GPS Unveils New Sculpture, “Emerging”

Generous gift given in memory of Betty Brown Bridge by Elizabeth Bridge Bailey ’58, Margaret Ann Bridge Fagan ’60, Charlotte Bridge Patrick ’62 and Tom Patrick
As Charlotte Bridge Patrick ’62 tells it, “It’s really a God thing.” When Charlotte and her husband, Tom, learned their daughter, Margaret Caldwell ’91, was moving back to Chattanooga from California with her family, it sparked a series of events that led us to today’s unveiling. 

Charlotte’s mother, Betty Brown Bridge, was the GPS librarian from 1953 to 1975. While working at GPS, Betty fell in love with the school and wanted to ensure her three daughters—Charlotte ’62, Margaret Ann ’60, and Elizabeth ’58—had the opportunity to receive the best education.

Each went on to get married and raise children, with Elizabeth and Charlotte both having daughters who, too, attended GPS. Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Helen ’87, graduated with degrees from Centre College and The University of Tennessee, Knoxville before her career took her to Memphis. Charlotte’s daughter, Margaret ’91, graduated from Auburn University and made her way out West, where she and her husband, Winston, grew their family in California.

Last year, Winston had a career opportunity that would allow him to work remotely from anywhere. His extended family is based in Tennessee (Nashville) like Margaret’s, so it seemed like a natural fit to return to the South. Choosing where to plant their Tennessee roots was more difficult, but Margaret jokes she fought hard for Chattanooga, and said GPS and McCallie were a big deciding factor, since they had two school-age children—Charlotte and Patrick.

Realizing that Charlotte Caldwell ’28, Betty’s great-grandchild, would become a next-generation GPS girl had Tom and Charlotte thinking about Betty a lot. “She was the GPS librarian for 22 years, and my sisters and I had always wanted to do something to honor her but could never figure out the best way to do that.” That’s when Tom and Charlotte had the same idea: a sculpture!

A previous work partnership had introduced Tom and Chris Grubb, a structural engineer. “Tom hired me to help with a structural engineering project of his, which is where the connection originated, and when he researched my background, he realized I had attended Furman, where he and Charlotte’s son, Mike, had gone.” As fate would have it Chris and Mike had been fraternity brothers!

Following the work project, Tom kept up with Chris, who, in 2019 discovered a new passion—sculpture. (You read that right: Chris has been sculpting for only five years.) “When my wife, Sheila, and I moved to Idaho after raising our children, we both took up new hobbies—for her, ceramics, and for me, sculpture,” Chris says. “When your kids leave, you have a lot of time on your hands. So this is a new iteration of myself. It’s become a passion. It’s very akin to my technical career. It’s mathematical, proportional, biological.”

“Tom saw photos of a sculpture Chris did of his own daughter, and he couldn’t get over the detail,” Charlotte says. So they reached out to see if he would be interested in their commissioning a new statue for GPS, and he eagerly agreed. 

From there, Chris’s year-long, 680+hour process began. The idea was to create a sculpture of a girl sitting on a bench holding books as a nod to Betty’s career as a librarian, and the whole family got involved, including Charlotte’s sisters, Elizabeth ’58, and Margaret Ann ’60. There were a multitude of decisions and steps, including selecting the book the girl in the statue would be holding (Little Women) and finding an opportunity for Chris to visit campus to select a site for the sculpture and get a feel for the spirit of GPS.

Of course, Chris would need a model, and who better to fill those shoes than future-Bruiser Charlotte? He visited the Caldwell family in California to get measurements of her face for the piece. But while the sculpture resembles Charlotte, it is meant to more widely represent all GPS girls. Margaret explains, “Yes, it’s in honor of my grandmother, but it’s also a gift to the school and the girls. We hope they see themselves in it, too.”

With that in mind, the sculpture went through a series of possible titles before they landed on Emerging. Chris explained, “Because the spirit of the sculpture is intended to embody a soul in transition essentially from innocent young girl to secure and confident woman, Emerging was perfect. The original idea was to try to capture that moment in time where the students are now and where they’ll go. They are emerging from one stage to the next.”

Upon the sculpture’s completion, Chris and Sheila made their way from Idaho to Chattanooga with Emerging in tow so Chris could install it on campus yesterday, and today the official unveiling ceremony took place. With nearly 100 visitors in attendance, Head of School Megan Cover welcomed the crowd, and Tom Patrick delivered a special invocation. Charlotte and Margaret spoke about the meaning of the statue, and Chris detailed the process. From there, Charlotte, Margaret Ann, and Elizabeth received the honor to lift the cover and reveal the sculpture for the first time to fierce applause. 

When asked why they wanted to give back to GPS, Charlotte summed it up: “GPS has been a part of our lives, and we wanted to give something back that we received,” she says. “I’ll never forget sitting on the porch talking to Mother and she said, ‘I gave you something that no one will ever take away. I gave you a good education.’ She loved her girls going here.”