Passers-by may have noticed a new artwork recently unveiled at the Forsyth County Courthouse, which shows a World War II soldier in a humanitarian role, feeding a young boy and girl standing on an overturned cart.
Like statues at Cumming City Hall, the Forsyth County Administration Building and at the new and old Forsyth County Courthouse, the new artwork, titled “Legacy of Humanity,” is a product of local resident Gregory Johnson, who has created a number of works to memorialize veterans and said the new sculpture was unlike any other he has worked on.
“I don’t know of any other sculpture that focuses on children of the war,” Johnson said. “Lots of authors, if you read books about war, always make comments like, ‘The children bore the brunt of the war,’ and when you really research it, their parents were taken and put into labor camps and the kids were basically orphans.”
Johnson said the sculpture shows the soldier “as a liberator, not a conqueror” feeding the children in the wake of the war.
“I personally like the allusion of the gravy and the beans. I thought that turned out pretty cool,” he said. “Then the little boy is walking up, his arm is in a sling and he’s coming with his cup to get something.”
To make the work as lifelike as possible, Johnson used a soldier and his children as models and aimed to keep the soldier looking young, as many World War II fighters were.
“We chose World War II as the vehicle to show that simply because that’s the war where we lost the most soldiers and it was a global event,” Johnson said. “You have to pick a solider that people recognize, but it’s dedicated to all soldiers of all wars of all service members, everybody that made a sacrifice and did something good and kind and generous.”
In fact, much of the work is centered around historical accuracy.
“He has a dent in his helmet, most of the memorials don’t have details like that,” Johnson said. “The helmet was paper-thin. It wouldn’t stop a bullet, but it would certainly stop a brick from cutting you open.”
Johnson said all parts of the sculpture showed how “war-torn” the area was, including the cart, which was used to move all sorts of items before and during the war.
“It’s broken, so the symbolism is that the commerce is broken,” he said. “There’s a chain that’s broken, and that’s symbolic of breaking the bonds of being a prisoner or having no foreign group occupying your land, meaning the Germans.”
While designing the piece, Johnson said he primarily worked with county commissioners Cindy Mills and Dennis Brown, Forsyth County Development Authority member Bobby Thomas and Forsyth County Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley to get everything perfect.
Once the design was done, the work was modeled in clay, then cast in wax and later bronze, which was patinaed before being delivered.
Johnson said the most difficult facet of the sculpture is that it isn’t just one sculpture.
“The biggest challenge is that everything had to be sculpted independently,” he said. “The girl was not sculpted on the cart, she was sculpted on a base that had the same shape and configuration and slope and slant as the cart.”
“Legacy of Humanity” is one of several lifelike sculptures
in downtown Cumming that Johnson has created, which also include a farmer and
young girl, a nod to Forsyth’s agricultural past, at the county administration
building, county namesake John Forsyth outside the courthouse annex, Hiram
Parks Bell outside Cumming City Hall, a Civil War colonel and former
congressman from Cumming, and Lady Justice, also outside the courthouse.
Johnson said he is grateful for the interest in his historical works and said there has been a recent uptick in communities wanting to preserve their history through art, which wasn’t the case a few decades ago.
“Now, in most cities, it’s in the forefront, it’s in the business planning and the development,” he said. “People are realizing that the economic sizzle of having nice sculpture, it says a lot about the people in the community, it says a lot about the culture of the community and it invites people to want to move here.”
While his realistic works are well-represented, Johnson has also created numerous abstract sculptures and feels the area would also benefit from some more modern pieces.
“[Realism is] great, but when they come across a modern sculpture, the first question out of their mouth is, ‘Well, what is it?’ and maybe a better question is, ‘How does it make me feel? Is it interesting to look at? Do the positive and negative shapes work well? Does it expand beyond the boundaries of the sculpture? Is it really something beautiful to look at?’” Johnson said.“So, it’s not really a sculpture of something, it’s more of a sculpture of an impression or feeling or just lyrical shapes, etc. I would love to see modern sculptures start to get a foothold in Forsyth County. I think modern sculpture looks to the future, and I think traditional sculpture looks to the past.”