From the May 20, 1966 edition of the Gazette:

Many artists who think the Vineyard beautiful paint pictures and take them away, leaving nothing behind. But there is one artist in Vineyard Haven whose creations remain. This artist is Petronio Ortiz, whose many signs decorate this Island from Gay Head to Edgartown.

When he is left to his own devices, his signs enhance the natural scene with a gay colonial touch of straight lines, and simplicity.

“The customer is always right” plays no part in Mr. Ortiz’s scheme of things. If the customer is not right, he tries to make him right, and if that does not work, then the consumer must go elsewhere to have his sign made. Through the years Mr. Ortiz has had a lot of calls for neon signs, and to each request he explains that this Island does not have to meet the competition of the cities, nor does it have the glare of bright lights which would obscure a small painted sign.

Most of the time he convinces the customer, and at a probable financial loss to himself, has saved the Vineyard from the wild contorted glare of flashing, winking, bubbling lights of a much misplaced man-made aurora borealis.

Mr. Ortiz says that he has made practically every sign in Edgartown, trying to keep each as colonial as possible. The Country Store, Hall’s, Stinchfield’s, Rosemarie Bouden’s, and the new Mercier’s market signs are all his. Some were started from scratch, and on others he has used symbols or trademarks already in use by the shop.

Mr. Ortiz has his workshop in the cellar of his house on State Road in Vineyard Haven, and here, amid the curios, the clutter and the oil burner, he designs, fashions, and refurbishes signs. And what a tremendous number of them there are! Of course there are the familiar signs, such as the blue and gold sign with its crossed burgees of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club, and the black and white Shetland Shop sign with its small metal horse on top, but there are also a hundred and one signs that direct, demand and encourage, such as Slow, No Wake. No Trespassing, or Rooms.

Most signs in Vineyard Haven have also been done by Mr. Ortiz, and he has just finished one for the Martha’s Vineyard Cooperative Bank. Previously the bank had a small lighted sign, but he suggested that a colonial type would look better. With the help of Leland W. Renear who possibly was motivated by the Ford Motor Company’s shield, the new sign now swings from its bracket with style and simplicity, and at little cost to the bank.

A new shop Exclusively Yours is opening on the Island this summer and Mr. Ortiz is now working on its sign. The board is cut to look like a flapping dress label and will have blue stitches around the edge to further this illusion.

A nasty sign to make was the one for the new furniture store in Oak Bluffs, thirty-two feet long and Mr. Ortiz’s shop is not, so it had to be made in pieces.

Another project carried on in the Ortiz cellar is silk-screening. Through no conscious planning of his own, this has now become the mainstay of his business. It all started about three years ago when Woodchips in Vineyard Haven approached Mr. Ortiz and asked how much it would cost to have him paint some words on materials. When he replied “three cents,” the inquirers were flabbergasted and in disbelief requested a sample. This was the beginning of many creative ideas and uses for silk-screening which Mr. Ortiz seems to be putting out at an uncanny rate. There are lobster bibs made of mattress ticking on which he prints a large red lobster, there are waxers filled with bayberry each with a different colonial design, there are samples of cross-stitch with temperance signs and Charles W. Morgan designs, and so it goes in an unending array of ideas.

Among his latest successes are silhouettes of old cars, weather vanes, and whaling scenes. These are in small black frames, and on a recent selling trip to the Cape every shop he visited placed an order.

This aspect of his silk-screening was started with a collection of Island scenes which Mr. Ortiz sells only through the Island Craft Shop, of which he is president.

The art of silk-screening had been learned somewhere along the road to success, as a means of lettering. Lettering in itself has been a trade since, along with sign painting Mr. Ortiz paints letters on trucks and boats, driving over to Norton and Easterbrooks’ in Edgartown, where he has neatly lettered and re-lettered the names on most of the town’s fleet.

Mr. Ortiz seems to be up to his neck in things to do, orders to fill, signs to refurbish, scenes for the Craft Shop, silhouettes for the stores on the Cape, and silk-screening for Woodchips. He’s leaving himself no time to get to work on one of his real loves, oil painting, which he does as well as he does everything else. But it appears that Mr. Ortiz is not too concerned with all the work ahead of him, because as he said, “At least, I have enjoyed doing it.”

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox