When it comes to his art, Bob “Daddy-O” Wade likes to go big. He’s the creator of the world’s largest pair of cowboy boots; a 35-foot-tall structure that began life in Washington, D.C., but now resides closer to the center of the boot universe – in San Antonio.
The Austin-based artist’s exposure to Texas iconography began as he grew up all over the state. His family frequently relocated for his father’s job as a hotel manager. Wade says his parents would dress him up as a “little buckaroo,” inspired by the famous movie cowboy Roy Rogers, who was Wade’s second cousin.
Before the big boot sculpture came to be, Wade constructed a giant iguana while working in upstate New York. The 40-foot-long creature, nicknamed Iggy, ended up on the roof of Manhattan’s Lone Star Cafe in 1978.
“A lot of the Austin bands – Jerry Jeff Walker, Asleep at the Wheel, Doug Sahm, Joe King Carrasco – I mean everyone you can think of from Austin played the Lone Star Cafe at some time,” Wade says of the historic venue.
The iguana caught the attention of the Washington Project of the Arts, which commissioned Wade to create a sculpture installment near the White House.
“The way this lot was configured, it had this tall building right next to one side and another building, so it was like a niche,” recalls Wade of the site in Washington D.C. “The best thing that could go in that niche that would fill it horizontally and vertically and hold the scale would be a giant pair of cowboy boots.”
Wade created a colossal 35-foot-tall pair of Ostrich skin boots, inspired by the nationwide rise of “Texas chic” from Lone Star politicians to the TV show “Dallas.”
“I was thinking of this whole idea of Texas politicians, starting with Sam Rayburn and all those guys that came up from Texas to be senators or whatever,” Wade says. “Especially LBJ, who was always wearing his boots and his little LBJ hat and that kind of stuff. I said, you know, there’s already a precedent here in D.C. for these Texas guys blowing in and flouting their boots, so maybe a giant pair of boot would be perfect.”
Near the end of the 1979 installation, the Rouse Company contacted Wade about purchasing the boots and returning them to his home state of Texas.
Wade says he ordered two trucks, but they ended up needing three to transport the massive structures all the way from Washington D.C. to Texas.
“After that, we wrote a song called ‘Too High, Too Wide, Too Long’ because they were too wide and they hung over the sides. They were too high and hit an overpass when they were leaving the town, and they were too long,” Wade says. “These guys took back roads all the way to San Antonio so they wouldn’t get stopped by the cops.”
In early 1980, the boots were unveiled at North Star Mall in San Antonio, where they still stand.
In 2015, the Guinness Book of World Records contacted Wade about including the boots in the next year’s edition.
“I’ve always called them the biggest cowboy boots in the world, and they’ve been referred to that way for a million years, but I never thought about contacting the Guinness Book of World Records,” Wade says. “I was sworn to secrecy. I couldn’t tell anybody and had to jump through hoops to have these things measured. It was pretty crazy.”
These days, Wade says he mostly sticks to flip flops while working in his Austin home studio. For special occasions, he’ll still pull out a special pair of Larry Mahan boots that he’s had for many years.