Top sculptress Naomi Jacobson dies age 91

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Naomi Jacobson, who passed away in Johannesburg last week at the age of 91, was an internationally renowned portrait sculptor and a member of a distinguished South African and Namibian Jewish family.
by DAVID SAKS | Jun 01, 2016

Pictured: Sculptress Naomi Jacobson, with husband Larry, working on a statue of Steve Biko.

Her commissions over the years included making busts or statues of various anti-apartheid icons, among them Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. In addition, she created a number of sculptures of birds and buck for public fountains and statues of historical figures for various centres in southern Africa, including Windhoek, East London, Maseru, Gaborone and Ulundi.

Jacobson was born in Windhoek in what was then South West Africa, on June 1, 1925. Her father, Israel Goldblatt, was an eminent advocate, author and campaigner for Namibian independence from South Africa, while her mother, Jeanette, was the daughter of Rev Mordecai Cohen, first spiritual leader of the Windhoek Hebrew Congregation.

David Goldblatt, the noted Yiddishist, publisher and Jewish civil rights activist in Cape Town, was her grandfather. Another family member who carved a niche for herself in the country’s literary history was her father’s elder sister, Sarah Goldblatt, secretary and later literary executrix of the famed Afrikaans poet, writer and advocate, senator C J Langenhoven, author of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika

Jacobson’s younger sister, Karen, followed her father into the legal profession, becoming the first woman to be appointed as a justice in South West Africa and the second in Bloemfontein.

After matriculating in Windhoek, Jacobson studied at the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town, where she met Larry Jacobson, a medical student, whom she married in 1947. The couple settled in South West Africa, where Larry found medical positions in Mariental, Lüderitz, Gobabis and finally Windhoek. They moved to Johannesburg in 1973. 

Jacobson began sculpting in earnest in Windhoek, where she set up a studio. While a number of her important works were of deceased historical figures, such as Lord Baden-Powell, she much preferred working from live settings. Describing her approach, she once commented: “One can take a photo, but working in clay or plaster in three dimensions is really to get to the inside of the person.

“It also enables the artist to spend time with those they are portraying, conversing with and learning all about them. One becomes a kind of psychologist after a while.”

It was after relocating to Johannesburg that Jacobson’s career began to take off, thanks in part to the friendship and support of such fellow artists as Cecil Skotnes and Larry Scully.

She was given an exhibition by Norma Wolfewitz, who had opened a gallery, and sold all 14 of her Namibian ethnic heads. From then on, commissions came in regularly, and she never needed another exhibition.

Many of her works today can be found in local, international and private collections and in addition she has created a number of sculptures of birds and buck for public fountains. She was further engaged to create life-size statues of, among others, Zulu kings Shaka and Cetshwayo, Steve Biko, Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana and Makontwani, general of Basotho King Moshoeshoe.

Jacobson is survived by her son, David (who also achieved international renown as a sculptor) and daughter, Janine. Her husband, Larry, died in March 2004.


1 Comment

  1. 1 Dalton Edwards 22 Jan
    I have he Herero Woman 1975 SWA sculptor in my home


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