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Art’s Boston Cherishes Old Days in Florida as “Flea Parrot”

Published: December 1, 2009

After 33 years on campus, author and award-winning graphic designer Archie Boston is leaving when the fall 2009 semester concludes, moving into a life of retirement that may very likely find him even busier than he is now.

“I always have projects going on,” said Boston, a faculty member in Art. “I always have something to do.” He has some of his work available on the Internet, including a 20-DVD set of interviews he conducted with prominent local graphic designers during a 1986 sabbatical. In 2015, the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts’ riots, he is scheduled to have a photographic exhibit of pictures he took during that time, using his master’s thesis from USC to make it into a book that will be available during the celebration at the African American Museum near the Los Angeles Coliseum.

More personally, though, are a pair of books Boston wrote about his life. In 2001 he wrote his first book, Fly in the Buttermilk: Memoirs of an African American in Advertising, Design and Design Education, which presents a portrait of Boston as a talented art director, designer and educator, as well as taking a personal look at the world of advertising, design and design education through his eyes–the perspective of a minority insider.

Buttermilk is about my experience here up to 2001, and when I worked for 12 years in advertising design,” said Boston, who got into the business at the age of 21 and didn’t think of teaching until he was 33. “I also show a portfolio of my work from over the years, my ‘old school kick ass portfolio’, and it goes back to 1964. My portfolio shows my students and the community the best work I have done.”

As a part of his first book, Boston included a small section about his life growing up in Florida. After people read it they told him he should talk more about that unique experience.

“That’s what the second book is about and I only use nicknames because some of the characters didn’t want to be identified,” said Boston. “It is based on a true story. I should have written this book first. Now friends say that they want me to write more, but I am so busy teaching, promoting my DVDs and now the second book. I need a break.”

His recent book, Lil’ Colored Rascals in the Sunshine City, is the story about a mischievous and roguish fat-mouth kid nicknamed “Flea Parrot,” and the place where he grew up, a housing project in Saint Petersburg, Fla. called Robinson Court.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that that “roguish fat-mouth kid” with the appropriate nickname of “Flea Parrot” is none other than Boston himself. Of course, such a nickname practically begs for an explanation, which Boston gladly gives.

“They called me that because I loved to play in the sand, however there were fleas in the sand that got on me. The parrot was because I talked a lot,” smiled Boston. “I used to tease and mimic people. My oldest brother’s best friend gave me the name and it stuck. The nickname disappeared by middle school. Now, I hear it from many of my students because of the book. My life has gone full cycle and I’m back to being called “Flea Parrot”, but that’s ok. I’m ready to retire and hoping to have fewer responsibilities just like when I was a kid.”

Photo by David J. Nelson
Archie Boston

In talking with Boston, it’s pretty obvious that, though not that well off as a youth, he wouldn’t change a thing about his Florida upbringing. There was pain and suffering, he noted, but the good times far exceeded the bad.

“The book is about us growing up in a segregated city,” said Boston, who now spends time between homes in Florida and Southern California. “People look at the book and think it’s about segregation and race, but I wasn’t looking at it from that perspective. This book is about my childhood, and we had lots of fun. Sure, we experienced racial situations, but that was not our primary concern. All we were interested in was having fun and doing things the adults didn’t want us to do. I tried to break all of the rules that I could get away with.”

Boston stopped breaking the rules and his life took a turn for the better, according to him, when he eventually went to church and was converted to Christianity.

“My life changed because my mother made me go to church,” he said. “That is why I went into the right direction and not the way a few of my childhood friends went. The essence of what I wanted to say was how much fun we had with nicknames that described us. I think this story documents my life and that’s really all I what I wanted to do. I felt like there was a void in Fly in the Buttermilk and I filled it with the new book. I thought about writing another book from 2001 to the end of my FERP, but I’m tired after teaching for 33 years. However, you never know.”

To learn more about Boston’s work, visit his Web site at