The Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce and Coffey Agencies are gearing up for this Friday’s Fort Payne Christmas Parade. This year James Dean, author and creator of ‘Pete the Cat’, will be our Grand Marshal.

James Dean was born and raised in Fort Payne, and spent the majority of his early years watching his father, a self-taught artist, reproduce the art of the masters as a hobby. James began drawing as early as first grade and never stopped.

After graduating from Fort Payne High School, James left for Auburn University to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. James completed his engineering degree and began working as an electrical engineer with Georgia Power Company after graduation.

In 1997, James left Georgia Power and became a full-time artist, giving himself a year to be successful. He could be found around Athens drawing landscapes and local businesses.

Just two years later, James adopted a kitten from a local shelter. A scrawny black kitten won out and found a new home. James named him Pete. While Pete was a kitten, he spent a great deal of time sitting on James’ lap. James had never spent so much time with a kitten and soon felt as if Pete was his child.

Then one day the skinny, mischievous kitten stopped running and sat still. James sketched a picture of him and decided to paint it. He puzzled over the color – black? But what if everyone else thought black cats were “bad luck”? So, James opted for blue.

Pete became the muse. James started painting Pete doing “cat” things: sitting in the laundry basket, hanging on the screen door, sleeping. Then one-day Pete didn’t come home. James watched the door for days, then weeks, waiting for Pete to be there. Pete had inspired him more than he had even imagined. Pete’s adventures filled the days, weeks and years.

There are now hundreds of Pete paintings. New paintings come every day – now 13 years. Pete has had many adventures over these last 13 years, showing in galleries and shops around the country, and in the last few years Pete branched out into children’s books. He is now a character loved by young and old.

Help us welcome James Dean back to Fort Payne, this Friday. He will be at The Spot Coffee Shop from 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm holding a book signing. You may bring your own books or Addie Kate’s will have books for sale and Katherine’s Gallery and Custom Framing will have art available for purchase at The Spot. The parade starts at 6:00 pm in Downtown Fort Payne. See you all then!

— Jennifer McCurdy is director of the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce. Her column appears in the Times-Journal on Wednesdays. You can email her through the chamber’s website at

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