ST. PETERSBURG – When he finds himself in boring meetings, middle school principal Dallas Jackson likes to sketch on a small piece of paper.
But Jackson is not an ordinary doodler. He is a painter, and some of his sketches have led to colorful work and exhibits.
His latest series – 11 paintings on jazz titled “The Dallas Jackson Collection” – is on display at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum at 2240 Ninth Ave. S through June 5.
Jackson, 46, a St. Petersburg native and resident, is principal of Sligh Middle School in Tampa. He is also a jazz aficionado who saw performances by musicians such as Wynton Marsalis while attending college in Louisiana.
The collection reflects his jazz-listening experience, he said, and its main theme is “how man and instrument merge as one with the music.”
He has paintings of jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, but he wanted to give a different perspective of jazz.
“I didn’t want the viewer to focus on icons,” Jackson said. “It’s about the broader experience of the music.”
For example, there are paintings of a saxophone-playing musician turning into a bass and a woman blending with a cello. The freedom of expression in jazz is a theme reflected in his paintings of nightclubs, said Jackson.
“Everything about the music just comes together when you see these pieces, jointly or separately,” Jackson said. The significance of jazz is “the music put into it. It’s what humans respond to. It soothes the savage beast.”
Jackson, who grew up in Midtown, said he has been drawn to the arts since childhood, an interest that was supported by his parents. An early inspiration was Salvador Dali, whose surrealistic work Jackson admired during visits to the Dali Museum. At Northeast High School, he joined the art club and National Art Society.
When he left for college, Jackson said, he intended to pursue a career in the arts and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
But he changed goals after mentoring kids in the arts during college. He received a master’s in education curriculum and instruction at National Louis University in Chicago and a doctorate in education leadership at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
When he returned to St. Petersburg, he worked first as a probation officer for the state. His career in education began in the mid-1990s, when he worked as a program coordinator at the Pinellas Technical Education Center (now Pinellas Technical College), helping school dropouts learn job skills.
He next became assistant principal at Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, which led to three principal jobs, starting with Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg in 2006. He left in 2012 to become principal of Martinez Middle School in Tampa and moved to Sligh Middle School in Tampa in 2014.
He, his wife Kaydianne and their four children live in St. Petersburg.
Their house is filled with his artwork, Jackson said. He paints during free time on nights and weekends. He uses various materials such as stencils and acrylic paint in his work.
“The whole process is work … to express a genre of research,” he said.
Jackson describes his work as “a visual representation of deep thoughts, research and investigation.”
An exhibit at the Woodson museum last year was titled “Endangered” and expressed his concern over global and national issues like the 2014 abduction of Nigerian school girls, the endangerment of African-American male figures, and human self-destruction.
The exhibit’s inspiration was a school research project Jackson did on the disproportionately high suspension rates of minority students in urban school districts.
Though he views art and education separately, they both give him skills for solving problems, he said. “Art can help solve problems more creatively.”
He has two new projects in the works. In one, he plans to extend his “Endangered” series. The other, he said, focuses on the white, aristocratic traditions in American values and their influences on African Americans and immigrants from the late 19th century until today.
Jeffrey Zanker is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Information from the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum website was used in this report.