Good evening. I thought I'd take this opportunity to get some of my thoughts out in a written form. Pardon my casual style and what will surely be a reflection lacking a true organized structure. I had toyed with a similar idea in years past, but within the recent week or so, the notion of paving a unique path reintroduced itself to me. Being someone who never lacks curiosity or desire for exploring new creative avenues, my trouble has been quelling these geysers that boil within me. Why change, when things are going just fine, right?
Honestly, I must admit that things are going quite fine and I enjoy creating museum-quality reproduction signs for my customers. That said, I really do desire to extend my efforts in a more novel manner. Operating within the genre of 'hand-painted signboards', I want to forge a path that is unique... to offer my customers something that is not typically offered or easily found. What is this uniqueness of which I speak?
Well, here it is... How cool would it be to create a fresh line of hand-painted tavern signs for establishments that no longer exist?! Those of you reading this far into my post will surely (and correctly, I might add) retort with the question / proclamation: "Well, aren't the respective buildings that once featured your reproduction signs long gone?" I would affirm your question; the physical buildings of such signs are made known to us only through what we call provenance.
Provenance is founded research / documentation that attests to an art object's 'life story', prior to its present home - on the wall of a museum, private residence or existence on an auction block. So, until now, my work has been based creating authentic reproductions of actual originals - objects that still exist and can be experienced on a physical level. Most all of these signs possess a wealth of interesting provenance, gathered through the years.
But, what about the establishments that no longer exist... Some such establishments boast some rich provenance, yet lack any concrete visual manifestation of what their building's signboard may have looked. As an artist, I feel great sympathy for these buildings and both my imagination and my humanitarianism begin to slowly stir deep within me. They fuel my desire to consider what once existed... what may have been lost...
The reality is: For some taverns, very little documentation exists. We might find evidence / mention of a tavern's name. For example, a Philadelphia gazette published in the 18th Century may have cited or referred to a tavern by, say, the name of "The Green Dragon". Let's say that this casual mention is all we have; that little or no evidence may exist - testifying to its exact location with the city or anything else. What should be we do with this information - dismiss it on the basis of its scantiness or indulge our imaginations with the great possibilities as to its appearance, its role in Early America, its colors, sights, smells and sounds?
On the other hand, there are some taverns with which we have an abundance of documentation. Yet, in such cases, no true example of its signage exist. In many cases, we can find written accounts, in which someone describes (in their own words) how a given tavern's signboard appeared.
In any case, my idea is this... to provide an artistic interpretation (hypothetical, though it may be) as to what these lost establishments' signs may have looked like. Call my effort "lending an artistic voice to America's lost past," or "re-visualizing the past by filling in the gaps"; However you state it, I feel called to explore this approach.
In New York City, the Old Town Bar (http://www.oldtownbar.com/visit.html) on 18th Street (ca. 1892) still maintains a rich traditional appearance, despite its presence within a contemporary metropolis, bustling with electricity and modern spirit. Its iconic neon sign still graces the passersby - an amazing extension of the magnificent building - hovering above the sidewalk in gesture of warm invitation. Who doesn't love neon lights?! But, how might have the original sign appeared? Do you think it resembled its neon successor in any way(s)?
Although not an American example, La Closerie des Lilas (http://www.closeriedeslilas.fr/index.php?id=2)first opened its doors in 1847 to a Paris bustling with modern, creative energies. For reasons that are somewhat elusive, it has always been a preferred spot and draw card for both literati and artists - beginning with late 19th-century French greats such as Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. Both Romantic poets penned some of their tortured verses at tables here. Later, at the turn of the twentieth century it was favored as a watering hole and literary salon for the likes of poet Guillaume Apollinaire.
In the 1920's, American expatriate artists and writers hobnobbed here and affectionately wrote about La Closerie, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos. Mostly seen as a quaint tribute to its past glories today, La Closerie continues to attract prominent French writers, as well as aspiring Americans who can only hope that the nostalgic ambiance will, in some magical way, help them produce the next great epic novel.
In the image above, we capture a glimpse of one of the original signs that adorned the exterior of the building. But, one cannot help but wonder what other signs may have belonged to this establishment's family of signage. Most certainly, La Closerie would have held a host of interior signs, employing the written word to gently direct, guide and inform its clientele of its subtle facets and offerings. Did such modest interior signs look similar to its exterior parent? One can only wander.