After standing in front of the Vernon Parish School Board Office, and then the Special Education Center for many years, a large-scale welded steel sculpture has been revitalized and moved a third time.
Vernon Parish Artist Larry Leach designed this collaborative work while serving as Artist-in-Residence for Vernon Parish Schools.
In the fall of 1976, Leach knew that he would be leaving after the school year to join the Louisiana State University of Alexandria (LSUA) faculty. School Superintendent Creighton Owen asked then Director of Vernon Parish Special Services Dr. Billie McRae to try to do something special with the students and Leach before his departure.
McRae and Leach came up with the idea for the sculpture which eventually became known as “Billie,” named after and dedicated in memory of McRae.
Owen loved the sculpture idea, so McRae applied for, and received, a National Education Association (NEA) grant, and the project was underway.
Sculpture Professor Rivers Murphy of NSU made suggestions to the original scale model. From there, the model was taken to all the parish schools, providing many students the opportunity to design, with cardboard, their own ideas and input.
During the process, students were exposed to the works of other well-known sculptors who worked with welded steel, such as Alexander Calder, David Smith, and Barnett Newman.
Jeff Laughlin taught welding at the Vernon Parish Career Center, and with his students from various schools throughout the parish, constructed this work based on the final design.
The finished work was initially displayed in front of the school board office for years, then moved across the street in front of the Special Education Center.
In 2016, the Art 4 The Park Committee of GALLERY ONE EIIIEVEN proposed to the school board to allow them to remove, refurbish and install the sculpture where it is today.
Superintendent of Schools James Williams and Special Education Director Charlotte McHenry Cooper enthusiastically agreed to provide the sculpture for this project.
The installation and landscaping of “Billie” was made possible through the support of the Vernon Parish Tourism Commission and a generous donation by McRae’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
GALLERY ONE EIIIEVEN Coordinator Tony McDonald said “Billie” has become the anchor piece in the Leesville Art Park. “It is so dramatic that we have incorporated it into the park logo.”
The sculpture’s namesake, McRae, was an educator, world traveler, and strong supporter of the Arts in Vernon Parish. McRae was instrumental in not only the funding and production of this sculpture project, she also secured a grant to fund the mural montage of the history of Vernon Parish that hangs in the Historic Vernon Parish Courthouse. McRae was a strong and influential figure in the development of the Arts in Vernon Parish.
Four plaque pedestals are being built to accompany the four current sculptures in the park, said McDonald. “These will identify the sculpture, the sponsors, and will have an educational panel on each piece so the park can be used as an Art Education Lab.”
Art 4 the Park also just received a $4800 grant from the state to help purchase three interactive musical sculptures for the Melody Garden within the park.
Formal re-dedication of “Billie” the sculpture will take place in late November.