MARIETTA, Ga. - Kaileigh Ayer really, really would like a picture with 84-year-old Margaret Matthews Wilburn.
The Kell High School junior has been Googling images of the former track and field Olympian for weeks and drawing a portrait to include in artwork she will present to Wilburn on Feb. 8 at the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame ceremony.
“Like, I drew this of you,” Ayer said, imagining a conversation with Wilburn. “Please take a picture with the art piece and you. I’d be ecstatic.”
Ayer is one of six Kell art students who has been working on pieces for the six 2020 inductees. Art students at the high school have been making art for each member since the school’s namesake, Corky Kell, was enshrined in 2014.
“I think it’s a really big honor,” art teacher Julie Denison said. “I think it’s like an art world and a sport world coming together. Some of my students are like mega into sports and some are like I don’t care about sports. But it’s really great because they research the people and they get really excited about it and they have that personal connection.”
Denison estimated that 80 percent of her students don’t know a thing about their subject at the start.
“I had to learn everything about him to do this,” said senior Angelica Martinez, whose subject was former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and Detroit Lion wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
“It was interesting because I’m not really like a sports person,” Martinez said. “So to see him go from a normal college student to go to the NFL, and now I get to meet him? It’s surreal.”
But some, like Kya Williams, pick to profile someone they connect with. The senior point guard was elated to create a portrait of former Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo. When she told her parents about the task, they agreed: “This is big.”
“I’m very passionate about my art,” Williams said. “Being able to create something for him, like with two things that I really love and enjoy, is a blessing.”
Kennedy Leggett's artwork of Morten Andersen
By the time pencil, gel pen, or charcoal meets their canvas, the students know their subjects well enough to feature unique details in their art.
Junior Ryan Homer included leather from a basketball, and stamped the rest of the canvas with the bumpy texture of a basketball in honor of former Oglethorpe men’s basketball coach Garland Pinholster.
Junior Erick Olson layered with red and black “because that’s just synonymous with Atlanta,” in his portrait of CEO and president of Peach Bowl, Inc., Gary Stokan.
Senior Kennedy Leggett included meaningful quotes and statistics about Morten Andersen and the former kicker’s triumphant return to Atlanta.
And Williams knew the only appropriate pose she could draw of Mutombo would be the “no, no, no” finger wag.
But brandishing the finishing touches aren’t the end of this project; the students are excited to actually meet their subjects and present them with these labors of love.
“This is an incredible opportunity that I’m so grateful for because it’s just so breathtaking to meet the person that I’ve researched, to meet the person that I’ve gotten to know even though I never met him,” said Homer. “To be able to present him with my artwork that is truly mine, I’m excited.”