South Charlotte

Art captures Waxhaw spirit

On July 8, 2010, a train hauling grain derailed just outside of Waxhaw. N.C. 75 was totally shut down. No one was hurt.

Despite some bureaucratic delays, CSX railroad, the Waxhaw Volunteer Fire Department, police, local government and ordinary citizens worked together to get the town's major east-west artery re-opened.

A little more than a year later, on Aug. 6, the town dedicated a monument by local artist Tom Risser that recognizes the hard work and cooperation following the derailment.

Participants at the ceremony included Mayor Daune Gardner, Town Manager Michael McLaurin, Jason Loseke from the Waxhaw Beautification Committee and Risser.

The nearly 3,000 pound steel, wood and plastic sculpture, aptly named "Getting Back on Track," honors the true spirit of cooperation by the Waxhaw community in a time of crisis. "My inspiration was our Waxhaw community taking a bad situation and coming together to make it better," Risser said. "I was inspired by the town and thrilled to help my community." The steel silhouettes represent all the people who gave freely of their time and without complaint.

"I guess the project started when someone sent a Facebook message to the mayor about maybe getting that guy who makes the sculptures to create something out of the scrap from the wreck," Risser said.

"The mayor sent me a note and got me to go meet with the cleanup crew. Unfortunately the cleanup guy wouldn't give me anything since it was his source of revenue. After he left I went back and collected about a truck load of bent spikes, springs, broken parts and old ties that I hauled to work and stored... while I was working on the ideas. The power of the wreck is stored in the mangled metal. I walked around with a sheared bolt for a good week thinking about the danger of the day and the stink of the oil."

He used his computer to develop as scale model.

"I worked from an image in my mind of the scene of the wreck site with the embankment and people walking all around the debris," Risser said. "I created silhouettes and from there arranged them in a rising setting, like the side of the embankment. The final image was to add the RR yellow sign, but I changed it to read wXw for a reference to Waxhaw. In the end, I think it captured the concepts well and fits the sidewalk setting in the final location. It creates varying perspectives and personalizes the experience.

"The pile in the center is made from actual parts of the wreck, with scattered spikes around the gravel, just as I remember when I walked the tracks. There are even pieces of broken ties to capture the scent of the creosote and oil."

I visited the monument the day after the dedication. It stands at trackside, at the junction of Jackson Street and North Main Street, west of the junction of Providence road and N.C. 75.

The figures were silhouetted against a Carolina blue sky, and I experienced their power.

Risser said "People helping each other in this town, is really the vision and the message of this layout. It is the inspiration behind this piece, it is the perspiration that resulted in this piece, and it is a declaration for collaboration."