Because, in this case, it doesn't matter. I was lucky catch a documentary called Sign Painters last night at local gem Trylon Microcinema.
The film was done by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon and it features three Minnesota artists. One, Mike Meyer of Mazeppa and two guys from South Minneapolis. Following image is from Meyer's personal collection and is from the 1930's at a theater in Mankato.
Levine and Macon also put together a great book from this project. Princeton Architectural Press packaged it beautifully and, at $24.95, it is well-priced. Levine, in the preface to the book notes that her own love of these signs began in the 1990's when she lived here and frequented the West Bank(where much old and new sign-art exists).
One idea I took from the film is that when a sign-painter tells others what their occupation is they often get a confused look. We all see signs everywhere yet we often don't think about who put them there. The how and why are abstractions to almost everyone. Both the book and film show these artists and their varied skills. It is hand-painting. But it is also goldleaf, lettering and font-work. Many of the younger ones come from the world of graphic design. The older ones got into the trade directly or from tattoo work.
Here is an interview with the two local artists whose work adorns so many local haunts. The huge Fitzgerald mural at the Fitz Theater. That's them. And smaller pieces all over town. You can see more of their work at the bottom of that interview. I love the detail and character each piece brings to a business. It's an art that took a nosedive in the late 80's and 90's but is making in a comeback. And that's a good thing for public art and design.