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Authentic Texas Art, This Week on “Frame of Mind” 18

Born in East Texas, filmmaker Ken Harrison moved to Dallas with his wife Nancy so he could work as a film editor. He then began making films, documenting art and ‘creative moments’ in the lives of artists. This week, I talked with Harrison via email about his documentary, “Jackelope.”

“Jackelope” follows three Texas artists as they envelope themselves into the contemporary art world.  Harrison divides the film, made in 1975, into three segments with James Surls, George Green and Bob Wade; all three are artists and uniquely, genuinely and wholeheartedly ‘Texas.’ “Jackelope” focuses on each artist’s everyday life, as they talk about their own artistic processes and art itself.

  • Catch “Jackelope” on “Frame of Mind” Thursday at 11 p.m. on KERA-TV.
James Surls as he craves into his sculpture in "Jackelope."

James Surls as he carves into his sculpture in “Jackelope.”

On how he began filming…
I heard about a new TV program that was going into production at KERA TV called “Newsroom” with Jim Lehrer, and I was lucky enough to get a job there as a ‘filmmaker’ – producing, directing, shooting, editing and sometimes writing a variety of television features for “Newsroom.”  From there I began making long-form documentaries for PBS and eventually started making fiction films, subsequently directing three dramatic feature films.

Filmmaker Ken Harrison filming an art opening in 1975 for "Jackelope." Photo by Gary Bishop.

Ken Harrison filming an art opening in 1975 for “Jackelope.” Photo by Gary Bishop.

On the goal for the film…
I’ve always been interested the creative process. I wanted to document, in an entertaining way, some of the creative moments in the lives of Texas artists who were my contemporaries. I wanted to use the ‘direct cinema’ approach, i.e., no narration and no direct interviews. I wanted to be a ‘fly on the wall.’

On the inspiration for the film…
The 1976 American bi-centennial was approaching and more grants were available to be used for documenting the American experience. As a film artist, I thought it would be enlightening for Americans to explore, in depth, the inspirations and processes of Texas artists in other fields.

On why he named the film after the ‘jackelope…’
The jackelope, an unlikely cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope, is a “created” mythological animal. But it represents to me the uniquely Texan combination of braggadocio, folk art, and humor often displayed in some Texas artwork.

On the difference between ‘Texas’ art and ‘California’ art…
Let me say, firstly, that, in the best of all possible worlds, there shouldn’t be an observable/emotionally received difference in the two regions’ art output. This is a perfect example of comparing apples and oranges .The differences are in the eyes, minds, and hearts of the beholder.