City Beat: Wayne-O-Rama, an explosion of creativity, taking shape [video]

Staff photo by Tim Barber Wayne White constructs the facial skin of Civil War General Patrick Cleburne with corrugated cardboard midday Tuesday in the studio on Rossville Ave. The oversize puppets were part of Glass Street Live parade to commemorate the Centennial of the National Park Service. Work continues on new puppets and art pieces at Wayne-O-Rama on Rossvile Avenue.

Inside Chattanooga's Fun House studio on Rossville Avenue, Chief Dragging Canoe lords over Lookout Mountain. He looks down from his lofty corner perch as the Incline Railway begins to take shape.

As you might expect, the mountain, which is the size of an Airstream, takes up most of the room, but Dragging Canoe has plenty of space. He needs it; his head is the size of a grown man and his outstretched arms look like, well, a couple of two-man canoes.

photo Barry Courter

In one of the back rooms, a figure of local TV icon Bob Brandy is framed by a giant television. He's watching over a small party of famous Chattanoogans, including Emma Wheeler, a pioneering African-American caregiver who founded Walden Hospital here in 1915, and Adolph Ochs, publisher of The Chattanooga Times and later The New York Times.

A half dozen or so volunteers are busy cutting and fitting strips of cardboard to give the large puppets their shape. A couple more people are on ladders using rasps to shape the Styrofoam pieces that make up Lookout Mountain.

In one of the middle rooms, artist/writer/designer Wayne White is busy trying get a piece of cardboard into Luther Masingill's neck. White is the man behind this explosion of creativity and activity.

Explaining exactly what Wayne-O-Rama is all about is no easy task. Ask Bob Stagner. He's the project manager on the year-long collaboration that involves his organization, the Shaking Ray Levi Society, White, Hamilton County Schools and a host of local arts organizations.

Stagner and White, along with the late Dennis Palmer, conceived the original idea before Palmer's death in February 2013. Stagner has been pitching the idea to arts groups and potential sponsors for months.

"Trying to explain it to people, some of them just stared back at me, but now that people can see it, they're amazed," Stagner says.

That's because it is amazing. And big.

The volunteers, many of whom have come for the chance to work with White, have arrived from New York, Florida, Kansas and Chicago. Some stay a day and some a week or two, doing whatever task is needed. Carpentry, painting or hot-gluing cardboard. More volunteers are needed.

The smaller puppet heads, which are still pretty darn big, are mobile and will be used for parades and such. The larger pieces will stay in the space as backdrops for shows and events in the room.

Go by and check it out. They might even put you to work.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.