By Rubin E. Grant
Internationally renowned artist Steve Skipper was once a standout high school football player.
Skipper played linebacker for the Homewood Patriots in the mid-1970s, starting his junior and senior seasons. He patterned his game after two of the NFL’s most vicious hitters, Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears.
“I was physical,” said Skipper, who grew up in the Rosedale community. “There wasn’t any of that finesse stuff.”
What Skipper really enjoyed was being around his teammates.
“It was great playing on the team,” he said. “We had a lot of great athletes. The best one was probably Murray Legg.” Legg starred at quarterback and defensive back before an outstanding career at the University of Alabama.
“He was awesome,” Skipper said. “We had some other guys who could have gone on to college, like (running back) Jimmy Lee Edwards from Rosedale. I think he could have gone to the NFL.”
Legg and Edwards were part of Homewood’s 1974 state championship team. Skipper was a sophomore that season and wasn’t on the varsity.
Skipper graduated from Homewood in 1977 and had an opportunity to play college football.
“I had a few scholarships for football and art,” he said. “The Lord told me not to take the scholarship, that he would teach me everything I needed to know (about art). And He did.”
Skipper has been making art since he was in elementary school at the encouragement of his late brother, Don.
“I idolized my older brother, and when he started sketching and drawing, I picked up a pencil and did the same thing,” Skipper said.
Skipper didn’t pursue any formal training, and if he had listened to his late mother, Elnora, he never would have become famous.
“My mom was real reluctant about me going into the art business full time,” Skipper said. “I had an uncle, her brother, who wanted to be an artist and he faced a tremendous amount of racism because people weren’t open to a black man being an artist.
“It discouraged him tremendously. It broke him. And she didn’t want the same thing to happen to me.”
His mother knew Skipper was artistically talented.
“When I was in the fourth grade, one of my teachers told her I had the gift,” he said.
Even so, she had her reservations, especially since he was a starving artist and would come by her house to eat.
“She told me to get a real job,” Skipper said with a laugh.
Finally, Skipper convinced his mother he could make a living as an artist when late University of Alabama football player Derrick Thomas had Skipper do a painting of Thomas and Thomas’ late father, an Air Force pilot who was killed during the Vietnam War. Thomas handed Skipper a $10,000 check for the piece.
“I took the check to my mom, she looked at it, and then she got real quiet,” Skipper said. “Then, she looked at it again, and said, ‘You’ve got a real job.’”
Skipper has been operating his own Anointed Homes Art business since 1982. He also has become the first African-American artist to be commissioned to do paintings for a number of sports institutions. He is known for his officially licensed, sports-themed oil paintings that depict major football moments at colleges such as Alabama and Auburn. He also does NFL and NASCAR paintings, along with religious- and civil rights-themed paintings.
His works have hung in the Professional Football Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Capitol, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Paul W. “Bear” Bryant Museum, among others.
Skipper, 59, also has had a long association with Alabama football coaches, beginning with Ray Perkins and continuing to Nick Saban. “Coach Saban has been very good to me,” Skipper said.
Skipper presently is working on “Resilience in Crimson,” two original paintings of Alabama’s game-winning, 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime to beat Georgia in the 2017 national championship game. He’s doing one painting of freshman receiver DeVonta Smith’s catch and the other of freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s pass.
In June, Skipper unveiled his latest limited-edition oil painting, “Hands of Gold” at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. It depicts former Alabama defensive lineman DaRon Payne’s famed touchdown catch against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Proofs and prints of Skipper’s works are available at his website, anointedhomesartllc.com.
Following the Steps of King
Finishing the two national championship paintings is part of a busy late summer and fall schedule for Skipper, with much of it centered on his civil Rights artwork.
On Aug. 24, Skipper is traveling to Bimini and Nassau, in the Bahamas, to deliver art reproductions of a painting commissioned by the government of Bimini in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit there in 1964. It was in the mangroves of Bimini that King wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
The original was unveiled in February. The painting took Skipper more than 1,000 hours of easel work to complete. It features the green groves of Bimini with the image of Dr. King in the clouds, lost in thought and seemingly looking down over the small island.
Skipper will be accompanied on his Bahamas trip by Ambassador Andrew J. Young, a civil rights icon, and former Alabama and Miami Dolphin legend Bob Baumhower.
“The reproductions will be hung on permanent display in the Bimini airport and House of Parliament in Nassau,” Skipper said.
In September, Skipper will be traveling to Washington along with Young for a celebration of Young’s life. Ford Motor Company executives will announce the formal commission of Skipper paintings featuring Young and George Washington Carver and Carver’s relationship with Henry Ford.
In October, Skipper will be presenting a donation of one of the art reproductions of King’s Bahamian visit at a formal event at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
On Nov. 9, Skipper will be presenting the original painting at the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta.
“This unveiling will be hosted by ambassador Young and attended by dignitaries from the Bahamas, among many others,” Skipper said.
A year ago, a book, “Dream On: A Journey to Deliverance,” was released about Skipper’s life. It is a story about him overcoming personal, professional and spiritual barriers. He talks about his growth from an impoverished childhood as a teenaged gang member to a prolific and honored painter and sketch artist.
Throughout the book, Skipper shares his spiritual faith and how God transformed his life.
“What has impacted me the most as an artist is learning my creativity came from the creator.” Skipper said.
Skipper doesn’t have a personal favorite among all the artwork he has done.
“All of my artwork is different and they all bring something different to the table and they all came from God,” he said. “I can’t say which one is better. I thank God for each of them.”