ATLANTA (AP) — When sculptor Andy Davis and state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, walked out of the King Center a few days after July Fourth, both were elated.
They had just met with representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. estate. Not only had the reps approved Davis' rendering of a proposed statue of the late civil rights leader bound for Liberty Plaza at the state Capitol, but they had signed a contract for Davis to begin work.
"We left there excited about the fact that we were getting ready to move forward," Smyre said. "I was getting ready to cut him a check and then ..."
Less than 72 hours after that meeting, Davis was dead. Davis was on his motorcycle at a traffic light in Henry County, where he lived, when he was hit from behind by a pickup truck.
"After the tragedy, it turned our world upside down," Smyre said.
Now Smyre, who was hand-picked by Gov. Nathan Deal to head the original search for an artist, is resuming the selection process, though not completely from scratch.
After Davis' death, new statue proposals from artists came pouring in from across Georgia and five other states. Members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Georgia Capitol Statue Project Committee, working with the Georgia Capitol Arts Standards Commission, will winnow the list and select a new artist, Smyre said.
It is possible, however, that a new artist might not mean a new design.
"Some (potential candidates) have said, 'I'm willing to start from where you left off and go with what you have,'" Smyre said.
Whether that will happen is an open question, but it is far from an unusual possibility, said Susan Krause, chair of sculpture at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
"A lot of public art is designed by an individual or team and then sent to a fabrication company specifically to complete production," Krause said in an email. "If there are folks who can provide the quality based on the design, it should be doable and considered ethical if all are in agreement."
Krause did say, however, that figurative works of public art, such as a statue, are not usually fabricated by production specialists. Smyre said many of the potential candidates for the project have submitted their own ideas of what the statue should look like. Whether any of those artists were assistants to Davis is unclear.
Davis did not have to go through a protracted application process when he was tapped for the position. He'd come recommended by other legislators who knew his work, specifically his renderings of Ray Charles in Albany and Patrick Henry in McDonough. Deal approved Davis' selection not long after Smyre went to see the sculptor's work in Albany. Some have criticized that move, saying the process was not transparent.
"All I want is for any artist to be able to be included in an open and inclusive process so that no one is being hand-picked for something this significant," said Suzanne Burks, a marketing and communications specialist with Burks Communications Group. Burks is advocating for an African-American sculptor from Georgia.
While organizers had hoped the bronze King likeness would be ready for a 2016 King Day unveiling, Smyre said that timetable is no longer viable and that a new one has not been set.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com