Mike Meyer, a Mazeppa-based sign maker, still crafts the majority of his signs the old way, hand drawn and painted.
His signs have been displayed all over the world, and he recently was part of a documentary “The Sign Makers.” Meyer started painting signs in 1978 and has been running his own “small shop” in Mazeppa for 30 years.
How many places in the United States would people find one of your signs?
All over. I did some work in Berkeley, Calif., for a winery. I painted a mural on a floor in Chicago, all over. The business almost always comes from word-of-mouth from friends in the sign industry, suppliers. People will say, ‘I know a guy who can do that.’ Sometimes, I haven’t even done it, but I say I can. Then, I come back (to my shop) and ask myself, ‘How am I going to do that?’ That’s the joy of it. You figure out how to do it.
You started in 1978. What’s different about the business in 2014?
Everything now is so quick, and now, now, now. They want to stand there while you produce it. Back in 1978, we would provide you a sketch and talk about it. Things moved so much slower. What’s changed is that now I can go in with my iPad and ask, ‘Do you want a new sign?’ Click. I then go back and design it, email it to them. Now, I wouldn’t be without (my iPad).
When did you realize that you could make it as sign-maker?
In the U.S. Army. I lost my job at Ace Signs, my first sign job. I was 20, and I was devastated. I really thought I was going to be the old guy there. After being let go, I decided to have Uncle Sam show me the world. I had someone drop me off at recruiter, and they asked me what I wanted to do. I told them I was a painter. I told them that I painted signs and stuff. … I did a lot of signs in the service. I painted a coffin, lots of stuff on the base, and when I got home, I went back to (sign painting) school. I knew it was all I wanted to do.
How cool is it to drive through your hometown (Mazeppa) and see your signs on so many buildings?
It’s fantastic, but you can’t be satisfied. You always got to be a student as well. You’ll never learn it all. Even the oldest guys won’t, and that’s a great thing. It’s keep you hungry for it. You look at a sign, and you think it looks good that way, but you also think about how you could have done it differently. I’ve seen signs in Toronto and Berlin, and they did something different, and you think about it and use what you’ve seen for one of your jobs.
How did you get involved in the documentary “Sign Painters?”
I got a call from these two men from Milwaukee, and they said we are doing a documentary about sign makers. They asked, “Do you mind if we come and film you and talk to you?” I said sure. One day, they came by about 10 a.m., and I asked them if they were going to stay all day, and they said they had four hours. I told them we were only going to scratch the surface, and you’re going to run out of batteries in your cameras. Five hours later, they were still here. They shot everything. They asked questions. They took still pictures. I’m only in it maybe 30 seconds, but that’s alright. I was honored by it.