Good story ideas come from a variety of places, but one of my recent favorites miraculously appeared on our doorstep in early April. Actually it was carried in off the street by one Herschel Weisfeld, a volunteer of sorts for The Ladonia Foundation, an artists-in-residence program based somewhere between here and Texarkana. Herschel, a lay PR person, dropped off an enormous packet of information about a Ladonia-sponsored art exhibit at the Trammell Crow Pavilion, featuring the work of someone I wasn’t familiar with. His name was Bob Slaughter. Professor Bob Slaughter. Since the exhibit began in May and our May issue was already at the printer, I considered tossing Herschel’s hard work in the trash along with other deceased press kits. Something stopped me. Probably the Xeroxed images of fairy skeletons and mermaid bones.
What the heck is this? I yelled as I reached for the phone and dialed senior writer Rod Davis’ number. “I’ve got something for you,” I said. “The weirdest thing you’ve ever seen just crossed my desk and it has your name written all over it.” Rod, who has a keen appreciation for the surreal underbelly of life, agreed that Ladonia and the professor were worth a look-see. He’d check it out, he promised, and report back.
“He’s really out there,” Rod said a few days later. “But a good kind of out there. He’s the Steven Spielberg of paleontology. This guy’s created his own imaginary world.”
“I like that in a person,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
Of course doing it meant driving to the tiny town of Ladonia. pop. 700-and- something, and spending an afternoon with Slaughter. I agreed to accompany Rod because I couldn’t wait to meet Bob. and besides I was bom in Texarkana (on the Texas side) and I figured if we had time, we could take a quick spin through my birthplace. An odd form of entertainment. certainly, but if you’re from Texas, you understand. Bob, a retired SMU paleontology professor, holds court a couple of days a week at a restored cotton gin in Ladonia where he has his studio. The rest of the week he’s back in East Dallas with his sculptor wife, Juliana, leading a more or less normal life.
After Professor Slaughter retired he launched a new career, a career that seems to be a good marriage- between the years he spent in the field digging up fossils and an exuberant imagination that like a fine wine becomes more potent with age. Bob creates the fossilized remains of mythical creatures mixing scientific know-how with a healthy respect for fantasy. The resulting artistic “discoveries” of leprechauns and mermen are beautifully crafted specimens that would fit in quite nicely at either the Smithsonian or Disneyland, take your pick. Rod’s story, “Professor Bob’s Believe il or Not!.” starts on page 56.
So, thanks again, Herschel, and, no, we never made it to Texarkana.
I’M PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE THAT D recently picked up three awards at the annual City and Regional Magazine Association conference, held this year in Atlanta. Sponsored by the William Allen White School of Journalism at the. University of Kansas, D was honored with a gold medal in fashion design for “Sibling Style” in the April 1992 issue; a silver medal for criticism for Porter Anderson’s column “Is Elitism Killing the Arts?” in the September 1992 issue; and a bronze medal for cover design for the Ross Perot cover, June 1992. D also recently won a National Headliner Award, presented by the Atlantic City press club. for Richard Mackenzie’s April,1992.,piee% “The Hard Toll of the Good Fight,” about Don Stafford, who, at the time of his retire ment in August 1991, was the highest ranking black officer in the Dallas Police Department.