I HAVE ONLY A VAGUE IDEA of when this photograph was made, and no idea who made it. This is my father at a drafting table in the old Sam Caldwell sign shop in Cincinnati, Ohio. He must be working on a design for a new sign and judging by his face, hair, build, and surroundings, the picture must have been made in the late 1950s or early 1960s. He was the only man in the shop with a fine arts background; he had trained five years as a painter and sculptor after the Second World War. So he often sketched the designs for walls and billboards. Later, he would hoist himself on a scaffold to turn design into sign. He was good at pictorial work, product representations and portraits of Rhinemaidens for Cincinnati breweries and, one time for an exterminator, a giant rat and cockroach.
came out of art school knowing how to do that, but after the sign
company hired him he had to teach himself how to letter. My mother used
to recall him sitting at the dining room table in the evenings when they
were first married, making long lines of Os and Ss and Ps. He
eventually developed a lettering style so distinctive I could spot it
anywhere and know he had done the sign. This led to a funny situation
when I was a teenager. For a brief period, an adult book store took over
a storefront in downtown Cincinnati, around 1972 or 1973. They did not
last long before the city ran them out, but for the few months they were
in business they occupied retail space that had large windows that
needed to be covered. The proprietors chose to cover them with paper
signs advertising their merchandise. I was strolling downtown one
evening with my girlfriend when we came to the store and amused
ourselves by reading everything that covered the windows. Then I
thought, Wait a minute...I know that lettering.
When I asked him about the signs the next day, my dad said the bookstore was a great customer—paid cash in advance.