David Ray Skinner probably was like a lot of college students in the early 1970s. Even on the campus of a Christian University, things such as the Vietnam War and Watergate created some interesting discussion topics.

David Skinner grew up putting one foot in front of the other. But the perspective one does not have as a child and teenager seems to develop as life moves and seasons change. With the help of a rear-view mirror and a life lived, what appeared as challenges or even crises at one point later become, well, meaningful.

“I would have to concede that while I was a student, I never thought of life after college,” Skinner said. “After all, my whole life had been based around ‘getting to the next grade or school level,’ i.e., in 6th grade at elementary school, I was thinking ahead to 7th grade and junior high; in 9th grade junior high, I was thinking ahead to being a high school upperclassman and as a high-school senior, I was looking ahead to college. That was where the train (of thought) stopped. I had no interest (nor the money) to take it any further. My whole reality was that of a student, not an adult in the real world.”

Skinner did not know it, but he was not alone then. And he likely is not alone now. Fifty years after David Skinner was walking a path not really thinking about where it led, some students today face those same questions.

A week or so after Skinner crossed the stage to receive his diploma, which at times did not seem guaranteed David admits, his dad asked him, “Now that you have a diploma, when are you going to get a job?”

Skinner, an art major, said he thought about the challenges along the way, the questions, even the advice he received NOT to attend Carson-Newman.

“I couldn’t help but reflect on the advice from my high school guidance counselor to stay away from Carson-Newman and go to Memphis Art Academy or some other ‘commercial art school.’ I wanted a school that provided a range of studies and experience, and…one that had a football team, because I thought that would help define ‘the college experience.’”

And it bore fruit.

“Against the odds, and much to the surprise of me and my father, I did get a job that Fall after my graduation, and it was directly related to my Carson-Newman experience,” Skinner said. Let’s let him take it from here.

“My work with the Orange & Blue (the former school newspaper) for all four years, the final two as editor-in-chief, gave me the experience and the equivalent of a minor in journalism, and I was hired as a reporter for the Sevier County Times. I had learned how to do newspaper layout in college, and I perfected that at the Times. That gave me the experience and knowledge to be hired as an Art Director of Around Nashville in 1976. The experience at Around Nashville gave me the portfolio to be hired as an assistant art director of Record World Magazine in NYC in 1977.

“In 1980, they promoted me to Art Director and some of my covers were used as props on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati. Then, as art director of a major music trade magazine, I was hired to be the art director of Doubleday’s Literary Guild Magazine in 1982.”

Two years later, in 1984, Skinner took another step down life’s path; by this point, having a better idea of where we wanted to go and what might be next.

“Fast forward to 1984 when I started Indelible Inc., an Atlanta print and design agency with two partners,” Skinner said. “As VP and Creative Director, my job was to create solutions from client need. That was exactly what I learned as an art major from 1970-1974 as a student under Dr. (Earl) Cleveland.

In the ensuing years, Skinner has been commissioned to do a painting for a Supreme Court Justice, created advertising artwork for some of the world’s biggest brands, played music with his own band and even co-written a song with John R. “Johnny” Cash. David jokes some of it did not pay much but there are “bragging rights.” 

Indeed, our guess is the number of people who have co-written a song with the Man in Black AND had his artwork commissioned by a Supreme Court Justice is a very small club indeed. Maybe even a club of one.

Skinner, who also publishes an online magazine called the Southern Reader, is reflective of his time at Mossy Creek. He talks about his “brothers” the Philos, many of whom lived in a house where the Drama and Ted Russell Center now sits. A side note – when the site was being prepped for construction of the incredible new facility, the foundation for that old house was uncovered. Two bricks from that foundation now find their home on the side of the Drama and Ted Russell Center.

“Then there’s the Philo connection,” Skinner says. “Still today, my brothers from 50 years ago are among my best friends. And some of my brothers have achieved amazing things. Were we the prototype for ‘Animal House’ a half decade later? No, we were Baptist boys at heart, so I’d have to say we were more ‘Petting Zoo’ than ‘Animal House.’ These guys, my band, and Carson-Newman changed my life.”

And it almost did not happen. 

Skinner served on the campus newspaper, the Orange & Blue, almost from the time he arrived at Mossy Creek. Influenced by friend and co-O&B staff member Tom Ficara, Skinner’s work on the paper was noticed, as was the publication itself. At the end of Skinner’ sophomore year, Ficara asked for a “comic book” for the final issue of Spring, 1972. When Skinner asked how much, Ficara said “four pages.” Skinner’s answer was to create the character and fictitious C-N student Owen Bee. Owen Bee. O&B. Get it?

That summer, however, in July, David’s mother passed away. His father was a foreman in a downtown Nashville printing plant, so his mother had taken a position in a local school to pay for David’s college. With her now gone, David returned to campus in fall of 1972, but without a clue as to how he was going to stay because he had less of a clue as to how he was going to pay.

In that era, the position of editor of the Orange & Blue was an elected position … and … brought with it some scholarship funds. However, the position of editor had been filled by election the previous semester. So that was not an option. 

Or was it?

“The guy who was elected editor decided to (transfer). In a panic, the administration arranged to have a special election for editor. They noticed I was only three hours shy of having the required journalism hours, so they asked me to run with the stipulation that I would take the three hours that Fall.”

Much of the student body remembered the Owen Bee comic strip, and its author, and Skinner won the position.

“With the win, came the scholarship, so I was able to stay in school, Skinner said. “That’s when I had to figure out how to write and how to do layout, both of which I do to this very day.”

So, back to this day, 50 years later.

“My own personal mission statement is to make an eternal difference,” Skinner said. “And, I believe that my years at Carson-Newman—from my art classes, to my editorship, to the awakenings I experienced in Theology class (Ed. note: which are not part of the curriculum at the art schools he was encouraged to attend) prepared me for times such as these. I also think the Lord has blessed me and protected me through His Grace to work toward that end.”

David Skinner says God has been in it the entire path. Even when he did not know where the path led. Coming to Carson-Newman instead of a specialty school. The desire to get a well-rounded experience, not just academically but personally. The possibility upon the death of his mother of not being able to continue school. To have a solution suggested that could include a scholarship, but a position already filled – and then was not. A scholarship that would not have existed if supporters of Carson-Newman had not given of their resources. Friends made then that remain friends today. Life-changing circumstances.

And those things, all of them, are meaningful for David Ray Skinner.

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