Although located in a once-“scary basement,” as owner Leia Bell referred to the original state of her new space, with a sunny yellow ceiling and exposed concrete walls it is a bright and inviting place to buy affordable prints—and a new venue to exhibit them. The location couldn’t be better. Not only is Signed & Numbered in the up-and-coming indie-shop strip that is East Broadway, it’s right below Slowtrain Records. The two are an especially good marriage—perhaps “cohabitation” is more appropriate—since music and art lovers do tend to tread the same pathways and share a sense for collecting things. Many of the prints in Signed & Numbered, however, are poster art.
This does not mean they are just mass-distributed promotion posters for concerts. “Nearly all of the posters in the gallery are hand printed, not digitally produced. It is a painstaking process, and a labor of love for many of these artists,” Bell explains on a FAQ sheet displayed near the entrance—an informative, unassuming resource for those who are new to buying prints. The posters exist in limited supply among the fine-art prints she also carries. Other merchandise includes (but is not limited to) magnets; local zines; limited run T-shirts, trading cards, and objects; more-obscure-than-Barnes-&-Noble art and music magazines; and cleverest of all, cheap custom framing.
Bell also has her own workspace in the store with a window, making the printmaking process visible to patrons. The studio view not only adds to the atmosphere of the art boutique but serves to remind and underline the fact that the prints are handmade fine art for sale. “I’ve always been into having copies of stuff,” Bell says, and with editions in most cases numbering less than 500, the shop offers copies of more collectible work.
Although most are screen prints, you can also find small, affordable etchings, lithographs and relief prints. But there are almost no digitals. This is due to Bell’s commitment to the print process. Digitals don’t really require that you “get your hands dirty,” she says, and handmade work of any kind tends to be more of an asset. This allows even the young Broadway shopping and strolling crowd to collect art within a budget: modest mass appeal without mass production.
Although Bell is an established printmaker herself, the presence of her own work in the store is relatively limited. It wasn’t her intention to be the center of attention; printmaking is such a community art, she feels, and that is what she hopes to promote and support with a shop focused almost solely on prints and limited-run objects. And the roster of artists includes local, national and even some international printmakers—many of them poster artists who belong to the online poster-art community GigPosters.com and/or members of American Poster Institute. “I don’t want to sell things I don’t know anything about,” she says and, clearly, print is her forte. She herself has been instrumental in introducing and popularizing poster art in Utah. Now, she’s cementing into Salt Lake City’s art scene an exclusively print forum that is, in itself, an original.
As for the gallery facet, Signed & Numbered is located right on a burgeoning gallery-stroll route. Shows rotate monthly, with June’s slated to be a print exchange involving 50 artists. They will exhibit prints from an edition of 55, with an a la carte theme. It seems the perfect limited-edition addition to the Broadway district—and a reasonable way to start a collection.