Like many Mississippi artists, Jason Jenkins has heard his unfair share of the word “no.”
The Jackson native understands it’s the same for other creatives who may not “fit in” to a traditional mold.
That’s why he and his wife, artist Nicole Jenkins, will shine a light for makers and the consumers who love them with a new retail store/art gallery/working studio, The Beacon, to open this fall, at the corner of Duling Avenue and State Street.
Beaming, Nicole exclaimed, “We couldn’t keep it to ourselves anymore!”
Once home to Fondren Art Gallery (since moved to artist Richard McKey’s studio just up North State Street), the location is a dream for the young couple.
“It’s one thing to talk about it, then to see how big it is,” Jason said of the space, acquired after a quick viewing and lease signing earlier this year. “I thought, ‘I’m going to need to paint a lot to fill these walls!’ So, what about art supply and gallery? Then, all these other things.”
The other entails vintage finds from weekend trips, savvy steals from local garage sales or antiquing connections made in towns like Natchez.
“We’re huge thrifters,” Nicole said, detailing a 1950s Hungarian space toy and metal auto carrier truck found more recently. They’ve also picked up on locally made office desks they plan to resale for only a slight profit, hoping to give a leg-up to locals who just need a “cool old desk.”
“The products we will sell are made in old factories that once made real B-24 bombers,” Jason says of balsa wood toy planes they’ve bought. “As soon as we find vintage, though, we find a modern counterpart.” He told of a one-wheeled electric scooter they hope to stock.
With a place for classes, workshops, performance art and collaborations, the Jenkins plan for The Beacon to offer local and regionally made products, not just for retail consumers but local chefs – knives and kitchen utensils – exclusive artist supplies and more.
“We are a consciously curated creative supply and general store, something for everyone,” Nicole explained. “We’re trying to make a difference, connecting [local and regional] makers to customers, providing a social experience. We’re creating a space that showcases our values in sourcing and sustainability.”
Jason Jenkins was born and raised in Jackson. In his college years, working on a fine art major at Mississippi State University, Jason’s path changed, seeking a more “marketable” degree. But graphic design was a crowded field and left him without work.
He began to paint live during concerts at George Street and Martins in 2007, making enough to survive. Then 2008’s recession left the art market dry. So Jason moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, seeking a different audience in 2010.
His father’s passing brought him back to Mississippi in 2012. Jason says he was essentially homeless, living out of his vehicle, when he began live painting again, this time at State Street Barbecue. It’s where he met Nicole.
“The band was in the middle of a song and I saw Nicole standing there and just walked off stage,” he recounted. “I said, ‘I have to know you.’ From that day we were inseparable. I realized I had this person that was my match, my soulmate; it took us three days to say ‘I love you.’”
Jason said Nicole saved him.
“She encouraged me to find my art and my voice. I was trying to force myself into making something that would sell. She made me realize there is excellence in having your own voice.”
It was around this time that Jason began to notice his hands and feet had become sensitive. He developed a rare, debilitating skin disease while painting a large downtown mural. Stress and a “bad lifestyle” he said were to blame.
“That whole thing was a huge ordeal,” he told. “I woke up wanting to draw or paint and couldn’t walk to my easel.”
Over time, with medication and a “sober and clean lifestyle,” the disease started going away. When the space for The Beacon opened, Jason said, the disease “disappeared.” That health scare, he added, “changed my outlook and mission.”
Early Days for Nicole
Nicole Jenkins was born outside Washington, D.C. and raised on a sheep farm in Bunker Hill, West Virginia, “playing in the dirt, always outside.” She said it’s what lead her to fiber art.
Her family moved here in 1993 after her father’s military retirement. Her mother, Dr. Sharon Wyatt, was just beginning her career and pioneered the Jackson Heart Study as principal investigator. Nicole recounted how her mother deeply shaped her view of service to the community and her impact on her art.
“When I was young, we went from festival to festival and my mother was a vendor,” she said. “Before she passed [in 2015], we took fiber art lessons together at the Mississippi Craft Center.”
Nicole earned her degree in public relations in 2008. “I did a cubical job that sucked the life out of me,” she said. But it was a community art show that same year, a show where her work was recognized, that brought Nicole’s art back in full focus. She went back to school for art in 2010 but left in 2012 to care for her ailing mother. Since that time, she has worked in visual merchandising, fashion styling and other creative pursuits. She’s also been instrumental in forming The Beacon’s vision.
Finding a Voice
“My dad used to say ‘I will find a way or make way,’” Jason recalled, an apt directive that lead to their latest pursuits. Another meaningful mantra, “Be the person you needed when you were young” helps keep Jason laser focused. “I needed this guy,” he said, pointing to himself. “The same with [Nicole], she’s the female side of that. If there are women who need a spot, we want to be those people who won’t put your work down. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”
The Jenkins are a bundle of ideas, all of them geared toward a healthier, happier, more loving and responsible community. It’s a byproduct of their own struggles with acceptance and aspiration, a lesson they hope will help other creatives to succeed.
“Most artists that deal with depression, after so many times being told ‘No,’ you start to believe your work is bad,” Jason said. “It took national and international [audiences] praising my work to realize [I had something]. That’s another reason to [open The Beacon], to let people with no voice have a voice.”
The couple will make their walls and their spaces available to painters, drawers, spoken word poets, musicians and makers to showcase their talents. They hope to begin community gardens to teach young people about self-sufficiency and mural projects to help them understand the power of art. They talk of a “local union,” a referral network of community businesses that feed off each other. Nicole said, “We’re excited to have this space to launch platforms we’ve been talking about all these years.”
For now, Jason said they are looking for artists “desperately seeking.”
“If your art is [deemed] too weird, show us. You might get a spot on the wall.”
The couple are taking their time to curate the perfect mix of merchandise, vintage and new. Nicole says, “We want this to be a full experience before we invite the public in.” They plan for an October opening.
In the meantime, see their galaxy themed showroom (complete with a moonscape mural floor and stars cape wall) on their Instagram