Art fills the park
In 1985, Henry Michaux wanted to revitalize the underused J.E. Broyhill Park downtown. Michaux went to Sam Sturgess, then the head of parks and recreation for the city, to put a plan together.
Sturgess had the idea for an event featuring sculpture, and he and Michaux took the idea to the director of the Caldwell Arts Council at the time, Liza Plaster, who liked the idea and ran with it. The Sculpture Celebration was born.
Today, sculpture and the Sculpture Celebration are mainstays in Lenoir and Caldwell County. The Celebration is the longest-running sculpture event in the Southeast, drawing about 3,000 spectators last year, but now at the T.H. Broyhill Walking Park each September.
Lee Carol Giduz, the executive director of the Caldwell Arts Council, said she expects up to 200 indoor and outdoor pieces in this Saturday's event, ranging from small works on tabletops to works 16 feet high that have to be placed with a crane.
Caldwell County now is home to 80 sculptures, displayed mostly in public spaces throughout the county. The first piece of that collection was purchased from the first Sculpture Celebration, but most people hardly notice it, Giduz said. It’s “Pig,” the weather vane on the roof of the Caldwell Arts Council building in Lenoir.
The Sculpture Celebration is what brought all that art to Caldwell County, with the arts council purchasing the winners, Giduz said. The collection is so large now, Giduz said, that the council is trying to add only large, signature pieces like Thomas Sayre’s “Earthcast” sculpture, a giant, clay-colored round structure that was erected at the corner of Harper and Church Streets in Lenoir in 2012.
Giduz, who has been heading the Sculpture Celebration for 19 years, said that when the celebration first started, sculpture was not as widely accepted and popular as it is today, especially in terms of public art displays.
Jim Gallucci, a sculptor from Greensboro and longtime participant of the celebration, said that art has played a part in the recreating of communities like Lenoir in the past few decades, and that public art has become just as important as any other aspect of a building. When people see a new building, they’re not just asking about driveways and parking spaces, Gallucci said, they’re asking about what art will be going where in the building.
Gallucci’s career in sculpture began on Oct. 23, 1969, at about 10:30 a.m., as he was walking to class at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., for what he though might be the last time. He was ready to quit and get a factory job at Kodak.
He passed by an open door where a first-year teacher was working on a sculpture, and that was it. He burst through the door and asked what the lady was doing. She said, “It’s sculpture.”
“She told me about books to read and places to go and things to do, and after that, I pulled my grades up from failing to passing,” Gallucci said. “That just changed my whole life.”
He has participated in the Sculpture Celebration since its earliest years and has been featured in exhibits and events around the world, including Australia and Japan.
This year, he’s submitting two works to the Sculpture Celebration, a large “Sunflower Gate” 12 feet high, 10 feet long, 6 feet deep and weighing about 1,500 pounds, as well as a "whisper bench," a bench featuring a long tube allowing a person to whisper in one side to speak to someone at the other end of the tube. One of his whisper benches was purchased by Caldwell Arts Council from the Sculpture Celebration in 2001 and is a fixture on the playground at West Lenoir Elementary School.
Tom Risser of Waxhaw found his way into sculpture in his mid-30s, about 15 years ago, after building giant skateboard ramps.
Risser has participated in the event each year since 2008 -- he won the Celebration’s first People’s Choice Award for his work “Force of Nature” in 2011 -- and said he plans come to the event “every year 'til I’m dead.”
“I really get a lot out of it,” he said, meeting people, connecting to other artists, and being able to talk to the public and get feedback about what they like in sculpture, saying the arts council puts on a “professional show,” and “one of the best I’ve ever been to.”
Risser is entering the maximum of three pieces in this year’s show, pieces that he has been working on for the past seven months, one of which he describes as a “teenager T-Rex.”
“Imagine a long, gangly, skinny-legged guy,” he said, complete with a real, working iPod that spectators will be able to hear.