LAKE PARK – The anticipation and speculation from Lake Park residents finally came to an end May 21 when sculptor Tom Risser and Mayor David Cleveland removed the cover on the new centerpiece.

Risser had been contacted by Cleveland and the L1A (Love One Another) Foundation to come up with something unique that represents the village and all that goes into it.

“When they first started contacting me, they said they don’t have a lot of money and don’t want to spend a lot,” Risser said. “I told them, ‘Look, I’m your guy.”

He has experience building similar works of art in Stumptown Park in Matthews, Kannapolis and Lenoir. Matthews has even commissioned him to make a similar piece to the one in Stumptown Park with the words written in French.

Risser says he’s nearly fully booked all the time, and this is just his side job. He’s an electrical engineer who runs U.S. Bottlers Machinery Company in Charlotte as well as a skateboarder, welder and sculptor in his free time. Risser said he only began welding in his late 30s, but he’s found his niche.

U.S. Bottlers Machinery is where Risser finds all of his scrap metal from miscuts, scrap pieces or whatever he can find. The Lake Park heart that he designed didn’t cost Risser a dime, but it’s special to him.

The Matthews sculptures are both heart-shaped designs, as is Lake Park’s newest attraction. While it’s the biggest piece Risser said he’s ever made, it’s also special to him and to the village.

Risser survived a heart attack five years ago, and the symbol is meaningful to him. The newest heart is also filled with ideas that kept coming up in those email exchanges with Cleveland and the foundation.

“The ideas that went back and forth were joy, peace and love messages,” Risser said. “Images from the town – the bell tower and some other places that rose to the surface and it’s all made from repurposed materials.

“There are things that are hidden in there that you’ll have to keep coming back and looking for. You can’t see it all at one time.”

Risser said he dropped the heart off May 18 and village staff quickly covered it up with a tarp. When it was unveiled in front of about 60 anxious people, it was met with a lot of support.

“To see the completed art is much better than what you could ever portray in an email,” said Cleveland, who is serving his fourth term and in his eighth year as mayor. “To have a piece of art that’s unique, that’s ours and something designed for Lake Park that is unique much like the entire village is. This represents the entire village, and it looks great in the middle of our downtown where we’re trying to get people to come and support our downtown businesses. It gives people a reason to come down here.”

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