Oxen on the Side of the Road, the Art of E.T.Wickham


     Just west of Clarksville,in Palmyra, you turn onto an old county road and on the side of the road stand a huge pair of concrete oxen. They are the remains of the work of E.T. Wickham.

   Hurriedly parking the car, you grab a camera and can’t wait to explore. There’s maybe an hour’s light left and a storm is moving in. First you come upon a headless horsemen , a pair of legs with a bomb, and a pair of shoes that represent Patrick Henry.

 

Off in the woods is a man riding a longhorn bull. This is Wickham’s self-portrait. You try to imagine what they might have looked like full-formed and in color as they were in 1970.

Today, they are weather-worn and assaulted by man. Bullet holes, missing heads and limbs, as well as graffiti mar the surface and make me embarrassed by the actions of others.

Directly across the road, you spy an arched gate strangled by vines and just beyond is a two-room, tin-roofed cabin.Covered in graffiti, you can still see the bright colors beneath the words. There is no door. Upon entering you find a tiny living area to the left. The stone fireplace and mantle have been destroyed. A tiny sink is molded in concrete into the corner wall.Across the hall is a room that might have held a narrow bed.

For eighteen years, Wickham and his wife shared those two rooms as he created his sculptures. Originally he surrounded the cabin with religious pieces and placed two dog statues at the sides of the gate.The only sign of any of these pieces is a moss-covered base beside the cabin.

Making our way through the thicket and back across the road , we returned to the historic sculptures. You can read the inscriptions on the bases which include Andrew Jackson, both Kennedy brothers, Estes Kefauver, and PatrickHenry. Further back in the woods, we came across bases for at least eight other statues  buried in leaves and moss.

Further down the road, we turn onto Oak Ridge and find five more statues facing the road and protected by a fence.We pull up in front of a log cabin and run to shoot more photos. The light is fading as we find an ox head, two men shaking hands, and another headless rider.

As I’m hoping the light and my batteries don’t run out, two dogs come racing up to us. We remember to smile through the fear and they are friendly. Although I felt that I could remain there shooting, it was time to go. Walking back to the car, we meet Sandy Evans, Wickham’s great-granddaughter who lives in the log cabin.Graciously she answers our questions and said that she’d had the statues moved to protect them. Difficult to move, she explained that they haven’t been able to replicate Wickham’s concrete mixture so repairs are nearly impossible.The armatures and textured wire supports are visible in many places and you can see the variety of found and donated  materials that E.T. Wickham used to create his art.

Wickham devoted eighteen years of his life , between 1952 – 1980 to creating the fifty historical and religious figures that lined the road and formed a park.He and his wife raised nine children and when they were grown, Wickham built the two room cabin that they moved into so he could begin his work.

At the time, neighbors and family were of varying opinions, but prominent figures such as General Westmoreland and Estes Kefauver attended dedications for the pieces.

The second piece that Wickham created was an angel with nail pointed wings to stand over the grave of his son lost in World War Two. Three stones stand there, his wife’s and his own flank their son’s.

We left with many more questions and the sense that something needs to be done to preserve Enoch Tanner Wickham’s legacy.

Thanks to an exhibition catalog published by the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center in Clarksville,TN, I was able to see photos of what the area looked like in the 1970’s. I wish I could time travel.

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About unsouthernbelle

I am a native New Yorker , transplanted to Memphis, who is a photographer, teacher, and wanderer. I am inspired by the beauty and stories that resonate from abandoned places and found objects. View all posts by unsouthernbelle

8 responses to “Oxen on the Side of the Road, the Art of E.T.Wickham

  • timruane24

    Top one reminds me of Atget’s gardens.

    • unsouthernbelle

      I’m glad you liked this. I haven’t seen photos of Atget’s gardens. Is there a good source?

      • timruane24

        I saw it in a big library book but don’t remember the title and editor and all.
        It is–oh, here’s something:
        http://www.amazon.com/Atgets-Gardens-Selection-photographs-Dolphin/dp/0385153201
        And better still:
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomgore/sets/72157601287145579/
        I think you will love them.
        :):)

      • unsouthernbelle

        They are wonderful! What great company!

      • timruane24

        Yes, grat company, for sure. Atget is my favorite. Do you know about him–a failed actor, thought he was a failed photographer, used to sell his prints to painters so they could make painting from them. Then he ended up being one of the greatest photographers of all time. First photographer I ever saw who could make photographs as beautiful as paintings.

      • unsouthernbelle

        I know and love his work but did not know much about his life.I like to shoot infrared or blur when I want things to be more painterly.Didn’t Atget work with Berenice Abbott?

      • timruane24

        Hi —
        I am kicking myself because I don’t remember too much about Abbott. I just looked her up on Wikipedia, and I am saying, OMG I gotta read about this woman’s life. Anyway, I did faintly recall some Atget-Abbott connection, and here’s a little graf from Wikipedia which gives a good idea of what Abbott meant to Atget:

        In 1925, Man Ray introduced her to Eugène Atget’s photographs. She became a great admirer of Atget’s work, and managed to persuade him to sit for a portrait in 1927. He died shortly thereafter. While the government acquired much of Atget’s archive — Atget had sold 2,621 negatives in 1920, and his friend and executor André Calmettes sold 2,000 more immediately after his death[11] — Abbott was able to buy the remainder in June 1928, and quickly started work on its promotion. An early tangible result was the 1930 book Atget, photographe de Paris, in which she is described as photo editor. Abbott’s work on Atget’s behalf would continue until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. In addition to her book The World of Atget (1964), she provided the photographs for A Vision of Paris (1963), published a portfolio, Twenty Photographs, and wrote essays.[12] Her sustained efforts helped Atget gain international recognition.

        Hope to talk to you soon.
        –Tim Ruane

      • unsouthernbelle

        There’s always so much to learn. I remember Berenice Abbott more for her work on New York. She modeled her project after Atget’s in documenting Paris.He knew it wouldn’t stay the same.But ,it’s the black and white that gets me every time. Add gardens or architecture, Atget’s shots of community, and their work is still timely today.
        Brenda

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