Artist On A Rock



When some of us headed up Stone Mountain for the first time on our recent adventurous weekend, Mattie, seven, suddenly remembered she wanted her drawing materials. Though it is an easy walk from the gondola line back to Stone Mountain Inn where we were staying, we were ready to ride up and didn’t want to give up our place. But Mattie’s face was a cloud. She’d been talking over breakfast about drawing the mountain. Her mother calmly asked Mattie to let her search her backpack and quickly came up with a single pencil and a piece of paper. This was clearly not Mattie’s entire pack of art supplies. But she relaxed and was ready to go.

Mattie’s oldest brother William, twelve, was enrolled that weekend in a basketball camp nearby, with his dad and granddaddy eagerly watching his progress. So it was Christi and I and the two youngest ones of our Birmingham grandchildren who were so excited about riding up the mountain that day. Thomas, nine, had noticed from the inn that there were some trees on top and had declared he was going to play amongst them. I said “Trees? On Stone Mountain?” He assured me that, yes, there were trees and, of course, there were, enough trees to give the great bald mountain a slight bit of “hair” on one side.

The cable car operator was giving us many interesting facts about the mountain as we rode up past the famous carving. Some of these facts we knew, some we’d totally forgotten. Here are some of them, jotted down quickly before I forgot them:

  1. Stone Mountain is the largest exposed granite face in the world.
  2. The carving is of Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Stonewall Jackson.
  3. It is 90 feet from the tip of General Lee’s sword suspended from his waist, to the top of his head.
  4. Two city buses would fit lengthwise on Lee’s horse Traveler’s back.
  5. This is the deepest bas-relief carving in the world being 41 plus feet deep.
  6. The finished sculpture by Walker Kirtland Hancock was completed in 1972.
  7. One of the two earlier sculptors (whose work was dynamited away for the final sculptor to begin) was Gutzmon Borglum who later completed the Mount Rushmore carving which, by the way, isn’t as large as this one.
  8. The mountain was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958. Prior to that it was owned by the Venable family. (Imagine owning Stone Mountain!)

But the main thing that interested both Thomas and Mattie was getting to the top of the mountain to begin their exploration.

They pushed their way quickly out of the gondola and took off running. They paid no attention to the gift shop. They had a goal in mind. I saw them discovering views of Atlanta from the top but by the time I reached them they were ready to go down the city side as far as that grove of stubby pine trees. It was indeed a magical playground. There were many rocks amongst the pines, rocks of varying shapes and sizes, excellent for climbing, sitting on, hiding behind. The children clambered up and over and down, here there, and yonder. Christi and I watched in amazement and thoroughly enjoyed their movements, their games, their super agility. We also enjoyed very much the views of Atlanta’s skyline, Midtown’s challenging character, the mountains, Kennesaw and others I couldn’t quite name, and the whole scope of highways lacing through the green of Georgia. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see “forever.”

By and by, I noticed Mattie situating herself on a chosen rock with her single pencil and piece of paper. I had actually thought she’d probably forget all about her sketching desire. I was wrong. She looked all around from her high position, back up to the top of the mountain, around at the rocks and the pine trees, far out to the city, and up to circling big birds and even farther up to jets criss-crossing the blue sky. Thomas, giving up on being chased at the moment, settled down to his own challenges of climbing and choosing a perfect fit of a “resting rock.” So Mattie was free to become quite pensive and then to  apply herself diligently to her self-assigned job.

Christi and I chatted lightly enjoying the whole scene.

I was very interested in what Mattie might have sketched. Did she attempt a sketch of the carving on the side of the mountain? Did she sketch one favorite big rock? Did she try for a clump of the beautiful yellow daisies? Or did she even try to sketch the distant Atlanta skyline that looked like cereal boxes of different heights?

I was hugely honored when she gave me her sketch later that day. It was torn and wrinkled from its trip back down the mountain in her backpack. But here’s what I saw: the curve of the top of the mountain with dark squiggles to represent her favorite place, the stubby pine trees.

Her sketch is marked with the rough surface she worked on, a part of her media choice, you might say. I’m going to treasure it and the photo I took of the Artist On A Rock.

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