New Orleans artist brings slogan to Kentuck festival

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“Be nice or leave.”

Folk art plaques with this slogan adorn doors and mantles all over the South, in fact, the nation.

They are the work of New Orleans artist known as Dr. Bob, one of the artists featured at the 50th annual Kentuck Arts Festival last week.

Dr. Bob, whose first name is Bob Shaffer, is an ironic little man who can appear at first meeting a little irritable and irascible, with an often secular motive.

He said he stumbled upon his slogan years ago while working outside in the French Quarter, where he now runs his gallery on rue de Chartres.

“There would be these guys who would come and disturb me while I was working,” he explains. “I had to put up signs telling them to leave me alone.

“Well a friend of mine said I was on to something. And so I started to paint it on my panels: “Be nice or go. And it took. “

The colorful signs, sold for $ 50 and up at Kentuck, are adorned with painted alligators and other creatures and are surrounded by nailed bottle caps.

I had the pleasure of accompanying Dr Bob to Central Elementary School a week ago Thursday, where he participated in the Kentuck in the Schools program, which placed over a dozen artists in local schools. .

The program, run by my friend “Bama” Dave Merzbacher, turned out to be one of the most popular Kentuck weekend ancillary activities.

At Central, Dr. Bob’s transformation has been astounding. Gone was his crisp demeanor as he let his shoulder-length hair fall in gray locks and immediately began engaging with the third-graders, often one-on-one.

His main message was that anyone can be an artist. He took out many stencils and sprayed paint on them, producing colorful images of alligators, cats and snakes.

To keep the kids on their toes, he also dramatically pulled out a 3-foot-long rubber cobra from a plastic bag, which was accompanied by screams from the students, though the snake was clearly a fake.

The three sessions of about 20 students went surprisingly well, with each student returning to class with a spray painted “Happy Halloween” souvenir.

But that hasn’t always been the case at Central Elementary.

Several years ago, as Dr. Bob walked up to the school in his paint-splattered clothes and pushed a dented cart, one of the school officials ran out shouting about “a homeless man.” shelter on campus ”and calling for the school to be closed.

“I said shouting ‘Where is he?’ and I went to get a gun from my cart, ”recalls Dr. Bob with a laugh. “I was ready to defend myself.

The misunderstanding was quickly resolved and Dr Bob has been a guest of honor ever since.

Tommy Stevenson is retired associate editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Contact him at [email protected] or 205-292-2236.


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