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Wade Wharton, Wade's Garden

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  • Location:

    Huntsville, Alabama, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Threatened

  • Artist:
About the Artist/Site

Born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Wharton went to high school in Arkansas and worked as a sharecropper, served in the U.S. Army, and worked for NASA and Boeing for ten years. But after one major and two minor strokes in 1974, at age 36, he believes his creative forces were released, turning him into an artist.  He retired from his job and began to whittle; he credits his burgeoning art-making with the breakup of his marriage, as his wife had always liked things neat and pristine. Soon he was also painting, drawing, making stained glass, and writing poetry.

But Wharton’s most noteworthy creations were the numerous sculptures fabricated from found objects that he displayed in the yard of his home on the corner of Nassau Drive and Catalina Street in southwest Huntsville. Ranging from fairly miniature to significantly larger than life size, the works include representational forms—animals, insects, and figures—as well as numerous bottle trees and abstract forms. Although many of the works, created out of steel, are rust-colored—and are set off nicely against the green leafiness of his garden—there are also bright colors that punctuate the visual experience. Monumental bugs (including a dead fly on its back with the oversize fly swatter that had “killed” it located nearby), fantastic “plants,” visual puns, and mock machines were all crowded together on the one-third acre lot. Hundreds of bottles and nails, as well as parts of reclaimed sewing machines, fans, rakes, and rototillers were welded together in the creation of his varied, imaginative, and often humorous works. He also displayed gourd sculptures, paintings, and smaller found object sculptures within his home.

Wharton was involved with the local Huntsville Botanical Garden, and was once honored by them as Volunteer of the Year. In 2012, as part of the Garden’s 25th anniversary, the Wade Wharton Sculpture Trail, including 32 works, was installed in what was originally scheduled as a two-year display (it has been extended). Supported by the Big Spring Environmental Company, they lauded his use of recycled materials, keeping these materials out of the landfill, and thus aiding the community’s environmental efforts. The Sculpture Trail is open to the public during daylight hours at the Garden, 4747 Bob Wallace Avenue, in Huntsville. Wharton also installed a discrete work in the local library, “The Learning Tree,” a representation of the apple tree in the Garden of Eden, complete with snake, all created from found objects, including green glass bottles on the tree to represent the apples.

In 2008 Wharton was cited for municipal code violations and “storage of junk” on his property, although this was actually his collection of recycled materials that he eventually turned into sculptures. With the publicity the citation received, art enthusiasts supported him, some by helping him clean up his yard and organize his materials. In court, he pleaded guilty to the charge of keeping junk in his yard, but was not fined and was able to maintain everything on site that he considered to be “art.”

Although most people liked Wharton, early on the morning of January 15, 2014, police found his body outside his home, beaten to death, and arrested his 19-year-old neighbor on the charge of capital murder. A previously-scheduled exhibition at the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s art gallery, Wharton’s first, opened shortly after his death, no longer a celebration of the living artist’s work, but a memorial tribute.

The future of Wade’s Garden is uncertain.

~Jo Farb Hernández



 

Map and site information

3100 Nassau Drive Southwest
Huntsville, Alabama, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 34.683657 / -86.606331

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