FLORENCE, S.C. – Even if Caleb Johnson moves away from Florence, a part of him will always be here.
Caleb modeled for Alex Palkovich, a local sculptor, for the bronze statue of Dr. R.N. Beck and a young patient that stands outside the Francis Marion University Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences.
In July of 2015, Palkovich was searching for a young boy to model for the piece. He had found multiple prospects, but none particularly stuck out to him. Then he met 6-year-old Caleb Johnson.
“I saw many very nice figures, but they were all kind of standard. He was so unique,” Palkovich said. “He just put his tummy forward and he chest up and I saw his fantastic face. … He was such a character.”
Palkovich said that over the course of two months, he and Caleb held studio sessions. Caleb would either stand and model or Palkovich would take photos to use when making the clay version of the sculpture. Caleb’s mother, Chrystal Johnson, said throughout the process it didn’t really hit her that her son was being made into a public sculpture.
“It wasn’t until we went downtown to the life sciences building and actually saw the sculpture that it kind of just hit me like, “Oh, my God, this is gonna be here forever.’ He’ll be able to show his kids and his grandkids and his grandkids will be able to show their kids. It was just kind of surreal.”
Johnson says the opportunity has allowed her to teach Caleb a little about the history of Florence and Dr. Beck’s important role in the community. Caleb also talked to his grandmother, who was one of Dr. Beck's patients.
Beck was the first black physician to have admittance privileges to a white hospital. He was known to treat everyone, even if they didn’t have the means to pay. He was also a civil rights advocate and was heavily involved in community service.
“I think he (Caleb) understands the meaning of the sculpture and what Dr. Beck did for people and how that correlates to the building,” Chrystal Johnson said.
Although Caleb is still very young, this experience has influenced his career goals for later in life.
“I want to be a doctor,” he said while sitting next to the statue. “I want to save people’s lives.”