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Master signwriter still putting his oar in at 81
9:30am Thursday 15th August 2013 in News
Buy this photo » David Cummings with some oars for St John’s College
EXPERT signwriter David Cummings has been leaving his mark on Oxford’s shopfronts, buses and billboards for 65 years. And with the most prestigious university rowing teams still clamouring for his beautifully-painted oars, he says he has no intention of putting a full-stop to his career just yet.
Mr Cummings, 81, from Headington, was born in Old Marston, and after showing a talent for art passed the entrance exam for the Oxford Technical School.
At 16 he was taken on as an apprentice signwriter with an Oxford firm called Pimm and Smart, based in Randolph Street.
He explained: “Printed lettering was once hand-written by someone like me, from the lettering on buses, vans and lorries, to billboards and shop fronts.
“And once I was even asked to do the lettering on the aviator Sheila Scott’s plane over at Kidlington airport, ahead of her round-the-world solo flight.”
Mr Cummings painted posters for Oxford’s New Theatre and decorated the Bell Boys on Carfax Tower with gold leaf.
His talents also attracted the attention of the colleges, and his lettering, gold leaf work and illustrations adorn thousands of coats of arms, name plates and honours boards across the city.
He said: “Painting oars came about through other work I did for the university, and since the 1950s when I started doing them I must have done a thousand.”
Mr Cummings marks winners’ oars with their names, college and coat of arms and the name of the race, with his most recent set for the St John’s College Ladies First Eight after they won Head of the River 2013. Despite having impeccable grammar and spelling, even Mr Cummings has made the odd ‘typo’.
He said: “I once painted a City of Oxford Planning Bus with a missing ‘n’, so it read City of Oxford Plannig Bus. It appeared in the Oxford Mail with the headline, ‘Pass alog the bus please’; I was ribbed terribly for that.”
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