“Walldog” is an old term for the sign, mural, and billboard artists who painted large scale advertisements on the sides of buildings throughout the country. You can still find haunting evidence of their work in many of the cities and towns of Montana. Uptown Butte is a particular treasure trove of these “ghost signs”.
These old advertisements are not usually signed, but I recently noticed that a couple of the more distinctive Butte signs that I’ve taken pictures of are signed with the name “Meinhart.”
The first one I noticed was on an advertisement for “Dry Climate” cigars:
I was initially focused on the fact that the cigars were “union made”, but then I noticed the “Meinhart” in the lower right corner.
I looked more carefully at my other Butte pictures, and discovered his name again once I zoomed in on an advertisement for Sweet’s Candies:
See it there in the bottom center of the sign? So who was this guy who signed his work when most of his cohorts were content to stay anonymous?
I searched the Montana Historical Society research catalog, and discovered that they have two boxes of information on the Butte signpainter Frank G. Meinhart, including his obituary from May 22, 1947, when he died – by drowning – at age 73.
Frank Meinhart came to Montana from St. Louis when he was a young man, and lived and worked in Butte until about 1927, when he and his wife moved to Hamilton. He seemed to do quite well for himself: the archives include many letters from the manager of a ranch he owned in the Wise River Valley, as well as references to other land that he owned near Bozeman. In fact, on the back of one of the letters, I found a couple of small sketches that Frank was obviously trying out for the Congressional campaign of Senator Thomas Walsh:
There is even a little biographical note that Frank seemed to have written about himself in which he notes that he is a personal friend of Charlie Russell and E.S. Paxson, another well-known western artist. He named his only son Russell, so if he wasn’t a friend he certainly was an admirer. Tragically, young Russell died at only 8 years old from a tooth infection, and the Meinharts had no other children. The Photographic Archives of the Historical Society have the following picture of Russell, probably taken a couple of years before he died. It’s an unusual photograph for the time — informal and truly boy-like — and I can imagine that Frank and his wife were thankful they had it:
Frank set up shop at 119 South Main Street in Butte. The Photographic Archives also have a number of photographs of his work, including one of the interior of his workshop:
Included in the archives as well are a number of photographs of Frank Meinhart’s work and a work-in-progress. He painted a number of walls for the Sweet’s Chocolates Company.
Looks like they’re painting over an old flour advertisement, doesn’t it? Also looks like they might need the services of “Sam R. White, Undertaker” if they don’t watch their step. Here are a couple more from the archives:
Frank Meinhart painted landscapes and western scenes in addition to his sign painting work, and I would dearly love to find one of his paintings one day. Might just happen…