Identifying Sideshow Banner Artists
Sideshow banners are often misidentified due to fake signatures, lack knowledge and assumption. This misidentification can cause issues in the market of vintage sideshow banners. Misidentified banners can negatively effect the market if they are sold as a Fred Johnson VS. a Snap Wyatt. One artist can be more valuable to a collector than another artist. Beyond this, if a banner is fake and misrepresented, the market can be greatly impacted with counterfeit artwork.
Each of these artists have a certain “look” that is almost indescribable and describable at the same time. Along with a specific look, they all have individual characteristics that help define them. These characteristics can range from painting style, lettering style, the layout and composition of the banner, to the stitching in the leather grommets. Below, I will go into detail of these characteristics of many different artists.
– Identifying a Fred G. Johnson Banner –
Fred Johnson (FJ) banners are very distinct for several reasons, there are no others like them. Even though they are so unique, there is still some confusion about artists at times. To start, Fred Johnson had a very unique “hand” or style of painting that seemed to jump off the canvas, or even draw you in with his realistic perspectives. By realistic perspective, I mean three dimensional perspective and realistic renderings of the human and object form. Johnson’s human figures are very three dimensional with the help of shading. The settings that the human subjects are set in are also very multidimensional. Because Johnson does such an outstanding job with perspective, the outside of the banner acts as a window that the viewer is looking through and becomes an optical illusion. Along side being realistic, his paintings have an illustrated look to them. Out of all of the classic artists, Fred Johnson had a very realistic style.
The title of a FJ banner can also very distinctive. Along with the standard yellow background, dark blue lettering and turquoise shadow, FJ uses a specific typeface and shadow. The Typeface has rounded corners and is fairly comical in nature. The shadow behind the typeface is typically slanted, touching the bottom of the letter form and slanting away from the top of the letter. FJ also uses a different red type at times that includes an inner shadow that is black, but most of the time this is used as a subtitle.
For the most part, layout and composition are generally the same across banner artists The layout style typically sticks to, title at the top, image in the center and toward the bottom, at times, there will be caption circles with small bits of text such as “Alive” or other follow up information. Where the FJ banners differ from the rest, his caption circles typically include a few accents above and below the text within the circle. These accents are usually a turquoise color and will be made up of 3-4 curled lines above and below the caption.
FJ has a few specific “title backgrounds” that he used. Most if not all of his title backgrounds were ribbon-like, the most common being a simple rigid ribbon that appeared three dimensional with the ends pointed inward, folding back at a 90 degree angle. The other common title background was a much more organic ribbon that had three “ruffles” that shift down with every bend, on each side. Of course there are variations of these, for instance like the first iteration, there is a variation that feels less three dimensional and has arrow heads in the negative space, pointing inward on the ends of the ribbon. These negative space ribbons were a great way to lead the eye. Another variation of the more organic ribbon shows less ruffles and again the pointed arrow head facing inward.