John Henry Waddell is active/lives in Arizona, Iowa. John Waddell is known for action figural sculpture, mod drawings.
Biography from the Archives of askART
John Waddell Interview (1995)
Biography from the Archives of askART
Copyright by Don Gray and used with permission
John Waddell has completed the final figure in his nine and one half year, fourteen figure, sculptural odyssey, The Celebration of Life. The Runner,
over-lifesize like the entire group, will be exhibited with other work
by this major Arizona artist beginning January 5th and continuing
through the month at the Joy Tash Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Don Gray: How does The Runner fit into the overall plan of The Celebration of Life?
John Waddell: The Runner
is the lead figure in a group of six moving toward an older man in his
70's beckoning to them. She is a lovely young girl in her late
teens contrasting with the more mature figures around her.
Gray: Does that mean she is more eager to find the truth the old man offers?
Waddell: She has the life of the young person, the willingness to tackle something different. The Celebration of Life is the progression from That Which Might Have Been,
the memorial to the four girls killed in the Birmingham, Alabama church
bombing in 1963. I first discovered then, thirty-one years ago,
what I've spent the rest of my time doing, what I call the beauty of
I was hoping I'd get a commission to do The Celebration of Life.
I wanted to continue to show how beautiful man is because that's the
theme of my work. Then I had a large fire in 1984, which
completely destroyed my studio. After that I said the heck with
it, I'm going ahead and do this piece even though I don't have any
backing. So, over the last nine and one half years, I have created
fourteen over-lifesize figures which I hope I'll place. I
supported the work through the sale of small sculpture and occasional
large single figures, drawings and even paintings.
Gray: How have you kept such a positive view of life and art in the face of our troubled times?
Until a few years ago I had apprentices, fifty over the last twenty-
two years, usually three, four, five at a time. It was kind of a
faint echo of what Frank Lloyd Wright did at Taliesin or what Paolo
Soleri is doing at Arcosanti. Being out here in the country and having
these wonderful young people around me with their problems and their
joys have kept me very positive.
Gray: That's a wonderful
attitude in a time of either Minimalist abstraction or "Let's lay out
all the possible horrors of life with the worst possible aesthetics."
I think that art can become very fragmented. Since I resigned
from ASU in the 1960s, I have consciously tried to find settings which
would allow me to keep the continuity of a life that has been devoted
to the human form; not to allow myself to be fragmented by the
commercial world or whatever.
There are so many different
things that can fragment a person. It's always been a struggle
financially because I'm always trying to do more than I can do, like
this fourteen figure Celebration of Life without a
commission. But on the other hand, I have a lot of people
now. The patrons aren't just people with money, but also people
with skills who are willing to help make it happen.
Gray: Talk about "Adam and Eve" in The Celebration of Life.
Waddell: The Expulsion From the Garden,
the "Adam and Eve" figures, are the most poignant and least hopeful of
the fourteen figures because they're basically saying the whole earth
is the Garden of Eden and were kicking ourselves out of it. It's a plea
for attention to the environment. I hope my work acts on the peripheral
unconscious id of culture, that something may come from it.
I sometimes wonder if art makes any difference at all in the
functioning of society. It seems we continue to do the horrific things
that we do despite the Rembrandts, the Da Vincis.
think its the nuance that does it, the subtleties of change. You
don't see the onlooker now or a hundred years from now who may see
something and carry it a step further. I just think I'm in the stream
of figurative art, and I'm trying to carry it a little bit further in
my own direction. I want to say that each one of the people in The Celebration of Life,
and all the figures I do, become an integral part of my life; I get to
know them very well, and they know us very well. Another reason
I've been able to keep a positive attitude is my wife, Ruth, who is
absolutely understanding and aware of what I'm doing, and perhaps in
some cases even more than I am, which is unusual. Many artists
don't have that luck to have a wife who understands so much about art.
Gray: I happen to have an artist for a wife, so I can appreciate that.
Waddell: It's wonderful isn't it?
Gray: Art is the artist's life, it's what you feel and think; it's what you are. . .it's what we have to share with people.
I have a friend who was a pretty good artist. His wife wouldn't let him
hang his work in the living room because it offended her bridge club.
That's the extreme.
Gray: The real world has entered the artist's home.
Waddell: (laughs) Yes, exactly.
Don Gray is a painter and writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Best known for bronze sculptures of female nudes in motion, John
Waddell was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and in 1957 became a resident of
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He attended the Art Institute of Chicago and had his
first solo show in Peoria, Illinois at age 21. He was in the military
and the G.I. Bill financed the remainder of his formal education, which
was two M.F.A.s in Fine Arts and Art Education.
In 1957, he
accepted a job at Arizona State College at Tempe, and then at age 43,
resigned from teaching to become a full-time sculptor. His work has
been acquired nationwide from the Mondavi Vineyards in Napa Valley,
California to the Flushing Meadows Tennis Center in New York City. It
is also very prominent in the Civic Center of Phoenix, Arizona,
especially in front of the Herberger Theater.
In March, 2007, living in Sedona, Arizona, he lost eight massive bronze
sculptures to thieves, whom he suspected took them for the valuable
copper that could be obtained from the pieces when they were melted
down. Known collectively as The Gathering, the pieces were part of a series.
Art-Talk, 10/2003, "Hello from Sedona"
Who's Who in American Art, 2004
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