The Beauty Underneath


My Uncle Ben, rest his soul, was approached by a man by the name of Walt Disney back in the 50s. According to family legend, Disney was in the market for talented artists to assist him in bringing his dream–a place called Disneyland–to life.

Thinking the project was a bit too risky to accept, Uncle Ben turned down Disney’s offer to pursue his own interests. Said interests included what would be considered graphic art in today’s world: painting company logos on sides of buildings for small businesses. I recall seeing him working on numerous projects while I was young and while a career with Disney wasn’t meant to be, the smile on his face was proof enough that Uncle Ben loved his job.

It’s from this man that I presumably get my penchant for creativity and my admiration for all things graphic art–or at least that which is done by hand and not Adobe Illustrator.

Case in point: the unearthing of old hand-painted signs like those my uncle used to paint. Take the image below, for example (which actually inspired my latest Flickr album):

While on the way to Disneyland on Friday, we came across a shopping center that was a undergoing major renovation project. Part of the project included the removal of all current signage so that the facade could be primered and painted. Naturally, the original signs once again saw the light of day after years of being covered with run-of-the-mill, boxed and backlit signs.

Unless you are into graphic arts you probably won’t understand the beauty I saw in this image. But this is the kind of stuff I dig–things that have not been seen my human eyes for decades and once painted over, something that I may never see in my lifetime ever again. It may “only” be a sign to some but having taken many graphic arts classes in college and knowing what it takes to paint letters with straight lines, I find this stuff amazing. The fonts, the colors, the icons…they all come together and tell a tale of what used to be.

If you look closely, you’ll see that there are actually two hand-painted signs in the image: a barbecue restaurant and an ice cream shop, the latter boasting now-defunct Excelsior Milk and Ice Cream products. And think about it–an ice cream shop, people. That’s got to be at least 50 years old.

Sadly, this sign was the only one left on the way home as the rest had already been painted over and as of this post, have no doubt become yet another layer underneath a bland coat of white paint.

To the painter working to make the shopping center a more appealing place, this was just another day on the job. To me, both signs represent a fine art from a bygone era that, in today’s get-it-done-yesterday world, will most likely never return.

And I’m sure for the short time the original signs were exposed, Uncle Ben was smiling down upon them.

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