Arnold Jacobs … more than an artist, more than a Chief

Onondaga Chief Arnold Jacobs, of Two Turtles Fine Art Studio located in the Middleport Plaza on Highway #54, Six Nations, is an internationally recognized artist who has seen his work fly around the world … literally.

Jacobs went to highschool in Caledonia and like most high-school students he wondered where his journey would go from there and what he would do for a living once he completed his formal education.

“I was always good at art, so I thought maybe I’d find some kind of art course after high school,” recalls Jacobs. “I found one, it was just a small three room school upstairs in an office space in Toronto. One of those rooms was for an art course. I think it was only a 10 month course or something. Really short.”

After a few months Jacobs realized he wasn’t learning much, so he began looking elsewhere.

Jacobs has also designed and produced beautiful solid silver clan pendants he markets as “Wild Blings”. (Photo by Jim Windle)
Jacobs has also designed and produced beautiful solid silver clan pendants he markets as “Wild Blings”. (Photo by Jim Windle)
Onondaga Confederacy Chief Arnold Jacobs’ artwork adorned an Air Canada jetliner for many years. One day a regular pilot of that plane dropped in on Jacobs at his Six Nations studio to meet the artist. (Photo by Jim Windle)

While boarding in Toronto he met another Native artist from Kettle Point, Barry Milliken who was attending classes at Central Tech. After talking to him, Jacobs decided he would try to transfer there. Indian Affairs helped him make that transition and Jacobs began going to Central full time.

“I took some of my drawings and stuff to a teacher there and she suggested that instead of taking the four year course, that I could start in the second year of their five year program,” Jacobs recalls.

He says he learned a lot in those years.

“We took photography, line drawing, pottery, and industrial design,” says Jacobs.” I really liked that. I remember we had to design a toy. I did a wooden hot rod that had a mechanism in it so that when the wheels rolled the radiator cap would go up and down. I got a good mark for that.”

Jacobs graduated that course in around 1966. He laments having lost that diploma somewhere but he still has his report card.

He was fortunate enough to get a job right out of school at a packaging plant in Toronto where he worked for a time.

By then Jacobs had met and married Isabel Montour, who was teaching at Six Nations at the time and did not want to move to Toronto. Jacobs commuted every day for about a year before the travel became just too much.

The still newly married Jacobs then took a job at Gryphon Printing in Hamilton. Although still a commute, it wasn’t as long. He stayed there for 15 years between 1970 and 1985 before deciding to strike out on his own career.

“The main reason I did that was that I noticed that at our schools back home there was no teaching of our culture or our history or anything like that, even though the teachers were Native.” recalls Jacobs. “So I thought the kids coming up should know their culture, like the Clans and things like that.”

Jacobs turned his Creator given talent towards educating people, even his own people, about Haudenosaunee culture and traditions.

The first piece he sold as a young budding artist was a painting depicting the Great Tree of Peace with the various Clan animal symbols gathering around it and an Eagle flying overhead. He has a lithograph of that piece hanging in his studio today and has sold many copies over the years since.

“In order to bring some money in, I realized I had to sell prints,” Jacobs says. “But to get the prints done, I had to sell the original to the printer in those days.”

That is what launched his career as a recognized Native artist.

Since then he has created and sold many others works. But he has also branched out in other directions as well with his “teaching” art.

Jacobs’ first storefront studio was located in the Iroquois Plaza in downtown Ohsweken before moving to the “Log Cabin” plaza on Highway #54, where iC Computers is today. In 2002 he moved to his current location at the Middleport Plaza.

About a dozen years ago his “flying eagle” design was selected from among submissions by Native artists from across Canada to adorn one of Air Canada’s new Boeing 767’s.

The idea was originally conceived by a group known as Aboriginal Team Canada whose mandate was to promote Aboriginal Tourism. That group sold Air Canada on the idea but it took several years to come to fruition. Even after Jacobs was informed that his design had been selected as the winner, it took two years for it to actually come about. But when it did, Jacobs and his family were invited to the Pearson Airport in Toronto for the grand unveiling and the proud take off on its inaugural flight to Australia. Since then Jacob’s design has flown around the world … several times.

Jacobs is not sure if the Air Canada 767 is still in service today, but in 2008, he got a surprise when a visitor to his studio told him that he was the pilot of that plane.

“He said he flies that plane all over, so I got him to write a note about it,” says Jacobs.

This note is currently in Jacobs’ studio along with a model of the plain, all of his original art and other mementos in a display area.

More recently, Jacobs designed what he hoped would— be adopted as a new flag for Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Although brilliantly created with his typical simple yet powerful symbolism of the Grand River, the grass, the sun – as mentioned in the Haldimand Proclamation – the Two Row Wampum and an adaptation of the Hiawatha belt, it did not catch on, but he has hopes that one day it will be accepted by the people to represent the Grand River Territory itself.

“Some wondered why we need a new flag when there is already the Hiawatha Flag,” he says. “But this was never intended to replace that, only to represent our Grand River community specifically.”

Two years ago Jacobs launched a silver pendant jewellery line he calls Wild Blings which represents all of the Clan animal symbols. These too can be seen at his studio.

Besides being recognized as a much sought after Native artist, Jacobs also serves his community and his people as a condoled Onondaga Confederacy Chief, carrying on the title from his older brother Oliver Jacobs who served in that role for nearly 40 years before his death three years ago.

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  1. There are some beautiful, colorful prints of Arnold Jacobs’ art, in the library at Pauline Johnson CVS, in Brantford. Marvelous work!!!!

  2. The article was fantastic to read what I enjoyed the most was how Arnold Jacobs created all of his designs from his mind or what he has seen through out the territory in his lifetime.

    I believe that every Nation within the Six Nations should have its own flag to represent its own Nation.

    I also proud of what Jacob Arnold has done with the solid silver clan pendants and to sell them to ever he wishes to that is just great. As for myself I was born into the Bear Clan over sixty years ago and I am very
    proud of being a Mohawk.

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