached Mays about holding a show of his never-been-shown-before art to help kick off a foundation. Mays enthusiastically embraced the idea and went even further.

Along with art show and resurrecting the “Party in the Vineyard,” Mays volunteered to let organizers selected 10 of his drawings to make limited edition prints to sell, with all of the proceeds going to a fund to help families.

“Hence, the appropriate name for the fund,” explained Pingitore. “The ‘Amaysing’ Grace Foundation seemed to say it all, since Jack is being so gracious to make this generous donation.”

Pingitore added that plans call for making only 50 prints of each drawing, which will be for sale and signed at the January 20 “Party in the Vineyard” and art show.

As for the show, volunteer coordinators Willa Briggs and Joan Katri were amazed Sunday night when Mays dragged out about 200 of his drawings and laid them out on the floor of the fairground’s Art Building.

The drawings are all of Ferndale and many have captured the town’s history. From a beautiful drawing of the old Methodist Church before it was repainted, to dozens reflecting the filming of “Outbreak” and “The Majestic,” the drawings are almost three-dimensional and capture scenes many of us take for granted in our daily routine.

Mays’ city parking lot series was done in a mad rush to capture the “back bedroom” of Main Street before the Nilsen’s Barn, Mays believed, would be torn down. He spent three years sitting in the Ferndale cemetery to complete a panorama that stretches dozens of feet. His panorama looking out from the fair’s grandstands also took years, as did his 360 degree panorama of Main Street.

He’s drawn every church in town (the Catholic church from just about every conceivable angle); the Red Front Store; Barnaby, Ferndale’s much-loved carriage horse; ag equipment in front of Belotti Hall; the fire department’s vintage engine; Willis Hadley’s play house; and the list just keeps going.

“It’s staggering the amount of work,” said Pingitore. “And all this time, we thought he was doing nothing!”

Mays is also allowing the chamber to use one of his Main Street drawings for a new billboard. The drawing will be included in the 10 selected for prints.

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