William Wainwright, Local Sculptor, Dies At 87

Bill Wainwright with one of his works in April, 2012. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
Bill Wainwright with one of his works in April, 2012. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)


That’s the word Clara Wainwright uses most often to describe her husband William, the noted sculptor and public art pioneer who died Friday night at the age of 87.

His fanciful, geometrically precise works can be found around Boston and many other U.S. cities. One of his pieces, “Windwheels,” was installed for years in Terminal C at Logan Airport.

“He was just an incredibly creative person, creating all the time,” said Clara, herself an artist known for her founding role in Boston’s New Year’s celebration, First Night — just one of many community-based collaborations that she and her husband helped develop.

Bill's refabricated Wind Wheels sculpture on the outskirts of Logan Airport. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
Bill's refabricated Wind Wheels sculpture on the outskirts of Logan Airport. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Trained as an architect, William Wainwright worked with famed futurist Buckminster Fuller as an architectural engineering student at MIT, designing geodesic domes for military use during the Cold War. He became a public artist in 1982. After making “Windwheels,” commissions for his work began to roll in from across the state, as well as from New York, Arizona and Texas.

His productivity was hindered by a stroke in the summer of 2002. Coupled with a bad fall, the event caused bruising on his brain, stripping him of the use of his hands and his ability to speak. Just three years later he began accepting select commissions again, with help from his son Dedalus and other young sculptors whose talents he nurtured and encouraged.

It was all characteristic, says Clara, of a man who relished collaboration and bringing joy to others.

“His work, for the most part, was really based on geometry. And I think the other, the more whimsical things he never took very seriously. But those things brought so much delight to people.”

William Wainwright's daughter, Sarah, reflects on her father's death in this poem:

"Sitting at my father William's bedside," by Sarah Wainwright

This is not my father, not anymore,
this papery thin man, breathing unevenly,
his roman statute face, his waxiness -
his ectoskeleton, perhaps...
his shell, the part he haltingly sheds, not wanting to alarm us too much

gingerly releasing his spirit, a bit at a time,
rising in the air with his breath and the steam of his humidifier, beckoned by cricket song,
to join the world of his beloved insects.

I see him perched beside a frog, they are laughing, trading tales,
riding on the back of dragon fly, steering it hither and thither,
swimming among schools of fish, flashing and turning, racing and competing as he sailed his beautiful boats,
halted briefly, perhaps, by a passing barracuda, in admiration.

And then after an evening on the Essex bay porch, hovering about, listening attentively to Clara's stories,
warmed by the good humor of the company who love him so.
Later he frolics and gambols with the lightning bugs in the dark night while we sleep.
And when the sun rises, he guides, lovingly, the little nervous shore birds on the sandbar to the very best spot for a
tiny critter feast.

I feel him now in the thick summer air, the wind of a coming thunderstorm, the smell of salty dried ocean on the granite rocks,
I feel him with all his love and humor and brilliance,
all around me, and nearby. My Dad.

Bill Wainwright was featured in our "Visionaries" series, which profiled influential Bostonians.

This program aired on August 18, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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