“A labor of love” is how Joe Edwards describes his latest project and what a labor it has been. Over the past six months, the 71-year-old Matthews artist has been sculpting a seven-foot-long, six-foot-tall English Bulldog out of wood for Butler High School. When finished, it will weigh over 1,000 pounds and sit on a concrete slab in front of the school.
“I’m thinking this is going to be one of the iconic images of Matthews,” Edwards said.
The project was commissioned by Butler Principal Vincent Golden, who learned about Edwards from a school resource officer, as a way to promote school pride.
Edwards is a retired art and drama teacher who runs Whiterock Studio with his wife, Linda. Their studio and home (one of the oldest homes in Matthews) is across the street from Matthews Elementary School and next to the fire department.
The couple has been involved in town events since the 1980s. Edwards designed the T-shirts for Stumptown Festival, which is now Matthews Alive. He also designed the town flag.
In addition to working on commissioned projects, Edwards teaches weekly sculpture and drawing classes to children and adults. He also has a TV show called “The Claywright Workshop” on Public Access 21.
Edwards said the early stages of making Butler’s bulldog sculpture focused on getting the design right. First, he drew sketches and made a prototype out of clay. Then he made a second model twice as big out of styrofoam and fiberglass.
The third and final model is twice as big as the second and made of hundreds of pieces of pressure-treated wood that have been glued, screwed and custom-fit together. Every few days, Edwards paints the bulldog to keep it from swelling and covers it with a tarp when it rains so moisture doesn’t warp the wood. When he’s done, he will coat it in a special protective finish.
For the past few months, Edwards has been using chainsaws, antique boat chisels and other woodworking tools to sculpt the dog to size and perfect the details. The challenge, he said, is keeping the proportions right and creating the wrinkles around the dog’s neck and face — aside from its sheer size.
“The head of this thing is bigger than a giant pumpkin,” Edwards said.
Butler’s logo is the inspiration, but Edwards said he’s mostly using books on bulldog anatomy, conversations with veterinarians and his own bulldog, Fred, to get the small details right.
“The one I’m making is halfway between fantasy and reality,” he said. “I’m giving him personality, but making him anatomically correct so it’s not so much like a cartoon character.”
Butler staff have been giving feedback and making changes as well, such as suggesting the dog look meaner and have a spiked collar.
“I remember telling him we wanted the mouth to look more serious because we want to be serious bulldogs,” Golden said.
Butler students will get to name the bulldog once it’s installed. The school also plans to brick the entire area around it, install special lighting and create floral landscaping in the shape of a “B.” Alumni and graduating seniors will have the opportunity to buy bricks.
Golden hopes students see the sculpture as a photo opportunity and that it evokes school pride. He said he wants to them to “feel good about being a Butler Bulldog.”
“When kids are prideful about their school they take on the accountability of learning, so that’s definitely my goal,” Golden said.
Visit Whiterock Studio on Facebook to follow Joe Edwards’ progress on the bulldog.