US Map project.
Daddy-O's giant "Map of the USA," built for the Bicentennial.

The Roadside Art of Daddy-O


Bob "Daddy-O" Wade was born in El Paso but spent his youth moving from town to town (His dad was a motel manager). "Growing up all over Texas, I remember seeing all kinds of roadside things," said Bob. "Big stuff. Incredible imagery on this crazy scale." He still cites as inspirations the Happy Halfwit and Giant Longhorn in Dallas, "the sexy gal" (Uniroyal Gal) of El Paso, and his postcard collection of Texas cowpokes riding giant jackrabbits and armadillos. "All this bizarre stuff. It was wonderful."

"You have to make it big or it won't be seen."

Bob went to college in the 1960s and emerged from the decade as a respected pioneer of cowboy funk art, which often involved hand-painting his old postcards after blowing them up to billboard size. His first true Roadside-scale work was his 1976 "Map of the USA," a bicentennial Land Art project the size of a football field that was inspired, he told us, by similar-style maps on placemats in truck stops.

"There was this really high scaffolding down at the tip of 'Texas.' You'd climb up this little ladder and get the perspective," said Bob. "It was the 1970s. Everything was looser back then."

Properly inspired, Bob has since created dozens of Roadside-scale artworks, from Lone Star Iguana (1978) to Junk Yard Dog (2006), all of them designed to not only catch your eye but to slap you in the face as you drive by. Bob's work is so unavoidable that he's been taken to court by three different municipalities to have it removed, and Bob won all three times with the argument that he was an artist and that what he had created was art, even if to the untrained eye it was just, say, a ten-foot-tall frog wearing a coconut-shell bra.

Lone Star Iguana.

Bob wisecracks that he's now so old that his sculptures provide work to art restorers. But he continues to pump out creations on a scale that's meant to be noticed, never forgetting the lesson he learned on the Texas highways of the 1950s. "You have to make it big," he said, "or it won't be seen."

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February 25, 2020

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