Keeping a classic art alive in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS -- You may not know Maxine Pearlman, but anyone who has spent any time in New Orleans has probably seen her work.  Pearlman studied fine arts in college and has spent the last 40 years painting signs by hand.

"There was only sign painting. There was no computer vinyl," Pearlman says of the early days of her career, compared to now. "I'm one of the last ones."

Pearlman battles everything from the heat to heights to get the jobs done.  She starts by laying out her project with chalk because it can be wiped away easily.  But in New Orleans, on a hot August afternoon, if Pearlman can't finish her job before the rain arrives, she risks losing her chalk outline.

"If it looks like it's going to rain, like today, and I haven't finished painting it, I'll go over the chalk with pencils," she says, referring to her rain-beating backup plan.

Pearlman says you don't have to be an artist to paint signs by hand.  In fact, she says she's trained many people who were not artists.  But she says you have to have patience.

"It's a craft with certain rules, and it takes a lot of practice."

While she says the market for her artwork is not what it used to be, there is a slowly building resurgence.  She says many of the city's young business owners who are restoring buildings are preferring to add a hand painted sign rather than a computer generated vinyl one.

"When there's no work, I always feel I've painted my last sign.  And the all of a sudden the telephone starts ringing," she says.  "So maybe it will make a comeback."

If you'd like to see several examples of Pearlman's work, just click on the video button above.  Oh, and we should add that artists run in her family.  Her daughter is none other than New Orleans musician Ingrid Lucia who graciously suggested one of her tunes for our story.  Just another reason to check it out!


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