South Dakota sculptor crafting made-in-Sioux Falls medallions

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Jurek Jakowicz loves the details. His work sculpting medallions requires their perfection. If the crevasses in his design are too deep, too light, or undercut, the hydraulic press stamping them into bronze won’t capture their grooves, omitting the delicate features that signify his pieces.

Though Jakowicz says the medallion market in South Dakota isn’t particularly booming, he stays busy with commissions from all over the country. Recent notables include the Boston Public Library, Southern Utah University and the Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

He’s a three-time finalist for the President Inaugural Medal (to sculpt it, not receive it). When Baron Trump was born, a friend of Donald Trump’s commissioned Jakowicz to sculpt a medallion of Melania holding the newborn in 24-carat gold as a gift to the family.

“I’m constantly busy,” he told the Argus Leader. “I’m over here by myself doing stuff like this.”

‘Over here’ meaning Sioux Falls, where Jakowicz started working for Medallic Art Company — the “oldest and largest private mint” in America — in 1990. It took a trip across the Atlantic for him to get here, however.

A native of Lodz, Poland, the country’s second-largest city, Jakowicz was raised alongside art. His mother was a painter and sculptor. He went to schools that taught sculpting and photography and architecture. His art career didn’t begin with medallions, but eventually led to it.

“I had a good background and caught onto this very quickly,” he said. “Everything has to be so precise, so detailed. This was something different and I fell in love doing it.”

He arrived in the U.S. in 1985 at 24 years old, working in New York and Chicago before landing in Sioux Falls five years later. When Medallic Art Company moved to Nevada in 1997, Jakowicz stayed.

“A friend of mine was over here in Sioux Falls and because I grew up in a big city I didn’t want to spend my life stuck in traffic,” Jakowicz said. “He said, ‘why don’t you come over here and take a look?’ And I did, and started playing soccer and met a bunch of people, and here we are.”

Naturally, Jakowicz grew ties locally. Several weeks ago, South Dakota State President Barry Dunn wore a 24-carat gold medallion etched by Jakowicz around his neck during graduation. Have you seen the bronze statue of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk in Riverside, Iowa? He sculpted that, too.

He crafts on a variety of mediums both three-dimensional and two-dimensional (he’s commissioned to sketch house pets for their owners, even), but if he had to choose one to do forever, it’d be medallion sculpting.

“I love to do this. Really I do,” he said. “It’s a little bit difficult because of the proportions and everything to capture the likeness. But I like challenge.”

The medallion is more coveted on the coasts than in the middle of the country, Jakowicz said, partly due to cost. For a medallion 10-12 inches in diameter, the sculpture alone is $1,600. That’s before mold-making, cutting into steel, a heat treatment, production and cost of the bronze.

And what about demand? A medallion made once, which can go for “thousands of dollars,” is much more expensive than a medallion made 100 times over, Jakowicz said.

“Most of my work is commissioned out of the state, because, you know, we are not there yet,” he said. “I think people are kind of scared because it costs so much. The idea of giving medallions is not here yet.”

But that’s just medallions. Jakowicz said he has seen an uptick in the community’s “hunger” for art since he arrived in Sioux Falls almost 30 years ago. He was one of Sculpture Walk’s first participants in 2004, and has joined many local sculptors in providing the city with enticements of the eye.

“Sioux Falls is starting to become a nice hub of expression,” he said. “For people walking downtown, you see this. The optics are there. You see art is almost everywhere, almost every corner of the street. That’s how it should be.”

 

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