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For more than a month, Henley High School art teacher Carlos Becerra stayed after school, even sleeping in his RV on school grounds, so he could finish a project he has been dreaming about for several years — a larger-than-life sculpture of a hornet.

His metal sculpture — an 8-foot-long hornet with a 6-foot wingspan — was mounted near the high school’s entrance on the last day of school and Becerra’s last day with the Klamath County School District.

“For his grand finale, he has been wanting to create a sculpture of a hornet to display in front of the school,” said Jack Lee, principal at Henley High School. “After many hours of hard work in the last few months, his dream came to fruition, and now we have a new Henley hornet that will greet all who enter our grounds.”

The hornet is Henley’s mascot.

Becerra started working for the county school district in 1994, teaching Spanish and art at Chiloquin Junior-Senior High for three years before transferring to Henley High School, where he worked for the majority of his career until retiring in June.

A work of love

“This is something that’s been in the plans for a long time,” Becerra said. “I want to emphasize the arts. And I really love this school, I love the people in it. I’m going to miss them terribly.”

He spent more than 100 hours on the piece, designing it and forming it first with cardboard and finally metal, using equipment in the school’s shop.

“When you’re an artist, you just dream up these things and just do it,” he said. “I looked at a lot of hornet pictures because I wanted it to be as close to anatomically correct as possible.”

As one of two art teachers in the school district, Becerra taught all types of art, including oil and watercolors, drawing and print making as well as the elements and principles of design and art history. An expert photographer, he also co-taught Henley’s new media design class, which published a quarterly magazine and the yearbook.

“I really want to emphasize how important the arts are,” he said. “When my students accomplish something amazing, my heart just explodes, not because I think I taught them something, but because they realize they did something great.

“It’s just the joy that art brings to kids. There’s nothing like it,” he added. “When they do that work, they’re expressing something and it’s beautiful or it’s dramatic. They’re not doing it verbally, they’re doing it visually.”

Finding his niche

Becerra didn’t find his niche in teaching until he was in his 30s. He was born in Honduras, and learned English in grade school after his family moved to New Orleans when was 8.

“I picked up English right away,” he said, “but it was still hard. I had a really hard time in school.”

The family later moved to southern California and Becerra graduated in 1975 from Lynwood High School. He became interested in photography as a teenager, and after graduation, he studied photography at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

He met his wife, Sharon, while working at a convenience store. The couple moved to Klamath Falls in 1980 after purchasing Eddy’s RV. They owned the business for eight years, and after, Becerra worked at Weyerhaeuser for three years until the mill closed.

Becerra went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Southern Oregon University. He then entered the master’s program in art education. Sharon taught elementary school at Fairhaven, Shasta and Conger until retiring a couple of years ago. They raised three children – all are Henley grads (1998, 2001 and 2003).

Family, community

In retirement, Becerra plans to continue his community involvement in the arts as well as spend time with his family.

The district has hired Matthew McHan to replace Becerra at Henley next year. McHan’s experience includes teaching art and digital media for two years at Redwood High School in Redwood City, Calif.

Lee said Becerra will be missed, but his legacy will continue.

“You can see his footprints all over our district, helping to not only beautify with his wonderful artistic ability, passion and hard work, but in the students whose lives he’s touched as well,” he said.

After the hornet was mounted, Becerra sprayed the sculpture with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to give it the rusted, orange color.

“I mean that hornet’s not beautiful,” he said, gesturing to the sculpture. “It’s angry. It looks kind of scary to me, and I wanted it to be. This school has so much history, so many wonderful things. I am so happy to be part of that, of that history.”