The fun of a search has always thrilled me. Browsing the book shelves of a thrift store, flipping through cardboard boxes of vinyl LPs at a garage sale, digging through racks of clothes at a flea market. After returning from a six-month exile due to Katrina, I used searching as a form of therapy – on my bike and with my camera searching the streets of New Orleans for graffiti and for hand-painted signs. Months of documenting hand-painted signs led me to find the names of some of the local sign painters. I was intent on finding these artists that often remain anonymous. Through luck and determination, my search led me to meet three of the sign painters that I had documented. I tracked down one artist by asking at a tire shop with one of his signs if the folks there knew the sign painter and where he lived. I followed their directions to a house where I found three men hanging out, one of which introduced himself as Uncle Tom and said that people just call him Unk. I have had the pleasure to hang out with Tom many times – seeing his self-taught talent come to life while working on signs and seeing his wonderful personality light up the street while greeting everyone.
Tom is a Charity Hospital baby whose mother was a seamstress and director of music at their church and whose father was a self-employed carpenter/contractor. Tom’s interest in art began when was “doodlin’ on mama’s wall.” After high school, he studied architectural drawing at Delgado College but didn’t find his true art talent until he attended a night class at the John McCrady Art School on Bourbon Street. Tom has worked in several sign shops throughout his career where he has made vinyl-cut signs, interior-lit signs, metal signs but he prefers hand-painted signs as vinyl-cut signs “don’t have that swing.” His favorite artist is Norman Rockwell and he keeps a copy of Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait” on his living room wall for inspiration.
One could spend hours having a good time with Tom but when it does come time to part he always leave you with these words – “God loves you and so do I. To be continued!”
from Cashew Company Journal Vol. 01 | No. 002, 2015
Photos of Tom’s work are tagged with #TomtheSignMan on Instagram.
Read more about Tom in these articles:
Anthony DelRosario, NOLA ‘Nacular