Wade Geddings carves ephemeral animals on the Cayce Riverwalk
Wade Geddings’ art on the Cayce Riverwalk compels visitors to stop and touch it, even if that means stepping off a boardwalk to traipse through fallen leaves, so they can feel the grooves of a wooden alligator’s hide or the feathers of baby owls nestled in a log. Little do most people know that Wade creates his highly detailed works with a chainsaw, carving a semblance of life into dead trees.
The Cayce Beautification Foundation this past year commissioned Wade to create a dozen woodland creatures from trees that have fallen near the Congaree River. Some sculptures, like an enormous, furry bear at the entrance to the Cayce Riverwalk, are visible and easily accessible; others, like a fanciful bobcat peeking out from behind a log, are harder to spot. The whimsy is intentional — Wade wants these particular pieces to appeal to children. The element of surprise is also important to him. “People seem to get such a kick out of coming out and seeing a new one,” he says. He has completed all but two of his current commissioned works, but is not sure what he will do next.
On one beautiful afternoon, Wade finds a chip missing from the alligator’s snout and, concluding that someone purposefully kicked it, makes a mental note to fill it in later. A small stone, painted to look like a snowman, is perched between the alligator’s eyes, and Wade is so amused by this that he leaves it where it is, explaining that it is a social media phenomenon. Several people stroll by on the Riverwalk, and some, when they realize that he is the artist, stop to ask questions. Lots of folks are walking dogs, and Wade is a little wistful about seeing them since he first visited the Riverwalk with his own beloved Australian Shepherd, Cash, who died in 2016. But being able to create art on the Riverwalk is cathartic for him.
Wade is particularly fond of his sculpture of owls overlooking the Congaree because of the way the sunlight filters through the trees. “If you’re walking the trail at the right time, they’re like ‘Ahhh.’ I actually had to go pick the spot I wanted to work in and use the saw to remove all the decayed wood until I got back to useable material, and then put the owls in.”
Wade used debris that was left behind by the 2015 flood. “Instead of them having to bring in equipment and destroying more to move this,” he recalls telling city representatives, “or just letting it lie here as a reminder of what happened, I could come out with my saws and turn it into art and take it back from the flood.”
Born in Florence, Wade grew up in Monroe, North Carolina, and spent more than 15 years living in Colorado before returning to South Carolina two years ago to live near his only sibling, Kevin Geddings, the owner of Adventure Carolina on State Street in Cayce. Supplementing his artistic endeavors by working at his brother’s business and also helping a friend with appliance installation, Wade quickly became entwined in the small-town network of Cayce’s citizens.
Driving past Sharpe Creations on Frink Street in 2016, Wade spotted a few large, upright logs behind a fence, so he stopped by to talk to artists John and Venetia Sharpe about carving something into one of them. The Sharpes invited him to give it a try, and Wade ended up making an imposing eagle flanked by a heron and some fish. John says that Wade described it as, “If God did a core sample of the swamp, this is what you would see.” John hopes that Wade’s art installation at the Riverwalk will lead to other local artists being invited to follow suit.
John also was among a group that brokered a deal with Henry’s Restaurant & Bar on State Street to feature local art in its decor. Now the inviting eatery boasts an impressive collection of photographs, metal sculpture, paintings, and, on the massive bar, a fine art sculpture of an eagle flying up from the water with a fish in its talons. Wade carved this in the Colorado forest from a forked piece of lodgepole pine that naturally lent itself to becoming wings.
Chris Kueny, the owner of Sub Station II on Knox Abbott Drive, knew the Geddings brothers as patrons of his restaurant. A board member of the River Alliance, Chris saw Wade’s carving at Sharpe Creations and subsequently agreed to sponsor Wade’s first Riverwalk piece: two playful raccoons carved into the ends of a log on the Timmerman Trail near the 12th Street Extension. Having a completed work to show to leaders of the City of Cayce helped Wade pitch the idea of carving a series of animals. Once Wade spoke with Mayor Elise Partin, he could tell that she understood what he wanted to do.
The organic nature of Wade’s medium means that the sculptures are not going to last forever. “I’m manipulating what’s out here,” says Wade, “but it’s still natural, and it’s going to fade away.”
Chris agrees, “It’s ephemeral. Those logs will eventually rot.”
Wade remembers his mother painting when he was a child, but he was a sophomore in high school before an art teacher convinced him that he too had artistic talent. He was supposed to enter a sculpture contest but avoided it. “I would purposely hang back until the deadline had passed, then I would do it so that I knew that I wouldn’t get judged. I did these two sculptures; one was a solid cube of clay, and all you could do was remove material, which is kind of funny, because now that’s what I do with the chainsaw.”
He formed a hand within the cube that could be viewed from many angles. “Then I did another piece that was kind of dark. I took a piece of clay and kind of flattened it out into sort of an odd, watery shape that had the bow of a wooden boat sticking up out of the water with this tree limb. Bubbles were coming up out of the water as were a hand and forearm, like someone’s boat had just gone down and they were coming back up out of the water.” His art teacher’s reaction of amazement still inspires Wade.
It was not until Wade moved to Colorado in his 20s that he began to devote time to visual art and music, another interest he is still pursuing. (Look for Wade with his acoustic guitar at open-mike sessions at Vista Union, Tin Roof, and 1616 Gervais Bistro in Columbia.)
In Colorado, Wade taught snowboarding for eight years at Copper Mountain Resort, then worked at a golf club in Breckenridge, a marina in Frisco, and in the city of Silverthorne. Toward the end of his time out West, Wade regularly drove past a business that specialized in chainsaw carving. One day, he got the notion to stop and talk to the owner about giving him a shot at carving. It turns out, the man’s wife had worked with Wade in Silverthorne, and she talked him into handing Wade a chainsaw. He made a mushroom, but it was no ordinary mushroom. “It had this crazy bend like Dr. Seuss or in Alice in Wonderland,” Wade recalls, “and he was like, ‘Come back tomorrow.’”
Wade worked there for nearly a year, learning the basics of chainsaw carving. The first step is to assess the material and decide what to carve. “The goal is to figure out where all the negative space is and then remove all the bulk of the negative space as quickly as possible, then start your detailing.” Sometimes Wade uses a torch to achieve dark tones in the wood, then goes back over the piece with a grinder to bring back some light tones and uses a homemade flap sander to smooth fur lines. He paints some pieces with acrylics and stains others with Australian timber oil, like the perfectly shaded fox on the Riverwalk.
For Colorado’s Copper Mountain Resort, Wade created 15 pieces, a series of hybrid animal mascots wearing ski masks and goggles. He also carved a gigantic bear sculpture from a blue spruce tree in El Jebel, and on that same street, a lady asked him to make a baby bear sculpture out of a spruce stump. “When you look at that large sculpture,” he says, “just a few feet away, there’s another little bear cub sitting on his tush, and the coolest part of that whole thing was doing that piece for her afterward.”
Wade struggles a bit with assigning a dollar value to his work, to which John Sharpe responds, “We all do.”
Wade admits, “I’ve had some opportunities that, art-wise, I killed it, but I did not get out of it what I should have gotten out of it. Honestly, I think it’s a combination of lack of belief in myself and the business acumen. One thing I’ve learned since I moved back is that I enjoy creating, and not everybody’s going to get it, not everybody’s going to appreciate it, but it’s what I enjoy. It means a lot to me when people do enjoy it.”
Helping Kevin at Adventure Carolina allows Wade the flexibility he needs as an artist. “I can go and deliver a group on the river and then go behind the shop and carve for two or three hours, and then go back and pick those guys up. Then, everybody’s happy, and I’ve managed to do some of my own art.”
Wade is now very much at home on the banks of the Congaree. “When I left Columbia, the river was looked at as this thing you drove over to get from one side to the other,” he remembers. Living in Colorado, Wade noticed that citizens invested energy into preserving natural resources, like the rivers, so that people could spend time enjoying them. “It seems like that attitude here is changing. The more eyes that come down and enjoy it and experience it, hopefully the more respect it will get.”
When his dog, Cash, was still around, Wade remembers seeing four does and a buck right next to the Riverwalk. “Since then, I’ve found out from people who live in this area, there are deer that use this corridor. If you go out in the neighborhood by Guignard Park, there is a six-point buck that people see. I mean, nature is running in a vein right through Columbia.”