Montana native Theodore Waddell’s works have been said to have “immense, poetic dignity.” A new volume, Theodore Waddell: My Montana—Paintings and Sculpture, 1959-2016 from the University of Oklahoma Press looks at the life and experience that informs his work. Rick Newby relies on letters, journals, and interviews to profile the artist and his craft in this eminently readable work.
It’s not possible to label Waddell’s style, beyond “modern.” Large, impressionistic, abstract, full-yet-minimalist-inspired landscapes dominate his painting. In a foreword, former Montana Congressman Pat Williams writes, “The sparsity of his painting, what he leaves out as well as what he puts in, restores the memories of our visions.” The artist is quoted, “The traditional artists don’t like me because I am not realistic enough, and the contemporary artists don’t like me because I am too realistic.”
A number of essays by critics and friends are included in the book, and rodeo poet and lyricist Paul Zarzyski is one of those friends. In a piece titled “From Captain Woodrow Call to Captain Kirk to Captain Teddy-Bob Waddell of the Wild Cowpoke Wild Brushstroke Wild Cosmos West,” he celebrates Waddell’s contribution to “…what’s left of the iconoclastic un-cloned cowboy West…”
Zaryski appreciates the scale and sense of the work, and comments that “…landscape rules the Western roost for me as a poet, especially as a ‘cowboy poet.'” He describes the impact of the first time he saw the 10’x5’ “Sun River Horses.” He writes, “Instead of my drinking ‘it’ in, the painting swallowed me into its being like a T. Rex ingesting a no-see-um.” An image of the painting later appeared as one of Zarzyski’s book covers.
Waddell’s family history as well as his artistic influences are explored. A generous chapter, “The Ranching and Painting Years,” is a candid look at twenty years of ranching near Molt, Montana. An understanding of the artist’s use of space, texture and color, and the influence of weather come to fore from its pages.
The book is lavishly filled with glorious color images and photographs. The reader is left with a satisfying sense of what drives this unique artist and why his canvases and sculptures are impressive and important.
The book’s many-page index of publications by and about Theodore Waddell follow his career and its reception by the art world. An impressive exhibition history is included, which also lists the numerous permanent collections that hold his art.
Theodore Waddell’s painting, “Sheep #12,” was selected as the poster art for the Western Folklife Center’s 2018 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.