*From "Appraise It", Nashville Arts Magazine
Tennessee native Vannoy “Wireman” Streeter, a self-taught folk artist, was born in Wartrace in 1919. As a young boy, Streeter first displayed his extraordinary talent as an artist creating toys for himself out of bailing wire, in the form of trucks and airplanes. Since his parents were unable to afford to purchase toys for the family, Streeter copied his toys after ones he had seen in Shelbyville storefront windows.
Raised on a farm, Streeter, the oldest of six brothers, learned the business of horse training and grooming from his father. His work as a stable boy for Strolling Jim, the 1939 Grand National Champion Tennessee Walking Horse, instilled a lifelong love of the breed. The walking horse became his signature creation, and he is credited with making hundreds of wirework walking-horse figures, most carrying a rider outfitted in a top hat and tails.
Streeter’s subject matter was not restricted to the walking horse; he also created other forms using wrapped and twisted wire. He apparently enjoyed the challenge of making subjects with moving parts, such as cars with steering wheels that turned the front and rear axles, motorcycles with kickstands, and eighteen-wheelers that actually rolled. His most whimsical creations took the form of fellow Tennesseans Tina Turner and Elvis Presley.
Streeter made most of his sculptures out of coat-hanger wire; he bought the hangers by the hundreds. He worked with a regular pair of pliers and used varying gauges of wire for detailing.
To support his wife and family, Streeter worked on the railroads, at a lumberyard, and as a hospital orderly. Although he did not have the luxury of having his artwork support him, the artwork did not go unnoticed. By the mid 1980s print and television features about Streeter’s wirework began to draw first regional then national attention. Folk art collectors were warmly welcomed at his home. He participated in art events such as Bell Buckle’s Webb Craft Fair and was honored at Atlanta’s National Black Arts Festival. His work has been exhibited in the Tennessee State Museum, the White House, and foreign embassies.
Vannoy Streeter died in 1998 after a lengthy illness. His works can be found at auction houses, art galleries, and antique shows. For a fine example of his work like this high-stepping Tennessee Walker, one might be prepared to spend $400 to $500 at auction.