Video Game Nostalgia Leads to Father-Son Business

Marie Anthony, photos by Andrea Paulseth

THIS ISN’T A GAME! Jackson Sandler, 15, and his father, Stuart, have created a business making and selling pop-culture themed shadowbox art from their Eau Claire home.
THIS ISN’T A GAME! Jackson Sandler, 15, and his father, Stuart, have created a business making and selling pop-culture themed shadowbox art from their Eau Claire home.

Some people want their two front teeth for Christmas. Stuart Sandler of Eau Claire wanted a Pitfall! shadowbox. “I’m a child of the ’80s. I grew up during the height of Atari and Nintendo (the first NES), and I loved the game Pitfall,” he reminisced. “I wanted to be like David Crane, the guy who programmed the game.”

Stuart – a font designer, writer, and entrepreneur – remembers looking for a Pitfall! shadowbox in December of 2009. Many Christmases passed with no Pitfall! shadowbox under the tree. There was just nothing around like it. “I’m the kind of guy who, if I can’t find it, I’ll make it myself,” he said. “That’s something that runs in our family.”  So he made his own art piece, and since then has developed the concept into a father-son businesses.

“I think my favorite part about being involved in this business with my dad is the opportunity to find a middle ground between our two interests.” – Jackson Sandler, 15

The decision to turn vintage gaming shadowbox art into more than a hobby was not out of a desire to bring in more money. It had everything to do with Jackson Sandler, Stuart’s 15-year-old son. If Jackson had no interest in starting up the business, Artovision would never have happened. “To be able to have Jackson with me in every part of the process was most important,” Stuart said.

Jackson is equally excited about the business. He gave up more than an hour of video gameplay to come talk to me about his role in Artovision, humbly explaining that he is in charge of all the manual labor, including prepping, assembly, and packaging. Whether he’d admit to it or not, Jackson has contributed in more meaningful ways to the success of their business. His idea to create pieces for Castlevania and Space Quest has resulted in the production of two of Artovision’s top sellers.

While much of Stuart and Jackson’s inspiration lies in vintage video games, other influences do trickle into their pieces. “Anything that has a sense of retro Americana or nostalgia has always been in my wheelhouse of interests,” Stuart said. Their collection of shadowbox art features the work of Ben Cooper, the creator of vintage, ’70s-era monster masks. The two are also proud to work with Icee. Artovision pieces will soon be hanging in the halls of Icee’s corporate headquarters.

Thinking back to the beginning, Stuart says that he was nervous at first. “I wasn’t sure that people were gonna get it, but Jackson helped give me faith.”

The development phase took three years from the time the father-son team began drafting ideas on paper napkins to when their first digital print was made. The two learned a lot through trial and error. “We thought about doing things with cut paper, printed foam core, or a 3D printer,” Stuart explained. “We eventually decided on a process that involves printing on acrylic, which is different than silkscreen.”

All the prints are officially licensed (it is extremely important to Stuart that they not steal intellectual property) and digitally printed on individual sheets. It makes it easy for the two of them to customize shadowboxes to a customer’s needs and wants. It also allows them to add interest and depth to their art.

Other than the occasional disagreement on a process or images of gameplay to use, the two get along very well. Jackson is grateful for how this experience has helped him and his dad connect even more. “I think my favorite part about being involved in this business with my dad is the opportunity to find a middle ground between our two interests,” Jackson said. “When he said he wanted to do work with old video games and all the stuff that I enjoy, I was totally excited for it.”

Stuart and Jackson plan to take advantage of the next four years while Jackson is in high school. It’s not an expectation that Jackson will stay in the business after graduating high school and college, but the education and experience his son has gained from this endeavor is something that Stuart will forever appreciate. “For Jackson to see how everything has come together from the very beginning – when it was just an idea – to selling in retail spaces and online gives him an education that I wouldn’t be able to give him in any other way,” he said.

While the two look forward to at least four more years of growing success, they’re not blind to the fact that they wouldn’t be as successful if it weren’t for the support of our community. Jackson chuckled about the fact that the level of excitement and overwhelming support of business owners in the area seemed too good to be true at first. As it turns out, some things in life are indeed that good. Both Stuart and Jackson are thrilled to have this opportunity that – in Stuart’s opinion – could only happen in a city like Eau Claire.

Browse Artovision’s creations at artovision3d.com or find them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.