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CANOGA PARK'S HUNTER TAKES NEW AIM ARTIST REPLACES MISSING MASCOT IN FUTURISTIC STYLE.

Byline: DANA BARTHOLOMEW

Staff Writer

CANOGA PARK -- Artist Bill Walton returned to Canoga Park High School for the first time in 50 years last year to discover an unsettling enigma.

The school's proud Hunter mascot, the concrete Davy Crockett statue he'd carved for his alma mater, was gone.

"The first thing I asked was, 'Where's my Hunter?" said Walton, 71, who graduated in 1955 and attended a 50th reunion held last year. "Nobody knew what happened to it. Did somebody steal it? Did somebody break it? It was a mystery."

A mystery that would move him to fashion a new Canoga Park High Hunter -- a 7 1/2-foot coonskin-cap-clad sentry carved out of a half-ton chunk of albizia wood to be unveiled Oct. 5.

"It was a labor of love," said Walton, a retired arts school founder who now lives in Maui and whose modern sculptures appear in five Hawaiian galleries. "I wanted something for the kids of today to look toward the future -- boys and girls. This is looking out at the future.

"You've got to be strong in the future."

Flashback to 1954.

Canoga Park High athletes knocked heads on the gridiron against three public high schools in the sparsely populated San Fernando Valley.

But while other teams boasted animal names such as Tigers, Huskies and Wolves, Canoga Park High chose a human hunter.

Walton, a wiry track star whose 440-yard dashes set high school and Valley records, played varsity football.

He was also the wild and crazy kid who packed other teens into the lengthy 1947 Cadillac limo he'd bought from Warner Bros. studios.

After football season ended, art teacher John Corbeil tapped the promising sculptor to do something for his school: create a Canoga Park High Hunter statue.

And what better hunter to model it on than Fess Parker's Davy Crockett, who drove a whole generation to don coonskin caps.

Rifle at the ready, Walton's concrete and fiber statue guarded the school's neoclassic library until it was razed after the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake.

No one's seen it since.

Making new Hunter

"It was concrete. It was large. Everybody liked it," said Vince Desmond, 66, of Venice, who graduated in the 1950s.

So Walton went to work.

He drew up plans for a new frontiersman -- or -woman -- in bronze. Like the school's motto, "Be Strong," it had to be tough.

When he couldn't raise the $20,000 to cast it, he chose redwood.

When he couldn't find a large chunk of the California tree, he found albizia, a tropical wood popular for Hawaiian dugout canoes.

It took eight men to lift a half-ton chunk of the wet wood to his Maui studio. And it took Walton six months, wielding everything from chain saws to chisels seven days a week, to carve his giant Hunter.

Two weeks ago, it took six Canoga Park High football players to hoist the 250-pound statue across campus, where it awaits a place in the future school museum.

The new Hunter will be formally dedicated next week at a ceremony with alumni who will plant three new redwoods in the school's historic grove.

Gender-neutral

While modeled after the macho Crockett, the statue is faceless to keep it gender-neutral. Polished with a powder horn at its hip, the new stylized Hunter grasps a 5-foot musket and appears to gaze past an unknown horizon.

"Wow, that is authentic -- that's great!" said Caryn Michaels, a Canoga Park High graduate who coordinates freshmen at the school, coming upon the statue. "Very cool."

"It inspires kids to get into the arts," Desmond added. "This type of sculpture, being given to the school by a man who went to it 50 years ago, is a great inspiration to the younger generation."

Walton, a Pierce College grad who later became influenced by the works of Henry Moore, has created a lifetime of sculptures in woods, ceramics and stone.

But none like his Canoga Park High Hunters.

"It is one of my proudest achievements, and one of my biggest," said the former Hunter, standing by his work. "I wanted to give back to the school.

"My life's work began in Canoga Park."

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3730

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Artist Bill Walton stands in front of his Canoga Park High Hunter, a modern version of the school mascot.

(2) Artist Bill Walton's new Hunter statue is a half-ton chunk of albizia that stands 7 1/2 feet tall. While modeled after Davy Crockett, the statue is faceless to keep it gender-neutral.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer

(3) This photo in the 1958 yearbook shows Canoga Park High's original Hunter mascot, created by school grad Bill Walton.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 28, 2007
Words:781
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