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That which might have been Alabama 1963

This is not my first writing about John Henry Waddell’s sculpture installation called That Which Might Have Been. This time, I write as an individual who is continuously touched by, what might have been, what could have been, and also what is. I am writing here about a human condition.  Alabama being in the USA gives me cause for reflection. I must, however, accept the fact that homo superior, homo erectus or homo by any name, most probably suffers the condition.

The phenomenon is called prejudice. Most of us suffer from it. The infliction possibly comes with our DNA. The religions we hold also affect how we see and think of people. We judge them from skin color, for sure the content of purses. The list is long, give yourself a moment and you will find your own preconceived opinions not necessarily based on experiences.

Yes my friend, prejudice, a word we are reticent to infuse in our vocabulary, yet a word, whose meaning flows in our veins. Few of us are openly willing to accept the emotions attached to this arrangement of just a few letters.

I see people different than I am — I resent them. Some people speak a language different from the one I do — I resent them. Some pray differently than I do — I resent them. Sometimes, I even hate them! The list is miles long and seems perpetual, conditions of humanity for our pleasure and forever. I question if we are here to shed these human afflictions? Has the time to evolve and emerge from the bog come upon us?

I am interested in what we are uncomfortable with. I am attempting to put light on emotions created by fear. 

Our egos make it difficult to admit we fear what is different. Our passions and emotions often spin out of control. At first, we deny having feelings contra-religion or contra-social. It takes no time at all before we act upon the turmoil created inside.

Under the guise of order, we batter what is weaker or different because we want power over it. We destroy what we are afraid of. We do so in the name of God, country or security, but never do we approach the motivator: fear that comes from what is different and not understood. The other motivator is ignorance, because to learn demands change. The hate we experience could come from what tests our humanity or our consciousness.

We do not nourish the greater self that we are. I suggest this to be a reason why we maybe afraid of our own potential for universal love.

When a child is afraid of the dark, we put a light on for them to see that there is no cause for their fears.  We educate them. They learn not to be afraid of the dark.

To better illustrate my idea, I best tell a story.

 Sculptor John Henry Waddell and his family were returning home after a two and a half years in Mexico. John was forty-two years old.

Within the proximity of Laredo, Texas, the radio frequencies started to work. His wife Ruth, also an artist, turned the car’s radio on.  An American station came on. John, his wife and children were exited about the all-English voices. They heard songs, new to their ears, with tempo almost forgotten. They were approaching home in Tempe, Arizona, and with that came their mounting joy.

The music stopped, a news bulletin followed: I paraphrase, “Birmingham, Alabama, the Baptist Church on 16th Street has been bombed. It was a black church. This is the year of the Lord 1963. The month is September and today’s date is the 15th.  Four girls, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives.”

The news was over, the music began again. It was later learned that the bombing was executed as part of the KKK mode of persecuting, lynching, and oppressing blacks. The KKK is an organization still in existence today, in the year of the Lord 2017.

In 1963, I was a young wife residing in New York, I did not know about the KKK. I did not know about segregation, and particularly, I did not know about the governor of Alabama.

Into my awareness came the famous phrase of Governor George Wallace: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

I was reading one of my magazines where the French press reported the death of four Negro young girls in a church in Alabama. They also mentioned an American sculptor named John Henry Waddell who was prompted by this incident to create bronzes that would commemorate the four girls.

It was decades later that the founder of Gardens for Humanity, an organization that molded who I was to become took me to visit a sculpture garden. This was the place where John Henry Waddell and his wife resided. This master sculpted, his home and studio, and also the foundry was also on the property. I was excited to see the bronze creations. I had forgotten the name from the long ago article.

I drove on a dirt road carved out from the side of a mountain. Close to the edge on the passenger side was a low slope that made this enactment treacherous. To my left a rocky mountainous high desert raised itself up. Trees and bushes were not abundant.

While driving, very slowly, I kept thinking why anyone would choose to reside in such a place. Lo and behold, in the periphery, on the mountaintop, a life-size sculpture greeted me. She was a nude with arms extended and pointing to the direction I was to take. My smile and my awe demanded that I stop the car. To see her better I would have had to scale this terrain upward. I admired this work of art from my car.

I continued my slow drive. Loose rocks bigger than my head pounded the bottom of my sport’s car. A few more feet, also nude, a woman made of bronze played a harp. I swear—I heard the notes.

The road, if it could be called that, was not made for my low car. I realized I had to keep my eyes glued to where the wheels were making their way to an unknown and unadvertised place called the sculpture garden.

Soon enough, what resembled a parking area appeared. I stopped and parked the car. I got out to open the door for Mrs. Adele Seronde, my mentor, a painter and a poet.  “You will love John and Ruth,” she said. The name John finally rang a bell. Could it be the John, the American sculptor I had read about all those years ago?

“Come on in. “Mrs. Waddell said. She must have seen the approaching car. We had brought lunch. I was busy getting a picnic basket and some bags of fruit out of my trunk. Adele, went ahead on a skinny path made for rabbits. She walked the narrow trail to the house without difficulties. She obviously had been there before.

The Arizona sun was nearly blinding me. As in a dream, I saw a figure come out of something resembling a smoky cave. The figure looked like an astronaut. Moments later off came the strange costume and a gray-haired man appeared.

Determined to make only one trip to the house, I was still struggling with the basket and the couple of grocery bags. The man came toward me. I noticed the clarity of his eyes.

“Hi, I am John, let me help you.”

“We might as well go through the studio. I can point out some of the sculptures to you. I am working on a large piece. There are sculptures everywhere here. By the way, I did not get your name.”

“I am Eveline Horelle, and it is an honor to meet you, Sir.”

“Please, call me John. Adele told me all about you, and your involvement with Gardens for Humanity. I heard about you and the gallery. I am glad you are doing something for the community. If you ever want to have a sculpture show let me know.”

Before I could answer we already had walked hundreds of steps outside among bronzes of all sizes. Some were playing musical instruments, some were playing ball, I thought of Greece. They must have been playing soccer.  He opened a door. Indeed, there were sculptures everywhere. We talked and walked between more sculptures. Suddenly, my feet stopped, my eyes became focused, in front of me, a small, yellowed by age newspaper clipping was taped to the wall.

That Which Might Have Been-Alabama 1963, that was the title of the short article I had read decades ago, but this article was in English. It was about the American Sculptor and the four black girls.

Decades had passed—I was no longer foreign to this land and its people, I even spoke their language. I had become one of them.

The photo of the installation clearly showed four grown black women. I was confused. I suffered from a temporary sort of mental paralysis. He kept on showing me bronzes, large and small. On paper he showed me concepts for future works, and on walls I saw some bas-reliefs and some of his paintings. On benches and other surfaces were sculptures still in clay form to be casted. My paralyses changed itself to awe.

We entered the house. Mrs. Waddell greeted me as if we were long lost friends. The afternoon was delightful.  After a simple lunch of salads, a quiche I had made, we had a variety of fruits.

I left the modest home with John. We went back through the studio. This time, he opened another door. Various sculpture installations outside patiently awaited my arrival. I saw and touched bronze. I had never done that before. 10,000 years from now these figures would stand for anyone to see and touch. My amazement kept mounting.

I became conscious that not two hours before, upon entering the property, because of my predisposed attitude, my thoughts were only why be in such a god-forsaken place. The occupants must be nuts.

As we walked, I understood the birthing process of each sculpture.  Master John Henry Waddell did not sculpt anything without a reason. It took a while; I became comfortable among male and female nudes all around me. On the shoulders of a tall woman was a child. He called that installation Celebration. We talked about many things. He told me his work could not go out of style because it was not in style. I thought of myself many called a non-conformist. I understood why he found satisfaction in the work he did and not necessarily in the finished product. I smiled a great deal, while Adele Seronde and Ruth Waddell entertained each other.

Finally, I asked about the article on the wall. The sculptures were not outside. I knew about the four girls with black skin, blown to pieces by a bomb in a church in Alabama. I knew they were innocent children, but no sculptures of dismembered children were to be seen in the sculpture garden. The sculptures in the article were not pictured.

John moved a couple of small sculptures from a bench. He sat and I did too. It was time to give me the explanation I had asked about.

This man, an internationally known master of his art, felt bringing the four girls to life as adults, would express his intentions better. I discovered the passion of his soul, and yet the gentleness of his emotions.

Because of our long talk, today I know that each of the figures face one of the cardinal directions. One of them holds a swaddle cloth, symbolizing the children that will not be born of her. Two figures look to the outside as if to wonder what will become of the world they once lived in. One sculpture has a hand upward she faces north. On her raised arm the sculptor wrote Prayer.

It was during our conversation that I asked John where in Alabama I could see this installation. He became sadden. The governor of that state had not accepted this gift. The sculptures were not appropriate for Alabama. The figures of this installation represented Negro women from his state and under his tenure they would not make it to adulthood. That was best for Alabama.

Perhaps due to ignorance, men of power cannot admit to the wrongs of their prejudice. It has been over fifty years since the foundry released the first casting of these four nude Negro women.

Today in the state of Arizona, this installation can be seen and experienced. One can enter the space between the figures.

The bronzes look toward the massive Camelback Mountain. Find them. They are within in a circle—perhaps a circle of life. Visit them, touch the bronze and know that it will outlast your prejudices. The Universalist Unitarian Church where they are is ironically on Lincoln Drive, in Paradise Valley.

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