Nostalgia, reflection & my very first sign?

My very first sign?

As the 2016 year mysteriously (I mean, like - wasn't it just March!?) comes to a close, I find it appropriate to reflect - not only on this year, but 'in general'.

A few months ago, my dad told me he had something very interesting to show me. He alluded that it somehow related to my present endeavor in sign-making, but wanted to surprise me.  Being an appreciator of mystery and suspense, I eagerly anticipated what this enigma might be. When my dad ultimately revealed this item to me, my face instantly lit up. My face wore a large grin - the kind that can only be rendered by a great wave of nostalgia. Before my eyes, I witnessed what may possibly represent my "very first signboard". This rather small object powerfully time-warped me to my early adolescence. All but three decades were vaporized by the mere sight of it.

So, what exactly was this object? Well, it was a sign that I had made for my dad... one that was created a very long time ago. The sign itself had been forgotten (at least the details of it), yet its presence triggered a boatload of nostalgia for me. Somewhere in this nostalgia, I may have pinpointed an early seed that affirms my present efforts in 'sign making'. If I have your interest, please read on...

As a young boy, my dad maintained a part-time / side business (much like the sign business here) that was run from a small, detached cement-block building located a mere stone's-throw from our family house. When he wasn't tinkering, my dad spent his time repairing radiators in this building. The business was aptly named Jim's Radiator Service and its humble headquarters represented, for me, a sheer wonderland for my own imagination. To this day, I would hold my dad's work ethic up to anyone who proclaims to be a 'hard worker'.  His full-time factory job demanded great energy from him. To boot, most weeks were overflowing in overtime hours, of which he took full advantage. Despite this, my dad spent considerable time in his small unassuming garage space - engaging in the gritty pursuit of radiator repair.

Like most good kids my age, I delighted in offering my dad a helping hand (<<< Not always, but most times). Not one to engage in the specialty tasks that would be performed in this small space (such as: welding, grinding, or soldering), I oftentimes reached for the broom and dustpan - making small strides each session to reveal the hidden cement floor that lied beneath the layers of debris and dust. Great pride was taken in my "garage-beautification" efforts, as the words and facial expressions from my dad's face were more than affirming to me - his loyal helper. Sometimes, I would reach the point in my organizational activity where I felt that 'everything that can possibly be done had thoroughly been done';  While I would love to go back in time to observe whether or not I was indeed correct in such assessments (haha), I am happy to say that such milestones would permit me the opportunity to engage in hands-on creation of my own.

Such creation fell into one of two activities - using a wood-burning tool to make marks on wood or grinding into wood with an electric Dremel tool. Yes, employing the good ol' Dremel tool would ironically contradict the clean-up efforts that, most likely, preceded this. But, this point merely confirms my mom's all too familiar statement of me - that "There is nothing more enticing to you than a clean room." Yes, I absolutely love to begin a new hands-on activities in a clean environment, but I regress... :)

Most of the time, I would make various types of signs with these tools, much like the cool CNC-routered specimens I would casually admire at places like the Ocean City boardwalk, various trade shows and the annual York County Fair. I recall making signs stating words and expressions like "Open" and "Jim's Radiator Service", but also remember a few depicting scenes of whitetail deer and game fish. Wearing my safety goggles, I would hack away at my creations - most times within a veil of secrecy. You see - it was my intention to unveil these masterpieces to my dad or other family members as surprises.

Finally cutting to my point, the following example represents one such creation. In my mind's eye, this sign was much more fabulous and grandiose. My dad explained just how much this sign meant to him, especially way back then - when I initially presented him with what I considered the manifestation of my artistic genius. I recall the feeling vividly... it was as if my soul was smiling and bubbling with joy over the satisfaction that met the shock of this well-calculated surprise. To this day, I still thrive on the creation of such emotional well-springs. There are few more authentic indicators of satisfaction to an artist / craftsman than the positive reaction on the part of a person receiving a work in hand.

To this end, it is my hope that my efforts in creating continue to bring joy to my customers. While I'm no longer a small kid working away in the corner of a small cinder block radiator shop, but my goal remains the same - to bring a special element of surprise and great pleasure to whomever rests at the receiving end of my creation.


The Bell-in-Hand-Tavern (Boston, MA)

In keeping with my thoughts about creating tavern signs for establishments that once existed (the approach I have called "historical fiction"), I have forged ahead with yet another historical treasure. This time, I attempted to breath life into what has been called "America's first tavern". The Bell-in-Hand Tavern in Boston claims to have poured the first draft of cold beer in the year 1795.

Serving as a busy hub for printers and politicians, sailors and students, in no time at all, this New England watering hole established itself as the most prominent alehouse in Boston. The first owner of this famous establishment was Jimmy Wilson. The name sounds quite common to our modern ears, and in the streets of Revolutionary Boston, it was one that, more than likely, every Bostonian knew very well.

What was it about his tavern that made his name so familiar to everyone in Boston? Well, for Jimmy Wilson, such "fame" (as we refer to it today) derived initially from the fact that he, for some fifty years, had served as the town crier to his beloved neighbors. Being the bearer of news (good, bad or indifferent), Wilson had established himself within the hearts and minds of his city's populous. When he retired from his long-tenured post, he decided to open a bar. It would only seem fitting that his choice in naming this tavern be "The Bell-in-Hand".

So, what was so interesting about Jimmy Wilson's tavern? Well, this tavern not only insisted in the exclusive serving of ale (as opposed to the litany of standard liquors popular at the time), each drink order was served in two mugs. Apparently, one mug was used for the ale; the other held its frothy byproduct. As thick as the news Wilson had, for so many years, dispensed to his fellow citizenry, so too was the elixir served from his tap.

To this day, this tavern is in full operation - 45 Union Street, Boston, MA. Obviously, the establishment has changed substantially in both appearance and tradition. I mean, surely Jimmy Wilson would appear puzzled to learn that the Bell-in-Hand rocks a Facebook page! The menu offerings have inevitably grown to meet the needs of Boston's thirsty inhabitants and visitors. Within the rapid pace of Boston's daily life (considered a 'rat-race' to many), the cacophony resulting from the hustle and bustle can easily find its way from the streets into establishments like the Bell-in-Hand, attempting to distract us from enjoying a small piece of mind whilst in the company of our good friends and a cool beverage.

Despite this, I'll wager that - if one stops to listen very hard (even during happy hour) - they just might hear the sound of a singular bell ringing, finding its way through the thick crowd of this glorious alehouse... an echo which began in the wake of the Revolution; one that today reminds us of our American spirit and the need to unite with our fellow man / woman over a cold mug of ale.

My thought process

So, after my digging and learning about this amazing tavern, I located a very interesting panel that once rested inside a shutter, possibly a door. The physical surface was perfect for this venture, as I proceeded to apply layers and layers of paint, in hopes to create the appearance of a substrate that had bore witness to years and years of experience amidst a tavern environment - the smoke, soot, changes in temperature, sunlight, occasional repair / repainting, cleaning, and the possible slight alteration here and there to the sign's design.

My aim was to create something that would have functioned as a secondary sign, not the main exterior billboard that would have graced the exterior. This sign would have rested above the fireplace mantel, possibly behind the bar... in either case, a product of pride in the establishment; one that reminded the customers within that they were indeed, even if for a small time, a true part of this environment. The color choices - red and teal/green - might appear strange at first. However, by integrating this scheme within multiple layers of varnish and washes, the results are harmonious. I particularly enjoy seeing the highly saturated versions of the red and green poke through here and there, even though they are present in small and subtle measure. The gravy-brown tonality serves to unify the entire sign, holding the visual aesthetic together.

As of today, this sign is available for purchase. This is an original work and rather exclusive, so I encourage you to act swiftly. I may or may not choose to make more like this, but am certain that there will not be two alike... the panel used for this sign was a true maverick, hiding deep within my stockpile of surfaces. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to see additional photos of this piece. Thank you for reading!


The finished sign, available for purchase.

The finished sign, available for purchase.