YOUNGSTOWN — A World War II veteran and former steelworker has forged his way into the Valley’s history with three steel sculptures he created before his 2014 death dedicated at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor.
The three works by Sidney Rackoff were dedicated Saturday outside the museum. One is of a soldier, one is a steelworker and the third is a coal miner.
Rackoff was a World War II veteran who received a Purple Heart for his service. After the war, he worked at Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. and later became a rabbi, serving in local synagogues.
One of Rackoff’s biggest statues locally is The Steel Man at the Niles Iron and Metal Co. on state Route 46 in Niles. The Beachwood resident died in 2014 at the age of 95.
Rackoff’s three sons and other family members gathered Saturday afternoon for the dedication of the statues.
Dr. Nick Rackoff, Sidney’s oldest son, said they were all there for the dedication of his father’s three statues and a half-dozen statues inside they donated to the labor museum.
“He created these pieces of art, and his theme was always common man — steelworkers, coal miners, veterans and many others.”
Nick said his father created about 80 major pieces in his life.
“Ten of those are now permanently here at the museum,” Nick said. “Dad had a lot of artistic capability, but he never really expressed it like this until he was in his 60s.”
Nick said his dad began painting and started with ceramics and other forms of art.
“Then he got on to the steel thing, took welding classes, eventually he decided that was his form of art. So he had a whole lot of creativity in him that he needed to express, and he was able to do that with his statues,” Nick said.
Nick said his father’s goal was to not only make these statues of ordinary people, but his goal was to have familiar people see his creations.
“So he had his art on display personally in 30 different public places throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C, many malls, and universities.”
Ray Rackoff, Sidney’s son, said he brought his dad’s statues to Youngstown because they belong here.
“Youngstown needs all the help they can get, yet this is going to be a great help because this is the working class. My dad was a working-class man, he was a rabbi, and sold furniture, but he was always this. He loved people and loved to talk more than I did,” Ray said.
He said Youngstown is on the map, and it’s here to stay.
“This is what I want to get through. It’s all I ask for. Nothing else. That’s why we donated these pieces and several pieces inside. I have a few more coming I hope to get,” Ray said.
John Liana, project manager at the labor museum, said this a culmination of a two-year project.
“A couple of years ago, the Rackoff brothers came to me with an idea to have a home for their father’s sculpture work. We took our time a little bit, and eventually, they got all the material they wanted to get here, and there is some they wanted to keep for themselves, and this stuff was scattered all across the country.”
Liana said whenever they brought the three big statues here, they had to find a big outdoor venue for them.
“So it took us two years to get all the permits, contact everybody involved to get everyone together, and we finally got them installed here this past summer. We had a soft opening, and people are climbing all over them,” Liana said.
Liana said people put their kids on them to take pictures with them, and the general public is having a good time with the statues.
Liana said this is the first step in what will become a sculpture garden outside the museum on Wood Street.
“There were originally plans for a sculpture garden when they built the musuem, but they ran out of money, so I dream that before I leave this place, that this side of the lawn will become that sculpture garden,” Liana said.