All signs point to Museo

Tim Leonard

Need a sign?

Look no further than First Street in Langley. Museo will open an exhibit all about signs in the literal sense with an artist reception 5-7 p.m., Saturday, March 5. Seattle painter Kellie Talbot and Langley-area metal artist Tim Leonard are the featured creators in the March show.

Their focus is on a theme of reinterpreting the metal and neon signs that bombarded people along the byways and highways of bygone eras. The signs’ popularity may be fading with time as LED signs and readerboards are favored, but these two are clinging to the art of a handmade and painted metal sign, simple in its elegance and design but a true labor.

“It’s all about the neon and the signs, they just seem to complement each other,” said Museo owner and curator Sandra Jarvis.

Where their subject is similar, their delivery is worlds apart.

Talbot’s works will make visitors do a double take and no doubt ask one another if they’re looking at a picture or a painting. Her photo realist, oil-on-canvas paintings will be of old metal signs, the kind piling up at The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. Wherever she travels, like a recent road trip from New Orleans, she keeps her camera ready to capture the glitz and glamor and eventual squalor of all things manmade given enough time and decay.

“Lots of people like to go on vacation to the beach. I like to go to Detroit and New Orleans and Yakima,” Talbot said in a phone interview.

“I like to paint signage, cemeteries, train depots, old granaries, things like that, things that are man-made and have created our society and system,” she added. “To me, they are portraits of people, without having people in them.”

The paintings are more than mere reflections. Details of the rusted metal, fading colors and broken lamps are nostalgic, harkening back to a time when possibilities were endless, the middle class grew and wartime was a memory.

She describes her work as being “an elegy and a hope.” Elaborating on that idea, Talbot said there is a resurgence of hand crafters, of deliberate creation, in a range of forms.

“We can draw a ton of parallels with things that are going on with our society right now,” she said. “Craft beer is coming back, letter craft artists, screen printing.”

Such an artist is Tim Leonard, owner of Heavy Metal Works. Leonard is a familiar face around South Whidbey. Anyone spending time in Langley has likely seen or even sat under his work. He created the umbrellas and facade at Useless Bay Coffee Company and industrial creations like ventilation systems at Double Bluff Brewing Company.

A metal worker by trade, he shed his industrial projects — ventilation ducts, tables, hood vents — for his passion of shaping aluminum and steel and copper into forms of art for the past six months. His fixation on the works of a time gone by, what he calls the “Atomic Age,” inspired him to create 20 original pieces for the Museo show. There are five-point stars, nova-style stars as if they are bursting from the center, T-cross stars, diamonds, and what he described as being pieces of an old, dismantled theater marquee.

The real star of his labor, he said, is a six-foot-tall finial, the top of a sign or building that has curves and layers as if it were a swan tucking its neck down.

For Leonard, these works are a matter of taking what was old and reinterpreting it for the modern age and the future. LED signs at New York’s Times Square do not impresso him. Instead, give Leonard a day to flip through the pages of a vintage Vegas photobook.

“I can show you photos of even Yakima in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s and these signs are everywhere,” he said inside his shop adjacent to his home. With a dozen or so bright yellow, pink, orange, blue and red painted metal stars propped atop tables and counters, he said his home has become “The Fun House.”

“People are still working the glass, but the metal is something I’m trying to keep alive,” he added.

Talbot and Leonard are keeping it alive, reflecting the past and projecting the future of signs.

Looking back to see what’s ahead

Museo gallery in Langley is exhibiting the works of Kellie Talbot, a Seattle painter, and Tim Leonard, a Langley metal artist, through March 27.

An artists’ reception is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Saturday, March 5 at the First Street gallery.

Talbot creates photo realist oil-on-canvas paintings of old metal and neon signs she sees in her travels. The details are sure to make viewers wonder if they’re looking at a picture.

Leonard forges retro-inspired metal signs with lighting that are reminiscent of 1950s and 1960s America, with a modern spin.

The exhibit opening reception is free. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday.