Norcross senior leaves legacy in sculpture

NORCROSS - It was the toughest and most time-consuming thing he had ever done. For five months, Stephen McKenzie designed, painted, cut, mixed and varnished to put it all together.

But finally, his 12-foot tall sculpture stood proudly completed. He called it "The Blue Devil Arch," in honor of Norcross High School, where he will be graduating from this month.

McKenzie installed the sculpture on the fine arts patio of the school. There it will remain long after he goes off to college, a permanent reminder of the class of 2006.

"I got started thinking about the design, and I realized, it's my senior year. So I thought: 'Why don't I just leave something with some school spirit?'" McKenzie, 18, said.

The colors of the sculpture go from dark blue to white, showing Norcross' colors, with painted lines criss-crossing throughout. There are four different arches represented, creating an abstract, geometric display. The wooden sculpture stands above a large block of concrete as it towers above the benches on the patio.

Martha Cook, McKenzie's art teacher, hopes in the future other students can create a sculpture garden permanently displaying their work. She said this was an excellent experience that helped McKenzie grow as an artist.

"Usually, he goes really fast in his work. And I thought, 'You know what he needs is a long-term project.' And he just sunk his teeth into this. It was so exciting to watch.'"

Before coming up with his final design, McKenzie drew 12 possible sculptures on pieces of paper. He created a "maquette," or miniature model, out of wood to roughly show how he wanted it to look. The final product was almost identical to the model, but it was ten times the size.

The greatest challenges he faced were not the design, however, but the practical problems of creating a durable sculpture. He had to think about how to ensure it could withstand the elements, including rain and wind.

"It's not like drawing and painting, where you can paint whatever you want. You actually have to think about the physics of it," McKenzie said.

Constructing the giant sculpture took many weeks of sitting in the hallway, cutting and putting it together. Teachers and students passed by, bemused and curious, as he worked beside a "wet paint" sign.

He painted the sealed the wood with outdoor varnish, covering it with polyurethane. He built a form for the base, casting it in hundreds of pounds of concrete. Finally, he anchored the sculpture down with a front and rear wire to prevent it from blowing in the wind.

"We had to think of some of the technical details we really hadn't thought of before," Cook said. "It was kind of exciting the day we put it up. It actually happened."

The project was a fitting conclusion to McKenzie's high school career. For all of his electives, he chose to take art classes, including drawing and painting, photography, pottery, 2D and 3D sculpture.

Originally, he thought the whole project would take him two months at most. Once he really started working on it, McKenzie realized it would be a lot longer than that. He started at the end of September and finally unveiled it in April.

"I would definitely say it taught me to be patient," McKenzie said. "The first ideas that you come up with are not necessarily how it's going to turn out."