Graphic design and photography came together on November 13, when the Las Vegas Camera Club hosted its first event: the city’s debut screening of Sign Painters, a documentary film about the art of hand-lettered advertisements. Downtowners packed the patio of the Velveteen Rabbit for a cozy evening complete with popcorn, hot cider and a Q&A with the film’s co-director, Sam Macon.
Released earlier this year, Sign Painters traces the industry’s evolution through interviews with practicing artisans from around the country. Legends such as the late Keith Knecht, to whom the film is dedicated, recall the arrival of vinyl-printing technology, while younger artists geek out on brushes and technique, and lament the difficulty of making a living in their field today.
“Faythe [Levine, co-director] and I wanted to tell the story of this art through the experiences of people who are completely devoted to it,” Macon says. “People my age were the first generation raised in a mass-produced world, with no memory of a time when things were made by hand. There’s a longing to capture that originality before it’s gone.”
It makes sense that the Camera Club would host such an event. The fledgling group was started by Geoffrey Ellis and Bryan McCormick, who also cofounded Vegas Vernacular, a project that documents the history of type, hand-painted signs and neglected illuminated signs in Las Vegas. Ellis and McCormick used this screening to raise awareness of the art they’re struggling to preserve—at least in photo form.
“It’s all around us, and yet no one really notices it,” McCormick says, echoing a sentiment expressed in the film by Doc Guthrie, who teaches sign painting in L.A.
An acquaintance of Guthrie, Rose Oatis of Henderson, adds, “I think it’s just like the film said: The disappearance of hand-painted signs indicates a greater loss in our society—the loss of an appreciation for original, well-crafted work.” Oatis and her husband, Mark, were featured in the film and had front-row seats at the screening.
Private screenings are the only way to see Sign Painters at present. Macon is working out a deal to make the film available through DVD and on-demand early next year. For updates, visit SignPainterMovie.blogspot.com.