Originally Published: October 8, 2009 10:29 p.m.
"It's a dance for me," said artist of great renown John Henry Waddell as he gestured to illustrate his movements when he creates an image on canvas.
As he spoke, Waddell was standing alongside his "River Runs West, Clouds Moving East" pastel drawing that is one of many works adorning the walls of the Phippen Museum during its "Greatest Earth on Show" exhibit that opened Oct. 3.
In describing his approach to this pastel of the Grand Canyon, Waddell said it took him two years to complete this piece as he ferried his canvas back and forth to the Grand Canyon from his home in Cornville. "I have to set up so that I can move back 20 to 30 feet and then to the painting. I have my brush in my hand and when I make a stroke, it's not just with my hand, it's with my whole body. It's like a dance. I feel like sort of an acrobat when I am painting."
Waddell has other watercolor paintings in the new Phippen exhibition: "Gathering Clouds," "High Noon at the Grand Canyon" and "Vishnu Schist."
Waddell is a person of distinction in the world of art. He received master's degrees in fine arts and arts education at the Art Institute of Chicago before he moved to Arizona in 1957. He headed the art education department at Arizona State University, where he made sculpture his primary art form. When he was just 43, he left the academic world to sculpt full-time.
Now in his late 80s, Waddell has set himself apart as a master sculptor with marked visibility. His sculptures are prominent in such places as the Mondavi Vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif., Flushing Meadows Tennis Center in New York City, Sedona Cultural Park and, perhaps most notably to Arizonans, his dancing figures that grace the front entrance to the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix.
Waddell's sculptures are figurative - figures of all ages, and all are nudes. "I specialize in the beauty of individual differences," he said.
His fine art comprises portraits, landscapes and "social significance paintings that deal with problems and ills of mankind." In making a statement about his life's work, Waddell said, "Art is not a way of making a living. It is a way of life. The joy and the richness have nothing to do with making a living."
Clive Pates, a Jerome artist, has two works on exhibit for the show: "The Larger Conical Hill, Punta Cerotito, Baja, California Sur" and "The Verde River at Dead Horse Ranch," both oil-on-linen paintings.
Pates received his bachelor of fine arts in Bristol, England, and was a Fulbright Scholar at the New York Academy of Arts. This award was for figurative painting and sculpting, but he found strict, classical subjects confining. While he was in New York, he would escape to the outside and soon became intrigued with busy New York City streets and painting cityscapes. Upon his return to England, he taught in the Queens Road School of Art and from his studio, but in the summers he would vanish into the landscape to paint en plein air.
"Landscape seemed to hold so much more meaning for me," he said. "I could walk within a new location for weeks, absorbing the color relationships and compositions peculiar to that place.
"The picture started to become more of a journey for me, a part of my life ... a way of representing myself as part of the world."
Prescott artist Robert Peters has two oil-on-linen paintings in the exhibit: "Pebbly Brook" and "Zuni Moon."
Peters is one of the judges for next week's Cowboy Artists of America exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum and was recently featured in the Western Art Collector magazine as one of the up-and-coming painters of the American landscape. "Pebbly Brook" was selected by the U.S. State Department as an excellent example of American art in the Embassies program. The painting was on loan for two years to the United States Embassy in Muscat, Oman, and Peters had it returned recently and loaned it to the Phippen for this exhibition.
Exhibition content of "Greatest Earth on Show" has been built around historically important artists such as Maynard Dixon, Gunnar Widforss and James Swinnerton. In addition to Waddell and Pates, the works of contemporary landscape artists Bill Anton, Clyde Aspevig, William Scott Jennings, G. Russell Case, Robert Peters, W. Jason Situ, Williamson Tapia and Curt Walters are on display.
"This way, the viewer can experience the roots of past artistic styles while considering how the contemporary artist uses them as a historical foundation to build his own individualistic visual interpretation," said Deb Bentlage, museum curator and collections manager.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday and closed on Monday. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for senior citizens, students and AAA members. Children under 12 are free. For more information, call the museum at 778-1385.