Sign Of The Times
Trimble speaks at Shiloh Sandwiched In
Is sign painting an art or a trade?
Olivia Trimble is still sorting that out — even though she has been a professional sign painter for a while.
“I got my first really big contract — multiple signs, big deal, not just smalltime stuff anymore — three years ago,” says Trimble, who just finished the gigantic Experience Fayetteville sign at the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau on the southwest corner of the downtown square. She says she deliberately chose not to look at it from a distance until it was completed, and then she drove around the block to view it coming up Mountain Street. She was … pleased.
“This is my square in my favorite city in the world,” she says. “When I finish a job that seems like a monster, I get so emotional about it.”
Trimble grew up with one foot in Springdale and one in Fayetteville after her parents divorced, and she’d sometimes accompany her stepfather on his jobs as a sign painter.
“I grew up with the smell of sign painting enamel and paint thinner,” she says, “but it didn’t occur to me it might be something I’d want to do” — until she bought her stepdad a book about sign painting. “There was this woman in there, and she was the coolest, grittiest woman I’d ever seen.” Still, she didn’t apprentice with her stepfather. “There’s been a lot of improvisation along the way.”
Trimble will present “A Retrospective on Sign Painting in the Ozarks” as part of the Sandwiched In program at noon Wednesday at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, and keeping it to an hour will probably be the biggest challenge. She wants to talk about how “we’re really fortunate in the Ozarks to have some iconic ghost signs” — defined as signs painted on brick that have weathered but not disappeared. “Vinyl just peels off,” she says with a sigh. She also wants to discuss the process of sign painting “and why it’s valuable. As a trade, it kind of died off, but it’s had a little resurgence I’m so fortunate to be part of.” And she wants listeners to understand “this is hard-core work,” whether it’s painting lines on a high school tennis court or creating a two-story landmark in Fayetteville.
“This is not just painting cutesy signs on chalkboards,” she says.
“This is not just painting cutesy signs on chalkboards,” Olivia Trimble says of her work.