Charlie Ellis and his SLAM-tastic Art Happening

BI-WEEKLY ART COLUMN

Charlie Ellis and some of the many items in his ‘undercroft’.
SLAM
The author sits on some of the furniture created for this month’s SLAM.

Charlie Ellis, bon vivant, artist, junk-o-phile and creator meets me at Pojo Point, his beautiful marsh view home at the tip of Turner’s Rock. 

Much has already been written about the devastating electrical fire of 2019 which destroyed the original property built as a weekend getaway by his parents in the early 1950’s. 

But now, just over two years later, the new bright and airy home which he shares with his longtime love Julie McIntosh is already brimming with artwork and found objects.

Ellis, eighty-two going on twenty-two (he went water skiing to celebrate his last birthday), first gives me a tour of the open downstairs portion of the house which he calls his “undercroft.” 

I have memories of his first home bursting at the seams with a vast cluttered collection of outsider art and scavenged objects. Despite the tragic loss of decades worth of pieces, it seems his cache is rapidly, and daily, being replaced! 

We look at a disparate collection of funky hand painted furniture. 

“I take all these chairs and stools, paint them, and they will be for sale. They’re cheap because I want people to take them home and for them to be free advertising.” 

He is referring, of course, to advertising SLAM (the Savannah Local Artists Market) held during March over the last three years, and this year also being held on Oct. 16. 

The consummate marketer, Ellis paints signage for the show (and was perversely flattered earlier this year when someone stole a hand painted sign from a palm tree on Victory Drive!) For October’s show he has also printed colorful SLAM tee-shirts and all artists will be “highly encouraged” to wear them – “It will be very photographic!” he tells me with glee. 

A longtime supporter of the arts, Ellis says “I was just looking for a project and I was driving around and went by the Salvation Army site and thought ‘that’s the perfect place for an art show.’ It’s a circle, its open. Artists can display their work on the surrounding fences, and there’s lots of streets for parking. Major Paul (Major Paul Egan, leader of the Salvation Army) asked me, ‘how many do you think you might have?’  and under the table I crossed my fingers and said, ‘thirty-five?’ We had sixty the first year. The next year there were seventy. This past March it was back to sixty due to Covid.” 

This October, the artist count is back up to over seventy-five.

Like many of us, Ellis was saddened by the cancellation of the Isle of Hope Art Show held each October in Paxton Park and on beautiful Bluff Drive. 

The energetic and enthusiastic octogenarian stepped up to organize a second art SLAM in 2021 to fill the void. News of this fun event spread like wildfire through social media: artists have signed up and food trucks and musicians have been procured. Alongside Ellis’s funky furniture, he will again have a “community canvas” with art supplies, and attendees are encouraged to paint their own masterpiece. He shows me the one from this past March and is charmed by the more innocent images and marks at the bottom created by children who were not tall enough to paint at the top. 

“They get a little older and a little taller and the art gets better the higher you go,” he laughs. 

When not organizing or showing at SLAM, some of Ellis’s collection of found objects, his signs and his art can be found in his booth at Merchants on Bee. 

“It’s mostly STUFF,” he says, “It’s overflow from here. Things I might find at a garage sale and bring back and fix and paint.” 

He visits garage sales, junk stores and flea markets. He reclaims driftwood and occasional debris from the marsh—he shows me a collection of discarded paintbrushes that he has rescued from around the shipyards in Thunderbolt and repurposed into an art piece. 

I ask him if he still goes out on the river most days, and he answers, “No. I used to. The older you get, the more you use the word ‘usedto.’ I ‘usedto’ do this and I ‘usedto’ do that. But most days I’m at home fiddling in the undercroft.” And, of course, he has many friends who call him before they discard anything to see if may be interested. (He usually is.)

We climb the steps up to the main house (wisely, he and Julie installed an elevator in the new home because, as he says, “I ‘usedto’ be able to climb stairs all day long. But not so much now.”) 

As we enter the light-filled open living/dining and kitchen area he offers me a hand painted SLAM baseball cap and hands me a Pojo Point pin. 

Ellis explains that “Old time South Carolina people called a great blue heron a pojo because it was ‘poor’ or ‘po’ eating.”  

The walls of the home display pieces from many of the SLAM artists—a beautiful canvas from Helen Durant, a fabric piece from Shawn Turner (the subject of my next column), and paintings by Jay Ellis, Wayne Cunningham, Deborah Miller, Charles Boniface, and more. 

Clearly, Ellis not only has a passion for promoting local artists but also for collecting their work. 

Come out and meet this force of nature and share his passions at the joyous SLAM this Saturday. 

Ellis says to expect, “Food trucks from Molly’s Fish and Chips, the Food Boxx, Flirt with Dessert, Rita’s Ice Cream…. music by The World Famous Crabbettes, blues guitarist Peter Schmid and guitarist Bill Starrs from Atlanta…. balloons and flags flying …the Community Canvas and even a stilt walker!!  It’s gonna be SLAMTABULOUS!!” 

The outdoor SLAM (Savannah Local Artists Market) is this Saturday, October 16, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. at the Salvation Army Baseball Field, 3000 Bee Road in Savannah. Food trucks, music, free admission, and free parking. Sponsored by the Savannah Art Association, Sulfur Studios/Arts Southeast, and Loop it Up Savannah. Masks will be required.


OCTOBER SLAM PARTICIPATING ARTISTS:

(alphabetical by first name):

Ali Long

Ana Barragan

Annette Archie

Annissa Roland

Bernard Nolan

Beth Logan - yes!

Callie Beale

Carol Hartley

Cathleen Campbell

Charles Boniface

Chris Roberts

Christina Blair

Connie Lane

Crystal Travaille

Dana Stickler

David Littman

Debbie Houchens

Deborah Miller

Elliott Edwards

Erin Vernon

Gretchen Ernest

Heather Shiver

Helen Durant

Holly Montford

Jack Wilson

Jacqueline Penney

Jane Rice

Javette Laremont

Jeanne Newton

Jennifer Nolan

Jeri Gale

Jessica Loyd

Jessica Anderson

Jessica Trevett

Jim Cone

Jeanne Newton

John Newton

John Miller

Josh Brown

Juliana Smith

Justine Ferreri

Kim Owens

Kristen (K.K.) Chmela

Kristie Silva

Lisa Rosenmeier

Liz Juneau

Loop It Up - Sponsor

Marcee Musgrove

Margaret Mulligan

Margarete Froeichlier

Mary Marshburn

Mary Mewborn

Maurice Powers-Turner

Merrill Neace

Paul Downs

Peggy-Jo Aughtry

Peter Roberts

Polly Cooper

Rocking Chairs Rhythm Revue’s ‘Music in my Paintbrush’

Rosie Laney

Ryan Dashiell

Savannah Art Association - Sponsor

Sharon McIntosh

Shawn Turner

Shelley Smith

Sibel Alpaslan

Stacie Jean Albano

Stella Ranae

Sulfur Studios/Arts Southeast - Sponsor

Susan Diaz-Vedrani

Sydney Busch

Tatiana Von Tauber

The Irritable Pelican Gallery

Tiffany O’Brien

William Bernzott

About The Author

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