Over the course of his 30-year career, Chattanooga native Wayne White has worn many hats: He expanded the imaginations of young minds in the late '80s as a set and puppet designer for Pee-wee's Playhouse, and further shaped the cultural landscape through his production design work on music videos such as Peter Gabriel's Big Time and the Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight, Tonight.
His Southern roots are probably most apparent in his more recent work in the fine arts, in which he is known for taking the pastoral landscapes of thrift-store style paintings and adding irreverent and humorous phrases in giant block letters, creating a surreal blend of painting and pop culture.
Through a collaboration with Brooklyn's Flavor Paper, he recently added award-winning wallpaper designer to his extensive resume. At the International Contemporary Furniture Fair global design fair in New York City this spring, White's "Waynetopia" design won the ICFF Editors' Award for Best Wallcovering. The design incorporates block-lettered phrases into a fantastic scene reminiscent of a 19th century landscape, originally a mural he painted on the wall of the home he shares with wife Mimi Pond, who is also a major cultural contributor whose many credits include writing the first episode of The Simpsons.
White is also a sculptor, banjo player and the subject of the biographical documentary Beauty is Embarrassing, parts of which are filmed in the Scenic City.
While in the city for a showing of the 2012 film, he went to dinner with Shaking Ray Levi Society founders Bob Stagner and the late Dennis Palmer, who passed away in 2013. They ended up hatching the plan for the upcoming "Wayne-O-Rama," a yearlong indoor installation that celebrates the city's history and notable figures through giant puppets, interactive sculptures and dioramas on a massive scale.
Through the support of local organizations ArtsBuild, the Benwood Foundation, the Footprint Foundation, the Lyndhurst Foundation and the McKenzie Foundation, the project will feature a working studio, located in the former Loose Cannon space on the Southside. The studio will offer art, animation and storytelling workshops, in addition to education and field trip opportunities for students in Hamilton County Schools. Thirty-seven of the system's 50 art instructors are building curriculums that correspond with the project.
"Wayne-O-Rama" kicks off Sept. 24 with Glass Street Live, when the community will march White's two giant, two-story puppets of Civil War generals Patrick Cleburne and William Sherman up the same hill the generals climbed during the war a century ago. An open house is being held the same day at the studio, where Shaking Ray Levi will also be hosting all its events throughout the year. The local nonprofit is focused on increasing arts education programs for local students.
On view will be four sculptures created by White. Depicted will be jazz legend Bessie Smith; Chief Dragging Canoe, war chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee from 1777-1792; Bob Brandy of popular 1958-1978 local TV show The Bob Brandy Show; and Lookout Mountain. These will remain in Chattanooga following the installation, as will the giant puppets of Cleburne and Sherman, which will feature prominently in this year's Mainx24 parade.
PBS is producing a documentary about the project and the growth of the city's art scene, and an exhibit of White's work will go on display at the Hunter Museum of American Art next June.
To learn more about the many other community collaborations taking place throughout the year, including programs involving the Chattanooga Library and the city's Youth and Family Development Centers, visit wayneorama.com.