Artist Don Drumm and LeBron James partner for new sculpture outside I Promise School in Akron"

"The design for the artwork had been kicking around Don Drumm’s head and on the workbench in his Akron studio since 2013.

It was just waiting for right moment and the right client.

So when the folks from LeBron James’ foundation reached out a few months ago with a request for a sculpture from the city’s most notable artist for the NBA star’s new I Promise School on West Market Street, Drumm knew he had finally found a home for his Tree of Life installation.

Like most of his work, Drumm said, this particular piece is abstract. But he readily admits its soaring shapes reaching toward the sky certainly resemble a tree.

And at 15 feet tall, it certainly makes a statement outside of the new school that will help a select group of Akron kids stay in school and on the path to a tuition-free education at the University of Akron after high school.

But like all of his works, it started small — a seed of inspiration.

Drumm creates a small model of a new artwork out of cardboard, and complex blueprints are drawn up that are then sent off to a steel fabricating plant in North Carolina, where the art takes shape.

He uses the plant to create sculpture pieces that are way too big to fabricate in his Akron studio. To ensure everything is done just right, Drumm monitors the progress via photos on the internet.

The tall steel sculpture that was installed in Akron last week sits atop a disc that is some 8 feet in diameter.

The sculpture is made from an all-weather steel that is 7 percent copper. “It is made to rust,” Drumm said.

And rust it will for the next four to six years, building up a coating that will be a deep purple and brown color. This coat of rust, Drumm said, actually preserves the artwork for years to come.

Everything with the fabricating and installation of Tree of Life was going smoothly until it came time to load it onto a truck for the trek to Akron.

Because of its cylindrical shape, Drumm said, it almost rolled off the trailer. A special temporary brace had to be welded onto it for the journey here.

Its design is for those viewing it to draw inspiration to grow and learn.

“It is meant to be a piece of sculpture that depends heavily on the sun to create shadows,” he said. “And those shadows vary depending on the time of a day and the weather conditions.

“It will not be the same shadows on a cloudy day as it will have on a sunny day.”

On one of the tree’s trunks, the words “I promise” are cut in. Drumm’s signature is on another.

Drumm said it was great to partner with James and have one of his artworks dedicated to inspire the kids in his foundation when the school opens its doors Monday.

“I was just waiting to find the right client for this piece.”

And Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, said the artwork fits perfectly at the new school.

“It’s important that the I Promise School is a place where our students and their families feel welcome and at home, so for us, there’s no better way to greet them than with this signature piece from Akron’s own Don Drumm,” Campbell said. “So much of the Akron community has been intentionally woven into the school so that it truly is a transformational place that will uplift the entire community.”

Craig Webb can be reached at or 330-996-3547.
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Beacon Journal/
By Craig Webb