Completed after four years and installed in the second half of May 2016, Opelika High school celebrates its heritage in its new Heritage Wall.
The wall is a relief sculpture located on the upper right-hand side, wrapping around part of the main entrance. Themes of Opelika history from Native-American times to present, culture and education are depicted in the relief.
Certain panels show the innocence of school life, the growth of modern technology and the Southern history of mill-town life and work.
“We did not want [the Heritage Wall] to be about a specific person or building ... but on the history of Opelika,” explained superintendent Mark Neighbors.
The over 50-foot, 55-panel piece was commissioned by Opelika City Schools for roughly $105,000. It includes lighting for night viewing as well.
Two artists, Gary Wagoner and the late Joanna Blake worked on the piece over four years. The community sent Blake images of Opelika history, which she then rendered into a sketch. From there, Blake created the molds for the clay.
Wagoner then filled the mold with terra cotta material. With molding and sculpting the clay, laying it out to dry, firing the clay and ending with the finished product, the wall was the largest piece Blake and Wagoner have worked on yet, according to Neighbors.
Simply drying certain panels could take up to two months, giving reason why such a task requires time — not to mention trial and error that went into getting the best result.
Neighbors chose Wagoner and Blake for the project after suggestions from the school architect. Neighbors and his committee were impressed by Blake’s relief work on previous projects and chose her as the relief sculptor.
“If you go back and look at the history of America ... the very first building they build is a church ... after the church a school ... schools and churches are involved in the root of any successful city," Neighbors said. "With people who support our schools with taxes and support, we felt that we (Opelika City Schools) would like to link back [that support and history] to Opelika.”
Installed two weeks before Opelika City Schools completed its spring semester, many students of Opelika High School were impressed by the sculpture.
“[The Heritage Wall] is probably the only one like it in the Southeast," Neighbors said. "[Opelika City Schools] is very proud of it, and I believe the Opelika community is too."