27 Jun 2022

Recovered Letters and Signs on the Streets of Valencia

Juan Nava’s Letras Recuperados (recovered letters) project involves the analysis and recreation of lettering on historic signs. This began in his home city of Valencia, but has since embraced locations further afield in Spain, and abroad. I was lucky to visit Valencia last weekend to see an exhibition of his work, Gráfica Urbana de Valencia. Juan then kindly took me on a tour of the city to see many of the surviving signs.

The following is a sneak preview of the exhibition itself, and some of what we saw on our walk. The BLAG (Better Letters Magazine) site has an interview with Juan about his work, and his Letras Recuperados book. contains more than 200 of his recreations, alongside the original signs.

Exhibition: Gráfica Urbana de Valencia

The exhibition is on in Valencia until 25 September 2022 at Galeria del Tossal.

Letras Recuperadas (Recovered Letters) by Juan Nava
Two panels from the Gráfica Urbana de Valencia (urban graphics of Valencia) exhibition, showing original signs and Juan Nava’s graphic recreations of the lettering elements.
An original ceramic panel, and Juan Nava’s recreation of the lettering. Note the incorrectly positioned tiles with the quotation marks.
Panels from the exhibition showing historic signs in Valencia that have been lost, alongside Juan Nava’s recreations.
Collection of original historic signs from the Gráfica Urbana de Valencia exhibition, including a cute elephant advertising the Orion brand of insecticide.
Detail of the glass fascia sign with metallic leaf (probably white gold) advertising the R. Ibañez stationery business.
Vintage Spanish sign painting books and tools in the display cabinet at the Gráfica Urbana de Valencia exhibition.
Panels showing Juan Nava’s recreations of lettering on signs.
One of the exhibition graphics, hand-painted by Joan Quirós.
While many of the signs recreated by Juan Nava have since been lost to property development and commercial change, a good number survive in Valencia. These panels show some of them, including a couple I got to see with Juan.

Valencian Sign Stroll

Valencia is a very flat and walkable city. It was a pleasure to take a stroll with Juan and see numerous pieces of historic signs. Those painted on walls are almost non-existent, with survivors dominated by ceramic pieces and shopfronts of various kinds.

Two of the city’s protected ceramic panels advertising Philip’s electrical goods, one with main logo, the other with this, the slogan Mejores no hay (there is no better) and a picture of a lightbulb.
Detail from one of the Philips panels showing that the mispositioning of ceramic tiles may have been relatively common. Note the tail and swash of the Y shifted one tile left of where it should have been placed.
Although the date on this fascia panel says ‘since 1802’, the owner talked with us briefly and said that city records include a reference from the 1690s. The bakery is so well-established that the square it is situated on has taken its name.
This 1930s sign is flanked by two arrows giving directions to a bomb shelter used during the Spanish Civil War. There used to be many of these in Valencia, but now only a handful survive.
Worn-out wooden sign mounted high on a wall, saying Se Prohibo Fijar Anuncios (billposting prohibited).
A mounted fascia sign for Manuel Prieto’s long-gone cutlery shop.
The cuchilleria lettering on the sign above features flicked serifs on the left sides of the red letters only. And the grey shades are only applied to the right, rather than on the right and below.
Possibly my favourite from the walk with a ornately framed clock flanked by painted wall signs saying that the shop buys coins, antiques and curiosities, and sells stamps, tickets, postcards and watches.
The full frontage to put the signs in context.
A bright reverse-glass gilded piece on an abandoned shop advertising Eugenio Grau.
Various piece of fascia signage advertising the leatherworking and shoe repair services of Jose A. Timoneda.
This is one of a series of ornately frames panels running above the windows and doors of this corner shop on one of the main shopping streets in Valencia. All of the others have since been covered over with ugly plastic signs by the ham retailer that is now trading inside.
A simple painted Art Deco fascia sign for I. Monzón with an extreme blue drop shade, and a novel approach to the accent on the second O to stop this extending beyond the height of the letters themselves.

Mosaic and Ceramics at Estación del Norte

When arrived at Valencia’s central Estación del Norte I was immediately struck by the decorative mosaics and ceramics found from floor to ceiling. It really is a sight to behold and these pictures cannot do it justice.

One entire room has a frieze flowing around the upper portions of the walls. This depicts a popular resort set on a lake outside of the city itself and served to promote it as a tourist destination.
This lettering and decorative elements run around the cornicing of the entire room.
This is looking directly upwards at the ceiling which is also completely covered in tilework.
All around the ticket hall are mosaic pieces like this wishing passengers a pleasant journey in numerous different languages. Above each of these is the carved wooden motif with the word Norte (North) in Art Nouveau lettering.

Thank you Juan for your immense hospitality.

Links

Letras Recuperadas website; Letras Recuperadas Instagram; BLAG (Better Letters Magazine) interview.