Inside Dr. Bob’s Folk Art Store in New Orleans

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Travelers who flock to this popular New Orleans arts destination are as fascinated by the art as they are the man behind the work.

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SUpon entering Dr. Bob’s iconic boutique located in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, curious travelers will find themselves among hundreds of his instantly recognizable works of art, ranging in price from $ 20 to $ 20,000. The collection includes stylized natural paintings, friendly caricatures of city figures and, of course, his most popular work: panels urging people to “be nice or go.”

Dr. Bob’s art can be found all over the Big Easy, from the interiors of residents’ homes to the side painting of the now past. Mr. Okra’s Legendary Product Truck. Some visitors, however, may not be aware that the artist behind these panels is as much a part of the identity of New Orleans as the panels themselves. That’s right: Dr Bob, the owner of an eccentric boutique The popular art of Dr Bob, is one of the main attractions in the area, with many people making a detour through the area just for a lively conversation.

The appeal of his larger-than-life character is not lost on Shaffer himself. “I’m a roadside attraction,” he says, referring as much to himself as to his store which, according to his own account, features “8-foot-long alligators, 12-foot-tall birds. tall and 8 foot tall dinosaurs. ”

Born Robert Shaffer in Kansas, Dr. Bob, now 70, has spent most of his life in New Orleans, where his family moved in the mid-1960s when his father found a job. at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Center.

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“Moving from Kansas, which sucked up here, which is great, has changed my life,” the artist says. “There were no trees and only melancholy and snow [in Kansas]. Louisiana was cool and there were all kinds of things going on here.

Among those things was a thriving art scene. Still interested in the arts, Shaffer recalls meeting the owners of a picture frame store after moving to town. “I used to go to the picture store and help poke holes with picture frames when I was a kid to get away from the house,” he says. “I saw all this amazing art that was framed. I learned to make frames very early on.

Fast forward a few years, and in 1990 Shaffer moved to the same place he is now, making and selling paintings, sculptures, signs, and more.

Dr. Bob's art can be found all over the Big Easy.

Asked about the origins of the ubiquitous “Be nice or go” messages that have become his trademark, Dr Bob cites his early years walking around town before he was old enough to legally enjoy the many honky-tonks in town. New Orleans. “I was a young juvenile delinquent who frequented bars,” he says. “I had money and I bought cigarettes and, if you could do that, be nice or go, you could do anything.” In other words? Respect the people and the environment around you, do not be rude and if you want to cause trouble. . . go away.

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While spending time in his studio over the years, the artist has repeatedly put up signs with the slogan in an attempt to ward off people who would interrupt his workflow. “I put the sign on the door and it kept getting stolen, so I started making and selling them,” he says. “That’s pretty much what funded me to be able to make my own sculptures and pay the rent.

Dr. Bob painting the truck of another New Orleans icon, Mr. Okra, who sold the products of his full color truck.

The majority of Shaffer’s pieces can be purchased online, but to truly enjoy the artist behind them requires a physical trip to the store. Yet getting to the heart of his personality and understanding Dr. Bob’s ethics turns out to be a challenge. Each question asked of Shaffer leads to multiple avenues of thought that never seem to quite reach their respective destinations. A story about her days in New York turns into a story about a young girl with a brain tumor (she’s fine now). This tangent ultimately brings us to the dangers of social media and how COVID-19 affected his business (like everyone else, he had to go out of business for a while), and the life stories of the two guys whose works are on display alongside his at the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis. There is clearly a lot to say, but not time to exhaust a theme.

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However, some subjects are completely forbidden. “I’m not discussing religion or politics,” Shaffer says. “People form their own opinions and I try to stay out of that.” When it comes to the message behind his art, Shaffer also sets limits. “It’s to cut the shit out and be nice,” he notes before saying that he actually has nothing to say about that in particular. “It speaks for itself,” he said. He is not wrong about it.

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