The man behind Panama Slim

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIRTT plays nicely

Savannah Morning News

Aug 7, 2016

First, there’s the name of the company: Dirt. Short, snappy, pithy, a four-letter, one-syllable word that cuts to the chase. In truth, the name is DIRTT. Just as good. Only better. Especially when you learn what DIRTT stands for: Doing It Right This Time. Five words, six syllables. It’s strong and affirmative. It’s an oath, an assertion. Rather brilliant, really. Isn’t that what we all want – from ourselves and others, from people who are working for us? Just do it right. Don’t mess around. Don’t waste my time. Don’t be sloppy.

DIRTT. We see the name everywhere. Just by association we know it does “good” things. It’s the major sponsor of Mountainfilm Savannah. It helps the Savannah Tree Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Second Harvest Food Bank.

But what the heck does DIRTT do?

PS: It has nothing to do with soil or plants or mud.

DIRTT is a Canadian company out of Calgary, Alberta. It makes stuff. Walls, windows, studs, electrical configurations, millwork, windows, window frames. Stuff that fits together to make up structures such as hospitals, schools and government buildings. DIRTT is in the business of construction. Except this company does its initial work inside a cavernous factory floor that sits in the woods off I-95. By assembling all the parts first, says DIRTT-bag rep Laura Lee Bocade (that’s what they call one another, dirt-bags), waste can be contained, landfill detritus can be avoided and cost guaranteed. There is no giant Dumpster on the DIRTT property, nor on its jobs, which we all know something about. How often have we stood and watched home improvement projects while piles of discarded 2-by-4’s, mounds of pink insulation, stacks of entangled electrical wiring and chunks of wallboard (ka-ching, ka-ching), spill out of a rented Dumpster.

It’s a design and build shop. Bocade compares manufactured pre-construction to “Legos on steroids.”

There aren’t a lot of DIRTT factories in the States. Phoenix, Salt Lake City and – tada! – Savannah. Quietly, efficiently and with determination, DIRTT set up operation here seven years ago after its founder, Mogens Smed, took a look at Savannah and liked what he saw. It was close to its customer base in the southeastern part of the U.S. and cheaper than shipping by freight from Calgary some 4,000 miles away. It was close to the port. And, Bocade said, Mogens saw an area that needed help. He wanted to go to a community that needed assistance. He took a chance on a workforce he could mold. Since then the Savannah plant has become the highest-producing operation in the chain. There is a minus one percent deficiency rate, which translates to little or no waste.

DIRTT – and Mogens – play by their own rules. From what Brocade said, it operates by instinct, by feel. There’s no big playbook or policy manual for them. No human resources department. No bigwigs hidden away in offices. No private offices. No extensive background checks on prospective employees.

For its part DIRTT offers 100 percent full health care, life insurance, stock options in the company and vacation days that include St. Patricks’ Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There are two fulltime chefs (who buy from local farmers) that put out breakfast fixings and a full hot lunch in a brightly lit, employee-designed room of booths and high top tables. It’s all free. Employees work four days a week, 6 to 6. A couple times a month the company brings the good people from Leopold’s Ice Cream for a cone or two. There’s a fitness center and a Ping Pong table. The whole plant is air-conditioned.

The company, which hires about 100 people inside and 50 more to install the material, does not believe in layoffs. When business is slow the employees pick which nonprofit to volunteer at and DIRTT – Bocade, most likely – makes it happen. The company is generous, yes, “but as much with our hands as our money. We like to engage our folks. Last year we logged 500 hours in voluntary work.”

If you have a good attitude, DIRTT wants you.

“That’s criteria No. one, two and three,” Bocade said. “A good attitude.”

No experience? Doesn’t matter. Old? So what. Prison record? Oh, well.

“You’ve got to be able to play with with others,” Bocade said. “Then just show up and see where it takes you.”

That’s what she did. Laura Lee, 56, had been selling real estate at Savannah Quarters but not before spending the first part of her working days in New York City as a product developer in the fashion world. As a child she had been spending her summers in Savannah with her mother, who was born here. She knew something about the South but nothing about construction.

Now it’s her job to make connections between people. She pays attention. She follows the dots. “I do relationships,” she said. “There is no, ‘But this is how we’ve always done it.’ This is not your ordinary company.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are Doing It Right This Time, because last time with conventional construction, the computer power didn’t exist to go from design, to real-time 3D, to specifications, to the production floor. Last time environmental sustainability wasn’t tied to the bottom line. Last time there was no such thing as being able to affordably manufacture individualized spaces. This time, DIRTT is giving clients and the interior construction industry a new way to Build better. This time we are doing it right.