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    Artist honors Elvis Presley with giant guitar sculpture at Levitt Shell

    By Kelly Gifford - The Commercial Appeal -

    Musicians from every genre of music have taken the stage and looked out at the crowd at the Levitt Shell in its 76 years.

    But when musicians take the stage during this year's Fall Concert Series, they will look out and see both the crowd and a giant guitar at the entrance of the pavilion.

    "I don't think there is an instrument more symbolic of community than a guitar. It is the symbol of what the Shell is — a place for the community to come together and enjoy music," said Chris Fennell, sculptor of Steel Guitar. Construction began Wednesday in Overton Park.

    The 24-by-68 foot, 10,000-pound installation structure was approved 4 years ago, funded by the city of Memphis' Percent-for-Art program and commissioned by UrbanArt Commission. Fennell, who is based in Birmingham, Ala., built the guitar from truck frames and structural steel.

    With the help of fellow sculptors Forest Millsap and Tylur French, Fennell created the guitar to match the park's atmosphere and pay tribute to Elvis Presley.

    "The silhouette of the guitar's body matches the arc in the Shell. This sculpture could not exist anywhere else," Fennell said.

    The project is scheduled to be finished by the end of next week.

    Anne Pitts, executive director of the Levitt Shell, said the sculpture is the perfect element to add to the venue.

    "The guitar perfectly marries the urban, musical culture of Memphis and the natural setting of Overton Park," Pitts said.

    Steel Guitar looks almost skeletal, with both the neck and body of the structure randomly branching off in different directions. Fennell said this affect was intended.

    "I wanted the guitar to match the tree line. People won't realize what it is until they get to their seats and wonder 'What did we just walk through?'" he said.

    Whitney Ranson, director of Public Art for the UrbanArt Commission, said the sculpture's appeal is its "organic design element."

    Though the sculpture was not modeled after any particular guitar brand, Fennell said Steel Guitar has some aspects of his personal electric guitar.

    "I have a Gibson back home that I like to jam on, and this guitar definitely has a Gibson neck," he said.