Chester Cunningham

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Mike Jackson
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Chester Cunningham

Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Jul 07, 2004 12:48 pm

Hi all,
Somewhere in Dave Draper's post below I strayed off course and mentioned Chester Cunningham, with additional responses that further strayed off course. Chester was doing his creative sign work before computers, so you will enjoy seeing the stylish hand lettering and bold layouts.

SC told me I could use their article from Issue #5 for this site, so maybe I can build a page someday.

If you own any original Chester Cunningham photos, please let me know. I just need scans and not the actual photo.
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Mike Jackson
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Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

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Teton Images
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Raymond Chapman
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Location: Temple. Texas

Cunningham Photos

Post by Raymond Chapman » Wed Jul 07, 2004 1:43 pm

Mike - I have a bunch of Chet's photos from back when we were exchanging pictures with each other. Tod used some of the slides I have for the museum, but you are welcomed to anything I have.

Give me a few days to scan in some and I will send them to you. But it is going to cost you an arm and a leg. Or maybe just a nice meal the next time I'm in Jackson Hole.

Mike Jackson
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Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Jul 07, 2004 3:14 pm

Raymond,
You'd get a good meal next time you are in Jackson Hole whether you scan the photos or not....but it's still a deal!
Mike Jackson
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
Teton Images
Jackson Hole photography blog:
Best of the Tetons

Bob Rochon
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Post by Bob Rochon » Wed Jul 07, 2004 4:05 pm

Interesting enough, I just aquired all the older signcrafts I never had the pleasure of being around for and with just thumbing through them the exact workmanship you are now posting struck me with such a strong passion.

It is odd how just last week I was admiring chester's work and now your posting about him.

Simply eye stimulating layouts.
"Some People's Kids"

Mike Jackson
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Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Jul 07, 2004 9:53 pm

Bob,
I hope to get more photos and build a special page for Chester similar to the ones for Rick Glawson and Steven Parrish. It takes time and more data, of course.

As I mentioned earlier, Chester was already becoming "famous" within the sign trade when I was just getting started. When you look at his work after a quarter of a decade, you will probably still be impressed. To really appreciate Chester's work, you need to find a stack of late 1960s Signs of the Times magazines and thumb through them. I think the best description of the work in the magazines during the time was "gray". Few had any "gallop" as George Seelander liked to call it. Colors were sterile and boring across the board.

His work was ground breaking and striking at the time, and that is the genius of the man. He broke out of the norm and sent the sign trade in a new and more exciting direction. With that said, I believe Chester was a quick study and he picked up on some of the style being done in and around the Chicago area. Keith Knecht and Ken Millar might have more insight on that if we can pry it loose from them. I am a big fan of Tom Kelly and Bob Behounek, both of which have carried Chester's bold layouts and bright distinctive color schemes forward into the '80s and beyond.

Most will probably appreciate the "punch" Chester achieved in the limited examples shown above, yet I suspect a few might say, "What's the big deal?". Since Chester, the sign trade has picked up on his work and that kind of work is much more common. There are quite a few who blatantly copy his style and layouts, changing only the text. I am not condemning them at all, but more pointing out the facts.

Dang, I gotta go find that old book!

Mike
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
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Jackson Hole photography blog:
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Doug Bernhardt
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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Wed Jul 07, 2004 10:49 pm

Hi Goldie and all,
I also was just getting into the sign biz when his name (Cunningham's) was being touted by one of the guys in the shop (I was in), Paul Schwaylk. Paul was a top notch guy and had a small business on the side....and got the trade mags. This is really the first I remember of seeing Chester's work and BOY does that style look familiar!!!! an incredibly influencial man. Similar I'd guess to H.C.Martin in their respective times, and with a style their own. Look forward to a closer look when you get that page running.
This also brings to mind a somewhat larger discussion about the influences of different craftsman in their own time. When in England for Ash Bishop's "Folk 'n' Ale" meet a few years ago I could clearly see Dave Smith's influence on all (and I mean ALL) the glass work and even the vinyl glass work, at that meet. The way he spaces and the bright lines touching...those sorts of "clues". I also see this from the examples you provided...alot of Mike Steven's and a sort of "american" look.
This has been an oddly worded ramble as it's awfully hard to write down a decent description of "the look" that we all might understand....and hope the point wasn't missed

David Harding
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Post by David Harding » Wed Jul 07, 2004 10:59 pm

Great design is timeless, whether executed via hand or machine. Chester’s work, although done over a quarter century ago, still inspires.

I never met Chester but in the early ‘80s I hired a sign painter, Ron Collier, who had worked with Chester in Alabama. Ron had some pictures of Chester’s work and was greatly influenced by him and tried to make every sign he lettered something that would make Chester proud.

Being in the middle of many Cunningham like projects was enthralling... and intimidating. It weighs into the reasons I never learned to hand letter–I wouldn't be able to hold a candle, much less a brush, to that level of craftsmanship.

I too have to go find my old Chester Cunningham book.
David M. Harding
A Sign of Excellence
Carrollton, TX
www.asignx.com

Raymond Chapman
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More Cunningham

Post by Raymond Chapman » Thu Jul 08, 2004 8:06 am

Today, we talk a lot about "passion" and how it relates to our business. Chet certainly had that, and that was what set him apart from others around him. One time he told me about traveling and coming across a great looking sign and taking a photo of it. As it turned out, the light wasn't right and he drove a hundred miles the next weekend just to get another picture when the lighting was better.

He called the sign business his "mistress", and it cost him several wives, according to him.

In one of his letters he talked about the influence he received from the Chicago area, especially the Heath brothers, whom I didn't know. He also mentioned the Seelanders.

One of the best pieces of advice that he ever game me was "always give the customer more than he expects".

As he grew up in Dothan, Alabama, he began to do "Cunningham" type signs and the local old timers would make fun of him and say"no one cares about that fancy stuff, they just want a low price". Years later when he had moved to Georgia and became well known in the trade those same old timers were claiming, "I taught him everything he knows". Chet always got a kick out of telling that story.

Mike, I was one of those that copied his work. And I'm still at it....now I just copy Mike Jackson, Gary Anderson, Nancy and Noella, David Butler and a whole bunch more.

Now, where is that Cunningham book?

Jack Keith
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Me too.

Post by Jack Keith » Thu Jul 08, 2004 8:11 am

What Raymond said, only adding his name as well!

Jack
Did I spel that write?

Jack Wills
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Post by Jack Wills » Thu Jul 08, 2004 8:58 am

I remember when working at a shop in Peoria,IL that the
only trade magazine available was Sign of the Times.
All of us Painters in the shop would try to be the first to
grab that Mag from the office when the mail came to see
if there was any Chester, stuff. He was the cream at that time.
If ever there would have been a crowning in those days
he would have been the High Minstrel. It makes you wonder
If he was still around, how much his work would have
continued to evolve.

Jack Wills

Kent Smith

Chester

Post by Kent Smith » Fri Jul 09, 2004 3:38 pm

I know that Chester's kit and photo albums were still at Emmetts the last time I saw Emmett just before he died. I assume his son has all of that still and I have my Sister-in-law looking for him. If not successful, I will take up the search when I am there next April. I met The Man on my first trip there many moons ago. And, I agree with all of the above.

Mike Jackson
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Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Jan 12, 2005 8:25 pm

Image

Image

Image

Image

I was digging around looking for those pesky Beta Max tapes and found an old notebook with some photos of a few notable signmakers from the late '70s and early '80s. Above are four more done by Chester Cunningham. Despite asking quite a few sources for additional photos, no one sent any. Oh well...we just have to enjoy the few I can find.

I also found a few by Bob Behounek, Keith Knecht, and Raymond Chapman...many in the Cunningham style.

Mike
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
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Jackson Hole photography blog:
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Mike Meyer
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Chester's daugther

Post by Mike Meyer » Thu Jan 13, 2005 7:20 am

:) I have a bit of Chester to add....I few years back, I saw a post on the Sign Museum web site that Chester Cunningham's Daughter was looking for a copy of his sketch book which Mike has shown a few pictures of on this thread......at one time it was the rage in the sign industry when SignCraft was just coming into it's first years. Anyway, she was living in Florida and I responded to her thread and ended up sending her an extra copy that I had. She was delighted. At the time she was trying to find more information about her dad. I believe she also has another sister.
That sketch book is still cutting edge, yes, it's defintely 70's but alot of ideas can be taken from it, and it is all HAND LETTERING!
I look back thru mine on occasion...it's a breath of fresh air!!

Mark Fair
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Post by Mark Fair » Thu Jan 13, 2005 3:14 pm

Many years ago i was working as a billboard painter for lamar advertising here in montgomery.
I was headed to the job site and lo and behold a beautiful welding truck based out of dothan, alabama pulled up beside me, it was one of chester's truck lettering jobs i had seen in signcraft!

i followed beside the guy for as long as i could just to get a good look at the welder graphic and lettering he had done so beautifully.
does anyone remember this truck?

just like mr. meyer, i still dig out old signcraft magazines just to look at Chester Cunningham's work.

the guy in my opinion was very cutting edge with his colorful work.

thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

Raymond Chapman
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Welding Truck

Post by Raymond Chapman » Thu Jan 13, 2005 7:49 pm

Yes Mark, I've spent many moments looking at a photo of that welding truck. I remembered it as being in Signs of the Times, but it doesn't make any difference - it was still great work. Just like everything he did.

Mark Fair
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Post by Mark Fair » Thu Jan 13, 2005 8:25 pm

hey ray,
i couldn't remember if i had seen the truck in signcraft or signs of the time, but i do remember the truck! :lol:

John Lennig
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Chester Cunningham

Post by John Lennig » Sun Jan 16, 2005 12:28 pm

Oh yes, Chester Cunningham sure made a big impression on me! Seeing his work in ST, then getting his sign design notebook in '82, I was just newly on my own, after working for other shops for 17 years.

Panels, Bold designs, colours, it was So Different than what was happening up here!

the ISBN # is o-911380-57-4

pub. by Sign of the Times Pub. Co.

title: The Chester Cunningham sign design notebook.

def. worth a search for!

John Lennig
"You spelled it wrong!"

Regina Wolfgang
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Re: Chester Cunningham

Post by Regina Wolfgang » Tue Mar 22, 2016 10:57 pm

I tried to click on the sign museum link to view their Cunningham items but it would not take me there. Although I never got to meet him, I have shared his same passion for signs since lettering the racing plate on my dirt bike. In 1986 I entered the Chester Cunningham Memorial Fund Contest and was awarded grand prize winner. It was a shock at the time since I was merely a beginner in the craft. The true irony is that my Mom told me that Chester Cunningham was my biological father in 1984. I was working at a sign shop in Dothan at the same time that she told me. Years later I began to search for him only to find that he had passed away. Over the years, I was fortunate to learn more about him through sign magazines, his former friends and employers. I am still at it in my small shop in Chipley, FL...signmaking/designing. The Chester notebook is still on my computer desk and offers up inspiration in my creative lulls along with a treasure trove of retro sign magazines.

Robare M. Novou
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Re: Chester Cunningham

Post by Robare M. Novou » Thu Mar 24, 2016 10:29 pm

That's a very interesting story. Thanks for sharing it.!
What's On Your Book Shelf ?

http://www.milwaukeesignworks.com

Lee Littlewood
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Re: Chester Cunningham

Post by Lee Littlewood » Tue Apr 19, 2016 11:26 pm

Hi Regina, and welcome to the Signpainter Appreciation Network. How strange to have one of the greats be your father(!)
Your story makes one wonder if there is something genetic about the craft, sort of like the Bach children becoming musicians.
Please keep painting and posting...
where am i? Now, when i need me...

Joe Morreale
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Re: Chester Cunningham

Post by Joe Morreale » Mon May 30, 2016 11:39 am

When I was learning Chester was so different and bold that anything we did to resemble his work turned his name into a verb. I remember my father looking at an order and saying I'm going to Cunningham this one, as he started painting panels on a board. It was a sad day when I head of his car accident. Even worse of his passing. All that knowledge and creativity gone in a heartbeat.

Mike Jackson
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Re: Chester Cunningham

Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Feb 01, 2017 10:09 pm

I just went back to the old site and uploaded the missing photos to the original post from 2004. MJ
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
Teton Images
Jackson Hole photography blog:
Best of the Tetons

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