Visiting the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco’s Presidio has become something of a pilgrimage for many a fan of the Star Wars universe. And while the hallowed grounds of the Lucasfilm headquarters are the main attraction, it is the fountain featuring a life sized bronze Jedi Master Yoda that has since its 2005 unveiling become one of the most adored and visited on the sprawling 17 acre park. The humble Jedi Master silently welcomes guests to the studio campus.
The beloved Yoda Fountain is partially the work of Lawrence Noble, who sculpted the bronze (in addition to several other life-size bronzes adorning the campus), but did not design the fountain itself. Noble began his professional relationship with Lucasfilm in 1980 with the campaign to promote The Empire Strikes Back. At the time he was a well-known illustrator and was commissioned to produce a poster concept for the film.
After seeing the film, Noble was moved by the character and decided for the first time in his life to try his hand at sculpture. He went to a local art supply store and purchased all the materials and tools he would need to sculpt an 11 inch (28 cm) tall, clay Yoda. The resulting statue of the tiny Jedi ended up being produced in a limited edition of 50 for the 10th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back, and was offered to members of the Official Lucasfilm Fan Club in 1990. The small bronze statues on wooden bases came in at a cost of $550 each and were the first licensed sculpture, and one of the most expensive Star Wars collectibles ever offered at the time.
The sculpture for the fountain is largely thanks to Star Wars fan and art collector, Han Park of Oakland, California, who contacted Noble originally asking for an illustration. Noble had moved to sculpture as his primary artistic medium by the time and suggested that despite no longer working in illustration he would be interested in sculpting a full-size Yoda. To cover the costs of the project, Park had to find four more people interested in purchasing life-sized bronze statues of Yoda. He was able to find them in one day.
Twenty-five of the sculptures, 32 inches (82 cm) tall and weighing 170 pounds (77 kg) were cast at the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, California. Each of them quickly sold to collectors around the world, including a few purchased by George Lucas. One of the Yoda Sculptures was gifted to Lucas who installed it at his Big Rock Ranch campus in 2002, followed by one he purchased at the Presidio in 2005, and a third at the Lucasfilm Singapore campus in 2014. A fourth was donated to Imagination Park in Lucas’ hometown of San Anselmo.
In 2014 Noble, Lucas, and the late landscape architect Lawrence Halprin were awarded the prestigious Henry Hering Memorial Medal for Art and Architecture. Awarded by the National Sculptural Society, the award is given for outstanding collaboration between owner, architect, and sculptor in the distinguished use of sculpture in an architectural project.
Yoda Fountain Facts
- Hours: 08:00-17:00 on weekdays only (for the Lucasfilm lobby).
- Location: 1 Letterman Dr. San Francisco, CA 94129. In front of Letterman Center Building B. Headquarters for Lucasfilm Ltd., Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
- The Yoda Fountain is a ten minute walk from the Palace of Fine Arts. Depending of course on how quickly you walk.
- The lobby is open to the public during weekday working hours and you are more than welcome to take pictures.
- Lawrence Noble’s promotional poster for The Empire Strikes Back was not used for the original marketing campaign for which it was produced.
- Noble once noted that “Michelangelo went to the mountains to seek inspiration; all I had to do was go to a movie theater.”
- The 25 bronzes were licensed for sale at $15,000 each.
- One of the conditions of the Yoda Sculpture commissioned by Han Park was that Noble be allowed to gift one to George Lucas as a personal thank you for years of inspiration.