published Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Alton Park collector fills home and yard with works that 'bring a good thought'

Darrell Wyke speaks about his collection of artwork while at his residence near Alton Park.
Darrell Wyke speaks about his collection of artwork while at his residence near Alton Park.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Darrell Wyke works as a personal trainer, has a part-time career as a minister and has a calling to help the area’s homeless. But he may be best known around his neighborhood for his passion for collecting art.

Wyke, 45, has turned his modest, two-story Alton Park home into an art museum of sorts. Every wall in the 2,400-square-foot house, including bathrooms and hallways, is lined with paintings and photographs or covered by murals. Some pieces sit propped against baseboards. Outside, on his corner lot, are sculptures by local artists.

Wyke, a native of Selmer, Tenn., said his love of art evolved soon after he moved to Chattanooga nearly 20 years ago to work at Baylor School as a conditioning coach. Ten years later, he left Baylor to become a personal trainer at Signal Mountain Athletic Club. One of his clients, the late Diane Marek of Signal Mountain, an acknowledged art connoisseur, helped Wyke develop a full-blown passion for art.

“Diane had one of the most fantastic art collections in the South,” Wyke said. “I’d go to her house, and the art collection took my breath away. It’s safe to say that she introduced me to art.”

Because she took the time to educate Wyke about art, he is paying the kindness forward. The sculptures displayed in his yard, some nearly 17 feet tall, draw interest from neighbors, especially youngsters.

“The kids are amazed with the sculptures,” he said. “A little boy riding a bike stopped recently and said, ‘Mister, your art is so cool.’ I told him that it was his art, too. My community is his community, and it’s there for all of us to enjoy.”

Terry Cannon’s “Hope” sculpture, once displayed as part of a rotating collection in the Southside district in downtown Chattanooga, is now a permanent fixture in Wyke’s side yard.

“Every day I look at it, and it inspires me,” he said of the Chattanooga artist’s colorful work of steel, which has the word “hope” in blue on a red background.

Wyke said he is fond of colorful pieces, but the bold hues are only part of the sculpture’s appeal.

“It’s a reminder to me of the many homeless people we have in Chattanooga, and it’s my lifelong commitment to help them,” he said. “Because the sculpture was displayed on the corner of Market and Main, a lot of homeless people used to hang out around the piece.” It’s a reminder, he said, that “without hope, what does one have?”

Wyke’s neighborhood, a couple of blocks off 37th Street, was once the location of the Spencer J. McCallie Homes housing project. Today, the Villages at Alton Park, it is an eclectic mix of races and incomes, he said. He often gets viewing requests from passers-by.

“People constantly ask to come by and view my sculptures, and it’s exactly what I want them to do,” he said. “I want people who live here to be proud of their community.”

The outdoor display of art includes Jim Collins’ “Black Watcher,” a silhouette of a black man sitting on a stool. It’s one in a series of “Watcher” works by the Signal Mountain artist, including nine that mark off miles on the Tennessee Riverwalk.

“I am an African-American, and I’m very proud of it,” Wyke said. “I wanted the sculpture to signify who I am, and that’s who I am.”

A similar silhouette, also by Collins, is perched on a 16-foot, stainless-steel pole with an angel on its lap. Wyke titled the commissioned piece “Watcher With Angel.”

The sculpture represents Wyke’s devotion to God. “If you put God first in your life, it will be the beginning of success,” he said.

Wyke said collecting is “such a joy,” and each piece has a particular meaning to him.

“That’s what makes art so special,” he said. “When you look at each one, it brings a good thought. And I don’t have to shop around for art. As soon as I see something I like, I know it’s for me.”

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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