Steel Guitar - The Levitt Shell & Memphis College of Art/Overton Park
Sculptor Christopher Fennell’s 2012 installation of a monumental gateway at the Levitt Shell honors the heritage, architecture, and mission of this beloved Memphis concert venue located centrally in Overton Park. This dynamic work of art, inspired by the silhouette of an electric guitar, was designed and fabricated by Fennell using recycled steel. Steel Guitar acts as a gateway to the pavilion, while also mirroring the arc of the Shell and the tree line of the surrounding forest through the organic design of the sculpture.
Fennell describes the sculpture as a symbol of community, with the actual structure connecting individuals through its arch that links the concert venue with the Brooks Museum of Art. The Levitt Shell is a non-profit organization that presents 50 free concerts every year at the historic amphitheater in Overton Park. Built as a WPA project in 1936, it’s been a center for community events and music for over 75 years. It is here that Elvis Presley performed his first professional concert as opening act for Slim Whitman on July 30, 1954. Later, Johnny Cash made his first appearance in front of a large audience on the same stage. Renovated, restored and bringing our community together through free music under the stars, the Levitt Shell continues to be a rich and rewarding community experience open to every person and every family in Memphis.
About the Artist
Artist Christopher Fennell builds structural skeletons from discarded or found objects. The materials he chooses have been cast out or devalued by society and so his selections are based on the kind of message or impact each piece should convey. A demolished barn can become a wave, broken bicycles transform into a tornado, and downed trees can be given a second life as a pillar of fire.
Chris’s creative inspiration comes from two places: engineering and art. His background in engineering provides a singular understanding of how the materials can be formed, shaped, and connected into a structure. His vision as an artist and his sense of humor bring the parts together in a form that is not only pleasing, but often thought-provoking and dynamic, challenging the viewer to look past the recognizable shape to see how everything is connected.
Many of Chris’s pieces encourage people to participate, to place themselves inside or to pass underneath and through, seeing the form from several angles. Each piece is site-specific, taking advantage of the surrounding landscape and architecture and often incorporating regional or cultural hallmarks. The placement of every piece of sculpture is carefully selected for the maximum effect of discovery and scale.