Eric and Cheryl Dearmon grew up in Kannapolis. They have seen the transition from the mill town that was to the struggles in recent decades to the current revitalization. Now they want to give the community something special to celebrate the positive change and growing downtown.
The city of Kannapolis dedicated two pieces of public art created by Tom Risser in a ceremony Tuesday — “Smiley,” which is in the heart of downtown, and “Discover a Healthy Life” at Village Park.
The two pieces were bought and donated by the Dearmons and give the city a total of six items of Risser’s around Kannapolis. Seeing the revitalization of the downtown area, the Dearmons wanted to do what they could to bring just a little more beauty and creativity to an area that has gone through so much change over the decades.
“We’ve been through all of this, and you just think about where we’re standing right now and what it was like five, six years ago. It was horrible,” Eric Dearmon said. “Kannapolis has experienced the bad. Nobody would have ever thought we would have had all of this just a short five years later. I mean, look at it. It is really cool, and we’re just getting started. There’s so much more to come. The revitalization is really what all of this is about, and you need public art when you’re doing things like that.”
“Smiley” and “Discover a Healthy Life” have been in their current spots since the end of 2019, but the pieces were not dedicated until now due to the pandemic. The initial plan was to dedicate them near the opening of Atrium Health Ballpark in April 2020, but limits on social gatherings caused that to be pushed back.
But even during the pandemic, people were out and about downtown, whether they were Looping the Loop or simply taking a walk around the ballpark, and they already have taken notice of the artwork.
“You can’t walk in this beautiful park without smiling, so that was really our motivation for making sure that (Smiley) stayed here,” Eric said. “The kids love him. They get selfies with him. I’ve seen parents taking pictures with him and things like that. He’s priceless.”
Artist Tom Risser was unable to attend Tuesday’s dedication due to a medical issue, but Mayor Darrell Hinnant said Risser was disappointed he could not be there.
Risser has dealt with several medical issues, including suffering a heart attack in recent years, but he has used that challenge to make his art even more unique. He places a heart in each of his pieces that can’t be seen at first glance. People have to look for the heart, and in the time they are looking, the city hopes they’ll take time to appreciate the art.
“It really is about the heart of our community,” Mayor Hinnant said. “It’s about the heart of our town, of our city and of our people. And so, as we go along and more and more of these things are dedicated like Eric and Cheryl are doing now, I think you’ll find an opportunity for something that’s lighthearted, something that is thoughtful, something that is pensive, something that is a place to relax, a place to dream, a place to look into the future and say, ‘What is Kannapolis, and what can it be, and what will it be moving forward?’”
“Smiley” stands 8 feet tall and is made entirely of stainless steel that was aged purposefully by Risser. “Discover a Healthy Life” stands 10 feet tall by the Village Park fountain.
These are pieces of Kannapolis’ revived downtown. The area is thriving with Atrium Health Ballpark opening in April and COVID-19 restrictions relaxing in recent months. City officials constantly talk about how special it is to see people out and about and enjoying what Kannapolis has to offer. Cheryl Dearmon remembers just a few years ago how down and out downtown was. To see what it has become today and to be able to help beautify it a bit more is hard to quantify.
“Growing up in Kannapolis, living here all my life, this is very special,” Cheryl said. “We grew up in this area, we saw it five, 10 years ago when it was nothing, and now our grandkids can see this. It’s priceless.”
City officials emphasized how thankful they have been to see residents back out enjoying life after a tough year. They hope donations from couples like the Dearmons make that time out even more special.
“We are so thankful, Eric and Cheryl,” Hinnant said, “that you are good enough and nice enough to the city of Kannapolis to pay for this artwork and to dedicate it to this community.”