If you happen to be in the Windy City over the next few weeks, you’re going to want to head over to the Chicago Art Department to check out The Pre-Vinylette Society: An International Showcase of Women Sign Painters. Opening on Friday, September 8, the exhibition features the work of over 60 women sign painters from the United States, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, and Norway.
My favorite sentence from the exhibition description: “The name of our show—the Pre-Vinylette Society—is a tongue-in-cheek re-appropriation of the grammatical “ette” suffix, which typically denotes a female or smaller version of a male or more substantial (read: better) thing.” That sounds about right.
I heard about the exhibition while lurking on the popular Sign Painters Support Group on Facebook where over 3,000 members go to get shellacked in criticism, or watch others get shellacked in criticism, by master sign painters. It’s not a place for niceties and I do respect the overall goal: candid and constructive criticism to improve one’s craft. I’ve learned a lot by watching and listening and it’s probably one of the most honest places to find design criticism on the internet. However, as with most of the internet, well-intentioned spaces sometimes turn into troll farms.
An innocuous post by Michelle Nguyen (one of the participating artists) announcing a sign painting exhibition, devolved into a defensive, chest-beating tirade that continues to grow. While some in the group have asked why an all-women sign painting exhibition is even necessary since those with any lettering chops are blind to gender, race, or any other “filter”. But if one needs further proof that skilled trades like sign painting have been historically dominated by white guys and less accessible or welcoming to anyone else, the reaction to this post might be the best testament for the exhibition’s existence. Also, I’ve found my new internet crush: Darla Dee Hagensick, a sign painter whose work is in the exhibition and is an all around badass lady.
The exhibition runs from September 8–28, 2017 with an opening reception on Friday, September 8, 6–10pm and a Pre-Vinylette panel discussion on Saturday, September 9, 2–4pm. More information is here.