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

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

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SUpon entering Dr. Bob’s iconic boutique in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, curious strollers will find themselves among hundreds of his instantly recognizable works of art, which range in price from $20,000 to $20,000. The collection includes stylized nature paintings, friendly caricatures of city characters and, of course, his most popular work: signs urging people to “be nice or leave.”

Dr. Bob’s art can be found all over the Big Easy, from inside residents’ homes to painted on the side of the old Mr. Okra’s Legendary Goods Truck. However, some visitors may not know that the artist behind these signs is as much a part of New Orleans’ identity as the signs themselves. It’s true: Dr. Bob, the owner of a quirky shop Dr. Bob Folk Art, is one of the main attractions in the area, with many people detouring to the area just for a lively conversation.

The appeal of his larger-than-life persona isn’t lost on Shaffer himself. “I’m a roadside attraction,” he says, referring as much to himself as to his store, which, by his own account, carries “8-foot-long alligators, 12-foot-long 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 got a job. at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Center.

“Moving from Kansas, which sucked, to here, which is awesome, changed my life,” the artist says. “There were no trees and only melancholy and snow [in Kansas]. Louisiana was cool and all sorts of things were happening here.

Among those things was a burgeoning art scene. Always interested in the arts, Shaffer remembers meeting the owners of a frame shop after moving to town. “I used to go to the frame store and help nail holes with frames as a kid to get away from home,” he says. “I would see all of this incredible art that was framed. I learned very early how to make frames. »

Fast forward a few years, and in 1990 Shaffer moved to the same location where it 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 away” messages that have become his trademark, Dr. Bob cites his early years galloping around town before he was old enough to legally enjoy New York’s many honky-tonks. -Orleans. “I was a young juvenile delinquent going to bars,” he says. “I had money and I was buying 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, don’t be rude and if you want to cause trouble. . . go away.

While spending time in his studio over the years, the artist would repeatedly put up signs with the slogan in an attempt to ward off people who would interrupt his workflow. “I put the sign above the door and it kept getting stolen, so I started making them 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 products from his full-color truck.

The majority of Shaffer’s pieces can be purchased online, but to truly appreciate the artist behind them requires a physical visit to the store. Yet getting to the core of his personality and understanding Dr. Bob’s philosophy proves to be a challenge. Each question posed to Shaffer leads to multiple trains 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 finally brings us to the perils of social media and how COVID-19 has affected his business (like everyone else he had to close shop 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 no time to exhaust a theme.

There are, however, some topics that are completely off limits. “I don’t discuss religion or politics,” Shaffer says. “People make up their own minds and I try to stay out of that.” When it comes to the message behind his art, Shaffer also sets boundaries. “It’s to cut the shit out and be nice,” he notes before saying that he actually has nothing to say about it in particular. “That speaks for itself,” he says. He’s not wrong about that.

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