Vintage Soul

Cape Cod Home  /  Early Summer 2020 / ,

Writer: Allyson Plessner

Vintage is in! Artist Jeff Dinardo pulls from a fascination with history and a background in art to create striking vintage signs.

Just inside the entrance to Cotuit Harbor sits a shingled building with a three-story gambrel and tall, stately tower. Behind that, a mansion stands surrounded by elegant evergreens. Excited voices carry from a tearoom on the property where families are enjoying ice cream and fizzy sodas in glass bottles, down to the peaceful shores of the beach, where a long line of bathhouses lead along a boardwalk out to the sand. On the water, sailors bask in the warm sun of a summer day on Cape Cod, and bathers take one last swim before dinner: a home cooked meal. At the entrance to the property, a red sign introduces visitors to Hotel Pines, established in 1894.

Today, Hotel Pines is sadly no longer, but the cherished stories of summers spent along the shores of Cotuit and rooms rented for under $15 a week (including meals, of course) live on. And, the red sign? Well, artist Jeff Dinardo has made sure that memory endures as well.

“I was lucky enough, with the help of the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit, to find what the original signage looked like. It was great to bring that back to life,” says Dinardo who recently created a replica of the beloved Hotel Pines sign—weathered to look as if it had truly withstood all the years of trying winter storms and hot summer days that the Cape has undergone since the hotel closed. Dinardo has found a passion in crafting custom, vintage-inspired signs like this one. With a degree in studio art and career as a graphic designer creating children’s textbooks, sign-making gives Dinardo the opportunity to mesh that background with his love for woodworking. “It’s all my interests combined,” he says, “It’s design—finding the perfect typeface; it’s woodworking; and, it’s painting.”

Each of Dinardo’s pieces begins, naturally, with a unique idea. “I love working with clients because it pushes me to do things that I might not have thought of on my own,” says Dinardo, referencing his favorite sign: a timeless design for a company called Bradley Photography where, apart from providing the initial spark, the client pretty much let Dinardo have free creative rein. After the preliminary conception of a sign, Dinardo takes to his computer to put his graphic design skills to work. He chooses the different typefaces and colors, creating a digital layout of the desired sign, and then, he takes that to the client so they can visualize what the final version will look like. “Once they are happy with the early design, I get to work,” explains Dinardo. “I start building the sign out of wood and painting it. Then, it’s time to add that vintage element.”

Dinardo is personally inspired by signage from the turn of the century, and his goal is to create signs that appear at least more than 50-years-old. “That’s the real challenge,” he says, “and for me, aging the sign has turned out to be the most fun.” Dinardo does everything from weathering the framing of a sign, to making the entire piece look as if it has been repaired or repainted over time. The painted elements are often cracked, giving the sign that vintage charm. As with any great artistry, Dinardo’s evolution as a sign-maker has included a lot of trial and error. “I’m happy to say that I don’t have it down pat,” he laughs. “I’m always learning.”

The creation timeline of Dinardo’s signs varies anywhere from a couple weeks to a month. “I like to take my time perfecting a design,” says Dinardo. “My signs are never rushed.” The reward for that patience and attention to detail is not only incredible, antique-inspired masterpieces, but most importantly, happy customers. “I think the best part for me is handing over a sign once it’s done,” says Dinardo. “It’s very satisfying and peaceful to have time to myself as I create the signs, but the most gratifying part is people’s reactions once it’s done.” The inside of Dinardo’s home is a truly a testament to his skill, as his wife often claims vintage signs that he intended to sell—“there will be no more signs going in the house,” laughs Dinardo. “We’re full.”

The worn frames, crackling paint, and distressed nature of Dinardo’s works makes each sign a unique masterpiece—it’s quite the feat to create something that looks well-loved but at the same time eye-catching. However, it’s a balance that Dinardo has grasped well, and one that hints at the true genius of his work: the celebration of history. The Cape is a region where stories abound—where generations share happy moments looking out at the dunes of Provincetown or playing “who can spot the bridge first” as they drive toward that long-awaited summer vacation. Many Cape Codders—seasonal and otherwise—would be hard pressed not to be able to recall the sign outside their favorite ice cream store or the one for the old inn down the street. In all of those treasured Cape Cod memories that are so intrinsic to the region’s identity, there’s likely a sign in the background, and that’s what Dinardo’s artwork captures so well: memories. Perhaps that’s the power of vintage, but more than likely, it’s also the skill of an artist who loves Cape Cod and has made the history of this special region his passion.

Somewhere in the depths of history an old automobile chugs down Ocean Avenue. People stop their strolls to look down the wooded street, but not at the fancy gasoline-powered car…at a red sign. And, somewhere in the future, an artist bends over his worktable, lovingly, painstakingly rendering a little red piece of history.

For more information, visit Jeff Dinardo and his vintage signs online here and in person at 552 Main Street, Cotuit!

For more Life’s Canvas, click here!

Allyson Plessner

Allyson Plessner is a former editorial intern for Cape Cod Life and now works for the publication as a staff writer and digital media coordinator. Born in Florida, Allyson has been a lifelong summer resident of the Cape. She is a recent alumna of the College of Charleston, located in Charleston, South Carolina, where she completed bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish. In her free time, Allyson is an avid sailor, beach-goer, and—like her fellow Cape Cod Life colleagues—a dog-lover.