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Sculpture showcase spotlights students’ skill, creativity

A group of high school students in the Butler County Career Tech’s Welding Program got the chance to show off not only their welding skills, but also their considerable creativity this week.

The Butler County Fine Arts Club held a Metal Sculpture Showcase in the atrium of Greenville High School Tuesday evening, with dozens of pieces, from free-standing representational and abstract sculptures to nature- and sports-themed wall décor, furniture and much more on display.

Jessica McNaughton is the sole female in the group of student welders, but she’s not a bit intimidated by her male counterparts.

“I never have let it bother me over the past three years of being the only girl in welding,” she said with a smile. “My dad is a welder and he always encouraged me. I like working with my hands, being creative.”

Debra Strycker, who coordinated and accompanied some of the welding students on an April trip to Lenoir, N.C. to visit manufacturers and see a number of art exhibits involving welding techniques, said there’s no reason female students can’t excel at welding just as much as the male students.

“Jessica is probably one of the most talented welders in this great group,” Strycker said. “She’s very detail oriented and painstaking in her work, and it shows.”

McNaughton’s horseshoe-and-nail cross wall sconces and angel wall décor manage to combine strength with delicacy.

“As for the cross with the pink ‘ribbon’ in the center, that’s in honor of my grandmother, who fought breast cancer,” McNaughton explained.

McNaughton also helped create a glass-topped black metal table with Justin Bell entitled “Band of Gears.”

Local citizens and various programs within the school system donated many of the materials used to create the metal and mixed media projects.

Andrew Williams’ “Risen,” a majestic nine-and-a-half foot tall cross, was actually created from some former GHS football equipment donated to Career Tech.

“We took it and cut it into several smaller pieces and then I re-welded it, adding in some additional pieces,” Williams said.

Williams, who hopes a church or faith-based group will decide to purchase “Risen,” said while he isn’t sure what career path he will eventually take, he believes welding will always be a practical skill that is “something I can fall back on.”

The biggest sculpture on exhibit – both in terms of sheer size and the number of students involved in its creation – was “The Man,” a giant-sized figure of a welder looming over visitors to the showcase. “The Man” was a joint creation of Daryl Bonner, Keith Albritton, Nekko Cantrell, Baker McInvale, Jonathan Wills and Chasin McDougald.

Showcase attendee, retired BCSS educator Susan Andrews, said she was tickled pink with her discovery of a whimsical gardening center, which she quickly snapped up to add to her own lawn.

“I absolutely love it,” she said with a big smile. “I love seeing all this creativity right now.”

Andrews had the two welding students who created her purchase, Baker McInvale and Nekko Cantrell, sign their names to the piece “just like any other artists.”

Eddie and Carol Pope donated some of the gardening implements used in Andrews’ purchase. Eddie Pope was enjoying working his way around the exhibit, taking lots of photos of the students’ artwork and recognizing the bits and pieces of materials he and his wife had donated to the welding program.

“This is really a good thing for our students,” Pope said. “I’ve always worked in wood myself, but I really wish a program like this had been in place when I was younger.”

Many of the students’ creations were also for sale, and several ended up with “SOLD” signs on them before the two-hour event concluded.

“Some of the kids were a little shy about pricing their creations, but I told them, ‘You have to remember – not everybody can do what you can do, and they are ready and willing to pay to have pieces like this,’” Strycker said. “It is always hard for creative people to put a price tag on what they do, but your time, your talent, your ability – it’s all worth something. I am just so thrilled with what they were inspired to put together after our visit to Lenoir.”

And this is just the beginning, Strycker added.

“We want to do a sculpture showcase again next year – and maybe get some of our band members to perform for us, too, to share the talents of even more of our students,” she said.

Greenville High School Principal Joseph Dean also expressed his appreciation for Strycker’s coordination of both the student trip and the sculpture showcase.

“It’s really impressive to see what they have managed to do,” he concluded. “I am very proud of them all.”