The Shark on the Bus, or, A pictorial Requiem for Maynard Silva

There’s a shark on the bus.

My old friend Maynard Silva was a sign painter and a bluesman.

Sign painting and music, and other creative arts, often go together for some reason. James Whitcomb Riley, nowadays mostly known for his poetry, was a proficient guitar and fiddle player. And a sign and billboard painter. His first verses were cobbled up for sign customers, so sign painting was the door through which he entered the land of Calliope. If you haven’t heard of JWR, check him out sometime. He was so famous that in 1940 he was put on a ten cent US postage stamp.

Maynard Silva may never make it to official postage, but you can now get the USPS to make you custom stamps.  If you cared to come up with the picture and a design, they could make you a Maynard Silva stamp.

One of Maynard’s sign gigs was lettering the tour buses that carry daytrippers around the Vineyard, giving them a brief glimpse of our hundred square miles of scenic beauty. Not content to just letter the buses, he frequently added pictures. The fronts, backs, and sides sides of his buses are a gallery of Maynard’s art. The photos that follow come from buses 39 and 47.

Front view of bus number forty-seven. That’s bus number thirty-nine, farther back and to the left. One could write more than a few paragraphs on the usage of “further” and “farther”.

The lettering was done long enough ago that weathering now reveals the brush strokes that compose the numbers. Notice the drip in the heavy swash stroke of the four.

We begin the bestiary.

Swordfish. Xiphias gladius

Shark and mollusc (species unknown)

Jaws II?

Some of his critters were musical.

A fiddler crab. (Uca, species unknown)

By religion, Maynard was if anything, a Buddhist. There is incredible economy in the mollusc pictured below.

Zen Moon Snail. Euspira heros.

Here’s the shark-on-the-bus that inspired this little essay.

Maynard lived hard, and died too young, of throat cancer. He was a talented, brilliant, and complex man. The last time I saw him was on the ferry to Woods Hole, not long before he died. He knew the end was near, and was aware that our encounter might be the last one. His final words to me were “Don’t ever stop playing music…”.


I won’t Maynard, I won’t.


7 responses to “The Shark on the Bus, or, A pictorial Requiem for Maynard Silva

    • Thank you for writing about Maynard’s “hidden” visual art talent…it saddens me to see the lettering fading from many trucks and buses he’s done, but follows beautifully with his Zen beliefs. He was amazing.

  1. I drove that bus many times and always loved that shark. For several years I was assigned to the largest bus in the fleet (mostly because they were pretty sure I wouldn’t crash it!) It may have been the largest, but it was certainly not the nicest, but I loved it because Maynard painted my name under a very happy-looking clam with cartoonish eyes on the front of the bus. I was very proud of that clam, and it was the main reason I kept driving that bus even though I had enough seniority to ask for a different nicer bus if I wanted to. I’m sure I’ve got a photo of it somewhere, but I haven’t seen the bus on the road for a couple of years. I assume they junked it.

    I thought some of Maynard’s bus art was brilliant, and some of it was cheesy. He did a blue whale down the full length of of one using spray paint that I thought was gorgeous, but he also did a beach scene many years ago on one with a giant pair of neon pink sunglasses that was just the tackiest thing I’d ever seen! I used to drive that bus on the loop from Edgartown Center to South Beach, and the town of Edgartown actually asked Island Transport if it would possible for them to use a better looking bus as the neon sunglasses motif didn’t fit the quaint historic image of olde Edgartown!

    I don’t have photos of either of those, but I wish I did. I’ve often wondered who’s painting their buses now. I did notice that they’ve paid someone to retouch some of Maynard’s older jobs that were fading, so they’ll be on the road for a few years yet.

  2. I really liked Maynard a lot. Not only was he a talented musician and artist, he was a really good dad too.

  3. When Maynard first got the gig painting the tour buses he asked me (his wife at the time) how far I thought he should go with this newfound & very public artistic licence. I advised him to use his own imagination.

    The soft, loping, very human lettering script he’d practiced for decades (learned in his youth while apprenticing to Vineyard signpainter Pete Ortiz) was augmented by colorful beach umbrellas & mermaids at first. Glad to see that he found his “eyes” later in life.

    This was a guy who swore to me that he couldn’t paint
    a pretty picture to save his life. I was adamant that he could.
    The story rolls on.

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