Friday, December 15, 2006
About a mile from our family cemetery in Tennessee stands one of the most haunting and interesting folk art sites in the United States. It's one of those eccentric, quirky places on the order of Fred Smith's much photographed concrete park in Wisconsin.
I vaguely remember someone mentioning the statues years ago, but I wasn't prepared to encounter them late one evening driving along the country roads in search of a shortcut back to town. Rounding a curve my headlights shone upon what appeared to be an entire crowd of people standing in the woods.
The statues are the amazing work of E.T. Wickham and were started in the 1950's.
The most amazing part is that he created these statues knowing that very few people would ever see them. The location is what I would call the middle of nowhere, one of those spots that either requires GPS coordinates or someone to guide you through the tangle of country roads.
The statues, in their original location, have been vandalized over the years and none have heads any longer and the concrete has somewhat degraded. Luckily there are people who recognize the importance of these statues as a body of work that represents the true folk art tradition. Nearby Austin Peay State University has one of the statues in their gallery and some of the other statues have been moved to the edge of a clearing not far away, surrounded by electric fence.
This statue stands behind the arts building at Austin Peay. Missing their heads the piece nonetheless gives a powerful message. E.T. Wickam was a country farmer who converted to Catholicism, thus the farmer in jeans holding baby Jesus.
More information and images of E.T. Wickam's work tomorrow.