Soaring 26 feet high, weighing 7 tons, a sculpture called “Inception” to rise above Sunrise Rotary Plaza [PHOTOS]

Sunrise Rotary Plaza (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
Deedee Morrison, sculpture artist —Sunrise Rotary Plaza (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

The long-awaited Sunrise Rotary Plaza on the Hugh Kaul Trail in Avondale will feature a 26 foot tall sculpture created by nationally renowned artist Deedee Morrison.

Bham Now first published a story about the Sunrise Rotary Plaza  in September 2021. Back then, it was dirt and weeds. In just a few weeks, it will become a Magic City landmark. 

Last week, we attended a gathering of Birmingham Sunrise Rotarians, the people developing the site, and supporters for a “sneak peak.”

Here is what we learned. 

Where exactly is the Plaza

Sunrise Rotary Plaza / Rotary Club of Birmingham / Ghost Train M2
Sunrise Rotary Plaza (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

For folks who are unfamiliar with some of the twist and turns of Birmingham’s streets,  , the Sunrise Rotary Plaza is located on the newly opened Hugh Kaul Trail at 3501 1st Ave. South, 35222. 

Remember “Old Car Heaven?” It has been turned into the M2, which now has three prominent residents,  Freshwater Land Trust, Gotcha Mobility and Ghost Train Taproom. The plaza is behind the building.

M2 development
M2 development in Birmingham. (Jacob Blankenship/Bham Now)

Obviously, we encourage you to walk on the trail to the new plaza, but if you want to take a short-cut and pick up a beer while you are at it, go through the taproom, spill out onto the trail in the back and walk a few dozen yards to the new plaza.

M2 development
M2 development in Birmingham. (Jacob Blankenship/Bham Now)

When you walk into the Sunrise Rotary Plaza , take a moment and imagine days gone by in that exact space.  About a century ago, it was a rail yard roundhouse, used to turn around early steam locomotives. The shape of the plaza echoes the shape of the roundhouse and also the shape of the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary logo. Soon there will be benches and tables built into the plaza, making a nice resting place along the trail.  

The Incoming Sculpture

Sunrise Rotary Plaza / Rotary Club of Birmingham / Ghost Train M2
Sunrise Rotary Plaza (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Deedee Morrison’s sculpture will occupy the center of the plaza.

Named, “Inception”,  the piece soars 26’ into Birmingham’s skyline. It incorporates a 5-foot sphere representing a droplet of water, encased in 269 sections (750 linear feet) of 80 lb.of hand-cut historic rail steel, weighing over 14,000 pounds.

“This is such a wonderful project for me,” Deedee Morrison told the Sunrise Rotarians. “I have worked all over the country the last 12 years of my life, but this is the first time I’ve really had a project of this significance in Birmingham. When a city invests in public art it becomes an amazing return on the investment. Culturally, artistically, economically. It blossoms. Wherever you plant art — life grows.” 

Sunrise Rotary Plaza / Rotary Club of Birmingham / Ghost Train M2
Sunrise Rotary Plaza (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Morrison shared her artist’s statement with us which describes Inception and her personal journey that led to its creation. Here are some excerpts:

“As a public artist, I rarely share personal stories behind my work because it is peripheral to the larger public art story. But this public art project has a personal tether to my work as an artist and my connection to a local rail yard is the inspiration for the sculpture. So I feel compelled to share. In 2002, when my three children were young and just starting school, I enrolled in a Bessemer Tech welding program. After finishing the program, I lucked up and found studio space for $50 a month. There was no heat, no AC, no bathroom and no floor. From here, I poured the concrete floor, eventually adding walls. an overhead crane and started welding sculptures… My studio was at Wade Sand and Gravel – sandwiched between the multiple rail lines that traverse the Thomas neighborhood.”

Sculpture
80 pound hand cut rail steel. (Deedee Morrison)

“The definition of inception: the establishment or starting point (of an activity).  The concept of the drop of water is for regeneration or new life into the landscape. Nothing erases the past – in fact it becomes a distant memory, or a ripple in time. But how we honor our past determines our future. The reshaping of the environment and the human impact of that reshaping continues in Birmingham to this day. The center sphere of the sculpture is the inception or starting point of opportunity for our future – and the choices we make every day, individually and collectively are the determining factor in how we shape our future.”

“Water from the nearby Avondale Spring brought the rail and industry to the area and is the inspiration for the design concept for the park. A birds eye view reveals land that is sculpted in concentric circles that undulate out from the circular base of the center sculpture, creating the rippling effect of a drop of water, disrupting the linear park. The ripple breaks at 4 points (2 on either side of the sculpture). These breaks create a walking path leading off to the edges of the park, where there are four additional sculpture sites for future build out. Other Birmingham or regional artists will have the opportunity to contribute public art elements using industrial relic material readily available in Birmingham and contributing to the industrial history being shared throughout the experience in the park. The visual impact will be monumental in scale – extending out as a wave from the center sculpture.”

Read the entire artist Statement – HERE

Center Point of the Jones Valley Corridor

Sunrise Rotary Plaza / Rotary Club of Birmingham / Ghost Train M2
Deedee Morrison and Jane Ross. Sunrise Rotary Plaza (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Jane Ross, the designer of the Sunrise Rotary Plaza also spoke to the crowd about the significance of the trail and the sculpture. 

“Deedee Morrison has created this incredible sculpture that is going to be the center point of the Sunrise Rotary Plaza. It’s just so exciting. Big picture. I want to remind everybody that this is the Jones Valley Corridor that will be this trail from Red Mountain park to Railroad Park to Ruffner. That is the vision.”

Unveiling in early June

Sunrise Rotary Plaza / Rotary Club of Birmingham / Ghost Train M2
Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Counce Drinkard addresses gathering. (Nathan Watson/Bham Now)

Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club  is unveiling the sculpture and opening the Sunrise Rotary Plaza in early June.  The group is continuing to take donations for this historic project. 

Be a part of something magical. Donate to the project and watch this space for details about the event.

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Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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