If he hadn’t had that heart attack, and if he had never found that palm frond, David Skaggs might never have found his life’s passion.
It was 3 1/2 years ago that Skaggs, who’s now 54, had a severe heart attack that forced him to change his life.
“I was running a construction company,” Skaggs said. “And then I had a heart attack and my doctor said ‘You’d better find another line of work.’ ”
Finding work wasn’t so tough. He got a job doing maintenance for a condominium community near his Palm Aire home. Finding something that would lift his soul was tougher. Inspiration came in the form of the woody stem of a palm frond that he came across on the beach.
“I picked it up and I thought, ‘I could make a fish out of this,’ ” Skaggs recalled.
Skaggs’ home, and the house next door where his parents spend the cooler months of the year, are now packed with his sculptures, all of which are made from palm fronds and other found, natural materials.
There’s an alligator, with scaly flesh made from shells he found on his regular walks on Siesta Key. The gator’s teeth are made from Siesta Key shells. There’s a bug of some sort, several feet long, clinging to the wall above a doorway. There’s a 7-foot-tall mermaid, with the head and shoulders from an abandoned mannequin. There’s a pelican that’s so realistic it fooled people into calling authorities.
Once I discovered this, I didn’t need the sports anymore.
“I took it down to Siesta Key,” he said. “You don’t usually see pelicans standing on the beach. You see them in the water. So people called bird control because they thought there was a pelican that was hurt.
Art had always been in Skaggs’ background — his mother was an elementary school art teacher — but he was much more interested in athletics. He was a springboard diver in college, good enough that he tried out for the Olympics. Once his body wasn’t up to that level of competitive sports, he said, there was a void in his life.
“I didn’t have that passion after I lost the sports,” he said. “Once I discovered this, I didn’t need the sports anymore.”
He has several works in progress going at all times. They take a long time because he has to find exactly the right palm fronds and shells to fit his vision. Or sometimes the shape of something he finds will take one of his sculptures in a new direction.
I had been asking God why he wanted to keep me around after my heart attack. I really think it was to spread this joy and happiness and love, which is what we all need so badly.
He sells his work at his wife’s art gallery, Dray’s Gallery at 1792 Northgate Blvd., Sarasota, and through draysgallery.com and the Dave’s World Art Facebook page.
He’s hoping that eventually he’ll sell enough that his art can be his retirement. But even if he never sold another piece, he said, he’d keep creating. He comes home from work at the condo community and goes directly into his studio, and the rest of the world disappears for him. He’d spend all day, every day sculpting if he could, and he’d never get bored or tired.
One of the first palm frond pieces he created is a lamp that now sits in the home of his parents, Carolyn and Bruce Skaggs. The first time he ever turned it on, not long after his heart attack, he discovered that it projected the image of an angel on the ceiling. The unintended symbolism was not lost on him.
“I had been asking God why he wanted to keep me around after my heart attack,” Skaggs said. “I really think it was to spread this happiness and love, which is what we all need so badly.”