Arts Lifestyle

Audubon Reimagined through the Creations of West Hartford Artist Don Carter 

Snowy Owl, Columbia Jay, Artic Yager by West Hartford’s Don Carter, aka Edgar Allan Slothman, and modeled after John James Audubon’s Birds of America prints. Photo Courtesy of Don Carter

Meet West Hartford resident and Creative Director Don Carter, who is also known as the artist, Edgar Allan Slothman.

(Editor’s note, this was originally published in We-Ha/West Hartford Magazine.)

Interviewed and edited by Jill Fletcher

John James Audubon, 1830 (left); Don Carter aka Edgar Allan Slothman, 2017 (right). Photo Courtesy of Don Carter

West Hartford Magazine: Tell us about Audubon 2.0 and how that came about. 

Don Carter: My grandfather gave me my first bird field guide when I was 5 years old and I have been drawing and painting birds ever since. Throughout high school, art class assignments were somehow  always solved with a bird. No, I was not one of the cool kids … probably for that very reason. As I got older and I focused on my advertising career, I took a very long hiatus from creating any winged subject matter. It wasn’t until 2012 that I started to get back into birds. Audubon’s work always impressed me from an ornithological standpoint. But as I got into further studying his Birds of America, I realized how graphic his compositions were. I had also developed an appreciation for pop art — so I started to think about how to combine the two. 

For every print, I look for ways to break it down in some way. Often it is with geometric simplification or repeat patterns. For some, I create an entirely new color palette pushing beyond from the original as far as I can go. But in all, I stay very close to Audubon’s original composition – the core of these amazing ornithological visual stories.

I have completed 90 Audubon reinterpretations out of 435. My life goal is to complete all of them and hopefully get them published as a book. Several of them have already been published on beer cans and bottles for Collective Arts Brewing in Ontario. 

WHM: Obviously you get a lot of satisfaction out of your art. How does that compare to your more commercial work as an ad agency creative director? 

DC: After 30 plus years as an art and creative director, yes, I have a lot of work that I’m proud of from a design or art sense. But I think what I get the most personal satisfaction from is when our work has some kind of tangible effect on someone. At Mintz & Hoke (Avon), I worked on an American Cancer Society skin cancer awareness campaign that was credited for saving at least one man’s life that we know of. And at Adams & Knight (Avon), I work on the Hartford Healthcare account with copywriter, Pat Dugan (also a West Hartford resident). Pat and I worked a billboard that had a similar effect – getting people to not put off having a colonoscopy – and several cancers were found that if gone unchecked would have been deadly. We’ll take that over any award plaque or statue any day!  

WHM: But your work has been awarded as well.  

DC: I’ve won many, many awards for art direction in the advertising and design business … local, regional, national, international. A lot of awards from the Connecticut Advertising Club including many top awards like Best of Show and Gold Brush (for art direction). And this year, I’m particularly proud of being inducted into the Connecticut Art Directors Hall of Fame. 

WHM: How do you keep your careers separate and how do they overlap?  

DC: I created the pseudonym, Edgar Allan Slothman to do exactly that – to have a separate identity not associated with my more commercial work as an artist …  Creative Director at Adams & Knight in Avon, as well as my other outside projects like illustrating children’s books and creating children’s TV shorts for Disney. But as I get more public exposure I’m finding it harder to separate the two completely. My colleagues at Adams & Knight are very supportive of my Audubon work especially through social media. I’m always sharing prints with coworkers and even clients. So it’s not really two separate personalities … it’s just me, signing my work two different ways. People ask me where the name came from. Obviously Edgar Allan Poe played a role in it … to add an air of mystery. And the Slothman comes from a love of sloths and wanting to not be so stuffy. My friends know that I have an odd sense of humor. So I really wanted a name to reflect that. Oh, and Edgar Allan Slothman is much more Google-friendly than Don Carter so my work is much easier to find online versus Don Carter, the late famous bowler and his bowling alleys. 

WHM: What other art projects have you done outside of your career as a creative director? 

DC: I’ve done some painting – mostly abstract impressionism combined with characters, animals or words. Right now I have several paintings in a gallery in China. And then there are my children’s books. Many West Hartford residents may be familiar with that work, my having given many talks at Duffy School and the Noah Webster Library when my children, Phoebe (yes, a bird name) and Grayson were younger. After having seven books published, I tried my hand at creating children’s television. I pitched a lot of ideas with a lot of people. One of them resulting in two series of shorts for what was then called Playhouse Disney. Those were Happy Monster Band and Dance-A-Lot-Robot. Being a big music fan, D-A-L- Robot was especially fun for me – getting Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo to do the songs. 

WHM: What advice would you like to share with aspiring artists? 

DC: An advertising mentor, Joe Hoke, once told me “Don’t get stuck in the middle. Pick a direction and go all the way with it. Not halfway. ALL the way.” And that’s usually the easiest way to turn a something into something special – something that stands out from the pack.

Prints of the Audubon 2.0 collection by Don Carter aka Edgar Allan Slothman, are available to purchase with custom framing at Frame Dimensions in West Hartford Center, 995 Farmington Ave. To see the entire collection please visit: www.cargocollective.com/slothman 

Brown Creeper, Don Carter aka Edgar Allan Slothman.

Great Horned Owl by West Hartford’s Don Carter, aka Edgar Allan Slothman graces the cover of We-Ha/West Hartford Magazine.

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