Savannah Morning News
Aug 14, 2016
All his life people have been telling Scott Stanton to get a real job, to grow up. It’s not that he was a slacker; he wasn’t. At 20 he was a professional skateboarder. Think that doesn’t translate into big bucks? Think again. In three years he made enough money to put himself through college. Before he was 23 he had traveled to Europe, Australia, Japan, Mexico and Canada. Not bad for doing a few crazy tricks on a wooden board with a couple of wheels on it. Not bad for following his passion. He got paid for his antics, for creating something new every time he flew into the air like some berserk creative ballerina with a new maneuver to show off. He got paid for allowing some big company to paint his name on a board and giving him a few bucks every time one sold.
Then the whole thing got too big. It spiraled out of control. Skateboarding became a business. He became a commodity. He could spot the money people a mile away. The passion dimmed. He turned to music, to a band he formed with his wife, Tracy, while going to the University of Florida in Gainesville. They called themselves the Causey Way. Compared to the skateboard crowd, traveling with a band seemed like hanging out with the Mouseketeers.
By his mid-20’s, living in Kalamazoo, Mi., where his wife got a job teaching art at Kalamazoo College, Scott tried a more traditional approach. He became a substitute teacher in a local high school. Not exciting, that. Just a job, like everyone told him he should get. He wasn’t averse to manual labor either; he painted houses, worked on a tree farm and clerked in a paint store.
Then something broke through. An idea. A new path. He was visiting a folk art gallery in Grand Rapids where he saw a Howard Finster-like painting he coveted. Only he couldn’t afford it. He and Tracy had a young son and just enough money to get by. That’s when Scott thought, “I can do that.” So he did. He always doodled. He always sketched. And he was good with tools. So he got ahold of a jig saw and cut a panel from some old wood lying around and he started drawing. His first three images were Dolly Parton, Jimmy Carter and Malcolm X.
He had stumbled upon a new passion. The former skateboarder from the Florida Panhandle had a new direction. And a new moniker: Panhandle Slim.
Scott kept at it. Never a good student in high school his discovered his curiosity – intellectual curiosity – in college. Through his major in sociology and social work at the University of West Florida, he started reading more. He started thinking about words and how they would work with pictures.
And then along came the World Wide Web. When friends told him he should sell his paintings on EBay Scott laughed. He told them they had lost their mind. The first one – the Dukes of Hazzard – sold for $10. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It was good lunch money.”
Then Facebook came along. He started posting images. People started contacting him and he’d ship them out. For a while he numbered them. He stopped at 1,000 in 2006. When the shipping got to be too much he quit. Now he just paints. You’ll know his paintings; they’re everywhere. Bright colors, primitive images, single quotes from people like Maya Angelou and Jimmy Carter.
The couple moved to Savannah eight years ago when Tracy got a job at SCAD. For a while Scott had shows at the old Hang Fire bar. They sell “from $45 to a couple hundred. I’d tell people to name a price but they’re not comfortable with that.” Now, instead of shipping the paintings he’ll tell potential buyers to drop the money through the mail slot of his house and pick up the work in his carport.
A few years ago he hooked up with a couple of savvy community activists who spotted the positive messages and the political commentary on his paintings and wanted to help spread the word. Now Beverlee Trotter of Savannah Youth City and Erika Hardnett from Agape Empowerment Ministries find walls on barber shops, carwashes, confectionary stores and his pal Sebastian Edwards hangs them. “It’s become a community thing,” Scott said. “When we start to screw them into concrete walls people come out to see what’s going on. It reminds me of the old days when people would sit outside and talk.”
Most days Scott, wearing a trademark Panama hat and maybe a short-sleeved checked cotton shirt, sets up in a restaurant (preferably one with Muzak) with his spiral notebook, the newspaper and his son, Tex. While Tex studies maps and birds on his laptop Scott scouts around for ideas. He likes to do at least one painting a day.
He’s done gallery shows but the whole thing with white walls and owners doesn’t appeal to him. He’d rather scout around for sites, load up his van, announce where he’ll be and just show up. At the end of the day it’s one on one. Once he drove out to California with his work. He’d go into a restaurant and start talking to the owner before popping the question, “Do you like art?”
“It keeps it interesting,” he said. “Art and money are strange things. We’re all artists. When it stops feeling good I’ll do something else. I always wanted a lawn business.”