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Wooden Chain Links Pastor with Heritage

Thursday, October 18, 2012 @ 12:10 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

CLARION, Pa. – Hundreds of Pastor Jake Jacobson’s woodcarvings can be found throughout Clarion County, but the start of his “hobby” can be found in a link to his past and his heritage.

“I had a great uncle who was a woodsman in the Mt. Jewett area, and when he died, the only thing my father got was a piece of chain that he was carving, and that has always intrigued me,” said Jacobson. “I never understood how he could carve it out of a single block.”

The chain of wood has always been a curiosity for him, and a college trip to Europe expanded his interests after exposure to the Tyrolean wood carvers.

“They really sparked my interest, but I was told in seventh grade I didn’t have any artistic ability, so I just shied away from that,” said Jacobson.  “But I came back and decided just to try it.”

Starts with decorative carving

He started with decorative carving, placing a picture on top of a wooden box.

“I continued to do that that and, when the kids came along, I carved toy boxes for them,” said Jacobson. “People seemed to continue to take an interest, and I found it was a way to give back to the community.  I did a toy box for the well baby clinic at the state health office.”

Encouragement by people was a key ingredient for Jacobson to expand his carving activities.

“One day, I decided if I’m doing relief carving how much more difficult would it be to do three-dimensional?” asked Jacobson.   “I discovered it was quite a bit different but continued to play with it for a while.”

“A woman came for a meeting at the house, and when she saw the pieces I was working on, she said you’ve got to sell these.  I had never thought about anyone ever seeing any of these carvings, much less selling them.  She pushed me.  I sold a couple of pieces, and in 2000 Connie Cramer and Dennyse Mehta from the Denbeigh Shop invited me to be a featured artist, and that’s how I got started carving for Autumn Leaf.”

Jake’s son Karl used to do all of the designs for his carving, but he is now working with Frances Baptist, a retired art professor from Clarion University, meeting once a week for the last three years for drawing lessons.

Word of mouth advertising is the main way people order the carvings.

Wine stoppers popular

Word of mouth has already help make his new “hit” of wine stoppers featuring his carvings of everyone from Santa to characters from Lord of the Rings.

“I also carve figures, and a lot of what I do now is consignment work where someone says I need a gift and they want to remember a particular part of a person’s life,” said Jacobson.  “I’ve done everything from newsboys to professors.  Santas seem to be a big hit.  I have a standing order every Christmas.  One husband decided it was easier if I just showed up each year with a carving instead of him going shopping for his wife.  We’ve been at that for about 15 years.  He’s got quite a collection.”

Heritage a big factor

Jacobson credits his heritage as an influence and said it was one of the fist places he started to look.  He went back to some of the Swedish and Swedish American masters, and they had developed a style called flat plane carving that is much more angular and rough.  His more intricate pieces draw on that aspect.

Most of the wood Jacobson uses today are bass or linden wood for carving. It’s the softest of the hard woods, and he gets it locally.  He has used just about every tool to carve but primarily knives and chisels.

“Recognizing that I’m getting older and arthritis will creep in, I have dabbled in some power carving to do some of the rough out work,” said Jacobson.  “For the most part, I still enjoy the hands on.”

He estimates he spends eight to 10 hours on his simpler pieces and 40 to 50 hours on the more intricate ones by the time his finished.

Jacobson paster of Grace Lutheran Church

Jacobson is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Clarion, assistant to the bishop of northwestern Pennsylvania, and director of evangelical mission for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Northwestern Pennsylvania.  With such a busy and demanding schedule also including various civic groups, he welcomes the relief provided by his carvings.

“It’s so different from everything I deal with,” said Jacobson.  “It keeps me sane.  I find I can’t think of anything else while I’m carving.  First of all, it’s very dangerous.  I always live on the edge, and there’s a real edge to that knife.  You have to be so focused that you can’t be distracted by all that other stuff. You have to leave it somewhere else.  I just get lost in it.”

He juggles his schedule so he can carve and finds himself working less with bigger blocks of time and concentrating on the smaller blocks available as time permits.

Looking ahead

With retirement about 15 years away, Jacobson feels carving will continue to be part of his life in the future.  Now working in the basement of the church parsonage and his Tre Kronor Studio, his ultimate dream would be to open his own studio in retirement and also include starting artists of any kind.  The encouragement he received in the early days was so important, and he would like to provide it to other starting artists.

“Part of the encouragement I received was because of my public position, but as I look at the other younger artists in town they are really struggling to make that inroad,” said Jacobson.

He would also like to tackle some other projects down the road, including a chess set he never started.  He still thinks about the project, and some day he will make his move.

“One of the ironies is that someone had to ask me to finally make the holy family,” said Jacobson. “Everyone has assumed that I just naturally have done these nativity sets.  I really hadn’t, but I want to look at it, and it may be the next major thing I do.”

To view more of Jake’s work, visit his website at http://www.trekronorstudio.com.

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