Texan public artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade, known for his gargantuan sculptural renderings of objects and critters as varied as saxophones, frogs, and his beloved hot rods, died of cardiac arrest on December 24 at the age of seventy-six. Informed by Funk and Pop art, Wade—who holds the Guinness World Record for tallest cowboy boot sculpture—was instrumental in the development of the laid-back “cosmic cowboy” aesthetic that would come to define his home city at the end of the twentieth century. New Yorkers may remember Wade’s forty-foot iguana sculpture, Iggy, which occupied the top of Manhattan’s Lone Star Café on Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street from the mid-’70s to the late-’80s. Declared an unlawful advertisement by the Fifth Avenue Association, Iggy was temporarily removed and later reinstalled by Mayor Ed Koch. The reptile currently resides at the Forth Worth Zoo.
Born in Austin in 1943, Wade studied art at the University of Texas, Austin (he received his moniker “Daddy-O” from a frat brother), before obtaining his master’s degree in painting from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1966. Wade then began a teaching career that led him first to McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas; then on to helm the experimental art school at what is now Cedar Hill’s Northwood University, in a Dallas suburb; and eventually to an art professorship at Texas State University. In 1973, a selection of his paintings of vintage postcards and photographs of the American Southwest were shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, as part of its biennial. For the American bicentennial of 1976, Wade created Giant Map of the United States, a map of the country the size of a football field rendered in earth, concrete, and wood. The piece, reproduced soon after its completion in People magazine, also featured billboards, miniature skyscrapers, more than three hundred lights, and replicas of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes filled with moving water. When asked to contribute to the 1977 La Biennale Paris, Wade submitted Texas Mobile Home Museum, a twenty-five-foot-long 1947 Spartan trailer filled with memorabilia from the Lone Star State.
Other significant works of public art include an oversized New Orleans Saints helmet that adorns Austin’s Shoal Creek Saloon, a snake-shaped sign for the city’s Ranch 616 restaurant, a porcine motorcycle called “Hog,” the 1983 sextet of amphibians Six Frogs Over Tango, the seventy-foot-tall saxophone built in 1993 and now installed in front of Houston’s Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, and the twenty-five-foot-long pair of longhorns that currently hangs in the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center at UT Austin. Wade is survived by his wife Lisa, his two daughters, Rachel Wade and Christine Codelli, and three grandchildren. Daddy-O’s Book of Big-Ass Art will be published this fall by Texas A&M University.