Chuck Jackson is 24-year veteran of the Haddon Township Police department, husband to Stacey and father to Stephen, 18, Kyle, 15, and Emily, 13. Peeling back the layers also reveals a talented artist, set designer, and show business pro. This week, the 21-year Collingswood resident tells Patch how the borough nurtures his many talents.
Collingswood Patch: How did you get involved in theatrical set design?
Chuck Jackson: My first set was for The Wizard of Oz. I did the background piece; that was four-and-a-half years ago.
I build for the Youth Theater, for both the spring and the summer shows. I also build for the Middle School and the High School. And I'm not a primary builder, but also do a lot for the Collingswood Community Theater.
Patch: So do you have a construction background?
Jackson: (laughs) Nope, I just wing it.
Patch: What do you think was your most elaborate set you made? Of which set were you the most proud? Can you recall any tricky problems that you had to solve as a designer?
Jackson: That pharaoh mask for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Collingswood Community Theater—it was all those things.
It was a design problem in that I wanted it to be big, and I initially had it 21 feet tall and it was going to be equally as wide. It was going to be on the stage and have a set of stairs going up the back for the pharaoh to come through.
It was going to be a stationary set piece, but Mary Baldwin, who's our director, she wanted to be able to slide it in and out. So I had to knock it down a little bit.
Great show, it was a lot of fun, but getting that piece together...wow. It was 8 separate panels. Four were 4 feet by 8 feet, and the outside ones were smaller.
Patch: How long did it take you to make that piece?
Jackson: Believe it or not, all told, it took me a week's time, but I got it set up and painted in 24 hours.
Patch: Did you have a lot of help doing that?
Jackson: Nope, just me!
Patch: You’ve been a Haddon Township Police officer for 24 years and, as well as being a beat cop, you serve as their resident forensic artist. Can you tell me a little about how you got started?
Jackson: When I was in the Police Academy, I was a dispatcher at the time, I had the opportunity to go to a night class. One of our instructors who came into to teach note-taking, he was drawing composites for Washington Township at the time.
He put some composites out in the back of class, and I had been drawing my instructors during the entire class. So I saw his composites and I thought, “Oh wow, I think I could probably do that.”
I kind of developed my process based on his. I use his guide, but it's still a completely different way than he did it.
Patch: So you were working towards an art degree at Rutgers, and then made the switch to attending the police academy?
Jackson: No, Rutgers was way after the police academy. My art degree is actually going to be my third degree!
Patch: Oh, so, you trained to be a police officer first and then went back to school for art?
Jackson: Yeah, I had been a composite artist for 10 years before I got my art degree. In 1994, I went to Connecticut for my initial training as a composite artist. Then in 1995, I went to another 40-hour class. So, in 1995, with 80 hours of training under my belt, that's when I started to branch out and started doing sketches for other towns. But at that time, I had no formal art training.
Patch: Can you tell me about your process as a forensic artist? How do you translate witness descriptions into an actual image?
Jackson: I use the FBI face identification catalogue. It's got reference images. So I just walk a witness through an entire face. The head shape, the eyes, nose, mouth, chin shape, ears, hair.
Patch: Have any of your sketches ever resembled an actual perpetrator?
Jackson: You know what's funny? The one I'm most proud of looks nothing like the bad guy. But ultimately, it did help them find him.
It was a Haddon Heights case and it was a guy who tried to take an 11-year-old little girl right off her safety post. The detective sergeant at the time had me come in and draw a composite.
This little girl was covered with poison ivy, but stood right behind me the whole time while I did my drawing. And we went through the normal process: she picked the facial features and we did the drawing.
Rich Kinkler, who's the chief now, he took the drawing out on the street, and actually got some leads, and was able to turn this guy up and arrest him. And they documented in a broadcast that it was my composite that led to his arrest.
But I didn't think it looked anything like him!
Patch: How did that make you feel, that you were partially responsible to bringing this guy in?
Jackson: Oh, awesome. My career could've ended right there, because we caught somebody trying to take a kid. And there's no worse kind of criminal out there. To have had any part in that was, for me, a career highlight.
Patch: Currently you're working on Fiddler on the Roof with the Collingswood Community Theater. You're doing all the backgrounds for that?
Jackson: Oh, I have no idea what I'm doing. I'll do whatever [director] Mary tells me to do. That's pretty much been my role as a builder and painter. I just do whatever Mary tells me to do, including what part she wants me to play.
Patch: Oh, I didn't realize you were a performer as well!
Jackson: Yeah! All five of us—myself, my wife and our three kids were all in Oliver for the Community Theater!
Patch: What part did you play?
Jackson: I played Bumble. It was my first lead. Mary kind of bullied me into that because she didn't want to have a little Bumble.
Patch: What is your favorite thing about living in Collingswood?
Jackson: There are so many things I love about Collingswood. I would say the family that develops in things you do, whether it's a soccer family, or a school play family, or a theater family.
We're really sad at the end of a production. Our auditions are in December, we perform the show in February, but all that while we're together and going through all the ebbs and flows of a production. We wind up a weird, mixed family of people that wouldn't normally be together, but really enjoy being together.