born a stick figure, who is behind ‘the tinker’s’ eyes?

The influential artwork of Lorann Jacobs

Corner of West Philadelphia and North George streets, York

The situation

Empty eyes gaze down toward the corner of West Philadelphia and North George streets in York.

Actually, they’re anything but empty – they’re “tinking.”

A cross between the tin man from the Wizard of Oz and “The Thinker,” the bronze sculpture called “The Tinker” represents York County’s rich industrial history. We are a community filled with makers, builders, and, of course, thinkers. We’re deft in crafting with our hands and minds.

Where did the inspiration for ‘The Tinker” sculpture come from? Lorann Jacobs, the artist, sits down at her kitchen table with a pad and pencil. “Oh my God, I can’t do this,” she thinks. Then, her mind wonders to “The Thinker’s” Auguste Rodin, whose depiction of human form includes pits in the surface.

“I love his work because it’s not perfect, and everything is gorgeous,” Jacobs reflects. She mirrored “The Tinker’s” face and hands after this perfect imperfection. Where did Rodin get his inspiration? His lover and assistant, Camille Claudel.

When Claudel and Rodin sculpted art in the mid-19th century, women simply weren’t respected as artists. Strict gender roles and moral prejudices prevented Claudel from proper training in a male-dominated industry. “At that time,” Jacobs reflects,” a woman wasn’t looked upon as being talented.” It wasn’t until years later that Rodin recognized Claudel’s influence.

Back in her kitchen, Jacobs begins sketching, searching for her own inspiration. “I’m not good at drawing,” she thought. And then she pictured Claudel and all the challenges she faced as a woman.

“I thought of the tin man, and then I’m going to put him in the pose of the tinker. It just came.” Her pencil moves across the paper, sketching a simple stick figure. After years of working toward perfect imperfection, “The Tinker,” weighing close to a ton, now contemplates outside the York County Judicial Center. “I always wanted to do a piece for in front of the courthouse,” Jacobs says. “And I never dreamed that would be the piece.”

Unlike the tin man, “The Tinker” has no axe by his side. And no can of oil to free him from his permanent pose. Dorothy and the scarecrow will never follow the yellow brick road; no friends freeing him from his prison of contemplation. Artists, especially females, are familiar with the feeling – one of isolation.

The witness

You may be unfamiliar with her name, but you know Lorann Jacobs’ sculptures: the Vietnam War memorial at the York Expo Center Fairgrounds, Lafayette at the Plough Tavern, Continental Square’s eagle and flag, Brooks Robinson at PeoplesBank Park, war dog Pal along the rail trail, among others. However, breaking into York’s art scene, especially as a woman, was anything but easy.

Jacobs started working with metal at a foundry in Lancaster in the late 1980s. She remembers a few of her male coworkers coughing in her face or calling her derogatory names. Even worse, some would intentionally sabotage her work. As she walked past them carrying a piece of art, they’d push doors open, hitting her and hoping the piece would break on the ground.

We wish we could report that conditions improved as she “proved” herself. They didn’t. After seven years of torment, she left the foundry to pursue art full-time. “It never relented,” Jacobs says. “Once I got out of there, I didn’t have to deal with them anymore.”

If you’ve seen Jacobs’ sculptures, like this prototype of the late photographer Bill Schintz, you’ll see that she omits pupils from her creations’ eyes. “I like the eyes to cast a shadow,” Lorann Jacobs says, describing how she uses light to bring life to her creations.

When we don’t see people who look like us achieving their dreams, it is akin to having shadows in our own eyes. We need role models to look to for inspiration. It was difficult, but Jacobs finally found a role model in a place unjustly under appreciated for its art – a library.

On Martin Library’s campus stands Edith Parson’s Turtle Baby sculpture. “As a kid, I loved that,” Jacobs, a lifelong York County resident says. “I thought that’s the most beautiful thing I [had] ever seen. I never dreamed I could do something like that.” She’d visit the library as a child, gazing up at the magnificent work that stands there today.

Today, a Jacobs’ bronze of a girl stands near the turtle baby – her creation shares space with her inspiration.

Today, one of Jacobs’ pieces stands across from Turtle Baby. Her artwork is close to the art piece that inspired her.
“Working in the foundry,” Lorann Jacobs said, “I realized how important it was to do public art.” Again, getting to that point wasn’t easy. “I had to compete to keep those jobs.” Eventually, Jacobs learned how to write her own contracts. With the help of her husband, Joe Jacobs, she started with a simple legal document that would still hold up in court under scrutiny.

Her break came when she created “The Workers of York” at York County’s History Center’s Agricultural and Industrial Museum as part of York County’s 200th anniversary in 1999. “Didn’t get paid a lot for that, but I did it to prove that I can do it.”

Eventually, she found smaller galleries, and then outdoor shows to sell her art. “It’s hard to find out where to go,” she says. “Other artists wouldn’t tell you. But now you can go to the internet and can find out anything. With Facebook, everyone knows where everyone is going.” Social media is an open source, so sharing is common now.

Without a network of support, “women were just passed over,” Jacobs says. Creating bronze sculptures used to be a space reserved mostly for men. What used to be blocked to women like Jacobs is open to all who can get through the judging panel to make it in an art show. It’s still a competitive field, but with some luck, some support, and a lot of hard work, women can now create and display their bronze sculptures.

In fact, many men help women like Jacobs. Local artist Patrick Sells, for instance, constructed the gear base, lifting The Tinker up for everyone to see.

What began as a crude stick figure on a piece of paper is now a popular public sculpture, rivaling “Lafayette,” for example, as a prop for photographs.

And it was made by a woman.

Jacobs’ influence

Jim McClure’s assessment: Some people today pause and wonder about the heart, mind and hands behind the large bronze public sculptures around York and beyond. Who created these public art pieces that serve as signatures on York’s streetscapes? What was the occasion the making of a sculpture? How much do these monuments weigh? What do they say?

We ask those questions today, and because these statues are made of bronze with its durability, people living 50 years from now likely will wonder about the same things.

How could we make such a prediction? Well, we do so today with the distinct buildings that the York-based Dempwolf firm built. In Harrisburg, architect Charles Howard Lloyd’s buildings command the same curiosity.

So if Dempwolf buildings help define York’s skyline today, might we conclude that Jacobs’ public sculptures will remain a major force in shaping York’s streetscape in 2071?

Further, many of Jacobs’ sculptures were made at the time – the late 1900s to early 2000s – that another largescale art form by women artists in York became very public. Marion Stephenson painted the “Farm to Table” outdoor mural. Justine Landis and Mary L. Straup adapted Lewis Miller’s work to mini-murals in Cherry Lane, also part of the citywide Murals of York program.

Certainly, women were part of York’s art community in the 20th century. The work of Margaret Sarah Lewis, for one, was well known in the community. But public art with size and visibility by women artists in York was rare up until until Jacobs and the muralists set to work. To put a finer point on it, public art pieces by women who sculpted were simply not found in York County before Jacobs’ “Workers of York” was made. So Jacobs can be seen as a key influence in the emergence of the many prominent women artists in York County today.

Lorann Jacobs’ catalog

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Lorann Jacobs Catalog

  • Frog on bike


    • Location: Residential collection

  • Leo the Lion

    • Location: Lobby of Red Lion Area Senior High School, Red Lion.
    • Year: 1998 Size:
    • 6 feet from nose to back of foot
    • Weight: 500 pounds
    • Jacobs: "We used a natural rock for that, which was really fun to go find. Five thousand dollars isn't what something like that should cost, but ... "

  • Skeleton Horse


    • Location: Available from the artist's collection


  • World War II statue

    • Location: Southwest corner of Continental Square in York
    • Year: 2000
    • Size: More than 12 feet tall
    • Weight: About a ton (without the granite stones)
    • Jacobs: "Those blocks (of granite underneath the statue) are solid. It's really beautiful stone."

  • Korean War memorial


    • Location: Next to the Codorus Creek on West Market Street, York.
    • Year: 2005
    • Size: 9 feet tall
    • Weight: 1,000 pounds
    • Jacobs: "I really like the whole design of it and the stone. And I didn't even design it. (The veterans) worked out all that."
    • Read more

  • Gift from Market

    • Location: At the Beaver Street entrance to Central Market House, York.
    • Year: 2001
    • Size: 42 inches tall
    • Weight: 120 pounds

  • Cat & The Fiddle, Cow & The Moon, Spoon & The Dish


    • Location: Martin Library, East Market St., York
    • Year: 2005
    • Size: 42 inches tall
    • Weight: 120 pounds
    • Photo from Martin Library 

  • Workers of York

    • Location: Agricultural & Industrial Museum of York County, 217 W. Princess St., York.
    • Year: 1999
    • Size: 11 feet tall
    • Weight: 2,000 pounds
    • Jacobs: "The woman in that sculpture kept starting to look like me and I kept trying to change her.
    • "They had a hard time finding a good, clear black piece of stone for that piece. When they shipped it, they had to cut it in half, so the Labor Council asked for another one. It really sets everything off really nice.
    • "They wanted everything for that to have been made in Pennsylvania and I thought, 'Gosh, I hope they don't want me to use a union foundry because artists don't have that kind of organization."
    • Later, Jacobs said of the work: "It was my first big break."

  • Abstract woman

    • Location: Garden at Unitarian Universalist congregation, 925 S. George St., York.
    • Size: 3 feet wide, 4 feet tall

  • Girl in a Sundress

    • Location: Cherry Lane, York
    • Year:2000
    • Size: 36 inches tall
    • Weight: 100 pounds
    • Jacobs: "I did her right after Princess Diana (of Wales) died. I saw a newspaper photograph of a girl along the (funeral) parade route holding flowers and modeled her after that."

  • Pal the dog


    • Location: York County Rail Trail Heritage Park at King Street, York
    • Year: 2006
    • Size: 5½ feet long, 2½ feet tall
    • Weight: 300 pounds
    • Jacobs: "I made him double thick because I knew he was going to go close to the ground and near the street. So if someone runs over him ..."
    • Jacobs' "Pal the Dog" statue sat alone for years along the rail trail in York, and Pal's Park, a dog park, recently went up behind him. Jacob's educational background includes the Maryland Institute of Art and York College. But Jacobs' website states: "Her greatest teacher has been experience."

  • Marquis de Lafayette

    • Read More
    • Location: Gates House and Plough Tavern, West Market St., York
    • Year: 2007
    • Size: 6 feet 6 inches
    • Weight: 800 pounds

  • Indian with spear and fish


    • Location: Indian Steps Museum
    • Year: late 1980s, early 1990s
    • Size: 20 inches tall
    • Weight: 40 pounds
    • Jacobs: "I think it would be nice to have a piece in the center of the pond they have outside there."

  • Brooks Robinson

    • A statue of Brooks Robinson wearing a White Roses baseball uniform and two young children in baseball uniforms.
    • Location: At the entrance of the baseball stadium at PeoplesBand Park, 5 Brooks Robinson Way, York
    • Size: 6 feet tall
    • Weight: About a ton
    • Read More

  • ·Vietnam War memorial


    • Read More
    • Location: York State Fairgrounds, Carlisle Ave, York
    • In a speech dedicating this memorial at the York Expo Center, Barre Shepp, veteran leader and master of ceremonies, stepped to the microphone on the stage before the crowd, more than 2,000 in chairs and hundreds more standing. "Welcome home," he said.

  • Unnamed statue of mermaid

    • Location: Private property along the shore of Lake Meade, visible from the water
    • Year: 2006
    • Size: 5 feet tall
    • Weight: 200 pounds
    • Cost: $6,000

  • Smiling cat


    • Location: Three were made and are in private residences


  • The Appells

    • Location: Appell's private residence

  • Pirate Skeleton


    • Location: Available from the artist's collection
    • Year: 2019
    • Size: Six Feet

  • Jesus on a crucifix

    • Read More
    • Location: On display as a part of the Yarnell Fire District memorial
    • The 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona claimed 19 lives and 120 homes. One of those homes belonged to Jacobs' family which held the Jesus sculpture on a wooden cross. The fire consumed their house as well the wooden cross, but the bronze Jesus survived. 

  • Humpty Dumpty


    • Location: Private residences 

  • Daisy

    • Location: Private Residence

  • W. Rabbit


    • Locations: The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. A smaller rabbit is on display in The  State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Others, including a larger rabbit featured in the image, are located in private residences. 
    • Year(s): Various
    • Size: 52 inches tall

  • Light of Learning

    • Location: US Army War College, 122 Forbes Ave, Carlisle
    • Read more

  • Tinkenstein


    • Location: Available in the artist's collection

Lorann Jacobs is surrounded by pieces of the Vietnam Memorial, displayed today at the York Expo Center.

· Jacobs has designed and produced an estimated 1,000 sculptures during the last 20 years.

A casting of ‘”The Tinker'” sits outside Lorann Jacobs’ Dallastown studio.

A sample of jacobs’ work can be found at the following locations

  • Pennsylvania State Museum’s PA Craft exhibit
  • Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Camp Hill
  • Trinity Lutheran Church in Gettysburg
  • Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, N.J.
  • St. Elizabeth High School, Wilmington, Del.
  • Immaculata University Library, Allentown
  • Baum School of Art sculpture garden, Allentown
  • Boalsburg, Pa.
  • Lebanon Valley College
  • St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Philadelphia
  • Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia
  • Firefighters Park in Rutherford, N.J.
  • Private collections of corporations such as Glatfelter Insurance, Liberty Trust, B.F. Goodrich; Rodale Press; AMP, Inc. and Wind Dancer Productions. Her sculptures are also part of private collections in at least 20 states, Japan, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

The questions

Even after years of experience, Jacobs says it’s easy to lose motivation. “I’d noticed that after I finished a big job, I’d get burnt out.” She says, “I could see it. It was like an airplane flying in the air and it stalls. There was nothing you can do about it. It just hits.” Losing creativity happens to others who finish big projects. Jacobs recommends “doing some of the projects that you really want to do for yourself.” Where do you find your muse when you’re lacking motivation?

SPECIAL INSIDER: Jacobs worked for days to create the perfect face for “The Tinker.” Eventually, she turned to a previous project for a clearer vision. Where else in York do you see the “The Tinker’s” face? (Hint: It’s another of Jacobs’ public work in downtown York).

Lorann Jacobs is Jamie Kinsley’s grandmother. She considers herself extremely fortunate to have strong, female role models in her life like her Mom-mom.

Editor’s note: Jamie Kinsley, Lorann Jacobs’ granddaughter, contributed to this piece. James McClure also contributed and served as editor.

Related links and sourcesDallastown artist Lorann Jacobs reveals how she builds bronze sculptures” by Jamie Kinsley. Top photos by Jamie Kinsley or Lorann Jacobs. Turtle Baby Photo by Martin Library. Bottom photos, York Daily Record

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