In centuries past, a person was seen as uncivilized if he or she could not write in cursive. Having the ability to pen the slightly slanted script determined whether or not a person was deemed sophisticated or had any sort of class whatsoever. Nowadays this is the not the case. In fact, with the omission of cursive handwriting as a required skill in The Common Core State Standards, schools are starting to focus solely on what they perceive as more practical skills, like typing and other computer trades.
With the slow demise of cursive penmanship, the age-old craft of sign painting may seem like a practice that is increasingly going the way of the dinosaur. Within the last few years, however, this downward spiral has started to reverse its direction, and a vibrant community of sign painters is sprouting not only here in Boston, but around the world. And in an attempt to present examples of the beautifully hand painted signs and fanciful lettering, Boston’s most well-known sign painters, Best Dressed Signs, and Lot F Gallery , have curated a unique show of the best sign painters from around the world.
“Its Virtue is Immense: A Pre-Vinylite Society Tribute to Script Lettering” presents examples of script lettering from some of the biggest sign painters around, including Boston-bred artist, Kenji Nakayama, Best Dressed co-founder Josh Luke, and sign painting vets Bob Dewhurst and Jimmy “Spike” Birmingham. Signs painted on saws, on frisbees, on glass, and on wood line the walls of the downtown gallery and showcase the aesthetic qualities of ornate hand lettering. But according to the show’s curators, its message runs much deeper than aesthetics alone. With the current debate about the future of cursive handwriting in American schools, show curator, Meredith Kasabian took the time to talk with BDCwire about the show and how the works included in the exhibit explore the questions of privilege, and the role of the human hand in an increasingly digital world.
Q: How did you curate and round up all of these artists?
A: My husband and I own Best Dressed Signs and when we moved here to Boston from San Francisco we started meeting a lot of people online that were also young sign painters. He started a Facebook page called the “Pre-Vinylite Society”, it was supposed to act as a forum and destination for sign painters who were just starting out and who could post their work and get advice; sort of a non-judgemental learning forum. It took off, and now the Pre-Vinylite Society is an informal network of sign painters and sign enthusiasts – people that are just interested in the movement or history of it all. One of our friends and another Pre-Vinylite members, Colt Bowden, started doing this zine called, “How To Paint Signs and Influence People.” He did a script-lettering edition and I chose the people that were in that zine to be in the show.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the show, and the concept behind it?
A: About 6 months ago, a friend of ours sent us a concerned emailed about how his daughter’s school is no longer teaching cursive writing in school anymore; they are not required too. He asked if we, as lettering people, could bring this issue into the forefront. Thankfully we could coordinate with Lot F Gallery to create this show that is not only about sign painting, but about this issue and script-writing.
Q: Have you seen a growing community of sign painting and love of lettering here in Boston?
A: When we moved her originally there wasn’t that many people doing it, which is weird because at the time Boston had a sign painting school called Butera School of Art that had been running since around 1900. But I think the movie and the book “Sign Painters” really started to garner attention about having hand painted signs. There has definitely been a resurgence in the past couple of years.
Q: Why do you think people are drawn to hand painted signs?
A: I think generally there seems to be a move towards hand crafted items. People are drawn to things that are made by humans, which is probably just a response to the overwhelming amount of technology that is in our lives all the time. I think people are drawn to things that are not only made by hand, but are done with craftsmanship and obvious practice and dedication it takes to master something like this.