John Lee Wade, Sr., was born on January 20, 1937, in Wilmington, Delaware to Leland and Lula Wade. John was their eldest son followed by their youngest son Alphonso. Ruth, Verdell, and Leroy Anderson were his older siblings from another marriage who lived in South Carolina.
John always loved to draw from a very early age. His father who owned a grocery store noticed John’s artistic talent when he saw his son drawing on everything. His father encouraged his son to pursue his interest by providing him with a studio in their home, as well as butcher paper from the grocery store to use as drawing paper. John also received encouragement from his loving mother, Lula. He also received support from his older cousin Joseph Anderson who John looked up to. Joe, as he was known, was an artist and John’s mentor. This supportive environment was the nurturing foundation for John’s love of art. He had his first art show at twelve years old, with an older cousin who was an antique dealer. His cousin did quite well, however John was not as successful. He learned a lesson early. Many people will ask you to make signs but are not willing to pay you.
John was always very studious and curious in school and in life. He was always trying to acquire as much knowledge as possible. He read constantly. As a child, he memorized parts of the dictionary. He also loved playing checkers and chess. He learned the games from watching the older men playing in the backroom of his father’s store.
While in junior high school, John met Owen Sammons with whom he competed scholastically during his years at Howard Junior High School in Wilmington, Delaware. Owen and John established a strong bond and became life-long best friends. As a teen, he loved serving as a drum major for the Howard High School band. He proudly strutted down the street in his uniform while twirling his baton while leading the marching band. He was also on the debate team. In high school, John was also very articulate with a quick tongue and wit that could be very persuasive which often helped in winning many debates. He learned parliamentary procedure at the YMCA which would later help him in the various presidencies he would occupy throughout his life. John also performed in the high school production of, “You Can’t Take It With You.” He played, the role of, Kolenkov. Throughout high school, he majored in art and had one-man shows. He always put his best foot forward. He created a painting of historic great Black men on the face of Mt. Rushmore which is on permanent exhibition at the school.
Upon graduating from Howard High School in l955, his exceptional art portfolio got him accepted into college at the Philadelphia College of the Arts (now University of the Arts). John was determined to be an artist while getting his education. When he was in college, he studied under artist Paul Keene who was also his mentor and professor. While attending college in Philadelphia, he roomed with his friend, Owen, at the Divine Lorraine Hotel on Broad Street. When John’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly, he discontinued his education to move back home to support his mother and younger brother.
He later came back to Philadelphia and was hired to work at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute as an art therapist. During that time, John met Nann Cain in October 1958. He often commented that he met her at local grocery store through mutual friends. He couldn’t decide what to cook for his dinner. Nann gave him a recipe. It turned out to be a success and two soul mates found each other.
On December 28, 1960, John and Nann married. While working at the Youth Study Center in Philadelphia and planning to go back to school, John was drafted in the army during the Vietnam War. He became an MP. During his free time, he drew portraits which earned him extra money. When the army found out that John could draw, he was transferred and worked as a cartographer for secret services. He served for two years. After getting out of the service, he was finally able to go back to school and continued his education at Philadelphia College of Art where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1965.
He then became a graduate student at Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. There he earned his Masters of Education degree in 1966. In 1968, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree at Tyler School of Arts. His art work was influenced by Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Michelangelo, Paul Keene, Jackson Pollock, and many others. John’s style of painting throughout his career was abstract. In the early part of his career, he also did sculpting along with painting. John was the first person in his immediate family to graduate from college. Upon graduation, he was hired as the first African American instructor in his Art Department at Temple University. He later became a full tenured professor. He taught as a professor until 2009 after 42 years when he retired because of health reasons. As a professor at Temple University,
John was always reaching out to his students by giving them his formula for success; “patience, perseverance, and persistence”. For over 20 years, he held his Saturday Seminar for free which encouraged minority students to stay in school and not drop out. He was their dedicated mentor. John brought in African American successful professional artists to speak to the students and encourage them by sharing with them their own personal stories of struggles and successes. More than being interested in just his students’ scholastic success, John wanted to help the students succeed in life. Nann would bake her caramel cakes for the students. In addition, John would distribute handouts to all his students in all his classes instructing them on proper methods of study. He always joked that “the students only come for the cakes.”
In the various drawing, painting, and design courses he taught at Temple University, he gave all his students a solid artistic foundation of techniques, styles, and ways of working they could use for the rest of their artistic lives as painters, sculptors, print makers, teachers, architects and so on. He wanted them to develop their own styles as artists. His classes were not easy but the students came away with a lot. John was their real-life mentor. Many of his students are now professional artist who have gone onto great success, many of them have their work in museums, galleries, and collections. Some of his students are also teaching art courses in colleges as Professors throughout the United States. John was always very proud of all his students.
John helped a newly formed printmaking institution at the time, Brandywine Workshop, which he was one of the founding members along with Allen Edmunds. He created their constitution and served on their board and was their president. He brought in major artists to the organization, from Romare Bearden, James Van Der Zee, Paul Keene and many other artists whose works were printed by them. He helped build and encouraged Brandywine Workshop in many ways.
Throughout his career as an artist John Wade won many awards, such as Silvermine Award, Summer Research Fellowship, Woodmere Endowment Fund Award, M, Grumbacher cash award, Jersey City Museum, Inducted into the Hall of Fame, Afro-American Historical Society of Delaware, and many others. He was also in many public collections including the National Academy of Design, William Penn Memorial Museum, Moravian College, Delaware King Memorial Foundation, Brandywine Workshop, Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Schomburg Center and many other collections. He also exhibited as an artist at galleries throughout the country.
John served on several presidencies simultaneously, for Tyler School of Art Alumni Association, Artist Equity Association, and Brandywine Workshop.
John and Nann in their 53 years of marriage learned from each other and others and practiced what they learned. This made their lives full of wisdom and love. From Jacqueline he learned about the world of theater and film. John brought physics into his life, and Nann gave insight into law.
John was a member of Saint Francis of Assisi Church for over 43 years. For years, he drove the church van, transporting parishioners. For 3 years he taught free art class on Saturdays in the old St. Francis convent and later his classes were moved to the basement and community members were invited. He also taught bible study groups at his church for several years. Both he and his wife sang in the church choir. John also was a cantor of his church for over 20 years. When Saint Francis closed in 2011, John and Nann became members of Saint Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Germantown.
John has always had a wonderful sense of community. He helped to form the town watch in his Germantown community. He wrote the constitution for his son’s track team. He was always helping others anyway he could. He was the type of guy, if you needed help, needed money, and or couldn’t afford art supplies, he would help you out. If you met John Wade, you had a real friend.
John loved people and he loved to talk about any subject. This was a compliment to his wonderful sense of humor. In his spare time, he often loved to entertain his friends and family with his hobby of magic tricks. His grandsons especially loved being called up to be part of his routine at family gatherings. John made them laugh along with everyone who watched as he did his tricks.
He had a grand sense of humor. A beautiful smile. A wonderful sense of fairness. A very loyal dedicated person. A wonderful artist and educator. A beautiful supportive father and husband. John was a great guy who left us too soon. He wanted 25 more years. There were so many things he still wanted to accomplish. His last days were not easy. He battled illness and chronic physical pain. Even while bedridden at Stapeley, he drew and painted constantly.
John did portraits of some of the staff who worked in the skilled nursing care unit. This made him very happy. When he was transferred to Good Shepherd after being admitted to University of Pennsylvania hospital, it appeared as if he was getting better. All John could think about was the future and all he wanted to accomplish with his art work, his family, travel to Rome, and his writings. However, he went home on Monday, October 7, 2013 and found peace. John would not want us to be sad but to be happy, rejoice and celebrate his life and his time with you. You gave him so much. Thank you for being part of his life. He loved each and every one of you.
John Wade, Sr. is survived by his loving wife Nann Wade of 52 years. His twins, Jacqueline Wade and John Wade. His son-in-law, Lucien George, Sr. and daughter-in-law Lisa Wade. His grandsons, Jonathan, Joseph, Jordan, Joshua. His step-grandsons Lucien, Paul Anthony and Brian. His brother Alphonso Wade and his half-sister Verdell Anderso,. sisters-in-law Stella Gbeymie etta, Elnora Cain, Artina Cain Brothers-in-law Robert and Royland Cain, Maurice Buck, William Gbemiye-etta,. He also left a host of other family members from nieces, nephews, cousins, and many friends. John Wade, Sr. will be deeply missed, never forgotten, and always loved. He is also survived by a large body of paintings he created in his lifetime.