"Oldies but Goodies" by Joni Stewart

There are some characters in Grant County which defy description: the adjectives aren't adequate, the labels won't stick; the person truly is enigmatic. So it is with Jake Kelley. An account of his life and times would be daunting, even if he was amenable to the idea. I will in advance, consign this column to be anecdotal in depth and scope.

He spent his childhood on an Apache reservation in Arizona, Jake knows the buckaroo life - inside and out -. He, quite literally grew up in the saddle. "My only possession was a bridle," he says pointing to the far wall." As long as I had that, I could always steal something to ride."

The bridle is mounted next to a pair of tiny, tiny spurs. The memories of his early years sound hard and lean; the Depression years spent on a reservation with his dad only, a Canadian Indian. "The stigma attached with having Indian blood taught me to keep my mouth shut; to look and listen. I've spent a lifetime studying people and attitudes," remarks Kelley.

Interestingly, and to his credit, his observations and encounters with people from all walks of life have yielded a philosophy which transcends class, ethnic, and financial boundaries.

Thankfully, there is a universal playing field which is home to one and all ... the art world. And it is within this territory that Jake Kelley travels. Possessing a wonderful talent in bronze-sculpting, he made the circuit of art shows and gallery openings work for him until, as he states, "I fell out of love with that." He has since turned his talent to animating drawings: cartooning. "The art of cartooning relies on being able to draw an object "right" before one can draw a caricature," he maintains. It is the realism one wants to tweak.

Jake will be presenting his "Whang Leather" cartoon in this week's issue of the Grant County Press. Look for it now and in the weeks to come. The images surely will add some levity to your life.

Actions and achievements convey authenticity and influence in his life. Talk is busywork. "The only way a person is going to know me, who I am, is if they see my books, and look at my cartoons," says Kelley. I might interject here that while the cartoons crystallize some of his traits, it is no substitute for visiting with a man who, in my estimation, compares with all that central casting was looking for in their John Wayne movies.

He strides across the room to rest his hand on his saddle. He looks away from it, "Unsaddling my horse was the worst decision I ever made."

Having lived at least two successful lives, Jake is more aware than most of us of the ironies of life.

See you, and us, in the funny papers, Jake.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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