This is Pam Marino, the Weekly’s Pacific Grove beat reporter for the last four years. I’ve been intrigued by how the town has had a knack for attracting creative people.
Salinas and Monterey lay claim to John Steinbeck for good reasons, but Pacific Grove served as both a homebase and as muse to the novelist.
Like so many other writers and artists, Steinbeck was inspired by P.G.’s natural beauty: its scenic coastline and marine life; the mystical fog that envelops the forest; the annual migration of monarch butterflies.
There was one artist inspired by P.G. who did not consider himself an artist at all. His name was J Jackson, and he lived in a tiny bungalow of less than 900 square feet on Ninth Street.
That bungalow he purchased in 1977 became the canvas to his art, and is now known the world over as the P.G. Butterfly House.
Besides Pacific Grove’s winged mascot, Jackson had another muse: his wife, Sonja, who is legally blind and lost enough vision to the point that she can only make out bright colors. It was for Sonja that Jackson decided to make a big, brightly colored butterfly for the outside of the house. The couple loved the butterfly so much they decided to add more color to the exterior of the home.
After that, the P.G. Butterfly House took flight. Jackson painted every inch of the house with bright hues, and affixed butterfly figures everywhere.
As the home’s whimsy grew, so did its reputation. Visitors arrived from around the world. Thousands of photos of the house are posted on social media and even on the wall of a restaurant in China, says Sonja.
Jackson’s friend Keith Larson contacted the Weekly last week to let us know that Jackson had passed away on Nov. 1, at the age of 83. Larson is an artist himself, and says Jackson often asked for his advice.
“I would say, ‘J, you know the colors, what you're doing is good,’” Larson says.
Sonja maintains that her contribution as Jackson’s muse was small. It was the town and the people Jackson got to meet that inspired him as well. “It was his expression of himself of the beauty and how much he loved Pacific Grove,” she says.
-Pam Marino, staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org