It is not known if the "wall dog" originated in New York, but go to the "Forgotten New York" website for the "ghost signs" that still show the wall dogs' work.
The wall dogs' last stand: technology puts sign painters out of work
By Leila Abboud
Alberto Gonzalez is one of a dying breed -- outdoor sign painters who practice their craft on brick walls and billboards all over New York City. For decades, men like Gonzalez have balanced hundreds of feet in the air on scaffolds no more than two feet wide, braving the blazing sun, wind and cold to paint advertisements. The advent of digitally printed vinyl ads over the past decade has rendered painted ads nearly obsolete. Vinyl ads are cheaper and faster to produce, and neon and electric ads have spread. The union to which Gonzalez belongs once had
hundreds of members. Now there are a dozen. Similar shrinkage has occurred across the nation.
With the sign painters will disappear the last traces of an era of American advertising when itinerant sign painters ruled. Nicknamed "wall dogs," these men traveled the country from the 1920s to the 1950s spreading the first national advertising campaigns. They emblazoned the sides of barns with logos for
products like Mail Pouch Tobacco and Coca-Cola. The men earned a reputation for being wild, said St. Louis-based photographer
William Stage, who published a book about the "wall dogs" and their work. "They would drink beer as they hung from rope scaffolds high above the street, and spill paint on cars and people below," said Stage.
In many cities, including New York, traces of the wall dogs' handiwork can still be seen. The lead-based paint of the old ads survived time and weather. Although Gonzalez may think his craft is nearly extinct, his work and that of other "wall dogs" may not be forgotten. A small but devoted band of photographers and urban archeologists across the country has tried to preserve
and document the remaining ghost signs.
24 June 1990, Grand Rapids (MI) Press, "Ghost signs: Images from bygone days linger on the bricks" by Terri Finch Hamilton, pg. B1:
Those who want to hunt for these old signs should picture themselves as old "wall dogs" - the men who made a living painting them, Olson said.
19 March 2000, New York Times, "Wall Signs of Old Times" by Andrea Delbanco, Section 14, City, pg. 17:
THOUGH controversy swirls around today's giant advertising signs, oversized ads are nothing new. As evidence, the Municipal Art Society is putting on an exhibit called ''Art of the Wall Dogs: The Painted Signs of Yesteryear.'' The work of the ''wall dogs,'' from around the turn of the last century, has been documented
in photographs by Sava Mitrovich, who was born in Belgrade and immigrated to New York in 1969.