Work History and Qualifications

I am a second generation signman. My father, Perley C. Roberts, was well-known throughout the Portland, Maine area as a signpainter, an expert glass gilder and all around signman. He left his job at United Neon Display and started his own sign shop in the cellar at our home, when I was a boy. Growing up around the sign trade, I helped as a boy and went to work for my father and brother Phil part-time when I was 14 in 1955.

In 1957 I went to work part-time at United Neon Display during my high school years and stayed on after finishing school. I stayed until 1962, working full-time and learning the many facets of the business. Spray-painting, sign electrical (fluorescent, neon and animation), plastic and sheet-metal fabrication, steel welding and burning, pattern making, sign servicing, lettering and installing signs and letters.

  • 1962-1969 - Coyne Sign Company
    Fabricator, patternmaker, installer, sign service, some lettering.
  • Completed 4 courses SMVTI (Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute)
    1964 - Basic Electricity and Advanced Electricity
    1965 - Engineering Drawing I & II
  • 1969-1975 - Neokraft Signs
    Shop production manager, layout, engineering, pattern making and foreman.

In 1975, I purchased a "Neon plant" with my tax return and started JAYAR Signs with my wife Pat doing the books and paperwork. I had to start to learn the actual art of bending the neon tube from what I had seen over the years. I had many opportunities when I was young to observe the best in the trade bending glass. So I set about teaching myself.

Feeling that I was fully skilled in the sign lettering trade and building signs in general, my business grew with the work being split 90% sign building and lettering and 10% neon work. In the beginning, I had a steady amount of paper and wooden signs, Show-cards, staging work painting signs on walls and building signs. When the area in Portland known as the "Old Port" started its renaissance, I created many signs on the windows there during those years using the techniques of adhering gold-leaf to glass, thus bringing back an "elegance" in window signs which had been lacking in the age of plastic signage. These gilding techniques are becoming "lost" to the sign trade as vinyl lettering has taken over.

The neon part of the business steadily increased and the lettering started to become less as new technologies came in. Over the years this percentage has been changing until 30 years later it is 97% neon and 3% sign lettering. The advent of computers has just about eliminated the hand sign painting from the trade.

At JAYAR, I service the beer distributors with repair and customization of the various neon signs that they put around to the retail outlets. I do most of the Micro-brew neon work for the local brewers. I have been called upon to do some very unusual custom projects and have completed these, sometimes to my surprise. A challenge is good for the mind and some of these have been very challenging.

I do the selling, designing, pattern making, bending, finishing the signs and restoration of old neon signs right in one place, my barn.

2005 marks my 50th year in the trade. There have been a lot of changes over the time, but one thing remains . . . "There is always a need for quality work."

John M. Roberts - 2005