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Discovering the artist behind the Auburn Hearts

In the summer of 2015, a red glazed clay heart appeared on the back of Frontier Cleaners.   Since then, variations of painted hearts can be found throughout Auburn and along the Interurban Trail.   The letters JAW adorns most of these guerilla street art fixtures.  For years theories of what JAW stands for were closely laced with the question of who the artist behind the Auburn Hearts is.  These are no longer questions without answers.

For three years, local artist Jakobi has been placing his street art throughout the Auburn area.  The goal of his art is simple; to put a smile on people’s faces when they see it.  As a symbol of love, the choice of a heart was an uncomplicated one.  “I’m just trying to spread a little love out into the world,” said Jakobi.

If Auburn’s Mayor, Nancy Backus, is any indication for how the rest of Auburn feels, Jakobi has achieved his goal.  “I love [the hearts]. They make me smile whenever I see one.”

Creating Auburn Hearts

The first iteration of the hearts were plain clay hearts, glazed red without the JAW. Jakobi switched to the Lego design for the sake of efficiency, and cost.  Current designs are made of concrete.  They are faster to reproduce and easier to alter the color.

The JAW inscribed on later versions of Jakobi’s hearts are the initials of his art studio, Jakobi ArtWorks.

Since creating his first Lego heart design, Jakobi has created five variations. “Each time they evolved it was because I had an idea as to how to improve the JAW design. Once I figured out how to incorporate the lettering into the design it took me 4 variations to get it to where I was really happy with the results,” explained Jakobi.

Jakobi creates every aspect of his pieces himself. None of the Lego designed pieces have actual Legos in them.  To create the piece, Jakobi makes the original design from Legos. He then pours a silicone mold over the Lego original.  The mold formed is then used to cast the reproductions out of concrete.  This method allows him to choose the pigment of each piece.

The Creation Process

New Variations of JAW Street Art

In addition to Lego hearts, Jakobi has also begun placing flat painted hearts.  When making Lego Hearts, Jakobi would often have excess material.  Not wanting to waste the concrete, he now makes smooth concrete JAW hearts.  To create these hearts he uses the old clay heart molds.  Jakobi enjoys the creative process of painting the blank canvas the smooth JAW hearts provide.

The Lego Washington States also began appearing this summer.  With the trademark JAW across the state, it was clearly not a copycat.  Jakobi shared how the new design came to be, “after making so many hearts I just wanted to try something new. I got the idea of the Washington State design from those Washington State stickers you see on the back of people’s cars; the ones with the heart in the middle of Washington.”

In addition to the Lego Washington State, Jakobi has plans for two additional new designs.  He has molded a doughnut design and is working on the JAW placement.  He also has plans for an Oregon design that will fit like a puzzle piece into the Washington State design.

Finding Jakobi’s Hearts

Jakobi ArtWorks, Auburn Hearts, Concrete Hearts, JAW, Hearts in Auburn, JAW Heart
Courtesy Photo, Jakobi

In his estimate, Jakobi has placed approximately 1,000 hearts.  He placed more hearts this summer than he had in all years combined.  Most of the hearts and now Washington States, in Auburn are in downtown Auburn and along Auburn Way North.   With North Auburn becoming a bit congested with hearts, South Auburn saw some hearts placed this summer.  At this time, Jakobi has no plans to put hearts on Lea Hill or Lakeland Hills.

Beyond Auburn, the JAW art pieces appear along the Interurban Trail from Main street to 180th in Tukwila.   Jakobi has placed some 100 hearts in Kent, as well as a few in Tukwila.  This summer he began placing them in Tacoma and Seattle.   Some hearts have also been put in very remote locations.  “I often bring one or two with me on my hikes to either leave at the final destination or to stick up if I see a cool place on the way to a trailhead,” explained Jakobi.

“I like the idea that they aren’t everywhere, honestly. They are special, but if [the hearts] appeared everywhere, they would lose some of that specialness,” said Backus.

Choosing New Locations for His Heartwork

When choosing a location, Jakobi takes several things into consideration.  Visibility is vital, as there is no point putting one up if no one sees it.  He tries not to place his art too close together.  Before setting a piece, Jakobi tries to estimate if the artwork will cause upset. Jakobi explained, “I don’t ever intend to put them up in spots that will piss people off, but I know it happens.  I have put some up in spots that people didn’t like because they get quickly taken down and then the spot is usually re-painted right away – sorry Les Schwab on Auburn Way North.”

Backus agrees that consideration for property and property owners is a must.  “I don’t condone anyone attaching [something] to private property without the owner’s consent – especially if the removal will damage the building. That would go for any public buildings, too. I would love to see them continue – legally and so that if the owner of the property doesn’t want them, they can be removed easily and without damage to the building or property.”

Jakobi ArtWorks, Auburn Hearts, Concrete Hearts, JAW, Hearts in Auburn, JAW Heart
Courtesy Photo, Jakobi

Being at intersections and along roadways, Jakobi’s favorite spot to place hearts is the base of utility boxes. Their concrete base is ideal for installation and, “I don’t think they really bother anyone there,” said Jakobi.

Though Jakobi doesn’t have a favorite heart he has placed, Backus does.  Sort of.  “I do love the ones on the NW corner of the Auburn Cultural Arts Center (formerly the King County Public Health Building).  But whenever I see a familiar one or discover a new one, it becomes my favorite for that moment.”

Love Your City

In her 2018 State of the City address, Backus featured photos of Jakobi’s hearts.  As the theme of the presentation was “How to Love Your City,” it was a perfect tie-in for the hearts.  He knew the hearts were used in a presentation by the Mayor but wasn’t aware to what extent.  Jakobi thought it was awesome and said, “they are a part of Auburn, and she is the leader of Auburn. She can use images of them as much as she wants.”

Asked if she could say anything to the artist of the Auburn hearts, Backus simply shared, “I would thank them for bringing a smile to my face – sometimes during a very challenging time.”

“[Knowing your art is appreciated] is the best feeling. It makes me so happy to hear other people like my work. It is a little scary putting yourself or your artwork out there for everyone to see. When I hear that people like my hearts it definitely helps build up my confidence in my artwork and motivates me to put more up and in more locations,” said Jakobi.

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The Shoe Forest, on Main Street in downtown Auburn, has a heart right outside their entrance.  The store owned the heart and incorporated it into a mural on the storefront entrance.  Loving collaboration with other artists, Jakobi thought it was a great idea when he saw it.

If a local business or any organization wants a heart placed on it, Jakobi would be more than happy to put one up for them.  To let Jakobi know you want a heart, send him a message on his Instagram @j.a.w  It is worth noting that if a heart has been previously taken down, Jakobi will not put up another one.


Street Art is Not Graffiti

Several of the newest hearts put up by Jakobi have ‘this is not Graffiti” imprinted on them.  Like Jakobi, Backus doesn’t consider the hearts to be graffiti.  She sees them more as public art.

Jakobi shared his opinion on the difference between graffiti and street art, “personally, I feel like graffiti is created with spray paint or other materials artists use to paint and draw with. Graffiti exists only in two dimensions. Everything else is street art. I do consider my hearts to be street art and not graffiti.”

“I think [some people] might consider street art graffiti, but I don’t see it that way. I find value in and enjoy both graffiti and street art,” Jakobi continued. “Art is so subjective that it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks about a piece of art. The only opinion that matters is your own.”

The City of Auburn has a variety of art installations throughout downtown.  Though not street art, these installations help expose citizens and Auburn’s visitors to art.  Street art adds to the artistic fabric of any city, including Auburn.  “Any time people are viewing art a good thing is happening. Street art is great because it allows people to see different types of art in public spaces. The more we can bring art out of museums and into the public the better,” said Jakobi.

More than just Hearts

wire sculpture, wire deer head, jakobi, jakobi artworks
Wire Deer Head Sculpture, by Jakobi | Courtesy Photo, Jakobi ArtWorks

JAW hearts and Washington States are only a small portion of the artwork Jakobi creates. The pause in new hearts being placed was because he was working on other paintings and sculptures. While he feels his strongest medium is wire sculptures, he gets the most enjoyment from painting.

“I definitely have favorite pieces. The deer head wire sculpture on my Instagram and on my website is definitely a favorite piece of mine,” shared Jakobi.  “I [also] like my “California, Here we come!” painting and my “Hello Seattle” painting a lot.”

With a love for art that started in kindergarten, Jakobi has been making art his whole life. After winning an art contest in Kindergarten for a drawing, he was hooked.  That trophy led to a life of creation and inspiring others with his art.  Some of Jakobi’s other art can be viewed at Jakobiartworks.com.
When he isn’t spreading love through art, Jakobi is an art teacher.  He became a teacher to help instill the same love of art he has in students. As an art teacher, Jakobi explained that “the more hands-on opportunities students get to try a variety of different art mediums the greater the chance that they will discover a type of art that they connect with. My goal as an art teacher is to create art advocates. Not all of my students are great artists or will grow up to be practicing or working artists. But they can all grow up to appreciate and respect the arts.” jaw hearts, auburn hearts, street art hearts, clay heart, concrete heart, auburn hearts,

Give a Little Heart

When he began putting up hearts, Jakobi knew that people would try to take them. It does not bother him when his hearts are removed.  But unfortunately, the hearts rarely come down in one piece. This weekend Jakobi peppered the Veterans Day Parade route with 125 tiny clay JAW Hearts.  This gave eagle-eyed parade attendees a chance to have a heart of their own.

If you want to keep up with Jakobi on his latest artwork or see where he’s placed new hearts follow him on Instagram @j.a.w .



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