Most people are unaware that just northeast of Lowville, in the former Limestone Schoolhouse, lived one of Canada’s leading artists, Jacobine Jones. She was once described as being small in stature but very great in talent.
Phyllis Jacobine Jones was born in England about 1897. She and her mother spent her early years travelling around Denmark and Italy. At age 28 she began her studies in casting, carving, and modeling in England at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London under Harold Brownsword. She continued those studies in France and Italy. At one point she told one of her professors that her focus would be on small stone carvings. Animals were a favourite subject. That focus changed over the years.
In 1932, Jacobine left England and settled in Canada. She built a house and studio in York Mills. She chose that area because of its location, still a bit country yet not too far from the bustling city. Within the first year of her arrival, Jacobine took on her first sculptural commission. As the City of Toronto’s sprawl reached York Mills, Jones moved to Rosedale in the hopes that the neighbourhood would be quiet. Unfortunately, noisy neighbours and traffic were a distraction to her work.
Once again, she looked for a suitable location to live and house her studio in relative peace and quiet. She found the former Limestone Schoolhouse that seemed to fit the bill. She built a kitchen into one of the corners of the school room, converted one of the cloakrooms into a bathroom and the other cloakroom into a bedroom. The open schoolroom worked very well for a studio.
In an interview with the Burlington Gazette, she explained how she needed growing things in her life like flowers and grass. To that end in the former school playground, she planted a large flower bed. For company she had three large dogs and one cat. Even though she enjoyed the country living lifestyle, she also maintained an apartment in Toronto.
For her sculptures, stone, bronze, and wood, in that order were her favourite mediums. She was known to meticulously research each of her subjects. Her works grace many buildings in Toronto and elsewhere, religious, and educational institutions, hospitals across the province and more.
Some local residents can still remember when she was working on a large statue of a United Empire Loyalist Soldier who can now be found at Upper Canada Village. Jacobine hired one of the local young men to pose. A portion of the roof had to be removed to accommodate the statue’s height.
Other works include a statue of St. Joseph holding the Christ child, two statues flanking the entrance of the Toronto General Hospital and sculptures of Champlain, Wolfe, Simcoe, and Brock that grace the east wall of the University of Toronto Archives. There is a 19’ x 29’ marble panel that can be found at the Bank of Nova Scotia at King and Bay. She also made a beautifully carved font for the Trinity College Chapel. These are just a small sample of her works.
Jacobine was able to balance her larger works with the small works that she really enjoyed. She crafted the Jacobine Jones Trophy for the Ontario College of Agriculture, a bronze portrait of a Clydesdale horse, and a wooden statue of a mother bear and cubs and others.
Jacobine passed away in Niagara-on-the-lake in 1976. Her legacy continues through her works that continue to grace many Canadian buildings and locations.
If you are interested in learning more about Jacobine, a biography was published called Put On Her Mettle: The Life and Art of Jacobine Jones by Natalie Luckyj.
Contributing Author: Helen Callaway