Felton was purple. No wonder everyone called him Purple Felton.
It was on a Monday, exactly one decade ago, my videographer friend, Scott, asked me to come outside and see what he had in the back of his truck. I smiled and somehow knew this would be one of “those” days. A good kind of one of "those" days.
Scott has a place in the country with a field that needs mowing now and again. While bush hogging the long grass, a baby armadillo escaped the cruel blades and made for safety into the open. Scott saw opportunity and placed it gently in the bed of his pickup.
Man, this little guy was as cute as cute! Make a big fist. That’s about how big he was. Not very. Soft, pliable, leathery brown skin. And you cannot deny he's definitely related to some kind of prehistoric critter. Cool! A voice in my head said, “Photo op!”
This critter was definitely not the same as the grande version. Around these parts, there are critters and then there are varmints. Adult armadillos are varmints. They strip mine flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Humans and armadillos just do not mix well.
“Honey, ‘dilla’s in the 'taters again. Go get me my .22!”
Otherwise, they live in burrows and come out mostly at night because they are not very fleet afoot. And they are eyesight-challenged. They are the most visible when they are doing leg-lifts in the middle of the road.
“Yep, son. That there’s an ex-armadillo!”
They assume that position because of their poor eyesight and the fact that they only have three ways to defend themselves. They live in well-dug burrows, they have a semblance of armor and they jump up when startled. While crossing Highway 1 with a 1985 Dodge Ram pickup is bearing down on you, the last thing you want to do is jump straight up!
As I said, this guy was cute and after his photo session posing nicely and sauntering around on a large roll of white background paper laid out on a table, I gave him back to Scott who took him back to the country and let him go. End of story.
Well, not exactly. It was actually the beginning of the story. A camera froze this armadillo in time. In his photographs, he never grows old and never evolves into a varmint. He never digs up anyone's strawberry patch. He is forever cute. He arrives safely on the other side of the highway. Every. Single. Time.
As everyone knows, immortal armadillos have names. He was first introduced to his public as the subject of a 3×3-foot print that hung in the Shreveport airport. I needed a title for the piece and so I thumbed through the phonebook looking for a name I could hang on him. Finally: Felton. Yeah. Felton. That’ll work.
In Felton's first (of three) airport art print, I used a walking pose. I entitled it, “Felton, knowing he had a lot of explaining to do, crawled slowly back to Texas.”
Not many months later, Felton hit the big time. He was selected by our regional arts council to be the subject of an interstate art billboard beside Interstate-20 ten miles from Texas! Drivers approaching the Texas state line scratched their heads at the gigantic armadillo. The image was just Felton walking against a white background. Fifty feet of major armadillo with no explanatory text. Not your typical full-sized billboard. The phones at the local Lamar Outdoor Advertising Company started ringing. They claim they have received more phone calls questioning Felton than any other billboard in their history!
“What’s he advertising? I don’t get it! It’s GOTTA mean SOMETHIN’! It’s on a billboard, for cryin’ out loud! Art, ya say? Well, I’ll be a… HONEY, go get me my .22! [Click.]”
Finally, Felton came into his own and became purple. What?! A purple armadillo?! Well, why not? Purple is a good color! It’s the color of royalty, for goodness sake. One of the three official Mardi Gras colors. Do I have to explain everything? Sheesh.
Anyway, Purple Felton went back up at the airport a few years later, this time much bigger and in all his purpleness. He was a hit! Folks got to know him and got to liking him so much, they started buying prints. Big prints. Lamar likes him because the public likes him, so, the billboard company put up, not one, but two Purple Felton billboards and rotates them around town to this day. He is the subject of an as yet unpublished children’s book. (You’re just going to have to wait!)
Thus is the abbreviated version of Purple Felton’s origin story. There are many more chapters, most of which have not yet come to be. Purple Felton’s stature and following continues to grow. He is a sweet and quiet introvert that has had fame thrust upon him. He’ll be fine. He can handle it. Stay tuned.
Why do people love Purple Felton? I'm pretty sure it is because it is extremely rare for folks to come up-close and eye-to-eye with any armadillo, much less a picture-perfect cute one. He is so in-your-face, folks don’t realize he is a juvenile. He’s the first cute armadillo anyone has ever encountered—living or dead. Add the fact that he just happens to be a lustrous shade of purple, and—well, you get the picture.