Much of my working life has been spent practicing one of the most ancient of professions, that of the scribe. In times and cultures where literacy is rare, the scribe takes the words of the illiterate, and puts them to paper, papyrus, clay, or parchment.  Some have gone so far as to call scribes the “second” profession.

My profession, for much of my working life has been that of the sign maker. The sign maker is the scribe for a literate society. Most people know they can’t make a “proper” sign, and have the wit to hire out the very important business of sign making. So the scribes persist!

Here’s a photo of a sign I made for the MV Montessori School, years back.

How important is a sign, or your logo? Corporations willingly spend huge sums to create, or even to tweak, a logo. The logo for the upcoming Olympics in London cost about two-thirds of a million dollars. For one of the strangest logos ever. One charitable and delicate reviewer called the logo “a picture of Lisa Simpson in a compromising position”. The Arab States think the logo spells “ZION”. See for yourself: http://spme.net/articles/7743/4/18/Iran-Objects-to-London-2012-Olympics-Logo.html

The Steamship Authority seems to have hired one of the junior logosmiths from the same firm. On your next ferry ride, see if you can find this graphic gem.

Please, tell me what this means.

A sign can literally make or break a business. So the right sign, and the right sign maker, is an important choice for a beginning business. Unless you’re Eddie Cottle, maybe. Ever notice that Cottle’s lumberyard in Lambert’s Cove has NO sign? It never has had one, and probably never will. Everyone knows where it is.

The life and business story of Eddie Cottle is one of the great Island success stories. Somebody should write a book about Eddie Cottle. I’ve been told that he had the first hay baler machine on Martha’s Vineyard. How would Tom Benton have painted the Cottle hay baler machine. Is that rig still around? Here’s a link to Tom Benton’s take on haying in Chilmark. Follow this link to the great website “Hay in Art”. http://www.hayinart.com/001994.html

Us scribes like the alphabet. Heck, we like alphabets! Even the ones for other languages, that we can’t read. The brushwork in great oriental calligraphy is to swoon over. We even have special names for what you computery people call “fonts”. A real sign painter doesn’t say “font”. Not us fossil sign painters, who actually paint signs. We call them  Alphabets!

We have some good names for our alphabets, too. What you uninitiated call “plain” or “sans serif” letters, we call “Egyptian”.

“Egyptian”, at its heart,  refers to the hieratic writing of the old scribes of the Nile Valley.

A pair of signs containing both hieroglphic writing (pictorial-based) and hieratic, even-weight signpainter’s egyptian alphabet.

Fancy, pictorial hieroglyphics were for the big guys, for official work, and for fancy. The scribes developed the simpler, unadorned hieratic style for everyday work. If you want a contract for an olive oil deal, or need to send a message to your family, up the Nile, you come to a scribe.

Mummy, that ain’t no pharaoh tale.

One response to “Letteracy

  1. You are fortunate to have a unique, but wonderful craft. Through words and images, you create things that are both informative as well as entertaining. I have seen your sign of the MV Montessori School…great job!

    All the best,

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