By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2019
In 1992, after hand lettering for 15 years, Kurt Gaber decided to switch careers and become a union plumber for a local plumbing company. His first call from the union sent him to a different company, though, and he explained that at the interview. When they heard he was switching careers, they said they had four vans that they needed lettered. So Gaber Signs was born, and Kurt’s plumbing career never happened. Here’s where he’s at today:
Bicycles to race cars to signs
3000 sq. ft.
Roland XR-640 printer/cutter
Three Gerber Edge printers
Gerber and Graphitec plotters
On Facebook as Gaber Signs
I got my start at 13, lettering bicycles, in my hometown of Washburn. We built a bike racing track in the neighborhood, and I started painting bicycles for the other kids. Then one day a kid came whose bike had been professionally lettered by a sign painter in Eau Claire, about three hours away. I was amazed—and jealous. It made me want to get better and keep learning. Ironically, years later I wound up working with that same sign painter, Walt Karker.
From bikes I moved on to race car lettering. I grew up around race cars, and I lettered my brother’s race car. When I did his car again the next year, it looked a lot better, and I started getting calls from guys who wanted their cars lettered. I was 14, so my mom had to drive me to their garages because I was too young to drive.
From there it was on to boats and a few signs. My dad really encouraged me, too. He was very artistic and did great cartoons. I was more of a lettering guy. He gave me ideas as I sketched layouts at the kitchen table. At 14, my business cards said “Li’l Gaber Signs” because that’s what people called me.
After high school, I went to college for advertising design, but left to be near my girlfriend. I never went back to school, but ended up working at a few sign shops instead. I worked with some great old timers and learned a lot. I also ended up marrying Natalie and we’ve spent the last 34 years together.
Then in 1984 I went to a Letterheads meet in Plymouth, Wisconsin, where I met Bob Behounek, Vince Balistreri, Ray Drea and Pat Finley. Their work was incredible. I knew little about SignCraft until after the meet, and then I realized I had been around some of the top people in the trade.
27 years in the business
In 1992, I ended up opening my own shop after almost switching careers to be a union plumber. It was a good decision, and I’ve been busy ever since.
I have two full-time employees. Cindy Peeso Hilger has been with me for nine years. She does a lot of the sales and customer service, which frees me up for production. She’s really friendly and very creative. Dirk Johnson, who I worked with at another sign shop 30 years ago, has worked with me for almost five years. He’s an outstanding sign maker and hand letters, too.