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Memories of the 'Wireman' live on

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The late Vannoy Streeter with one of his creations.
(Submitted photo)
The Celebration brings with it a certain frame of mind. For long-time residents, it provides a unique marker in your calendar each year.

Whether you remember being at the show each night as a kid or you're taking your kids on vacation, it's hard to not be a little nostalgic about things come this time of year.

That ubiquitous silhouette of the high-stepping Walking Horse brings lots of things to mind. You've got the obvious, the Celebration, but you've also got some abstract connections out there. Cascade High School's logo, for one. Many businesses, old and new, also utilized the symbol.

Another may be the "Wireman."

Vannoy Streeter embraced the nickname that was a summation of his craft. A coat hanger and pliers were the tools of his trade, and he bent and shaped his way into the hearts of Walking Horse enthusiasts and folk arts lovers across the nation.

His wire Walking Horse sculpture was his most often-created piece, but he had a few other subjects that he created. Mostly they were cars, bicycles or airplanes similar to the toys he saw as a child, but could not afford.

"I seen something I wanted as a kid, and that's the only way I could get it," Streeter said in an earlier interview.

"Some people calls it art," he said. "I don't even think about it except as something I'm just doing. It's a habit or something -- I don't know. It don't mean nothing. It's so easy, it's pitiful. Just give me a coat hanger, and I'll bend 'em on up."

Obviously it wasn't as easy as he made it out to be. It's been 14 years since his passing, and there hasn't been a soul quite able to replicate his original stylings with such thick-gauged wire.

And while Streeter wasn't likely to brag on himself, he was happy to speak of his love for the Tennessee Walking Horse -- his most requested subject.

Streeter had the dexterity and strength to tightly twist, tie and twirl the wire hangers he used for his sculptures, and did so well into his senior years.
(Submitted photo)
He grew up in Wartrace and worked as a stable hand for Floyd Carothers, who rode Strolling Jim to the first World Grand Championship in 1939. Although he moved away for work as a young man, Streeter would later return to Shelbyville and the Celebration.

Each year, Streeter would take his vacation from the Shelbyville Hospital, where he worked as an orderly, to serve as a janitor at the Celebration. He loved to be on the grounds, socializing and interacting with the breed he loved.

He was quick to talk about the old horse shows in Wartrace before there was a ring, and the riders walked them up and down the main drag.

While he had been twisting his art since childhood, the time demands of adulthood and raising children kept Streeter from making as many pieces as he did early on. By the 1970s, he was back at it. He started to attend art shows like the Webb Craft Fair in Bell Buckle, and had gained quite the fan base.

Ann-White-Scruggs was a big advocate, and also sold his pieces in her Bell Buckle crafts store. Soon enough, his Walking Horse piece became a favorite locals, Celebration enthusiasts and folk arts collectors.

While some long-time residents will recall Streeter with ease, it's important that he's not forgotten on the rest. Many regard him as not only the most important African American artist to hail from Bedford County, but also one of the premier folk artists from the region.

Next time you see a wire hanger, give it a bend and see how much strength it takes to twist it in a knot. Think about Streeter's humble nature, and the works he crafted.

And for goodness sakes, in the rare case you come across one of his Walking Horse sculptures, buy it up.

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A very good story, I remember Mr. Vanoy as a child and his wire scupltures were fascinating to see.

-- Posted by tsanders459 on Thu, Sep 6, 2012, at 11:00 AM

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