Since the Rock City birdhouse was created in 1952, the red-and-black icon has evolved into a nationally recognized symbol of the Lookout Mountain attraction.
Now artist Jack Denton has designed another birdhouse for the gardens. It's a sculpture he created after Rock City management commissioned a piece to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the gardens.
"Villa Aviana" (house of birds) is Denton's take on what a See Rock City birdhouse might look like if the birds made one from native plants. The birdhouse is installed in Gnome Valley inside Rock City Gardens.
"It is made of quarter-inch aluminum," said Denton. "It's 14 feet tall, 9 feet wide and 9 feet deep. It's large enough for visitors to walk through."
Although massive in scale, the artwork gives an illusion of air and light through its lacy, woven design. Denton said he incorporated plants native to the Rock City gardens, such as rhododendron, hosta, ferns and holly, as he sketched out the piece.
"There will be a legend installed stating the idea of birds building their own birdhouse of native plants. It will list all the plants in the design so that people can see if they can find those flowers in the sculpture," explained Denton.
The artist said the piece is so large it required contracting a metal company to acquire the aluminum for him from Phoenix. He began drawing the design in November, then painted it onto the metal with a brush. He came back to refine it with markers before using a plasma cutter to cut his design into the metal.
Getting the artwork onto the site proved almost as challenging as creating it. The work had to navigate the park's Needle's Eye to reach its destination.
"We had to take it up in pieces. There are eight panels, and each is several hundred pounds. It took about nine people to get it through the tunnel and some narrow spaces that were only about 18 inches wide," Denton said.
Denton is a graduate of Hixson High School and returned to his alma mater in 1985 to serve as Art Department chairman until 2002. Since then, he has been chairman of the Art Department at McCallie School, retiring this spring.
"Jack Denton was the perfect choice for Rock City to partner with for this unique piece," said Jeff Raabe, director of operations for See Rock City Inc.
"He has taught or mentored many local artisans over his 40 years of teaching and that fit perfectly with our mission of providing a high quality and variety of different sculptures throughout the gardens by working with the local community," said Raabe.
According to Meagan Jolley, public relations manager, Denton is just the sixth local artist to have a piece displayed in Rock City. The others are John Henry, Roger Halligan, Isaac Duncan, John McLeod and Michael Brandt.
Denton said he is now completing a 9-foot-tall horse and rider that is destined for the campus of Cleveland High School, home of the Blue Raiders.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.