Lost Masterpieces

Southern Tasmania suffered a major storm last year, and our suburb was on the front line. Hobart’s highest ever total rainfall for the whole month of May was doubled in less than two hours! Flooding affected hundreds of families and businesses.

We got off lightly, in the scheme of things. An avalanche of water, mud and garden debris found its way into our garage while we slept, leaving two inches of mud, wall to wall.

In the clean-up, a strange parcel emerged. It was quite large, wrapped in several layers of (soggy) cardboard and plastic film.

I discovered that it contained about fifteen paintings. Some were framed, some not, and most were incredibly good! My heart sank as I wondered if these were entries in the national Art From Inside exhibition that I had failed to return years ago.

A series of panicked phone calls to various other States failed to solve the puzzle. No one was missing any paintings. It was only then that I looked more closely at them. All bore the same signature! But who was Jack Parris*? Then I noticed another name on the soggy cardboard wrapping – “Jackass Art”. Feeling that I might be the jackass, I googled the name and … up it came!

One phone call and I was talking to Jack himself. The story quickly unfolded and a few rusty cogs (mine) kicked into alignment. Jack had been an inmate in Hobart Risdon Prison in the mid 1990s. He took up art at the time, as a hastily chosen alternative to spending his time fighting for a space in the only sunny corner of the main yard. His tutor quickly uncovered great talent in Jack, whose ability blossomed rapidly. Jack had amassed quite a collection by the time he was paroled, but had nowhere to store them.

Enter David Steven. David was the State Executive Director for Prison Fellowship in Tasmania at the time. He and his wife, Heather, offered to store the paintings. However, Jack moved to the mainland and David and Heather lost touch with him. When David retired, fifteen years later, Heather asked me to care for the paintings – which is how they ended up in my garage.

Now the story takes an extraordinary turn! At around about the same time as my “discovery”, my wife and I were planning a mainland holiday. Guess what – our tropical destination was only 45 minutes from Jack’s home town AND there was room in our bags for one of the paintings.

So, that’s what happened … a lazy afternoon drive from one beautiful town in the Australian tropics to another, a quiet cup of tea with Jack on the balcony of his cottage, some reminiscing, and the long overdue return of one of Jack’s first ever paintings – a portrait of his daughter.

Although Jack’s art classes in prison took place many years before the launch of Prison Fellowship’s Art From Inside exhibition, his story underlines the great value of art to inmates. Jack proudly told me his art has enabled him to support himself since his release. This has included several large commissions for local government, businesses and individuals. He is a quiet and generous soul, is supported by good friends, has kept his nose clean and has never returned to prison.

I thank God for enabling me to close this circle, to meet Jack, and to return his paintings. This is also an opportunity to thank and praise God for all that He achieved through the ministry of David and Heather Steven with Prison Fellowship. They were overjoyed to hear that Jack had been reunited with his paintings!

– Michael Wood, Prison Fellowship TAS Chairman