“I’m a soap box derby racer ‘cos it makes me feel so free . ..” is in the chorus of a song by Heaven on Wheels entitled, aptly enough, “Soap Box Derby Racer.” That free and joyful feeling experienced by the 8-year-old racer in the song finds full expression in the face of the child seated in the granite sculpture “Soap Box Racer” on the lawn at the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce.
The four-piece work (eight if you count the tires) installed on June 15 was created by Bill Royall of Southport. The six-foot-long sculpture with a five-foot-wide wing span, like the Andreas von Huene Jaguar inside the Chamber office, is an exciting prelude to the Maine Coast Stone Symposium at Boothbay Railway Village (BRV) for the month of August. Royall and von Huene will be among the 12 Maine stone sculptors creating a new work during the 10-day live sculpting event.
This sculpture is a real departure for Royall, whose muse leads him more toward contemporary design. Thing is, he had made a commitment to his cousin Patricia Royall, executive director of the Chamber, BRV’s Executive Director Margaret Hoffman, and Dick Alden – fellow stone sculptor and co-organizer of the event – to create an outdoor sculpture that would promote the symposium.
Fortunately, one day a few years ago, when Royall was in his stockyard where he keeps his “collection,” a large boulder and the granite blocks nearby captured his attention. He fired up his excavator.
“I took up the largest block and placed it on top of the boulder – and it balanced. I thought ‘this is pretty cool’. So I added another block on top of the first horizontally – and it looked like arms. I added a smaller granite block on top and it looked like a head. I thought, ‘this looks like a little guy driving a soap box racer or a mini airplane on a cloud.’”
Thing is, as a kid Royall was a soap box racer and his father helped him build one. Reminisced Royall, “It was two 2x8’s wide. It had baby carriage wheels – the old English pram type white wheels. It had a brake and steering was (done) with rope connected to a bar that ran across the top.”
His sculpture version of a soap box racer is made of many types of granite including Caledonia, Woodbury, and Deer Isle and weighs in at around 9,000 pounds.
Royall hired fellow stone sculptors von Huene and Dan Ucci to rev things up last winter starting with the notches that hold the large pieces together. They also got the rhythm of the soap box racer going to appear as though it’s banked and turning to the left to go up a hill. Von Huene also made all of the hardware – like those shiny, stylin’ hubcaps.
For Royall, it all came down to the expression, particularly the smile. The smile had to say it all. Let’s face it: When kids are really happy, really joyous, that emotion shines from their faces. Capturing that kind of joy, noted Royall, was “easier said than done.”
Fortunately, Royall’s 10-year-old grandson Tate, and 5-year-old granddaughter Brynn, were pleased as punch when he asked them to pose for him and smile, but without showing their teeth – no need to complicate things with incisors and bicuspids ... The result: the perfect combination of his grandkids’ smiles, fine-tuned by van Huene, is set in stone. Literally and figuratively!
Royall has been working with stone for about 50 years, starting out as a stonemason building seawalls and stonewalls in the Boothbay region, such as the one at Mill Cove (Royall Stonework). For the last 25-26 years, he’s been making granite millstones (Maine Millstones). And, all along the way, there’s been his passion for sculpture and design, a passion visitors coming to the symposium will witness.
“From the beginning Bill saw the symposium as a bridge between what we do as a museum with automotive, technology, transportation and history, and the symposium and granite,” said Hoffman.
“I’m so grateful to the Chamber for its participation - it really helps connect people to the museum; and to the support and participation of J.C. Stone and Knickerbocker Group; and to Andreas and Bill. This ‘Soap Box Racer’ is kind of the perfect ambassador for us now.”