Friday, March 30, 2012

Odell, Leonardi, and Hardeveld

We were sitting in Joey K's on Magazine Street earlier this year (see January 15, 2012 entry), enjoying lunch and the sign work of Simon.

This afternoon, we found the studio of the artist who created these signs, Simon Hardeveld. While showing some of the signs on display in his studio (which is connected to his wife, Maria's antique store), I want to pay a brief tribute to other influential sign makers.

The first is Allan Odell, who pitched a sales idea to his father to use small, wooden roadside signs to pitch their product. Between 1925 and 1963, some 7000 four-, five-, or six-sign groups of white on red signs with their catchy jingles and rhymes sprang up all along highways. And always, last sign concluded the clever advertising scheme with "Burma-Shave".

Sadly with the advent of faster cars and large billboards, sequences like:

If harmony
Is what you crave
Then get
a tuba


Ben met Anna
Made a hit
Neglected beard
Ben-Anna split

disappeared from the landscape.

But, as befits such an important part of American culture, one set is preserved by the Smithsonian Institution. It reads:

Shaving brushes
You'll soon see 'em
On a shelf
In some museum

(Rowsome, Frank. the verse by the side of the road.)

My second sign-maker of note is known by fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, simply as "Sign Man."

Since 1972, Dave Leonardi has been attending Flyers games with about 100 signs. He has about 300 more of the 19-by-22-inch signs at home.

Two of his most popular signs were:

Start the Bus: as the Flyers' opponents were close to losing


The Ref Eye Chart: an eye chart that reads, as the letters get smaller with each line: “bad call, you’re hopeless.”

"In a Hockey Hall of Fame 'time capsule' for notable characters from the 1970s, Leonardi is mentioned with Derek Sanderson, Dave “Tiger” Williams, Don Cherry and Peter Puck. Impressive company, indeed" (By Bill Fleischman at

And this brings us to French-born Simon Hardeveld. This artist's specialty is one-of-a-kind, hand-painted signs with slogans.

He struck us as someone who could not spend his days in a loft completing signs and graphics, while a sales clerk handled the requests of the public. He has to be around people. As one of his largest signs says, “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.”

While we talked with him about his work and our travels, he was going non-stop: introducing us to his wife, talking about the type of requests he receives, talking about what kind of music to play on the studio's stereo, recounting his early career as a chef, and why he gave himself the title "Creator of the Peppersteak" (above). He was having fun.

His studio was his workshop, his gallery, and his pot-bellied stove, i.e., the center of his work and social life.

But then we saw a sign. A sign that just called to us. And a sign that we think should be on a list of top ten signs that represent Simon's work. It read: "Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost."

Yes, Hardeveld was commissioned to paint the set for a TV station’s evening newscast ("News With A Twist"), and, yes, he has orders for his artwork from around the world, but for these two wanderers, this sign was his major work.

It now has a place in our home on wheels.

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