Award-winning artist Wayne White is part of year-long interactive art event focusing on his hometown

Chief Dragging Canoe, war chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee.
Chief Dragging Canoe, war chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee.

If you go

› What: Glass Street Live› When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24› Where: Dodson and Glass streets› Information: 57839054/

Inspired by his childhood in Chattanooga, artist Wayne White, perhaps best known for the designs and characters he created for "Pee-wee's Playhouse," wants to repay the favor.

In collaboration with the Shaking Ray Levi Society and several community partners, White, a three-time winner in the Daytime Emmys for art direction - he designed the puppets on "Playhouse" in the late '80s - has created Wayne-O-Rama, a year-long interactive installation that will include giant puppets, live music, sculptures and classroom experiences for teachers and students. White says he wants to focus on the city's history, beauty and art to perhaps inspire the next generation of artists just like he was inspired.

"There's a very long story waiting for you when you're born. Mine was Chattanooga. Now it's my time to add to and hopefully enrich that story with my art," says White, who also earned an art direction Grammy for Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" video in 1996 and a Billboard award in Best Art Direction for Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" video in 1986.

"This project and my hands-on involvement with it will not only inspire and help grow the creative community, but also will reach out to people who have never been in a museum or a gallery and become a nationwide destination. Everybody likes a good story."

As part of Wayne-O-Rama, a working studio will be set up at 1800 Rossville Ave. in the former Chattanooga Folk School and Ignis Glass space. White, who also won a Billboard award for best Art Direction for Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" music video in 1986, will visit the studio periodically throughout the year and also will be available to communicate electronically with teachers, artists and students who are there working.

In some cases, they will be at the studio working on four installations designed by White. He has created four maquettes, or small preliminary models, for the larger installations - some 20 feet tall - that will be created and kept at the studio. The four models depict blues legend Bessie Smith, Lookout Mountain, local kids TV pioneer Bob Brandy and Chief Dragging Canoe, war chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee.

Each represents a person or part of the city's history that have impacted White throughout his life. They will have interactive parts and will be mobile, requiring two to three people to maneuver them, so they can be utilized at off-sight events.

Organizers have been reaching out to local teachers and artists, enlisting them to use the space and incorporate it into their classroom work, according to Jennifer Crutchfield, director of public relations at WTCI-TV 45 who's helping with publicity for Wayne-O-Rama.

"We also will be hosting workshops and events that Shaking Ray does there throughout the year, and there will be field trips for Hamilton County art students to the studio," she says.

White said in a Huffington Post interview that he remembers the day he knew he would become an artist. It was at Hixson Elementary School.

"It's the day my first-grade teacher, Sandra Stoddard, stood me up in front of the class and told everybody I was going to be an artist one day," he said. "It's the first day of school, and she had just seen a drawing I had made of the cafeteria lunch.

"My parents had always called me an artist because I drew all the time, but having a teacher say something like that in front of a crowd of teachers really sealed the deal. I was convinced from that moment on that there was really nothing else for me. Plus, it was rare to find that kind of support in the little Southern town I grew up in. I was lucky that day."

In addition to the four sculptures, White is creating two 12- to 14-foot marionettes depicting Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne and Union Gen. Tecumseh Sherman that will be part of a parade during Glass Street Live. That event on Sept. 24 is the first big public Wayne-O-Rama event.

Glass Street Live is a community-wide block party hosted by neighborhood partner, Glass House Collective, in correlation with the National Park Centennial Celebration. The 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. festivities will include a street party, a giant puppet show and a parade led by musician Nick Lutsko from Glass Street to the newly reopened Sherman Reservation on Missionary Ridge. The quarter-mile parade will highlight new access points for a trail constructed to connect the Sherman Reservation to Glass Street.

"This is actually the third Glass Street Live event, and we're excited to be connected with Wayne-O-Rama," says Glass House Collective Director of Operations Zachary Atchley. "It's going to be amazing."

Also as part of Wayne-O-Rama, the Hunter Museum of American Art has an exhibit through October of some of White's works, including his "Word" paintings, wood and bronze sculptures, puppets and sketches.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.