In his own words: Johnpaul Harris, artist and dear friend

Today, November 5, 2014 marks a very special anniversary on the UNC campus. It was ten years ago, on a beautiful Hugh Morton photo-post-card-day, that the magnificent Charlie Justice statue was dedicated just outside the Justice Hall of Honor at the Kenan Football Center.  On that day, the dedication ceremony included several people representing the university, plus friends and teammates—but we didn’t hear from the man who made it all possible: sculptor Johnpaul Harris. So, today on the tenth anniversary, Morton Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard shares some of Harris’ thoughts about that day and his work with his friend Hugh Morton.

I didn’t want to make him [Justice] too much of a pretty boy, but I didn’t want to make him this mean, killer football player either. —Johnpaul Harris in the February 6, 2005 issue of the High Point Enterprise.

Johnpaul Harris with model of Charlie Justice statue, ca. 2004.

Johnpaul Harris with model of Charlie Justice statue, ca. 2004. Photograph by Hugh Morton.

Shortly after Charlie Justice’s death on October 17, 2003, teammate Joe Neikirk approached Hugh Morton with an idea for a statue.  Morton, who had worked with his friend Sculptor Johnpaul Harris on other projects like the Mildred and cubs statue and the deer habitat at Grandfather Mountain, immediately called his friend to see if he would be interested in a football statue.  Harris described his reaction in a 2005 letter to Hugh Morton:

“I probably more than anybody know how Coach (Carl) Snavely felt when Charlie turned up at Chapel Hill.  If it wasn’t a gift from God for Snavely it was certainly one for me.  You called me late in 2003 to see if it was the kind of project I would be interested in.  I think you knew the answer, but maybe not the extent of it.  It was the ultimate project for a man who was an OK football player who in high school knew nothing of Charlie Justice other than that he was the first famous ball player that I or any of my generation remember.”

In an interview with Annette Dunlap in the November 19, 2004 issue of Asheboro’s The Courier-Tribune, Harris said, “I jumped on it.”  Morton then became the linchpin between the university and Harris.  “There’s a lot of red tape established on the Chapel Hill campus for the installation of artworks,” Harris continued in his Dunlap interview.  “I just had to wait for it to run its course.”

Envelope, labeled by Hugh Morton, containing photographs used by Johnpaul Harris to create the Charlie Justice statue.

Envelope, labeled by Hugh Morton, containing photographs used by Johnpaul Harris to create the Charlie Justice statue.

While he waited, Harris and Morton started to work on the project . . . as Harris continues in his letter to Morton:

“. . . you started sending pictures from your fantastic collection of Carolina images.  I treasure each one for several reasons, but at the time they were just full of information that was vital to the project.  When I asked for more particular angles, you always came through for me.  It was like Christmas every time I opened the mail box to find a big white envelope with Grandfather Logo in the corner.  I had enough information to do the job, but I never saw a picture that didn’t further my understanding of who Charlie Justice was.

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“. . . Then one day the phone rang and it was Willie Scroggs (Senior Associate Athletic Director for Facilities at UNC) saying that they wanted me to do the Charlie Justice statue.  It was the sweetest moment of my life as a sculptor, until the team reviews, and the unveiling.”

It was now time for serious work.  Harris and Morton’s UNC committee selected the walking pose rather than an action shot and Harris prepared a 26-inch-model for Athletics Director Dick Baddour to reviewa review that came on the day of the 2004 Blue-White game at Kenan Stadium.  Harris was a special guest at the game.

Sculptor Johnpaul Harris poses with the clay Charlie Justice statue in his Ashboro, North Carolina studio during the second Justice-era player review on June 22, 2004. The original negatives for this view, and the installation and dedication images below have not yet been located within the Moron collection. Scans made for this article come from inkjet prints provided by the author.

Sculptor Johnpaul Harris poses with the clay Charlie Justice statue in his Ashboro, North Carolina studio during the second Justice-era player review on June 22, 2004. The original negatives for this view, and the installation and dedication images below have not yet been located within the Moron collection. Scans made for this article come from inkjet prints provided by the author.

Next up, on June 1, 2004, was the first of two Justice-era player reviews. This was my introduction to Johnpaul Harris.  We have remained good friends and get together for lunch every few weeks.

Harris continues with his letter to Morton:

I thought Charlie looked pretty good when the teammates came over to critique it.

The players offered suggestions and Harris took lots of notes.  Three weeks later, the players had a second review in Harris’ Asheboro studio.  Harris made final adjustments,  then a final mold before Charlie was off to the foundry.  On January 7, 2005 Johnpaul Harris was a guest on the UNC-TV program North Carolina People with William Friday.  Harris explained the process of taking four, 30-gallon-barrels of North Carolina clay and making it into a work of art to be cast at the foundry.

As Harris wrote to Morton,

It felt really good to have Charlie in place and out of my hands for a change.  I still enjoy seeing the pictures you made that day.

Johnpaul Harris making a final adjustment during installation of the Charlie Justice statute near Kenan Memorial Stadium, November 3, 2004.

Johnpaul Harris making a final adjustment during installation of the Charlie Justice statute near Kenan Memorial Stadium, November 3, 2004.

On Tuesday morning, November 2, 2004, I got a call from Hugh Morton.  He said, “We’re going to put the Charlie Justice statue in place tomorrow morning.  We’d like to have you there.”

Wednesday, November 3rd was a beautiful day in Chapel Hill as Johnpaul Harris directed a crew from  Architect Glenn Corley, and placed the 950 pound, 8 foot, 6 inch work of art into its final position.  When all of the installation work was done, Hugh Morton said to Harris, “You did a magnificent job.  It looks just like Charlie.”

Johnpaul Harris and Barbara (Justice) Crews, daughter of Charlie Justice, pose during dedication day for the Charlie Justice statue, November 5, 2004.

Johnpaul Harris and Barbara (Justice) Crews, daughter of Charlie Justice, pose during dedication day for the Charlie Justice statue, November 5, 2004.

On November 5, 2004 the Morton-Harris team was once again prepared to impress with the dedication of the Charlie Justice statue.

In his letter to Morton, Harris continued:

For me, days don’t come any better than unveiling day.  The weather was perfect.  There were so many friends and family, there was not enough time to do all the visiting I would have liked, not to mention catching up with Charlie’s teammates that I have come to know.
“It was great to see everybody enjoying Charlie after the unveiling.  Barbara Crews (Charlie and Sarah’s daughter) seemed to enjoy it more than anyone else and for longer periods.  I saw her staring up into the face and remarking that she hadn’t seen her Daddy from that perspective since she was a little girl.  I’m sure it sparked a deep well of memories for her.  She also mentioned that she had never seen his hands as open as they were, since they had suffered so many injuries (probably from pro ball).  Thanks, Hugh, for introducing us.  I did miss getting the definitive picture of you and me standing before the thing that we had spent so much time and energy on in the past two or three seasons.  Maybe we can do that on some nice crisp Saturday before a home game.”

Unfortunately, that pictured never got taken.

I thought my football life was behind me.  I never expected to tell anyone that I had been an All Central Tar Heel Conference player.  But the most perfect completion of the circle of my gridiron days has been realized.  A pretty good footballer from Troy (NC) was chosen to honor in bronze the memory of the greatest football legend of the 20th century from North Carolina.  I was part of the team that was Charlie’s team and by extension, I became a part of Charlie’s team.  Finally, I had to live up to your faith in me and then if there was anything else I had to satisfy my own demands for my work.  Thank you for making it all possible.  Without the superb record that you shared with me, the work would have come far short of what we achieved.  And thank you for your friendship, which started with our collaboration on Mildred.  For my part I know that it will never end.

 —Johnpaul Harris, February 5, 2005

Epilog

Sculptor Johnpaul Harris posing with his statue of Mildred the Bear and cubs in the Nature Museum at Grandfather Mountain, NC.

Sculptor Johnpaul Harris posing with his statue of Mildred the Bear and cubs in the Nature Museum at Grandfather Mountain, N. C.

Morton and Harris had worked together about fifteen years before the Justice statue when Morton commissioned Harris to create a statue of Mildred the Bear, the loveable people-friendly mascot of Grandfather Mountain, with her cubs. That effort is now in the Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum.  During a 2005 interview with Jimmy Tomlin in the High Point Enterprise, Harris remembered working inside Mildred’s habitat getting precise measurements.  “She was great.  Of course, they were keeping her happy with apple pieces while I was in there.”  Harris also got to pet the cubs.  “They’d put their paws around your neck and lick you in the face, just like a puppy.”

In addition to Mildred and Charlie, you can see other Johnpaul Harris sculptures at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro where there is an 11-foot Rhino statue.  UNC Alumnus Charles Loudermilk funded for the city of Atlanta a Johnpaul Harris statue of former mayor Andrew Young for the city’s Walton Spring Park (now Andrew Young Plaza), installed in 2008.

Postscript

As Harris was driving his truck home from Chapel Hill following the review of his Justice model in May of 2004, the odometer tripped 222,222.2.  When Johnpaul told Hugh the story about the 2s, He smiled and said, “Maybe somebody was trying to tell you something.”

I agree with Hugh.  I feel sure that #22 saw that and smiled.

5 thoughts on “In his own words: Johnpaul Harris, artist and dear friend

  1. We’ve been lucky enough to have had Johnpaul sculpt the heads of two of our grand-children that are now greatly treasured.

  2. Lloyd: Thank you so much for sharing your Johnpaul Harris comment with us on the “View to Hugh” web site.

    It’s ironic that at the same time you were posting your comment, I was having lunch with Johnpaul in Asheboro.

    Did you, by any chance, attend Asheboro High School and play in the high school band?

  3. Thank you, Lloyd, for your response to my comment.

    I was a freshman at AHS when you were a senior in 1955, but I was able to participate in the high school band from 1951 to 1953, even though I wasn’t in high school yet…not because of my musical skills, but because Mr. Still, the band director, needed bodies to march at the football games. I have some great memories during that time… games at old Lindley field…practices in the little Quonset hut on the playground at Fayetteville Street School and concerts in the school auditorium. And of course I got to know some really great people. So, when I saw your name on the comment on Thursday, I immediately thought: I believe I’m a “voice from his past.” Thanks again, Lloyd, for your comment…perhaps our paths will cross again.

    By the way, if you have a 1955 AHS Yearbook, my postage-stamp-size-picture is on page 60.

  4. On this day eleven years ago, November 5, 2004, a special ceremony took place just west of Kenan Memorial Stadium in front of the Frank Kenan Football Center. More than 200 people came out for the dedication of Johnpaul Harris’ magnificent statue of Tar Heel football legend Charlie Justice. Among those present were members of the Justice family… Justice teammates and friends… University officials, and Tar Heels young and old. Among those who spoke was Charlie Justice’s longtime friend Hugh Morton, who had led the charge to make the statue happen.

    Morton told the audience about working with his dear friend Sculptor Johnpaul Harris and how Justice teammates, Art Weiner, Joe Niekirk, Bob Cox, Walt Pupa, Joe Wright and Paul Rizzo had made visits to Harris’ Asheboro studio and each had offered suggestions for Harris to consider. Morton added that he felt Harris’ work had been validated when Walt Pupa climbed a ladder to get an up-close and personal look at Justice in the face. Said Pupa, “I have chills and goose bumps… I think I am looking at Charlie face-to-face.” There is a Morton picture of the Justice teammates at the June 22, 2004 studio visit in Hugh’s 2006 book “Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer.” The image can be found on page 155.

    I hope the next time you visit Kenan Stadium, you will take a few seconds to view and admire the magnificent work of Johnpaul Harris.

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