The death of these four innocent children was a turning point in American’s public opinion concerning the 1960s Civil Rights Movement led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The response to this tragedy rippled across America including the Tempe home of artist John Henry Waddell, who in 1963 was an art professor at Arizona State University.
John Waddell’s favorite art form is sculpture. The death of the four young girls in Birmingham motivated him to create a monument to their memory. He entitled his finished sculpture “That Which Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963”. Waddell’s sculpture depicts the four girls, as they might have been if they were to have grown to adulthood. They were sculptured as nudes since putting clothing on them would have dated the statues to a particular period of time and not a representation of the ongoing struggle for human rights.
“The total group stands as a prayer of atonement and symbolizes the unfulfilled maturity of the four Black girls…” wrote Waddell, and “implies nobility, hope and perseverance.”
The four sculptured girls each strike a different poise. The figure which faces north is the youngest and “reflects hope and optimism”. In her upraised hand is inscribed the word “prayer”.
The south facing figure is “in the act of turning away or toward” a world that cut short her life. The east-facing figure symbolizes motherhood and her children that will never be born. The west-facing figure contemplating death and acceptance of “all that is and will come.’
Two sets of the sculpture “What Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963” were casts and lucky for us, both sets can be visited in the Valley. The first cast can be seen in the Memorial Garden of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Paradise Valley. The second casting can be seen in the internal patio of the George Washington Carver High School Museum and Cultural Center near downtown Phoenix.
John Waddell and his wife live and still work in their home studio near Sedona. He has been a key part of Arizona’s art world for nearly 60 years. His bronze sculptures of female nudes in motion are on display in 14 public venues across Phoenix including the Phoenix Civic Plaza, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Herberger Theater. Additional works can be found in Napa Valley, New York City, San Diego, as well as the Sedona Cultural Center. The movie, Selma, created an ideal time to get out and discover for yourself Arizona’s connection to this award winning movie and the artistry of John Henry Waddell.
“That Which Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963” @ the Unitarian Universalist Church
Address: 4027 E. Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley, AZ
“That Which Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963” @ George Washington Carver High School Museum & Cultural Center
Address: 415 E. Grant Street, Phoenix
|"That Which Might Have Been" - George Washington |
Carver Museum & Cultural Center