When the city of Suwanee approached North Gwinnett High School art teacher Dallas Gillespie about producing a piece for its SculpTour exhibition this summer, Gillespie turned it into a lesson for students.
For a performance final, students mocked up a sculpture — a maquette — and broke down the cost, materials required and other necessary parameters for carrying the project out. Students presented their projects and the class voted on which would actually be produced for the Suwanee sculpture exhibition.
“There were some stronger in terms of content, but one parameter is it’s one thing to have grandiose ideas, but could it be made?” Gillespie said. “It’s great because it’s a real world project that comes to fruition.”
In the end, sophomore student Breelynn Wilson came up with the most feasible sculpture. His design, “Ascending Throne,” is the combination of two stacked chairs that have the illusion of three chairs depending on the viewer’s angle. The sculpture is a physical depiction of the human need to be on top. The cost to maintain a high status can be great; the floating chair is a reminder of vulnerability, even at the pinnacle.
“It was fun but it was a lot of hard work,” Wilson said. “It’s very exciting to have that up. It definitely has inspired me. … To have this out in front of people for them to see is amazing.”
It required long days of welding and painting the rainbow panels during the weeks after school was out, but it was valuable professional exposure for Wilson.
“In terms of making a professional piece … knowing how to follow through with that vision is what I was helping guide Breelynn with,” Gillespie said.
May was the sixth Suwanee SculpTour event. Since 2011, the SculpTour program has brought more than 79 sculptures to a walkable one-mile area of downtown Suwanee, in addition to the 11 of the 18 pieces in the city’s permanent collection. According to a press release for the event, the tour’s goal is to enliven Town Center, attract visitors and stimulate interest in Suwanee’s public art program. SculpTour adds to the sense of dynamism, energy, rhythm, and ritual in the city.
“Art, in the public realm for the whole of the community, is an integral piece of our city’s personality,” Suwanee City Council member Linnea Miller said. “It’s not enough to simply create a ‘place.’ That place has to come alive – through art, events, activities, and just making things fun. People need a reason to keep coming back and connecting.”
Each round of SculpTour lasts approximately 22 months. There are 14 new sculptures from this year’s event. Many have been welded and weigh hundreds of pounds, such as the red, steel frame of a raven titled “Apollos Scorn,” one of several pieces from returning artist Todd Frahm. “Kinetic Flower Sculpture” is a piece by returning artist Al Garnto. The top, central piece of this sculpture spins by harnessing the wind’s energy.
Most of the artist’s sculptures are made from recycled materials found in sawmills, machine shops, construction sites, dumpsters and old barns. This piece is fabricated of carbon steel, stands 12 feet tall, and weighs 300 pounds.
In 2015, Suwanee partnered with an urban designer and planner to facilitate the development of a public art plan. The charge for the plan was to set a vision and develop a 10-year strategy that would help take public art in Suwanee to the next level. The resulting plan reflected not only the city’s spirit, but also how public space is perceived and used in Suwanee, and how public art can be an essential part.
“Art is not just about culture or playing a key role in revitalization, it is about the fact that we can use art as the glue, the magnet, the anchor that brings a community together,” said Joe Bankoff, former president and CEO of Woodruff Arts Center. “In today’s world, art equates to good jobs, a creative workforce, and an attractive environment. It’s not just about building the arts, it’s about building the community.”