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A dying art that deserves a better fate...

  • Feb 18, 2013
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Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon is an interesting and nostalgic look back to the times when advertising often meant you hired someone with pens, inks, and brushes to label your business. So much of that has been lost to computer generated vinyl lettering and less permanent means of creating signage. But there are those around who still generate those hand-painted masterpieces that cause almost everyone to take a second glance when they walk by.

The book is structured around short bios and commentaries by those who earn their trade in the sign painting business. Usually around five to six pages for the 24 different people and groups, you learn a bit about how they got into the business, the apprenticeships they followed to prepare for life on their own, and the struggles they face in a world that favors immediately and the temporal over craftsmanship and enduring art. The work they produce is stunning, and I'm sure if you were into the topic as more than just a casual reader, you'd be able to look at signage and know which artist created it. When you look at these bright provocative sign boards with the paint barely dry, it's easy to transport yourself 80 years into the future, looking at the same piece and wondering everything that it's seen and experienced in that time.

On the whole, Sign Painters is a short and enjoyable read. I would have preferred it be about twice the size so as to go into the stories behind the artists a bit more, as well as perhaps going into the stories of particular signs that had untold histories behind them. Still, this is a book that's worth reading if you've ever been intrigued by a sign in a building that looked "different" than anything else you've seen. It probably is...

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Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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About the reviewer
Thomas Duff ()
Ranked #43
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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"A lovely paean to a vanishing art... Ms. Levine and Mr. Macon have hopscotched the country, interviewing many of the best remaining old-school sign painters and printing their best work... This book, with an introduction by the artist Ed Ruscha, is a funky and necessary work of preservation." -- New York Times

"With hand-painted signs rapidly going the way of the film camera, documentarians Levine and Macon offer a welcome look at some of the remaining artists and their work, which adorns storefronts, walls and billboards. New Yorker Stephen Powers began as a graffiti artist; Las Vegas painters Mark and Rosie Oatis met in sign school; Ernie Gosnell, in Seattle, learned the trade as a teen from a sign-painting lady wrestler who "tattooed a little bit on the side." It's a toss-up as to what's better - these characters or their art." -- New York Post

"This is not only a wonderful book, a delight to take in, rich and telling in its details and a visual pleasure with its gorgeous photography. It's an important book that captures a largely untold story." -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Sign Painters is a great source of inspiration about this often-overlooked industry, and a good reminder to pay a little extra attention while out in the city, on the highway, or wherever. Beautiful hand-painted signs are everywhere." -- Smithsonian.com

"Full of stunning full-color shots of finished signs and works-in-progress of folks from San Francisco and Iowa City to Mazeppa and Boston. Even artist ...
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