Wall Dogs Chapbook

Wall Dogs Chapbook by Laura Russell

Book two of my Show & Tell Chapbook Series

“Slappy once had a wall job so big that it took a gallon of paint just to dot the “i.” And Slappy used skyhooks to hold up his scaffold so he could paint ads on the clouds.”—William Stage, Ghost Signs, Brick Wall Signs in America

Wall Dog is a nickname for the commercial sign painters who worked their way across the country from around 1880 to 1940. They were skilled craftsmen and artists whose work reveals a lot about the history of a building, a community and its culture.

Vintage wall signs are often called ghost signs because ads were painted on top of other, older ads. Over the years, the faint lettering of the signs underneath gradually “appear” like apparitions, melding two signs into an odd language.

The sign featured in this book seems to proclaim that Snowdrift shortening is “delicious and refreshing” and that Coca-Cola is good for cakes. The accompanying poem imagines Slappy as told by his intrepid female assistant.

Wall Dogs Chapbook by Laura RussellThe original poem to accompany the photograph reads:

Slappy don’t like to be called itinerant.
Says it sounds lonely
as he tramps the west plying his trade.

Prefers instead wall dog,
vagabond, sign slinger.
Just give him a wall,
bricks or boards, no matter.
He’ll bring you some marks.

Hotels, banks, hardwares, blacksmiths.
They all need signs in these heady days.
Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California—
all boom, rush, rooms, cigars, drinks.

Wall Dogs Chapbook by Laura Russell

Slappy can scurry the side of a building
faster than any man quarter his age.
Ropes dangling, bucket of paint round his waist,
wide tail brush slicing through the air
as he slaps letters and words
two stories tall and four horses wide.

I used to mix paints for Slappy
Lamp black, white lead, cadmium red,
linseed oil, varnish.
Throw in some gasoline, he says,
makes things dry faster
if a storm is brewing or dust is swirling.

But then I could paint faster than Slappy
and the road beckoned and I got my own rig.
Ain’t no place for a girl, he said.
But, I’ll show him.
Wonder if he’s lonely now.


Click on images for larger views.

Wall Dogs Chapbook
Limited Edition Artist Book by Laura Russell

To purchase this book contact Laura.

Pamphlet stitch cover with stepped-fold accordion interior. Mohawk Superfine and Canson Mi Tientes papers. Archival pigment print. 4 x 8.5 x .125 inches. Extends out to 15.5 inches. Signed and numbered edition. 2019. Edition of 25.


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