Atlanta’s New Modern Peach Sculpture Welded by a Quad
Atlanta finally has it’s Georgia peach. A new sculpture called the “Modern Peach,” standing 28 feet tall and constructed with five tons of stainless steel, has been installed on Georgia World Congress Centre’s East Plaza. Every weld on the gigantic, gleaming form was completed by wheelchair user James Carnes of Dahlonega, Georgia.
Carnes, the owner of C & A Welding, has complete C6-7 quadriplegia, as a result of jumping off a pier in Mexico. Though he tried to resurrect his welding career following his accident, many clients past and present believed his disability meant he wasn’t up to the task. “Apparently at this point and time people would come to his shop, see that he was in a wheelchair and they would leave. They would not leave their work. They basically thought he was incapable of doing the job,” says Gregory Johnson, the artist and sculptor behind The Modern Peach.
But Johnson just saw Carnes’ talent. The two had worked together prior to Carnes’s accident, when Johnson was working in bronze. While Carnes was recovering from his injury, Johnson had entered the world of modern sculpture. When he began designing a stainless steel sculpture of interlocking arcs called Crescendo, he asked Carnes to weld the piece with no hesitation.
“There are two kinds of welders in the world. There is what I call a structural welder who has a gun, is sloppy, there’s splatter everywhere and puts out this horrible bead and then there’s what I call finesse welders — a guy that lays a three-sixteenths of an inch bead that is to die for — and is a finesse welder. Not only is Carnes good, but he’s fast,” says Johnson.
Carnes does it all with various adaptations including a standing chair to help him reach areas he couldn’t reach sitting down and a hand-controlled TIG welder instead of a traditional one controlled by a pedal. Since Crescendo, Carnes has welded between 60 and 70 sculptures for Johnson. He credits that work for resurrecting his welding career. “He was really the start of me getting enough confidence in myself to say I could get back to doing this type of work. I have a full open weld shop now,” says Carnes.
As for their latest collaboration, it started when Johnson was having a conversation with friends and realized that Atlanta didn’t really have its own representation of the Georgia Peach in the city. He approached Peach Bowl Inc. to commission it and within an hour, they were meeting with their board of directors for funding approval.
“It’s a real good feeling to know that your name’s on something that’s going to be there for a long time. Something that they’re adopting for an iconic piece,” says Carnes. “It’s great to know that something you’ve touched and put together has people walking by it everyday going, ‘Man, that’s nice.’”