The Daily Heller: Hard-Boiled Classic Vernacular

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The holiday hiatus offered uninterrupted restorative repose. Yet since most of us were unable to fully celebrate the coming of Santa or usher in the infant and numerically balanced new year, modest alternatives had to be found.

For me, it began by watching the Turner Classic Movies holiday rotation, but after the third Christmas Carol, fourth Holiday Affair, sixth It’s a Wonderful Life, tenth Christmas in Connecticut, one Christmas in July (and 20 minutes of the Hallmark Channel), I turned to rummaging through cartons of graphic and typographic vernacular ephemera. You know, the stuff that falls under the pejorative term “quaint”—so-called untutored, naif, kitsch and junky signs, flyers and lettering (actually, the stuff many of us not-so-sureptitiously collect as “inspiration” for our customized typefaces and pastiche layouts).

What emerged from one closet was a trove of mostly silk-screened signs. We’ve all seen the classics—”OPEN,” “CLOSED,” “BACK IN A MINUTE,” “HELP WANTED,” “OUT TO LUNCH”—scores of them, each a treasure of pragmatic imperfection … and all proudly anonymous. Each also an in-your-face challenge to the -ismists of yore.

Before I jump into the new year and wax theoretically with pretense into philosophical relevance of low cultural vernacular-ism is a mighty design movement, here for your viewing decompression are some of the faves I’ve accumulated just because I love them and want to salute the unknown craft persons (aka designers) who made them.