For as long as she can remember, art has been an important part of Lynda Jacobsen’s life. She credits her mother for instilling in her an appreciation for beauty in the things around her. “In our growing up years, our mother taught us to appreciate the beauty in everyday things,” Jacobsen says. “She taught us to appreciate the blue skies and sunsets.”
Although art was always a passion for her, Jacobsen didn’t understand that art had merit as a profession when she was young. It wasn’t until she was a student at Mankato State College that she was encouraged to pursue her interest in it. Since then, Jacobsen has been working to help others fully appreciate the value of art to one’s life and to the vitality of the community—as a teacher, a volunteer and an artist with an unusual exhibit at the Carnegie Art Center in Mankato.
Taking Art Seriously
Jacobsen grew up on a farm in the southwest corner of Minnesota. As a child, she displayed natural artistic talent. “I have always loved art. But in school, do you know when we did art projects? If we were done with everything, we could go sit in the back of the room and draw. That was art,” she says. “At the time, our school didn’t offer any formal means for expression.”
But that didn’t prevent her from participating, practicing and appreciating the art around her. “I used watercolor, because I had access to the little Prang sets in school. I would enter the ‘Draw Me’ art contests and I would get congratulatory letters back. But when they found out I was only nine years old, the correspondence stopped,” Jacobsen says, smiling.
As a high school senior, Jacobsen was advised to become a teacher. Initially, she planned to be a school psychologist and was studying English and psychology. “In my junior year, my college advisor informed me that my plan required a graduate degree. At that point, I dropped psychology and jumped into art,” she says. “It was the first time I took art seriously as a class. I mean, who thought of art as something to study? I was so pleased to know that I could get credit for doing art work.”
In 1967, Jacobsen graduated with a B.A. in English and an art minor. After teaching English for a short time, she enjoyed a full career teaching art to students of all ages—from kindergarten to high school.
Art All Around Us
Jacobsen retired from teaching when she moved to Mankato in 1988. She soon reconnected with Minnesota State Mankato; as a community member, Jacobsen has served on the Alumni Foundation Board, participated in interviews and provided input into various project designs during the redesign of the Centennial Student Union. Lynda and her husband Darel Jacobsen have also provided financial support for various University projects.
One of their most important contributions, in Lynda’s mind, has been the ongoing funding of art scholarships. Because of their deep understanding of the critical role art plays in shaping our culture and their longtime love of the visual arts, Lynda and Darel have made a $100,000 trust bequest through their final will, which will be used to support a graduate fellowship in visual art.
During budget cuts, funding for the arts sometimes looks like an easy target. But Jacobsen feels that the times at which people have limited monetary wealth are the times when lessons in art appreciation are the most important. “My mother taught us to see beauty in things around us,” she says. “You don’t have to have a lot of money. But if you develop an aesthetic sense, it can give you great joy and improve your quality of life immeasurably.”
Jacobsen routinely finds beauty in everyday objects. In fact, she has a unique collection of an everyday object.
“I have a chair collection, which is kind of an odd passion,” she admits. “I have been collecting chairs for a long time, but I don’t just collect chairs because they are collectable. They have to be aesthetically pleasing to me.”
Her admiration of beauty in design motivated her to purchase the first piece of her collection when she was just a child. She could see it from her school, and she was fascinated by it.
“My first chair was sitting outside underneath a clothesline across the street from the school. It was an ice cream parlor chair. Irene Hixson owned it,” Jacobsen remembers. “The bottom had fallen out and she put her clothespin bucket in it. So it was sitting out there all the time. And oh, how I admired that chair. I really wanted that chair. I finally persuaded my mother to go with me and I asked Irene Hixson to sell me that chair. She glanced at me with a puzzled look and said, ‘Well, where would I put my clothespins?’ Eventually she decided that, for about $5, she could buy a bag for her clothespins that hung on the clothesline. So if I wanted to buy the chair from her for $5, I could. And I bought my first chair. That chair has gone everywhere with me.”
Jacobsen was 12 years old at the time and probably didn’t realize the significance of that purchase. Now, nearly 55 years later, she is an avid art collector and expert in chair design.
“My husband and I have been to different parts of the world and visited museums all over. Invariably, we find a collection of mid-century modern chairs on exhibit,” Jacobsen says. Her own collection includes the work of several designers and architects, such as Eero Saarinen, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Harry Bertoia, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, George Nelson, Verner Panton, Arne Jacobsen and others.
But Jacobsen doesn’t usually look in design shops or retail stores for her chairs.
“I am not one who goes out and buys all new chairs at retail prices,” she says. “A person could buy them new, but what fun is that? I have found them at second-hand stores, garage sales, on Ebay, even in the ditch. If I find a chair that is a worthy collectable, I buy it. Sometimes they require quite a bit of work, but I get a lot of joy out of it—reupholstering or doing repairs to bring something back to life.”
Sharing Her Passion
One of the things Jacobsen likes most about her collection is that the pieces are recognizable. “Chairs are such a universal item. We all use them every day and in every way,” she says. “Even though these collectable chairs are somewhat precious, we live with them and use them.”
As more people became aware of and voiced interest in her collection, Jacobsen began thinking it might be fun to display it. She shared the idea with Hope Cook, a retired Minnesota State Mankato art faculty member and long-time Carnegie Art Center volunteer. Cook agreed that it was a good idea.
“The Carnegie is constantly evolving as a visual art center,” Cook says. “Although Lynda doesn’t describe herself as an artist, she lives her life as a visually thinking and engaged person. Her collection includes sculptural pieces with which we all have a connection.”
Jacobsen has been preparing for the show for nearly a year—creating paintings, designing banners and building a giant chair to be displayed outside. “I try to do something related to the show every day,” she says.
It seems that even though Lynda Jacobsen has far more chairs than the average person, she doesn’t sit down for long.