MONTE VISTA— Ivan Curley recently came out of retirement to show his talent once again.
Rain Brews owner Carol Riggenbach asked him if he could paint new letters on the tavern’s front window after she discovered that the original owner of the building was a woman named Lillian Fassett. Riggenbach wanted to showcase the businesswoman by changing the original lettering of L.L. Fassett to Lillian Fassett.
Curley obliged, as he has been painting signs for years and painted the north window of the Fassett building many years ago when it was a clothing store. It has been many things since then, but he was excited to paint on the window once again.
Curley used an old painting technique that is seldom used in signs anymore. He begins by hand painting the letters in yellow paint, and then while it’s not quite dry and still sticky he dusts it with “fake gold.” The “fake gold” he uses is finely ground bronze. After that dries he adds the liquid black shadows to the letters. Once the black paint is dry, he finishes it with a liquid clear coat. This last coat protects the sign, so it won’t rub off when the window is washed.
Curley had painted some signs for Riggenbach before at the Bridge in Alamosa.
“She found out I was still alive. That’s the problem; a lot of people think I’m dead and gone,” Curley joked as he talked about how rare it has become for people to ask him for signs.
Curley did his very first sign when he was in college at Adams State University. During that time, he spent one summer working for a man who ran a business building stock ponds in Los Alamos. His boss knew he was studying art at Adams State and asked him if he would paint his company name on one of his trucks.
The summer prior, he had worked with a local sign painter in the area, so he went to him for help. He gave Curley all the brushes he needed to paint his first sign on the truck.
The last spring, Curley was in college, a film was made in the mountains near the Valley. They had a premiere showing for it at the Rialto Theater in Alamosa, and the owner of the Rialto came to the college’s art department to see if someone could paint a big helium balloon to put above the marquee.
Curley said he would take the job and received 36 theater tickets in exchange for his labor. With all of his theater tickets he took all of his buddies to the movies, “It didn’t matter what it was, I took them, and we went to see it,” remembered Curley.
Curley graduated from Adams State with a B.A. in Art in 1953. Following graduation, Curley joined the army, but returned to the Valley in 1955 when his service was finished. He went back to Adams State and got his master’s degree in art and a teaching certificate.
“Here I am a starving artist, because I don’t have a job or anything when I got out of the army, so I did that,” he said. “The government paid for my schooling to get my master’s degree.”
After graduating he got a job in Boulder teaching art at Casey Jr. High School. In the summers he started doing some signs again in areas like Estes Park and Evergreen.
He moved back to the Valley in 1973 and lived in Center. He tried to get another job in teaching but couldn’t find one in the Valley anywhere. He applied for a position in Woodland Park and received a letter saying they were sorry but over 1,000 people had applied for the job. So he decided he better get more full-time work in the sign business.
There was a local sign painter who was way behind on his signs, so he hired Curley on commission to get him caught up. It took about a year to get him caught up. Curley then went into the sign business on his own.
Then in 1979 he got a chance to move to Monte Vista, where he has lived ever since, making signs and billboards in his double door garage.
Since the 1950s he’s been painting signs and his son has continued his father’s legacy running the business today. Curley says he’s semi-retired now but will still occasionally share his talents and do signs like the one on the historical front window of the tavern.