Endangered Art

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wade Wharton lives in Huntsville. He has an amazing art environment. And the city wants to get rid of it. (Update: this has all been resolved now - after he had to go to court, but it's been resolved)

He lives at 3100 Nassau Drive in Huntsville and is just tickled to give tours. He gets visitors all the time and is just really generous.

The Huntsville Community Development Department wants this art gone because it does not fit within their black-and-white Code of Ordinances. The H'ville Times writes that the city sent Mr. Wharton a notice because "it is unlawful to keep or store any inoperable vehicle, auto parts, metals, tree limbs, litter, debris or similar items unless such items are stored in an approved, fully enclosed and covered structure."

That's a problem, because Mr. Wharton makes his art by recycling things that are cast-off. Whereas other Alabama artists like Charlie Lucas and Lonnie Holley and Joe Minter (and I could go on & on) who develop their art similarly are celebrated in museums, Mr. Wharton says that what the city is threatening "worries me to death".

All those gorgeous bottle trees in his back yard - the city wants them gone. In this clip, Mr. Wharton explains why, and at the end of the clip explains how he was told by the code enforcement supervisor that if his yard is art, that makes the landfill a museum:

He has such a wonderful sense of humor too. About these, he said he threw down a bunch of lugnuts and "just look at what sprouted up":

Mr. Wharton says he had a stroke when he was 36 and had always been right-brained, but after his stroke, he became "whole-brained" and gets "unique ideas". He had another stroke before all this business with the city began. Then he says, "this is my last fight, I guess. I'm going to fight".

It's hard to believe that the Huntsville Museum of Art or the BMA or the High hasn't heard of him before and put on an exhibit.

This is a sculpture he calls the cowboy - he's made out of VW Beetle parts:

This praying mantis even moves:

When I was invited in his home, he showed me some of the other things he made - lots of things with gourds, and lots of woodwork. He carved this bowl with a model of his hand in it - all one piece.

It's upsetting that this art and this artist is being threatened. I wonder what the Huntsville Museum of Art's position on this is, and if the mayor can be persuaded to step in (I'm writing emails).

All over Alabama we are blessed with genius artists - I remember Bill Arnett, who brought the world to Thornton Dial and the Gee's Bend quilters, was quoted as saying "Alabama is America's answer to Tuscany".

Rather than scaring Wade Wharton, we ought to be showering him with thanks and promoting his art environment.

If you're interested in contacting mayor Loretta Spencer, her email is Loretta.Spencer@hsvcity.com. The city councilman for Mr. Wharton's area is Bill Kling, Jr: Bill.Kling@hsvcity.com. The director of Community Development (this dept. issued the notice) is Jerry Galloway: galloway@ci.huntsville.al.us.

The Huntsville Times staff can be reached here for a letter to the editor, etc.

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