Meet Jack Tapscott. This is a guy I’ve known for almost 40 years and sits at the very top of my list of “The Most Likeable Guys I’ve ever Known”. I was introduced to Jack by his lovely wife Joyce, who I’ve known since the tenth grade. We connected immediately. We both share a love of laughter, a good story, and the great outdoors. There is one other trait about Jack that I am always astonished by and admire at the same time. Jack never does anything half-way and lives life abundantly. Let me illustrate that with one of the stories we’ve laughed about for years.
Sometime after meeting Jack, my brother and I invited him to go fishing with us on one of the lakes near our home. I don’t know how much fishing Jack had done in his home state of Alabama. I’m certain he had done some, but you certainly couldn’t tell it from the equipment he brought with him that day. He boarded my brother’s boat carrying an entry level Zebco reel and what looked like a dime store fishing rod. Nevertheless, he caught a few fish with that assembly and his stories and jokes kept us in stitches the whole day.
Soon thereafter I was in his home and he wanted me to see his new fishing gear. I walked into his basement to see a collection of somewhere near 30 new rods and reels, all sitting nicely in fancy display racks. He was now all in. On top of that, within about a year he’d moved on from bass, bluegill, and crappie fishing to an equally all in pursuit of gigantic striped bass (Rockfish). On what has to be one of the greatest days a fisherman ever had around here, Jack landed three striped bass weighing 48, 52, and 56 pounds – the largest ever caught in the state of Tennessee at that time. An article about this feat appeared in our local newspaper, and featured a picture of Jack holding one of his enormous trophies while flashing a grin of equal size. I felt I was due a smidgen of credit for this accomplishment and dialed him up immediately. Recalling our first fishing trip I said, “Well Jack, I’ve led you all the way from a dime store reel to “Best in State”. You’re on your own from here on out!”
He really didn’t need my help. For over 30 years Jack has served as the Tennessee representative for the International Gamefish Association (IGFA) and certifies all line-class records for fish caught in the state. He is one of 327 such representatives worldwide. Jack also is a Past President of the Appalachian Anglers Society, a venerable organization dedicated to the preservation of, and pleasures associated with, trout fishing. I’m proud to say that I share that distinction as well.
We’ve remained close over the years, but don’t see each other as often in the past, more to my doing than his. Helen (adorable wife) and I built our dream home on the lake and I didn’t want to leave and go anywhere else unless I absolutely had to. Jack, on the other hand, let his passion for the outdoors lead to a discovery of deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and soon after that discovery, a large fishing boat was moored in Florida and he made his way there often. Thankfully we’ve remained in contact and shared many a laugh at social occasions over the years.
About three or four years ago we were at a social gathering and I noticed something a little different. Jack came to the event wearing what I refer to as a “cord” tie and cowboy boots. I didn’t think too much about it, but it was different in that Jack’s usual wardrobe was a nice outdoor (fishing or hunting) shirt and casual slacks.
A few months went by until our next meeting when Jack was wearing a large necklace that appeared to be a style I would call Southwestern or Native American. I had to ask…
“What’s that around your neck?” I asked. “You lose a bet, or what?”
“No” he explained. “This is a new hobby of mine. I’m making a few jewelry pieces now.”
I let it pass at the time, but I should have known – Jack doesn’t speak in terms of “a few”.
Time marched on and ultimately we both retired from our real jobs. Jack had spent over 30 years in the medical equipment business as a representative of Baxter Healthcare. He pursued that business as passionately as he does everything else and received honors, accolades, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the company for his successes. More than once however, he had expressed to me that he was eagerly looking forward to leaving the corporate scene and moving into other endeavors.
When I retired last August and began Easin’ Along, I focused primarily on the experiences Helen and I have encountered as we commenced this slow walk through our Golden Years. Nevertheless, the intent has always been to focus on the lifestyles and interests of as many active retirees like ourselves as possible. So, when the time came to find another busy retiree, I knew that I wouldn’t have to look very far. I called up my old friend Jack, and asked if he would tell me about the “few” jewelry pieces he was making while enjoying the laid back retired life. As it turned out, the words “few” and “laid back” didn’t come close to describing activities of this very active retiree.
Jack met me at the door to his home looking tan and rested…something’s working, I gathered. He was wearing a necklace he had made as well as a highly polished silver bracelet which can be seen in a few of the pictures presented here. As has always been our habit, we shared a few laughs about things that would only be funny to us, but nonetheless hilarious. I followed him into the home he and Joyce have beautifully decorated.
Conducting an interview of someone I have known for 40 years may seem a bit awkward, and it was, but I dove right in and asked him to show me a few pieces of jewelry and tell me about the process of making them. He led me to another room of his home. My jaw dropped.
On a large table in that room were three large showcases, each containing necklaces crafted with polished silver ornaments and brightly colored stones. In front of the cases were velvet wrapped cylinders displaying bracelets, also of brightly polished silver, and bearing stones of brilliant, almost radiant colors.
“What the heck? You said a few!”
He winked. “You know me better than that…”
Although I had known that Jack was delving into this craft, I didn’t know how he got into it in the first place. That’s where we started.
He told a story of how he was at an auction and had purchased about 150 arrowheads that had been glued to a board for display. He took the board home and removed every arrowhead from the board while carefully removing the glue from each piece in the process. That piqued his interests in arrowheads so he began looking for a book to help him better understand what he had purchased.
In typical Jack style, he ended up with not just one book, but stacks of books on the subject. Through those many books, Jack learned that his arrowheads were somewhere between 1500 and 9000 years old. That meant he had to do something with them besides let them sit in a box. So, he looked into a means of attaching a clip or ring to them and then running a leather string through the ring and creating an arrowhead necklace such as the one pictured here.
It was also about that time that his daughter accompanied him to a Western wear store in Las Vegas and convinced a very reluctant Alabama Rock and Roller to buy a pair of cowboy boots. He walked out with more than one new pair.
Now, with boots at the bottom, and a shimmering necklace near the top, a new identity had come together on this subtle Southern gentleman that was as appealing as the jewelry he was now creating. I have to admit, it’s a great fit, and he wears it well.
Through the trial and error experiences of acquiring materials for the arrowhead necklaces, Jack was exposed to many other forms of Native American jewelry and artwork. Soon he was elbow deep in crafting pieces of his own, and it was the exposure of his own pieces to others that brought him customers. Now he had the making of a business out of a pastime. His business is called “Billy Jack Jewelry”. There’s a story there too, but we’ll get into that at another time.
Jack says that taking this endeavor from a pastime to a commercial venture required him to learn how and where to buy the materials. To start with, he decided that his jewelry should be rooted in the past, so he buys no silver components that were made prior to 1970. That requires him to scour pawn shops, auctions, flea markets, antique stores and many online venues to come up with materials to match his concept.
To accent the silver, he buys stones such as turquoise, lapis, red coral, and onyx from the Southwestern United States. His pearls, come from Singapore, and a lot of his chain comes from Italy. His bracelets usually arrive as finished products, but are also in keeping with his desire for everything in the product line to be dated 1970 and earlier.
We spent considerable time examining many of the pieces on the table while he explained much about the process of assembling the components of the jewelry into a finished piece of art. If it sounds easy, please think again.
The silver components are pieces formed into artistic designs by Native Americans of past eras and are usually in a tarnished state which requires Jack to spend hours polishing them to a high luster…by hand. Jack took me to the working desk he uses to do the polishing. It is a rather eclectic setting of polishing rags, tools, glass beads, wire, silver beads and other assorted goodies. It gave the picture of a man deeply immersed in his work.
Next come the stones used for accent on the necklaces that must be drilled out to fit on a chain. I watched as Jack drilled into the center of several pieces of turquoise while holding the stone under water to prevent an overheated stone from burning his finger as he held it. This requires more patience than I was ever born with. Jack also showed me some interesting accent pieces called “domed dimes” made by Native Americans who beat two dimes over small stones into a dome shape then fuse them together to create a bead. These amazing pieces also require drilling.
Other materials are used to compliment the silver such as pearls, animal teeth, and glass beads among them. To say that I was impressed at how well these diverse materials came together so attractively would be an understatement. The end product is truly beautiful.
I asked him to describe his customers.
“It’s not for everybody, particularly for people from around here (the South). But, to folks in the Western part of the country, and to collectors of Western art forms, these products are very popular.” Jack sells a lot of his jewelry at merchandise shows around the country and online. “I’m doing ok” he says with an impish smile.
Not bad, I’m thinking for someone who is truly enjoying the life of an active retiree. Jack says that he spends about 40 hours a week on the jewelry business. Those hours don’t include his other venture that he shares with his wife, Joyce, a successful real estate professional. That other business is one we hope to explore at another posting but can be viewed at www.sportingtreasures.com. This business is devoted to vintage outdoor sports memorabilia. Busy retiree doesn’t describe this pair.
Jack also shared with me something besides his new craft. Because his jewelry is a representation of the works of the Cherokee, Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes, he felt that he had to learn their culture in order to understand the art form he was creating. While gaining that knowledge, he said he developed an immense respect for these skilled artisans who worked so hard for so little compensation.
I also learned that Jack gives 25 percent of his proceeds to children’s charities.
As we wrapped up our time together I asked for, and was given a couple of beads on leather strings as souvenirs, and a promise that we would go fishing sometime soon or, at least as soon as I can get a rod from a dime store.
I learned one more thing as we were walking out to my car. Remember the few pair of cowboy boots Jack picked up in Vegas? “Well,” he told me, those few pairs of boots have grown to well over thirty. I’m so glad some things never change…Thanks Jack, I had a ball!
Here’s hoping that other busy retirees will share their “busy-ness” below. I look forward to hearing from you. For now, I’ll be Easin’ Along.