Wall Dog Murals

On North Mill Street in Pontiac, Illinois, the International Walldog Mural & Sign Art Museum preserves the murals, hand painted advertisements, and the history of the artists who painted them. 

cokeIt all started in the late 1880’s when it became very trendy to paint advertisement on the brick wall of a building, old barn, or early billboards. There have been artists who engaged in advertising painting and sign making for centuries, however, the artists who painted on buildings and barns would by 1900 become known as “Wall Dogs.” Some researchers attribute the name to the vast amount of hours that the artists would spend painting from ladders and scaffolding. Hence, “working like a dog!” It would not be long before an entire cottage industry of roaming artists traveling from town to town painting signs, buildings, and barns grew up from the trend.

Around 1895, the President of Coca-Cola Company, Asa Candler, hired a small army of artists to fan out throughout the United States and pay businesses and citizens to paint the familiar Coca-Cola logo on the sides of their buildings and barns. According to most documentation, Coca-Cola Company would continue this pay-and-paint advertising program until the late 1950’s. Many of these hand painted logos can still be found scattered throughout America and, to a small but growing group of preservationists, the faded logos have become roadside attractions.  Starting in the early 1990’s, a movement began to restore and repaint the famous Coca-Cola logos.

In 1935 John G. Carter, the owner of the roadside attraction called “Rock City” at Lookout Mountain, Georgia, had his famous logo, “See Rock City,” painted on the sides and roofs of barns. He contracted sign painter and Walldog legend, Clark Byers to deliver a few “See Rock City” logos on barns. Byers, who was being paid by the barn, painted 900 barns in 19 different states.

faded cokeCoca-Cola and See Rock City are the most prevalent of the early Walldog works, and however faded, these antique advertising paintings can be found on buildings in nearly every town incorporated before 1950.  Historians are now trying to locate and document Walldog advertising from around the United States. There are literally thousands of hand painted ads including hotels, furniture stores, drug stores, car dealers, and livery stables.

Over the years I have photographed and kept dozens of these murals in small towns wherever I go. I never knew there was a particular genre of mural artist called wall dogs, but that makes it even more interesting. I have quite a few examples of these murals on my photo blog that you can visit HERE. Scroll through the photos and you might get a better feel for the historical interest that they have.

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