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Adele Wolford: Maven of Arts on the Avenues looking to pass on her love of visual arts

By on September 23, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
“Teenagers love Rock N Roll on a Skateboard,” said Adele Wolford. She spent the seconds before this photo was taken to clean leaves from the sculpture, as is her habit as founder and worker of Art on the Avenues.

By Susan Lagsdin

Adele Wolford, clipboard in hand, turned away from inspecting the popular bronze statue To Life at the east end of Wenatchee’s pedestrian walkway and greeted her interviewer in mid stride. “I’m working,” she called out cheerfully, gesturing to a clipboard with her maintenance notes.

As a founder, board member and curator of Art on the Avenues (or AOTA), she’s intimately knowledgeable about over seven dozen pieces of public art on the Loop Trail and on downtown streets, having carefully burnished most of them.

Adele explained the process of cleaning a bronze piece: washing (“five drops Ivory in five gallons of water”), waiting, waxing, waiting, buffing. “We generally take about four hours on each sculpture,” she said.

The we is figurative. Often, it’s Adele herself doing the handwork, but the city’s new ownership of the carefully-acquired pieces means that by next summer Parks Department employees, personally tutored by her, will be scrubbing the sculptures.

Adele’s great pleasure is sharing and encouraging art in her community. In addition to steering AOTA and BOB (the whimsical name for the Beauty of Bronze project), she’s also been closely involved in the past decades with Allied Arts and the creation of the Performing Arts Center, all gratefully acknowledged by a 2015 Stanley Lifetime Achievement Award.

“My life has always been focused on improving life and sharing what talents I have,” she said. And Adele especially wants to provide the tools of art to young people “to enhance their lives, as art has done for me.”

Complementing her consistent involvement in Wenatchee’s art life, Adele also has maintained a long career with her own business, Columbia Designs. She believes in form following function, and brings strong traditional arts principles to landscapes, public buildings, homes and interiors. 

Adele’s life was not always art. Born in Ephrata and growing up in the then-rural Spokane Valley, she loved the vast bare hills and rode (and showed) horses through her teens. Marrying young, she had babies, worked a family store, kept a garden, remodeled two houses and even started doing non-profit volunteering. College became a distant dream, with her days full of domestic concerns.

Divorced in 1968 and with two youngsters, Adele made a brave career step. She studied diligently, first at Big Bend Community College and then at the University of Washington where she says she “found her true art capabilities” and received an architecture degree.

She wasn’t alone — her parents moved from the Basin to a home in Issaquah to help the dedicated single mom achieve her goal. She recalled simply, “That’s what you can do when there’s love in the family.”

Degree in hand, Adele moved to Wenatchee and worked at the Pybus Steel Fabricating, now our iconic marketplace, where, as the sole female, she detailed steel; the Rock Island fish ladders were an early project.

Marriage to Ephrata friend William Wolford and the decision to start her own design business came a few years later. 

In 1977 Adele started, literally, to help shape Wenatchee via designs for The Morris Building, the Washington Trust Bank and numerous homes. And she soon started an almost 40-year love affair with the creative component of her community.

Driven by admitted perfectionism and a sense of duty, she is unerringly positive. “Nothing in my life’s work causes me any pain. Without challenges, life has no purpose and no satisfying benefits,” Adele said. 

Even in 2000, commuting from near Quincy, dealing with her husband’s dementia and surviving a medical complication of her own, she stayed active, though, she understates, “I was a little under the weather for a while there.” Her life-load was soon compounded by overseeing the care of other elder relatives.

With her husband’s death, Adele moved Columbia Designs to the garage, of course nicely re-purposed, at her home close to downtown Wenatchee.

And she’s still a designing woman. 

At the peak of her career, she often woke from a deep sleep to solve a problem at her drawing board; she fully intends to retire from business soon but said, “How can I turn down requests from people I’ve designed for, and re-designed for, over the past 40 years?”

A pressing concern on her always-full civic agenda is the annual Beauty of Bronze project, which she co-founded.

Since 2003, thousands of fifth-grade students have been treated to a full day of arts exposure, culminating in the creation and public exhibition of an individual marquetté, a three-inch bronze sculpture.

This year’s September event momentarily seemed rudderless with the sad loss of a key volunteer.

But, at age 81 Adele is a team-building veteran. Countless acquaintances who’ve become friends have heard her determined words, “I need you. You really have to help.” She’s solved the logistical problems of the unforeseen loss and the show will go on, smooth as silk.

Adele Wolford is as determined as ever. Art will thrive on the avenues and children will make beautiful bronze statues.

You can depend on it. 

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