If you see a woman gazing at the city skyline in downtown San Jose, watercolor brush in one hand, sketchpad in the other, chances are it’s Suhita Shirodkar. And you’d best take note of what she’s painting—it might not be there for long.
Shirodkar is a sign painter, but not that kind of sign painter. Instead of making the large-scale neon and metal signs that once drew crowds to bowling alleys, liquor stores and auto dealers, Shirodkar paints what remains, often capturing vestiges of a San Jose long gone.
Her urban sketches memorialize the vintage signs of family-owned businesses, formerly popular pastimes and even the area’s agricultural past. Maintenance and questions of ownership often leave vintage signs in limbo, and volunteer preservationists are often no match for the speed of San Jose’s development.
Despite the number of signs she’s painted that have since disappeared, Shirodkar is optimistic. "Preservation and development don't have to be enemies. They can happen hand in hand,” she says. “There's a big hope that a lot of the big companies here that are part of this quick development will also be part of who helps preserve these signs."
Watch Shirodkar draw inspiration from San Jose’s past and see more of her sketches in person in Sign of the Times at History San José. - Text by Sarah Hotchkiss