Bob Wade, a Texas artist whose 40-foot-long iguana sculpture once perched atop the Lone Star Cafe in Manhattan and whose 63-foot-high saxophone lured patrons to a blues nightclub in Houston, died Dec. 24 at his home in Austin.
Wade, known by the nickname Daddy-O, was 76.
His wife, Lisa Wade, said the cause was cardiac arrest.
For more than 40 years, Wade — who spent his adolescence in El Paso and graduated from El Paso High School in 1961 – built whimsical, outsize public art that nodded to Texas’ culture of bigness, gaining renown for his uninhibited style but also drawing attention as a serious artist in some circles.
Like most of his creations, his iguana, which he christened Iggy, could not be ignored. Inspired by a stuffed iguana a friend had brought him from Mexico, Wade used wire mesh and polyurethane foam to fabricate the ferocious-looking monster with a spiky-toothed mouth, knife-like spines down its back and an impressively large dewlap.
“I know for sure that Texans are fascinated by critters — all kinds of critters,” he said in a 1999 documentary film about his work, “Too High, Too Wide and Too Long: A Texas-Style Road Trip.”
In the movie, Wade and friends tow his Iguana Mobile, an Airstream trailer that he customized with a fiberglass iguana’s head in front, a tail in back and a saddle on top. Iggy wound up at the Lone Star, a Texas-themed honky-tonk, in the 1970s.
“It had this confident, cocky, regal kind of look, derived from all that earlier stuff — dragons and dinosaurs,” Wade said of the sculpture in an interview with The New York Times in 2010.
When the Lone Star went out of business in 1989, the sculpture was removed, leaving it without a permanent home until the Fort Worth Zoo acquired it in 2010.
The iguana was Wade’s opening act; there would be many more gigantic, kitschy installations: A sextet of 10-foot-tall dancing frogs and an alligator made of Altoid tins. A New Orleans Saints helmet made largely out of an old Volkswagen. A hog-shaped motorcycle made from salvaged Harley Davidson parts. A colossal pair of simulated ostrich-skin boots.
The boots, made of polyurethane foam and supported by steel skeletons, were commissioned by the Washington Project of the Arts and built in 1979.
The boots were disassembled and moved to a mall in San Antonio in 1980. The work, rising 35 feet 3 inches, was certified in 2014 by the Guinness World Records as the tallest cowboy boot sculpture in the world.
Robert Schrope Wade was born in Austin on Jan. 6, 1943. His father, Chaffin, was a hotel manager who took his family with him as he moved to various properties around Texas. His mother, Pattie (Womack) Wade, was a department store clerk and a cousin of cowboy entertainer Roy Rogers.
He loved hot rods, and when he showed up with one at the University of Texas, Austin, where he studied art, a fraternity brother nicknamed him Daddy-O.
After receiving a master’s degree in painting from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1966, he was an art instructor at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas; then director of the experimental art institute at what is now Northwood University in Cedar Hill, a suburb of Dallas; and finally a professor of art at Texas State University.