Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tools of the Trade - Revisiting old traditions

A while back, I got a call from Bill Blohm, Signs by Blohm of New Milford, NJ. We'd never met, but I certainly knew the shop name from the many Signs of the Times articles written by Signs by Blohm Art Director, George Nappi.  Bill told me he had some items I might be interested in for the museum.

Signs by Blohm has always been a true commercial sign shop, serving the diverse needs of the local community.  On any given week, this could be a couple truck lettering jobs, a banner, some on-site window lettering or wood letter installation, or even a logo on a high school gym floor.  The traditional commercial sign shop’s range of work was as diverse as the community it served. Consequently, I looked forward to my visit and to the wealth of stories of the unusual jobs Bill could recount in the nearly 60 years he had plied his trade.   

I wasn’t disappointed.

As I walked in I met Bill, and his son, Wayne, who was now running the business since his father’s “retirement” about a decade ago. What I wasn’t expecting was the honor to meet George Nappi, whose column I had edited 25 years earlier and who was still in his element, presiding over the shop’s design from his studio space overlooking the shop floor below.

The items Bill had to donate to the museum were as rich as the tradition surrounding the six decades the shop has existed. One of the first items Bill presented was the wooden easel his father, Frederick, had made so as to paint signs in the living room of his home. Fred Blohm trained at Cooper Union as an embroidery designer, but wandered into sign painting in the early 1930s. 

Several other items had been passed onto Bill by the widow of Matt Senn, a well-known sign painter from Tennafly, NJ.   Among the items were three brush extenders (see photo), which could be attached to fitches for wall jobs.  Also donated (not pictured) was a box of sheets of black-outlined goldleaf letters, which could be cemented onto the reverse sides of windows. The circa 1930s kit was sold by Atlas Sign Works of Chicago, IL.

Bill also donated two 10 x 20-in. design sketches (pictured) created for entry monuments for a Dover, NJ housing development during the 1960s building boom, and an Adjusta-Stool—a signpainter’s seat (pictured) used in the shop or on the job that could be adjusted to the surface to be lettered.  Another donation was a pair of pre-magnetic sign era temporary vehicle signs that could be lettered and which hung on the door of a vehicle by the flexible brackets that slid in between the door panel and window glass.  Bill remembers purchasing these in the early 1960s from Dick Blick.  Stenciled copy on the inside of the “signs” reads “Pat. Nov. 6, 1923 – Mar. 26, 19__.”  

And finally, he donated a metal projecting sign which was an example of signs that were custom-graved with a dentist or doctor’s name, and edge-lit by a fluorescent lamp mounted above the engraved panel.  Bill recounts how local regulations prohibited professionals such as doctors and dentists to identify their offices with letters larger than 2 in. high.  As good as the “old days” were. I guess there were still sign codes to deal with!

No comments:

Post a Comment