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E.T. Wickham’s wacky roadside folk art in Palmyra, TN

In about 2004, Baby Girl and I went to look for some strange roadside folk art in Palmyra, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive northwest of Nashville. I’d read about the eccentric artist, Enoch Tanner Wickham, who built concrete figures and placed them in a park on his property.

At the time, 34 years after Wickam’s death in 1970, the sculptures had been vandalized and most were headless, making them quite eerie. But soon after, people began to appreciate Wickam’s creativity. Several of his works were installed in the art museum at Clarksville’s Austin Peay State University –including his statue of the college’s namesake, former governor Austin Peay – in hopes of preserving them.

wickham statues kelly
Headless E.T. Wickham statues in a field alongside a road in Palmyra, Tennessee. (Photo by Kelly Kazek/Permssion required)

After all these years, I could only locate one of my photos from that trip, shown at right. The other accompanying photos come from Southern Places, the archives of Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library.

Here’s a brief history of Wickham from the Encyclopedia of Tennessee: “Enoch Tanner Wickham left an artistic legacy in the form of a permanent concrete sculpture park by the side of the road near Palmyra, Tennessee, across the Cumberland River from Clarksville. Wickham, a descendant of early settlers of Montgomery County, was a farmer, a woodsman, and a self-taught artist with a penchant for engineering. Around 1950, he began creating larger-than-life-size statuary using a combination of bought materials and whatever was at hand. Sometimes he smoothed concrete directly onto iron bed frames, electrical cord, or bailing wire; at other times, he used metal stovepipe to cast it into sections. Most of Wickham’s sculptures were placed on pedestals, usually with dedicatory inscriptions. Clearly, he meant these to be public monuments. During what for most people would be retirement years, E.T. Wickham was just hitting his stride. He produced as many as forty sculptures over the twenty-year period before his death at age eighty-seven.”

A Wickham descendent catalogued photos of all his sculptures at WickhamStonePark.com.

wickam virgin mary
ET Wickham with his Virgin Mary, which he sculpted before 1952, a family member said. (Source: WickhamStonePark.com)
This headless statue was once a likeness of former governor Austin Peay. (Source: Southern Places is a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_vandalized_statues_of_political_figures
Vandalized ET Wickham statues in Palmyra, Tennessee. (Source: Southern Places, a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_two_yoke_oxen
A team of oxen by folk artist E.T. Wickham in Palmyra, Tennessee. (Source: Southern Places, a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_three_broken_statues
Vandalized ET Wickham statues in Palmyra, Tennessee. (Source: Southern Places, a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_headless_statue_on_horse
A headless statue on a horse. (Source: Southern Places, a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_headless_statue_on_bull
The rider on this bull statue is headless. (Source: Southern Places, a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_detail_of_bulls_head
Detail of the bull statue. (Source: Southern Places, a project of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)
ET_Wickham_roadside_park_and_Wickham_Cemetery_detail_of_angel_head
Angel in a cemetery where many of the headstones were created by ET Wickham. (Source: Southern Places /MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the James E. Walker Library)

 

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