For Waddell, art is a journey of discovery
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
There is a path of discovery, according to artist Hank Waddell, and while some steps down that path may prove to be better or smarter than others, all of them have meaning and purpose as life unfolds.
“I never take anything that happens bad or see my mistakes as something bad,” Waddell said. “I see them as a learning experience or to guide me down the right path. The reality is everything happened in the exact order it was meant to happen.”
The same rule applies as he frees a piece of art from an old tree limb or trunk. Waddell doesn’t know what’s inside when he picks it up and studies it, but he knows he will find it.
“It’s all there already,” he said. “You just have to find it. I see this thing and it looks like there’s something there so I bring it back and for maybe two or three months I take a piece off, and two or three days later I take six pieces off, then finally I start seeing it, and it speeds up as you get closer to what it is.”
The first step in finding the art in a particular piece of wood is finding the materials themselves, but Waddell said you can never just go look for them.
“I would go to the woods and I’d spend all day and not find a thing,” he said. “I drove down a road every day for years and every time I crossed this one spot in the road there was a feeling at that one spot. One day I said ‘I’m going to stop right here and I’m going to get out and see what the heck is going on.’ I got out and walked through the woods and I walked right to the piece of wood.”
As Waddell selects pieces he will be displaying throughout the Liberty Hill Whimsy & Wonder festival May 18, he wants the art to be easy to find, but hopes visitors will spend some time finding the meaning of each piece for themselves.
“I love to talk to people about art, I don’t like to talk to them too much about my art,” he said. “I consider my art abstract. I don’t want to tell you what it is or what it means, but I want to tell you how it’s made. Then I want you to figure out what it means for you.”
Participating in a local art event is a special opportunity for Waddell.
“I feel obligated to the place I live and to support the city I live in and support the other artists,” he said, adding that the support of art locally by the city and residents is critical. “Art is who we are. Art is the story of us and our place we live and the time we live in.”
Waddell’s furniture and art pieces can be found all over Central Texas today, from Austin City Hall to the University of Texas, and he has had his work displayed at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden.
The patience to wait for the right materials to reveal themselves or the art to be found within them is uncharacteristic of the rest of Waddell’s personality.
“I’m not known as a patient person, my wife considers me very impatient, but when it comes to my creation, things might go fast and they might go slow,” he said. “All I’m looking for is what I want, what is supposed to happen.”
If it doesn’t happen, Waddell steps away and waits, and he has recently been reminded how often that happens in an artist’s career.
“I’m moving my shop right now and I can’t tell you how many unfinished pieces I have found,” he said. “They will probably never get finished because I left that space. It might not ever come back.”
In his home just southwest of Liberty Hill, there is no shortage of finished pieces, and Waddell lights up when he shares the story of each one, describing the intricacies that those who simply admire the beauty would never recognize.
Fusing old and new crafting practices, often into a single piece, Waddell loves to combine the creativity of art with the technical aspects of engineering.
“This end is put together with the most modern technology, and this end is done with the most ancient ideas of joinery,” he said smiling as he explained the crafting details of a wooden and aluminum bench that sits in his dining room. He laughs when he says his art education came from studying civil engineering at Texas A&M.
Many of Waddell’s pieces fuse wood with metal and auto finish, but no matter the composition, each is heavy with emotion connected to life and its ups and downs, even if it is not immediately understood.
“I’m looking for where this took me that is a positive thing,” he said. “There is something there, you just have to be looking. ”
The emotion can come from the loss of loved ones or other life hardships, but often it stems from watching trees being taken down in large numbers during his childhood in Houston.
“It is a lot of memories,” he said. “I can’t really put my finger on what it was, I just feel it. A lot of this stuff grew out of the emotional experiences of seeing the forest I played in clear cut, then being the carpenter that built the houses in the clear cut areas. In the emotion of creating a piece, I can feel what it is supposed to be, but I really don’t understand it until it’s over. I feel it, but I don’t know why.”
A lot of life pressure to be an engineer rather than an artist meant the pursuit of art got a later start in Waddell’s life, but it began to take hold with some occasional wading into sculpting in the mid-70s until it took hold of him by around 2000.
“I didn’t really start making art until I was 50,” he said. “I was introduced to art around 1975 and I started just playing with the idea. In 1975, I probably did four pieces and I didn’t do any for four or five years, then I’d do another piece.”
After years of running a successful construction business doing primarily wood trim work as a carpenter, Waddell dove into art about two decades ago.
“I came to art from a different direction, first as an engineer then as a business person who believed in the highest quality possible, and when I first started creating art I thought it was going to be a business. I thought it would happen and I’d make a lot of money,” he said.
But as he began to hold shows he learned it was not so simple and it took seven years for him to sell a piece. That changed over time, but it was an important learning experience.
“Making art is hard, it’s a hard life,” Waddell said. “I don’t do it so much now. I pull a piece out every now and then when it comes out.”
Much of his creativity manifests itself today in commissioned furniture pieces, and no two are alike. Today, the line between furniture and art projects barely exists.
“Furniture built as a piece of furniture is designed to be (something specific),” Waddell said. “A lot of the furniture I’m building, like the sculpture, I take the materials and let them define what it’s going to be. That’s where it crosses from being a piece of furniture into being a sculpture. It is spontaneous, it’s not planned.”
That spontaneity in his work is what characterizes each step in his life-long path of discovery.
“I just let it go,” Waddell said. “It was all part of the path.”
Also in the May 9 issue:
• Parsons wins LHISD School Board seat
• Council winners promise change
• Whimsy & Wonder is May 18
• Gautheir makes third trip to State Golf Tournament
• White signs with University of Montana
• Flake helps Panther baseball advance