At Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony, poet Elizabeth Alexander called for a “praise song for every hand-lettered sign.”
In Asian and in Arabic-speaking countries, where calligraphic lettering is part of the cultural DNA, hand-painted signs are everywhere.
In America, permanent hand-painted signs show up either in wealthy communities with posh boutiques, or in poor neighborhoods, where hand-lettering is an economic necessity or an expression of ethnic pride.
Between those two economic extremes, we have resigned ourselves to machine-made signs. In the franchise landscape, handmade signs are extinct animals.
In North Africa handmade signs are as common as home cooked meals.
This store in Morocco takes an exuberant approach to its advertisement of rose water and fossils.
Another store stacks big block letters like boxes, hoping to grab the attention of motor tourists.
This proud and edgy sign advertises a Tunisian sports club called the “Étoile Sportive du Sahel.”
The lone word “cyber” advertises dingy basement rooms with antique computers and distracted teenagers.
The word “Coca-Cola” still has its swoop in Arabic; the rest is a riot of joyous color.
You have to admire an earnest huckster.
Yes, let us sing the praises of hand-painted signs. Let us show school kids how to write their names in block letters. Let us teach art students the secrets of Copperplate, Old English, and showcard lettering. Let us treat them to serifs and ampersands and ligatures. Let us shape our own words with our own hands.
There are several Flickr groups devoted to this subject:
“Hand-Painted Signs of the World.”
“Signpaintr,” dedicated to the lost art of hand-lettering
“Hand-Painted Signs of Cambodia.”