John Henry Waddell, born in Des Moines,
Iowa in 1921, began teaching art to adults when he was 16. After Army service, he achieved his MFA and MAE from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Waddell headed art education at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, then at Arizona State University, before retiring from university teaching at age 40 to allow full time for his mostly figurative art.

In 1963, the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young black girls, prompted Waddell to create a memorial monument entitled “That Which Might Have Been,” a monumental grouping of four bronze figures, representing the women these little girls might have grown up to be. This work, now displayed at Carver Civil Rights Museum, marks a turning point in Waddell’s work. Though earlier he had been a social significance painter, representing the ills of society, his interest now turned to the beauty of individuals, and later too, their potential for positive interaction.

In 1964 Waddell and his family moved to Greece with a commission to create the public sculpture “Family.” During the following two and a half years, he exhibited his work in Athens.

As Waddell’s work in groupings of figures continued, the need for more studio space and creative serenity took him further away from America’s art centers and deeper into the remote wilds of the Southwest landscape. Here he built a magnificent studio. Apprentices came from all over the world to study with Waddell. The 12 over life size figure composition “Dance” was completed here.

Away from changing modes of the art world, Waddell entered what would be the most prolific period of his life thus far. He has sculpted over 150 life size, and over life size bronze figurative sculptures, many small figures, as well as paintings and drawings.

In 1984 a devastating fire burnt his studio to the ground. All of Waddell’s sketch books from childhood on up, many paintings and sketches, the family home and the plaster molds that would have made multiple castings of his work possible – were destroyed.

Nine months later the Waddells had built a new studio, and “Generations,” a new monumental sculptural grouping was in progress.

In 2007, tragedy struck again, when eight over life size sculptures, a decade in the making, were stolen and melted down into scrap metal. John and Ruth Waddell, now in their eighties, made the decision to use their savings to recast the stolen grouping, “Generations.” It is this will to persevere, as well as their unique dedication to a life in art, that continues to lure many artists, patrons and interested individuals of all ages to the Waddell studio and sculpture garden year round.

Waddell began work on his third major multi-figure relief in his late 70's. What would later become "Rising", started as a grouping of earthbound figures expressing the strength and beauty of human potential.

But it was the events that ocurred on September 11, 2001 that shifted the direction of the relief and focused Waddell on its meaning. "After 9/11, the figures started to rise," said Waddell.  "I thought, they can fly. They will express a hope for a kind of release and freedom -- hope for a more compassionate, accepting world."

In 2007, Waddell revealed a group of figures from this work in progress at San Diego Museum of Art, where he had been invited to speak on the later stages of creativity and his experience, then at the age of 86, of working toward completion of this epic relief.

“Rising” is now complete.