Neighboorhood Picasso 


Video by Todd Lothery and Charlie Wiles: Two local filmmakers visit Ryder and get their take on Ryder's boundless creativity.


"We’ve got a Picasso right here in our neighborhood,” shouts out a woman passing by William Ryder’s home on 34th and Clifton.

Just south of the illustrious Golden Hill nook on the Northwestside is the low-income burg where Ryder has made his home. A wonder of ad hoc and mad genius construction, a lot of people are finding themselves slowing down as they pass his two-story home.

“I’m trying to take half a city block,” Ryder says, “and make it a piece of art.”

The first thing they may notice is the giant, 14-foot-tall wooden structure hulking over the south corner of the property; this is an unfinished piece Ryder calls a surprise for the neighborhood. They might next see an alien-like figure that reveals itself as a crucifix leaning against the west side of the house.

But the masterpiece of this unlikely art gallery is the mammoth black face staring up gregariously from the lawn. The face is made out of recycled asphalt and has a mane of rocks that Ryder carefully selected and transported from Angola, Ind. The piece is as abstract and bizarre as the Moai statues of Easter Island, and yet, just as the old artist toiling in the yard, this mysterious face seems to be a fixture in this quarter.

Ryder, 71, is a native of Basket Station, Ky. “I’ve been doing this stuff from day one,” he says, “disassembling and tearing up everything — dolls, watches, shoes … anything.” Such an unconventional mind must come from an unconventional path, however, and Ryder’s lifespan is full of disparate dots.

A stint in the Air Force in Los Angeles, an apprenticeship at International Harvester, three years at John Herron School of Art and 20 years as a successful print shop owner have all left their mark on Ryder’s life and work.

In 1980, after 20 years as a small business owner ended in turmoil, Ryder threw out all his printing equipment, bought his current residence for $1,900 and resigned himself to the life of an artist.

Another 20 years later, and Ryder lives in a home full of his art. There are numerous sculptures built out of junk and miscellaneous metal Ryder has found and salvaged. Plans for future projects litter his living space and various works in different mediums he has dabbled in reside all over.

The house became so full of his work, in fact, that Ryder had no choice but to move into his yard. But there were other factors in moving into a more public space with his art, especially a neighborhood as seemingly tough as his.

“It was in 1997,” Ryder says. “Some people had shot up my car and a friend suggested, ‘Take some of your work outside, they’ll leave you alone,’ and they did!” Strange things started to happen; people were curious about this artist.

“People are always honking, they’re coming down from Golden Hills, those guys with the loud music, they turn down their radios as they go by, some stop and get out and introduce their girlfriends to me. Two women came by not too long ago, they got out of their cars and bowed to me!”

Ryder’s real joy has been to work with children and see the effect he has on them. “He’s a great old man, an artist, and he gives the kids hope,” says resident Cedric Floyd, 21.

“He’s giving the kids something to look forward to, other than the drugs and mischief,” says another resident, Irving Scott, 64.

“First-graders will walk by and say to me, ‘Who told you to do that?’” Ryder exclaims. “‘I told myself to do it,’ I’ll say.”

“We need the African-Americans from the ’60s to move back to these neighborhoods,” he says. “These kids need that influence, someone to tell them no. I’m trying to be like a grandfather figure to them.”

If interested in purchasing work by William Ryder, call 924-6168.


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