S ince moving to Westport from the far-flung Methow Valley a year ago, Brad Pinkerton is still trying to carve himself a niche, both literally and figuratively.
Pinkerton, 61, a sign-maker by trade and bluegrass musician by avocation, relocated here when he and his wife got a real estate deal they couldn’t pass up.
Since then, Pinkerton has set up his sign shop — Acme Signs — temporarily in the seasonal fruit stand at the junction of State Route 105 and South Forrest Street.
“I don’t want to displace them,” Pinkerton said of the fruit stand that features produce trucked over from Eastern Washington during the “summer” months. “They’re only here three months a year, so I just rented it. … I would hate to see a part of the fruit stand disappear, but I don’t see how they can do it for $4 for a gallon of gas because he’s driving a full-sized truck.”
In the meantime, Pinkerton is trying to jump-start his handmade sign-making business that he ran successfully for many years in the Methow Valley, just over the North Cascades in Eastern Washington.
“I was in the Methow for about 16 years, so I pretty much decorated the town,” he said of his rustic wooden signs. “It’s whole tourist theme is false fronts and wooden sidewalks — the Old West stuff, so my signs really worked there.”
But he’s still trying to build clientele on the Harbor after moving lock, stock and barrel to Westport.
Well, almost. “I still have some tools in storage up in the Methow,” he said.
“My bread and butter has always been start-up businesses, because they need a logo and they need a sign, but there’s no start-up business going on here. I did do some work for the Tinderbox coffee shop in Westport, they bought a logo and several signs.”
Laments plastic signs
Pinkerton laments the emergence of the cheap, plastic signs now dotting the retail landscape on the Harbor and elsewhere, most of which don’t hold up to weather and time well, but are inexpensive for business owners.
“In 1982, someone invented the vinyl plotter and that was the end of hand-painted signs, Drive around and look at the signs. They’re one color, they’re falling apart, but they cost $35. But some people immediately see the value in a pretty, hand-painted sign,” Pinkerton said, noting that his hand-painted, wooden signs are made to last against the elements in either Eastern or Western Washington.
“I charge about a thousand dollars for a 4-by-8 sign, but they’re hand-carved and painted, and they last.”
And Pinkerton’s signs have so much more color and personality than something that comes out of a mold by the hundreds or thousands.
“Every sign-painter is a frustrated artist,” he said. “If I could just make pure art — visual art — and make money I’d do that,” he said. “But sign painting paid the bills until I came here.”
Noting he’ll make personal yard signs, too, Pinkerton said, “If I’m not selling stuff, I’m still going to be making stuff.”
No vinyl letters
Pinkerton’s colorful, rustic handiwork adorns the front and walls of his shop on the road between Westport and Grayland, including one that declares “no vinyl letters” and another that proclaims his affinity for the IWW — the Industrial Workers of the World.
“I’ve always been interested in the Wobblies, not just because they started in the Northwest,” Pinkerton said. “I’m a rag-chewing Socialist,” he said with a chuckle. “They made sure that people believe that capitalism and democracy are the same thing and they’re not. They’re very different things, but try to explain that to somebody. … If the rich own everything, they run the government.”
He thinks this country might be a bit better off by just embracing non-capitalist ideas now and then.
“Every other developed country in the world has socialized health care, and we go to the emergency room for two hours and it cost us $6,000. If we were in Canada it would cost about $15 … and the decisions we make now are going to resonate for generations.”
But Pinkerton doesn’t immerse himself in politics. He has been keeping himself busy by immersing himself in some of the local traditions, including clamming and crabbing.
He says his luck has been better with the clam shovel than the crab trap.
“I used a shovel until I broke it, now I use my clam gun,” he said, pointing to the broken shovel in the corner of his workshop. “What a fun deal clamming is. I’m not big on crowd scenes, but everybody is so happy and everybody has clams and little kids are screaming. … It’s pretty cool.”
As for crabbing?
“Oh, I’ve pulled some up, but they were all too small,” he said, “but I’m not going to give up until I’ve gone up and down every pier around here,” he said with a laugh.
“I love going to the beach every day,” he said with a broad smile.
Pinkerton is also always hunting for venues to play music — bluegrass music — and often has accomplished bluegrass musicians visiting him “at the beach” who are always willing to sit in.
So far, he has found a few small gigs at the Tinderbox, Westport Brewery and the Tokeland Hotel.
Pinkerton began playing the bluegrass fiddle as a teenager, even competing and placing at a national fiddling contest in Texas.
“I started going to the national fiddle contest in 1972 or 73,” he said. “It’s like Mecca. It’s acoustic music for nine days and the contest. In the meantime, it’s a big excuse for everybody to get together. The thing about those … it’s not the contest that draws everybody… it’s the camp-out and the jamming, camaraderie, the barbecue — it’s a great scene — a really great bunch of people.”
Pinkerton doesn’t play the fiddle as much anymore. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s been specializing in mandolin for years now.
“I had a friend tell me once that every time I got my heart broken I learn another instrument,” he said. “I guess that’s how I became a multi-instrumentalist. But music is another language and I’ve been lucky to be able to communicate through music, too.”
Years later, those Texas gatherings inspired Pinkerton to organize a music festival while in the Methow Valley. It ran for 14 years.
He’d like to use those connections some day to organize a bluegrass festival on the South Beach.
“I’ve been playing bluegrass since the 1970s,” said Pinkerton, citing his grandfather and bluegrass legend David Grisman as his earliest influences. “I’ve lucked out. I’ve met some really good musicians in Texas and the Northwest. Now I’ve been playing with them for like 25 years so it’s really fun.”
What would it take to get a bluegrass festival going?
“It’s going to take some time,” Pinkerton said. “I haven’t found any bluegrass players here yet. But I can get the musicians here. I can get the players over here. It’s just finding a venue and paying for their gas.”
A little more business and a little more bluegrass and Pinkerton thinks he’ll get used to South Beach living.
Besides, he said, “I’d rather take a beating than move again.”
David Haerle, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3928 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org