“My stock in trade was primarily a knowledge and a love of the letters of the alphabet,” Eric Sloane, American painter, author and illustrator said. “A century or two ago, people had their own peculiar reverence for the letters of the alphabet. They pondered the alphabet’s history and lore; they could become excited about the beauty of the printed page.”
Sloane known for his cloud paintings and nostalgic rendering of the barns, bridges and buildings of early-20th century America began his career as a sign painter.
His next door neighbor growing up in New York was famed font inventor Fredric Goudy (Goudy font). Sloane spent hours with Goudy learning how to hand paint letters and create signs.
Some of his first clients were pilots flying out of Roosevelt Field, Long Island. He painted identifying marks on their planes for them. In exchange for teaching him to paint, Wiley Post (famed American aviator) taught the young boy to fly.
Sloane was hooked on painting the sky and clouds from then on, a major theme in his work. Amelia Earhart bought his first cloud painting.
At age 20 he appropriated the family’s rickety Model T Ford and headed west with no particular destination in mind. He painted signs along the way to cover his expenses. A sense of adventure and a romance for the open road suited Sloane just fine. His pocket notebook was always beside him.
“I regard my notebook as a most important part of myself,” he said.
Unique hand calligraphy and lettering became a characteristic of his later illustrated books.
In his travels Sloane could see the early covered barns and signs he and others painted were becoming part of a vanishing rural America.
''I stood in the loneliness of an abandoned New England barn and felt the presence of the great American past,” he said.
These buildings were constructed to last for generations some with carefully laid stone walls and built by hard-working, self-reliant people. Craftsmanship and attention to detail were hallmarks of the early American builder and inventor.
“The American philosophy of competition (today) is often reduced to making something cheaper rather than making it better,” he said.
Sloane decided to paint an exhibition of oil paintings featuring the vanishing barns and signs like Bull Durham, Bromo-Seltzer, Mail Pouch Tobacco, and Carter’s Little Liver Pills. This same quality and attention to detail showed up in his later drawings and paintings.
Sign painters like himself avoided big towns. It was too hard to head into a big-city store and sell themselves. In a small town Sloane could walk into a store in the morning and at the end of the day walk out with $50 or more in his pocket.
One small town netted him 12 window signs in one day, not a bad haul for a painter starting out his morning on an empty stomach and wallet.
Sloane’s most famous painting is probably his skyscape mural, Earth Flight Environment, which is housed in the Independence Avenue Lobby in the "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Air_and_Space_Museum" \o "National Air and Space Museum" Air and Space Museum.
On May 2, 2019, Shannon’s Auctioneers featured a selection of Sloane’s paintings in its auction.
Here are some current values.
Covered Bridge in Winter; oil on Masonite; signed; 21 inches by 31 ½ inches; $10,625.
The Kitchen Pump; oil on Masonite; signed and titled; 18 ½ inches by 35 inches; $12,500.
Evening Quiet; oil on Masonite; signed; 19 inches by 38 inches; $18,750.
Just Suits; oil on Masonite; signed and inscribed; 27 ½ inches by 40 inches; $22,500.
Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller. For 27 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column. Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles. Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser. Visit the website at www.liveauctiontalk.com.