It was a sad day for Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman, but he still managed to make himself smile.
Driving into Augusta on Friday morning, Zimmerman saw a billboard along Calhoun Expressway. It was his own design – a smiling robot in a Santa hat with a simple message: “Happy.”
It made him laugh, which he needed because his pet dog had just died.
“It’s funny,” said Zimmerman, a graphic artist and painter known for his vibrantly colored robot images. “I knew to expect to see it, but there it was.”
The billboard is one of six Zimmerman has posted around Augusta this week as part of the “Happy Campaign” – a public art project designed to spread a little holiday cheer.
“I had the idea over Thanksgiving weekend,” he said.
He called his friend Stuart Rayburn, who sells advertising space through his company, Billboard Guru.
Zimmerman just wanted to price one billboard, but Rayburn offered him free rent on three. He would just have to provide the artwork and posters, Zimmerman said. Soon, some of his friends offered to pick up production costs on three more.
“Every part of town needed some happy,” he said.
Rayburn said he had wanted to use otherwise empty billboard space as a place for public art.
“It’s a public service,” Rayburn said. “Anytime I have empty space I’d much rather have some urban artwork out there than some tired old (public service announcement).”
Zimmerman also is giving away “Happy” buttons, stickers and posters to anyone he encounters during the holidays.
“I’ve been putting up little posters downtown,” he said, adding that people who see them should take them home. “Anything ‘Happy’ related is free.”
Zimmerman said he knows there is lots of stress and sadness for people this time of year.
“Especially in the holiday season for people who have lost people or lost pets, it is very difficult,” he said.
Zimmerman was suffering Friday, having just said goodbye to Spike, his 16-year-old Jack Russell terrier.
“He lived a long, good life,” the artist said, recalling the mixed emotions he felt on seeing his first “Happy” billboard Friday. “I was giggling and crying at the same time.”