Dedication of Star Wars, Indiana Jones Statues Is a Personal Landmark for Academy of Art U. Sculpture DirectorWednesday, June 26th, 2013
The unveiling June 20 of two bronzes commissioned by film director George Lucas has brought Lawrence Noble’s career “full circle,” the sculptor says. In a public ceremony in San Anselmo, Calif., Noble’s figures of the Star Wars character Yoda and the archeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones marked the opening of Imagination Park, also funded by Lucas.
“In a way, Yoda was the inspiration for my second career as an artist,” explains Noble, a Berekeley-based sculptor who also directs the Sculpture program at the Academy of Art University’s School of Fine Art. And he notes that the story of how this all came to pass — not so long ago or far away — should resonate with the artist-students he teaches at the Academy.
“I was a freelance illustrator for 20 years before I became a sculptor,” Noble recalls. “I was doing book covers, magazine covers, movie posters — what are called one-sheets. In 1980 I was invited to design a one-sheet poster for The Empire Strikes Back. This was before the movie came out.”
Noble’s design wasn’t selected for the film’s release — that had to wait 10 years, when Lucasfilm chose it for the 10th anniversary poster for the film. But first, says Noble, came Yoda.
“When I saw the film, I was so moved by the character that I went out and bought clay and sculpture tools. I ended up doing an 8-inch-tall statue of Yoda that was a whole lot more ‘heart’ than it was good. I don’t know why the character spoke to me that way, but I know the experience of seeing him on screen was intricately related to my decision to start sculpting.”
Lucasfilm people saw that sculpture, and chose it as the first limited-edition Star Wars bronze. “That led me into a different arena,” Noble says. “I worked on Return of the Jedi doing design concepts for one-sheets, and I did some other Star Wars-related illustration. Then I was named by the Danbury Mint to design the Star Wars chess set.
“I did a life-size bronze of Yoda, and because I was associated with Lucasfilm, I was allowed to personally present it to George Lucas.” That led to more commission work from Lucas and his companies, and a successful sculpting career for Noble.
“But it all started with seeing the film in 1980 and being so moved by Yoda that I had to go into sculpture. It totally changed my life.” Now, with the dedication of the public sculptures in San Anselmo, “my life seems to have come full circle,” he says.
The two figures — both life-size, which in Yoda’s case means 2-1/2 ft. tall — are set in a fountain at the 8700-sq.-ft. Imagination Park in downtown San Anselmo. George Lucas, a San Anselmo native, donated the property and paid for park plans and the demolition of existing structures. The project was coordinated by Connie Rodgers of the San Anselmo Park Fund.
While the park setting represents the third installation of the Yoda bronze — two others are at Lucasfilm’s Presidio campus and Lucas’ Big Rock Ranch — this is the first and only public display of Noble’s Indiana Jones bronze, which was delivered to Lucas in 2009. Like the Lost Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones film, the bronze was stored in Lucas’ vast archives building until the day it could be revealed and displayed for all to enjoy.
Noble says he feels like Yoda has followed and inspired him throughout his sculpting career. “Some things in life are signposts. I’ve had the privilege of recognizing some of the signposts that have led me in life, and Yoda’s been one of them.”
He observes that life has a way of coming full circle — “just from being involved with that little creature from Star Wars,” as he puts it.
“We don’t know how life’s going to unfold. That’s one of the things I talk to my students about. Be ready for changes, for the future to happen. Be ready to suit up when opportunities come to you — and they will. You need to be prepared.
“It’s no surprise that after spending 40 years as an artist and now teaching, the words start flowing when I get in front of the students. I’m trying to impart to them information that’s vital to their cause. It’s all about empowerment.
“I’d swear we teach The Force in our sculpture curriculum,” he adds with a laugh.
Imagination Park is located at 535 San Anselmo Avenue. To donate or have your name recognized at the park, visit the Park Fund.
Learn more about Lawrence Noble’s work at his website.
Photos by Pete Vilmur of the Academy of Art University School of Fine Art