“As a longtime painter, I carry around snapshots of my favorite paintings the way other old geezers my age carry around pictures of their grandkids. Grandchildren are wonderful, but a good painting can help support you in your old age.” – Red Skelton
Skelton began producing artwork in 1943, but kept his works private for many years. He said he was inspired to try his hand at painting after visiting a large Chicago department store that had various paintings on display. Inquiring as to the price of one which Skelton described as “a bunch of blotches”, he was told, “Ten thousand wouldn’t buy that one.” He told the clerk he was one of the ten thousand who would not buy the painting, instead buying his own art materials. His wife Georgia persuaded him to have his first public showing of his work in 1964 at the Sands hotel in Las Vegas where he was performing at the time. Skelton believed painting was an asset to his comedy work, as it helped him to better visualize the imaginary props used in his pantomime routines.
Shortly after his death, his art dealer said he believed that Skelton made more money on his paintings than from his television work. When asked why his artwork focused on clowns, he said at first, “I don’t know why it’s always clowns.” He continued after thinking a moment by saying. “No, that’s not true—I do know why. I just don’t feel like thinking about it …” At the time of Skelton’s death, his originals were priced at $80,000 and upward.
After sleeping only four or five hours a night, Red would wake up at 5 AM and begin writing stories, composing music, and painting pictures. He wrote at least one short story a week and had composed over 8,000 songs and symphonies by the time of his death. He wrote commercials for Skoal tobacco and sold many of his compositions to Muzak, a company that specialized in providing background music to stores and other businesses.
Skelton was a Freemason, a member of Vincennes Lodge No. 1, in Indiana. He was a recipient of the Gold Medal of the General Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons, for Distinguished Service in the Arts and Sciences. On September 24, 1969, he received the honorary 33rd degree in the Scottish Rite and was a Gourgas Medal recipient in 1995.
The Red Skelton Performing Arts Center was dedicated in February 2006 on the campus of Vincennes University, one block from the home in Vincennes where Skelton was born. The building includes an 850-seat theater, classrooms, rehearsal rooms, and dressing rooms. Its grand foyer is a gallery for Skelton’s paintings, statues, and film posters.
The theater hosts theatrical and musical productions by Vincennes University, as well as special events, convocations and conventions.The adjacent Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy opened on July 18, 2013, on what would have been Skelton’s 100th birthday. It houses his personal and professional materials, which he had collected since the age of ten, in accordance with his wishes that they be made available in his hometown for the public’s enjoyment. Skelton’s widow, Lothian, noted that he expressed no interest in any sort of Hollywood memorial. The museum is funded jointly by the Red Skelton Museum Foundation and the Indiana Historical Society. Other Foundation projects include a fund that provides new clothes to Vincennes children from low-income families. The Foundation also purchased Skelton’s birthplace and continues to finance its restoration.
The town of Vincennes has held an annual Red Skelton Festival since 2005. A “Parade of a Thousand Clowns”, billed as the largest clown parade in the Midwest, is presented, followed by family-oriented activities and live music performances.