Sculptor adds bit of flair to Piedmont High School

by Eren Tataragasi

Waxhaw artist Tom Risser created this sculpture based on a drawing by Piedmont High School senior Lakin Helms. Photo courtesy of Tracy Price

WAXHAW – For years, sculptor Tom Risser has been donating his works of art to various Union County schools. Now, his latest creation is the centerpiece of a new sculpture garden at Piedmont High School in Unionville.

The sculpture garden is the result of a nearly yearlong project by art teacher Tracy Price and her students.

Price got the idea for creating a sculpture garden at her school after visiting Benton Heights Elementary, which features 20 of Risser’s sculptures.

“I saw the sculptures and was inspired by them; I just thought it was the coolest thing,” Price said.

After that, she set out to meet Risser and find out more about him and his work.

Fully inspired, Price wrote a grant involving several of the other teachers at school and received $2,000 from Bright Ideas and $500 from the Union County Community Arts Council to create the garden.

Once she had the money in place, she contacted Risser, but he wasn’t interested in the money.

Instead, he invited Price and her students out to his 5-acre home and workshop in Waxhaw where they got a chance to see some of his larger works and gain a little inspiration for themselves.

Following that trip, the students sketched out what they thought a sculpture would look like if Risser was to construct one for the school, based on what they’d seen him produce previously.

Those sketches were then presented to Risser and he ended up picking two to work from to create the garden’s first two sculptures.

The sketches were chosen from seniors Lakin Helms and Evan Hudson. Helms’ drawing inspired the larger of the two sculptures.

“This was first time I worked with high school students and they draw on a different level, more 3-D, multiple symbols and shapes, and that’s why the bigger one attracted my attention because I could see their interpretation of my visions,” Risser said.

Seeing his work interpreted by students gave Risser other ideas to build and grow on that he wouldn’t necessarily have thought of on his own.

“That one piece, it looks like shapes I would do, but I hadn’t done them before and I thought how can I make it more 3-D and make a freestanding piece, and it took a few months but it turned out good,” Risser said.

Risser said he donated the two pieces to Piedmont because he’s not in the business of sculpting for the money.

“My real job is I design package machinery … The art thing, I don’t do it for a living, so it’s nice to work with the schools and give back because they’re not really going to have opportunities to do that because they don’t get a lot of money for art projects, and with me they don’t have to worry about that,” he said.

Risser, who also helped create the skate park in Waxhaw, said he’s been sculpting for about 14 years. He said mostly it’s been word of mouth that got his work placed in schools and galleries all over the county.

“It’s just something I do for fun; it’s a passion,” Risser said.

Besides being able to donate his art, Risser said he just loves working with the kids – they energize him. He also said it’s just fun to make something out of nothing.

“I just went to a scrap yard, found metal someone threw away, changed it, cut it, welded it and now it’s something that makes everyone smile and that’s kind of cool,” he said.

And Price agrees. To her, this project couldn’t have gone any better.
“We’re just so grateful to have (Risser) in our community,” Price said. “He’s just inspiring and has such a great passion for art and sharing it with students. I’m just so grateful because obviously we couldn’t have done this project without him.”

To learn more about Risser, find him on Facebook at or on Myspace at

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