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Au Naturel
He'll sculpt your nude body, but don't ask for his e-mail address — world-renowned artist John Waddell is old-school with some amazing new projects in the works.

By Lauren Proper

JOHN WADDELL LOVES NAKED PEOPLE. But not in a vulgar way. When he says, "Take off your clothes and dance," as he did to a group of college students in the '70s, he's probably going to immortalize you in bronze.

Those students who were willing to pose for Waddell became one of downtown Phoenix's most prominent pieces of art: a series of statues outside the Herberger Theatre named Dance.

Then, and now, Waddell aimed for one goal: to show people beyond a superficial appearance.

"In our culture, we have so many stereotypes of how a person should look that we overlook the beauty of how a person really does look," Waddell says. "In my philosophy, I honor the uniqueness of each person."

A decade before Dance, Waddell made a name for himself with a monument paying tribute to four young girls who died in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. That Which Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963 is Waddell's rendition of how those girls would have looked as women.

What's so striking about Waddell's sculptures isn't the physical attractiveness of the people — bronze has a way of putting everyone on an even playing field — it's how they make you feel their beauty through movement. And after devoting most of his life to art, Waddell still hasn't lost his passion for the portrayal of what is truly beautiful.

"I'm 87. I work 12 hours a day, every day, and I love it," he says.

Today, Waddell and his equally artistic wife, Ruth, find inspiration in Cornville, a small town outside of Sedona. The area is a sacred place for Waddell, whose backyard and sculpture garden are surrounded by mountains and hushed by the sound of nearby Oak Creek.

"I believe it's a channel, an opening, for artists that have lived before to come back," Waddell explains. "And so, in my own work, I feel that I'm supported by artists of the past. You no longer can say, 'I did this. This is my work.' You just have to say, 'It came through me.' "

For the past 10 years, Waddell has been working on a 40-foot relief of people in various forms of ascension into the heavens titled The Rising. The more than three-dozen figures have yet to find a home outside of Waddell's studio, and like some of his other works, will most likely be placed outside of Arizona.

In the end, John Waddell believes the secret to maximizing any talent is to always be refining it appropriately through diligent practice.

"I feel that as an artist, or a writer, or a dancer, or even a physicist, you have to keep your tools as finely developed as possible."

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