Berkley Resident Gives Back for the Holidays
To kick off our first We Are Berkley blog series, I would like to share the story of Mark and Wendy Casey. The painters behind the Berkley Santa.
Berkley’s Santa has been a staple to our community since its inception. This community centerpiece invokes immediate nostalgia among many here in the City. In fact, has led to the Historical Museum successfully selling around 500 mugs and 250 ornaments that feature the jolly character.
The Casey’s have been long-time residents of this area. Both Mark and Wendy Casey grew up in Royal Oak and subsequently moved to Berkley together, where they have operated their sign painting business and raised their family. They have been with our community for 40 years.
Mark shared that his passion for handmade sign painting started when he was in the third grade when he would be sent to the principal's office and had to write “I will not talk in class” over and over again. He began to get really good at writing letters and was truly fascinated by this. In high school, he hand-painted a sign for his high school girlfriend’s birthday and placed it in the school so that everyone would wish her a happy birthday. That sign gained so much enthusiasm it solidified for him that this was a profession he wanted to pursue.
During Mark’s young adult years, his popularity and connections enabled him to paint signs for iconic bands like The Beach Boys, J. Giles band, and Alice Cooper when they would come to the Michigan area. He began honing his talent when apprenticing under Ernie Giordano, a master sign painter in Detroit.
“When I decided to become a full-time sign painter… I went to Ernie Giordano asked him, sir can I please sweep your floors and clean your brushes and take your trash out in exchange for watching you work?” Casey recalls that Giordano responded if he is truly interested in sign painting work that he would work for him for two years absolutely free, and that is exactly what Casey did.
“I spent two years there, and those were some of the happiest years of my life,” said Casey, “he [Giordano] was such a good teacher.”
Casey shares that the uniqueness of this type of painting style was that it’s not something that is taught in schools, rather it is passed down to each generation through families or apprenticeships.
Wendy Casey, a former Air Force veteran, spent her time working on computers as an electronic computer repair technician while serving. She also had a creative side to her and was captivated by Mark’s work. Years later, the two began running their own successful sign painting business, Casey Sign Co. which has now grown into a family business that their sons, Kyle and Reed, manage in downtown Detroit.
The Caseys shared how the industry has changed quite a bit since they first started but it never deterred them. Mark explained that when computers were introduced, a lot of work went digital. To keep the integrity of their business, both of them melded their crafts and Wendy’s experience with computers to develop a digital component aspect to their sign business. She shared, “We have learned to use the computer as a tool… but you still have to have the skill and the know-how.”
Now in retirement, Mark runs the Detroit School of Lettering where he passes his knowledge of the traditional sign painting trade to the next generation.
Both Wendy and Mark shared that being able to live in a city like Berkley allowed them to grow as a business which they are truly grateful for. Painting Santa is one of the many ways they give back to the community.
Interested in having your own hand-painted sign?
Visit Casey Sign Co. at www.caseysigns.com
Want to learn more about the traditional sign painting craft?
Visit the Detroit School of Lettering at www.detroitschooloflettering.com