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the world's best
Russell Chatham
December 02, 1974
BILL SCHAADT IS A SIGN PAINTER, BUT HIS TRUE ART IS DISPLAYED ON THE RIVERS OF THE WEST, WHERE HE WIELDS A FLY ROD LIKE NO MAN ALIVE
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December 02, 1974

The World's Best

BILL SCHAADT IS A SIGN PAINTER, BUT HIS TRUE ART IS DISPLAYED ON THE RIVERS OF THE WEST, WHERE HE WIELDS A FLY ROD LIKE NO MAN ALIVE

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Schaadt moved to the Russian River from San Francisco in the mid-'40s and took a job in a garage in Guerneville. He loved the river so much he bought a lot in the tiny town of Monte Rio and built himself a place. Unable to tolerate the restrictions of regular employment, he took up sign painting and opened the only shop in the area.

In a resort community all effort is directed at the summer trade, so Schaadt would be busy during the late spring and summer painting signs and have the fall and winter off—the best time for fishing.

When I first met him I was interested in learning the sign painter's trade, and spent a lot of time at a sign shop near my home. I soon realized I had neither the hand nor the patience for the work, but I never tired of watching Schaadt. His natural ability gives his work swing, as it is called in the business, which means that his letters and words move well together.

Suppose he was painting the word REAL ESTATE, the final effect of which was to be a casually vigorous script. Using a wide, square-tipped sable brush called a greyhound, Schaadt might first cut in the letter E in the word REAL. Then he might do the L. From there he might go to the last E in ESTATE, while next would come the first T of the same word.

Until the last few minutes the whole thing might more closely resemble an abstract expressionist painting than a sign. The reason for working this way is that the air, or space, between the letters is as important as the letters themselves. Many signwriters use this system, but few with Schaadt's flair.

Schaadt was raised in San Francisco and briefly attended San Francisco Junior College (now City College of San Francisco) but lost patience. Once he showed me a sketchbook with a few nudes he had done that appeared to be studies after Rubens, but he seemed to have little interest in them. He is not the contemplative type. His day is filled with a multiplicity of projects. His cars alone are more than an ordinary person could handle. There always seem to be about three in his yard that run and at least that many that do not. These are usually in the process of being rebuilt.

Similarly, six or eight boats are stored on the rack just inside his yard. Some of these need annual attention and there is inevitably some newly acquired craft being rebuilt or fiber glassed.

The sewing machine is one of his most frequently used tools. Schaadt remakes all the upholstery for the cars, sews leather, awnings, tarps, and keeps his own extensive wardrobe in tidy repair. It is typical that while doing some mending he will get carried away and begin embroidering designs or maybe his name on a garment.

A few years ago he built a handsome and serviceable workshop in his yard. As might be expected, he split the redwood shakes that cover it himself. Inside the shop, leaning against the walls as well as tied to the rafters, are an astonishing number of bicycles. There are motorcycles and scooters, too, some of which Schaadt built. He is a bike freak, selling and trading them, and he can be prevailed upon to repair them—if the pleas for such aid are properly delivered.

Once he and I were standing in his yard talking when there was a clatter of young sounds outside the gate.

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