Wildlife artist Jack Crewdson is Lancashire's Dr Dolittle

PUBLISHED: 21:42 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:22 20 February 2013

Jack with his painting of Henry the Alaskan Malamute cross

Jack with his painting of Henry the Alaskan Malamute cross

He's known locally as Dr Dolittle and his wife agrees they have an eccentric lifestyle. Linda Preston went to Tockholes find out more <br/>Photographs by John Cocks

SO you're interested in seeing our eccentric lifestyle,' laughs Janine Crewdson, wife of wildlife artist Jack when I called to arrange a visit. Her directions led me along a bumpy track high onto the tops of the wind-swept West Pennine Moors.

You could just see Morecambe Bay and the Lake District in the hazy distance.I was off to see the man known locally as Dr Dolittle - and it wasn't long before I found out why.

Jack, who is in his 70th year, was busy working in the grounds of his detached house when I arrived, adding the finishing touches to a life-sized sculpture of a stag. He broke off to greet me and as he walked by an enclosure where he keeps snowy white Eskimo sledge dogs, he called each one by name. He then paused briefly in front of a cage where two giant black ravens hopped excitedly from branch to branch.

Jack, who lives at Tockholes, near Blackburn, explains: 'They were orphaned as chicks and when I released them back into the wild they got into a bit of trouble. One of them was making a real nuisance of himself in the nearby village, ripping slates from roofs and pecking at wing mirrors on cars. I had to bring them both back to keep them safe.'

With the help of Jack's wife I was introduced to the various other animals wandering freely, including Norman the turkey and Jemima, an apricot coloured duck. Jemima had been incubated from an egg after her mother was killed by a fox.

On a lake with an island in the middle a beautiful black swan was swimming gracefully alongside moor hens and ducks. Beyond the lake a herd of fallow deer were grazing peacefully.

Jack started the herd nearly 30 years ago when he adopted a deer that had been orphaned. He says: 'She's still alive today and has mothered many of the deer you can see here now.'

Before we go inside Jemima is lifted from her cage and Janine sends her off to the lake for a swim. She is so attached to Janine that she accompanies her to work in the hairdressing salon she owns. Janine adds:

'I try to keep her out in the yard at work. But she has other ideas. I have a baby bath for her to swim in but she won't stay there long. She quacks to come inside, so eventually I have to let her in and she settles happily under customer's chairs. They all love her.'

By night, Jemima sleeps in a cat basket in Jack's studio alongside a peacock which has a similar history. Their home is crammed with Jack's paintings and sculptured animals - mainly of his first love, deer. He works in oils and acrylic and is entirely self-taught.

'At school, art was the only subject I was ever any good at. I loved drawing and painting from a very early age. I lived close to countryside and I can remember from the age of seven being fascinated with the animals on the lane where I lived and sketching them.'

It was this fascination that led Jack to take up taxidermy as a profession., a career which spanned 40 years. 'I worked mainly with deer and grouse. The late Lord Lichfield once brought me a stag from his estate that had died of old age. He was particularly fond of it and wanted to preserve it. I was happy to help.'

He adds: 'I've had many customers from America over the years. They love to take home a stuffed grouse as a memory of their time in England.' Another famous customer was General Franco of Spain who, through a third party, arranged for Jack to work on a stag from one of his estates. But retirement enabled Jack to concentrate on his love of painting.

'I divide my time between painting and caring for my animals. I use them as a reference for my work.' Jack's work is often interrupted by a villager from nearby Tockholes bringing him a sick or injured animal. Often, he will nurse them back to health before releasing them back into the wild. Jack is known locally as Dr Dolittle and he is also a contact for Manchester Deer Rescue and he often has to assist when they are hit by cars.

At present Jack is working on a collection for display in Blackburn Museum and also has several exhibitions lined up with local Artists Societies. His work, both with paintings and sculptures, attracts nationwide interest and he was a finalist in 2002 in a competition organised as an alternative to the Turner Prize.

Looking into the life-like eyes of a stag he'd lovingly painted I could understand why - he'd truly captured the very soul of the animal. But that's his gift....based on a real love for animals and birds. As I left, I could see how he got the name Dr Dolittle.

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