Sculptor tells stories through clay

The face of golfer Doug Sanders is about all that remains of the clay model created by sculptor Julia Knight. Photos by Gale Horton Gay

In the hands of Julia Knight, simple clay can become something monumental.

Knight, a sculptor, uses her hands and tools she makes herself to transform clay into images of people, capturing their essence.

But before Knight picks up the first piece of clay she spends considerable time learning all she can about why the persons she’ll be sculpting. She interviews relatives and, when possible, the individual, reads about him or her, and asks the person who commissioned the work why they want it done.

“My job is to unearth the story,” said Knight, who works out of a studio at Rail Arts District in Avondale Estates and also resides in the city.

After that she narrows down ideas about the best way to embody the person. It may be in a figurative portrait or a more abstract creation.

For the life-size pieces she creates, Knight first sketches an image, then begins working with a small, hand-size wax figure. Depending on the type of sculpture she’s creating, she may next move on to working the image in a 26-inch model before going to full-size “working model.” She may spend months in the process of coaxing and finessing the piece into her vision.

A mold is made of the clay model of professional golfer Doug Sanders and sent to a foundry to be cast in bronze. Sander’s image will be one of six 6-foot sculptures to be part of Cedartown’s Walk of Fame.
A mold is made of the clay model of professional golfer Doug Sanders and sent to a foundry to be cast in bronze. Sander’s image will be one of six 6-foot sculptures to be part of Cedartown’s Walk of Fame.

When she is through with the clay figure, a mold is made and taken to a foundry where it is cast in bronze. The casting takes three to six months. The original clay figure is then moved to the parking lot of her studio and unceremoniously smashed into pieces to be recycled into material for another project.

For the past 15 months, Knight has been working on a series of six sculptures of athletic standouts who hail from Cedartown and have been inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. So far Knight has completed two of the 6-foot sculptures—one of Ray Beck, an All-American who attended Georgia Tech and was part of the 1956 Giants team that won the championship over the Chicago Bears, and the other of Doug Sanders, a former professional golfer who was nicknamed the “peacock of the fairways” due to his stylish dress. She is now in the early stage of developing the piece commemorating John Whitlow Wyatt, who played baseball with such teams as the Detroit Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies and who at one time was the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves and manager for the Atlanta Crackers.

The sculptures are expected to be installed in a Walk of Fame in June 2016.

Jane Wyatt, chief financial officer of the Cedartown Walk of Fame, said $270,000 has been raised locally for the project.

“It’s an amazing project,” said Wyatt. “Yes, there’s a lot of enthusiasm because everybody knew these men and know these men.

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“Of course the most important thing is to recognize these men not only as great athletes but also successful businessmen.”

The project is something of a labor of love for Knight—Cedartown is her hometown.

“There is such an excitement now in Cedartown,” said Knight. “People have something to talk about.”

She said she believes the project will aid Cedartown in its transition to a tourism-based economy—helping to attract people who come through town via the Silver Comet Bike Trail to linger longer.

Wyatt concurs adding, “It will be a wonderful asset to our downtown.”

Knight didn’t always know that sculpture would be her lifelong work. While at a liberal arts college, Knight majored in math but had to fulfill one art class. Something took hold of her in that drawing class and she changed direction.

She has studied at the University of the South in Tennessee, Ringling School of the Art and Design in Florida and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. She also established a resident art studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, from 2002 to 2012. “Working in Italy has made a huge difference in my concentration and the quality of my work,” she explains on her website.

Knight hopes to share her love of art with locals this summer. She’s launching a teaching studio at Rail Arts Studio with six-week sessions beginning in July. Anyone, regardless of skill level, is invited to participate. Information on dates and pricing will be available soon at her website www.juliaknight.com.

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