This fall, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) explores the rich history and current renaissance of hand-lettered signs in For Hire: Contemporary Sign Painting in America. The exhibition showcases a range of contemporary sign painters who use traditional methods to create banners, sandwich boards, paper signs, murals, fictional advertisements, and more. Some pieces will be installed from the start of the show, while others will be created in the gallery, during public hours, over the course of the exhibition. This will allow visitors to witness, firsthand, a variety of sign-painting processes.

As recently as the 1980s, storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards, and even street signs were all hand lettered with brush and paint. But, like many skilled crafts and trades, the sign industry has been overrun by the techno-fueled promise of quicker and cheaper. The resulting proliferation of computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering and inkjet printers has ushered a creeping sameness into the modern landscape. Fortunately, there is a current resurgence in the trade and a growing trend of business owners seeking out traditional sign painters.

In 2010, exhibition guest curators, Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, set out to provide the first anecdotal overview of the trade by documenting these dedicated practitioners, their methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship. The result was both a book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012) and a feature-length documentary, called Sign Painters. To continue the project, Levine and Macon collaborated with HCCC to create the exhibition, inviting a group of working sign painters who were featured in the documentary, as well as several who were not, to contribute new work. HCCC Curator Kathryn Hall commented, “HCCC is excited to work with Faythe and Sam on this important exhibition, which acknowledges the history and revitalization of a skillful trade that greatly enriches the commercial landscape of cities across the United States.”

For Hire urges visitors to think about their surroundings, how the landscapes of their cities were formed, and about the individuals who were behind that process. Over the course of the exhibition, viewers will have the opportunity to see signs painted before their eyes and leave with a new appreciation of the devotion, talents, and personalities behind this time-honored craft.