Wood and Wood: Hand-Painted Sign Making

Buddy Wood

Buddy Wood, of Jamestown, has spent his career creating vivid and eye-catching hand-painted signs. He first encountered the art form in the Navy during the 1960s. Once he returned home to Fentress County, he began to work in the trade professionally at a time when most local businesses, shops, stores, schools, and churches relied on painters for their signage, advertising, and window displays. While hand-painted signs have been a cherished part of the visual and cultural landscape of the United States for over a century, the art form and occupation have diminished in recent decades with the increased use of machine printing and cheaper vinyl banners. “It is practiced by very few individuals,” Buddy explains. “It is crucial to pass down these skills, otherwise it might be a lost art form, especially in rural America.”

Mike Wood

Only in the past few years has this important form of occupational folklife began to again receive renewed attention. For Buddy Wood, and his son and apprentice Mike Wood, hand painting has been a family tradition, a treasured art form, and way to make a living. Mike, already an experienced painter of signs, murals, and cars, owns and operates the sign painting business that his father started decades ago. This project will allow Mike to formally apprentice with his father and more thoroughly learn subtle and refined elements of traditional design, lettering, illustration, pattern transfer techniques, construction, and maintenance. “My father knows many of the nuanced skills that aren’t taught in books,” Mike says. “I want to familiarize myself with his skills in order to preserve and continue their use in the Upper Cumberland. It important to pass it on because hand painting is not seen as often as it was at one time.”

*This team is funded through a special partnership with the South Arts’ initiative In These Mountains: Central Appalachian Folk Art & Culture.