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Sculptor John Waddell
Celebrates the Diversity of Life

by Pamela Williams

The elixir of life, the breath of the soul, the ethereal portions of existence that give us meaning - this is art. Whether we are stirred by the muse or our inner craving to create, we are all artists, life is art and this is something to celebrate.

This celebration of life is but one message renowned Arizona sculptor John Henry Waddell wants to share with others through his work. But it is his biggest message. And to make sure it is heard, or should we say seen, Waddell felt, what better a place to display his work than the two-acre sculpture garden within the Sedona Cultural Park. Here, in this secret place that opens up breathtaking views to the west and north, these sculptures stand in a place reserved just for them.

“I had this grouping that I had completed in 1997 and had always wondered where it might go because it requires such fantastic space,” Waddell said. “Then Jane Jozoff, chairman of the state fine arts commission, who knew about my work, had arranged a meeting with Dan Schay and other board members at the Sedona Cultural Park at which time she presented the idea that I’d like to place some work there. I became very elated and spent two months going to the park and exploring possible sitings for their placement.”

Waddell’s sculptures includes groupings Expulsion From The Garden Of The Earth, Circle of Womanhood, and Celebration. With a timeless quality like the work of Michelangelo of Florence or Rodin in Paris, the figures are without clothing. Thus they are not dated by the transient nature of style. Among the 14 sculptures, an age range between 17 months and 75 years is depicted. The sculptures are connected by pathways between and around each grouping. Although each is very individualistic they are connected by a common theme of humanity. Several shaded benches also designed  by Waddell encourages prolonged viewing. None of the sculptures can be seen from the roads circling the park. Visitors viewing the work will experience a wide range of emotion, from joy to pathos.

“Expulsion,” Waddell adds, “is meant to be a strong plea for conservation. I took the biblical theme of Adam and Eve and brought it into present day terminology.”

The sculpture, two bronze figures, 83” tall or over six and a half feet, stand among a grove of Juniper trees that line the hillside behind the Cultural Park’s amphitheater. Through the foliage, beyond their sorrowful disposition, one can see the beauty of the red rocks in the distance - a dichotomous reminder as to the impetus of the sculpture’s design.

“This was a couple who came to pose for me. He was a Vietnam vet who had cancer from Agent Orange,” Waddell said. “This sculpture demands that we pay more attention to the conservation of our environment. This grouping is in contrast to the next grouping called Celebration.”

Celebration is a seven-figure, larger-than-life-size bronze ensemble, illustrating an elderly man appearing to conduct a chorus of seven other figures, men, women and children, who are approaching him. The child is balanced on the shoulders of a woman, while another woman assists. A third woman runs from behind while a man, just a few steps ahead of her, reaches back to welcome her approach.

For Waddell, this sculpture demonstrates the sum of his beliefs.

“Striding, forward-leaning figures and outstretched arms project active, life giving energy and loving interaction between the generations: a celebration of how great human beings can be,” he said. “Each individual is precious because of the unique way they can contribute to society. When people are not thought of and treated as individuals, society suffers in direct proportion to the neglect of that concept.”

Waddell said this grouping and its total composition was the most difficult combination of human form that he has done, even more so than his 12-figure piece, Dance, located at the Herberger Theater in Phoenix. He compares the grouping to Rodin’s Burghers of Calais due to its complexity of composition. Although the figures are different in character, like Rodin, Waddell stays faithful to his subjects’ nature without idealizing their form.

Last in the sculpture garden is the Circle of Womanhood. This grouping is made up of four figures, three which are reclining around a pregnant mother and her child. The pieces are positioned to overlook the amphitheater and vista of Sycamore Canyon.

“This is a timely piece because in a time when women are concerned about the protection of child and mother, I wanted to do something that is all about women and the necessity of the protection of the child and mother herself. I wanted to demonstrate also the beauty of individual differences and the spiritual nature of childbirth, rearing and the whole process of motherhood.”

All three groupings are on loan to the Sedona Cultural Park. The park seeks a purchaser.

Sedona Cultural Park Director Dan Schay said that having the grouping of sculptures in the park helps the park fulfill its mission of celebrating human creativity in all of its forms in an extraordinary setting.

“What is really telling about John’s work is there is a real dialogue between the work itself and its setting. It’s not just a bunch of sculptures plunked down. There is something that is aesthetically very exciting about it.”

Waddell said that he hopes that while we enjoy the play of light upon the human forms and the patterns of movement and air among the figures, we will be infused with a reverence for the many faceted strengths of all of us; the beauty of individual differences.

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