The Mark of the Hand on New York: A Writer Wednesday Post

December 6th, 2012 | Posted by Irene in Essays | Poetry

The hand is the subject of one of my earliest essays as a child. It still remains one of the things that makes me deeply Glad To Be Human. Speaking of  which, I’m told that within a week, the e-version of my essay Glad To Be Human will be available wherever ebooks are sold.

 To listen to this post, please click here:The Mark of the Hand on New York

Fading somewhat, but we are still able to see the mark of the hand on New York. In the pause between a building coming down and the next arising, sometimes we find these old poems on windowless faces of brick.

Even ads can turn to poems when hands made them.  A weathered thing, an earnest hope, a painted record of desire. Pause. Hear the long-dead designer conversing with all three proprietors. “Use the same colors. It’ll cost less. I’ll make ‘em different.”

The eye worked out this stack of signs, but hands dipped brushes into buckets and applied it dripping to the wall. Blue-handed painters scrub their cracking palms with turpentine, and when the last rag‘s cast, and their laddered truck has rattled away, feel the gentlemanly handclasps of congratulations, smell the cigars and the whiskey toasts, sense the vest-popping pride in the bright yellow round and the elegant arrow encircling the upper sign, showing the way to the showrooms, to sunny success.

We feel hope in the work of the hand.

The modern thrill of metal furniture, the tingle of electrical appliances catching for years the upcast city eye, the upcast imagination. The allure of Smart Gifts. Hope in the shopper as well.

Yet culture and fashion, vogue and design are but grist in the turning stones of New York, feeding new appetites.  The passage of time itself is the poem, but the hand is what sets it before us.


A walk in Murray Hill this week inspired this post. If you find such signs as evocative as I do, you might want read about the Mack Sign Company here or more about the signs themselves here.

Do you see the mark of the hand where you live?


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  • Glenn Werner

    I love this post. it brings back so many memories growing up in New York. There is much that’s hidden in Manhattan. Some through time as you point out and some by design. Two immediately come to mind that were done by my design mentor years ago. One hidden on purpose the other the same way you describe here. He created an Iron Sculpture of a Bi-Plane and set it on the roof of 77 Water St. with an Astro-turf runway. Pictures of it can easily be found on the web. The other I’ve yet to find evidence of and myself can only give an approximation of the location now. If I were there I could walk to it but I don’t remember the address. It is in Mid-town on the East side, Second or Third Avenue. One entire wall of an office building was laid in brick according to spec creating what, at the time, was called a Super Graphic. It was a pattern of arrows in light grays and white. Another building has been built immediately adjoining that building completely blocking it from view. There are so many and so many hiding in plain site. Often all it takes to uncover them is to look up. Thank you for this post. It has churned my creative juices. – gw

    • How wonderful, Glenn! I looked up the biplane and here it is:Biplane Would love to see the Super Graphic–maybe some day. Meantime, glad your considerable creativity is stirred–

  • Mana


  • Karen Beckwith

    Irene! I love these painted ads SO much that just before I left Garrison I designed an entry sign inspired by just such talented hands as these in Murray Hill—-but channeling the country mouse equivalent of tobacco and seed/fertilizer ads on barn siding— for one of Jamie Copeland’s country projects in (if I remember right) NY along the Delaware. Mark helped with the digital, and we had it painted by a theater set designer. In a strangely prescient move, I also designed the structure onto which the sign was to be painted: a water tower! My other city fascination….though I was thinking ‘Petticoat Junction’ at the time, I must admit!

    You rock.

  • MARK R

    Hi Irene! Yes, the mark of the hand…. LoVe those old painted walls in new york …. the beauty or time, BOTH past present and THE assumption of their future fadIing till no longer a marker on the the physical… Lately I’ ve been driving with Grace and she always points out the old telephone lines on the side of the road as we drive by, “What are those and why are there so many and why do we need them?” I explain that they are for the phone wires…. and think of how they will all be gone soon…… with the onset of cell service the main lines are disappearing and state after state has let go of regulations requiring the industry to maintain the poles/ lines…… Remember all those beautiful pictures of birds on a line? Vast expanses of poles collected by the garland wires stretching for miles accross a rural landscape? All soon to be documents and remembrances of these soon to be extinct ” trees”…….

    • Thanks for reminding me of that great old Leonard Cohen song, “Like a Bird On the Wire.” I first heard Joan Baez sing it piercingly–songs live on, as well you know, Songwriter!

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