Signals: Etseri, Svaneti


Lighter than last week’s- that story still working its way through the system, there’s not much to report.

When I was finishing my last year of high school in Canada, aged 18, in 1985, summer work came and found me in my usual hangout, the Art Room. Coolest place in the building, the only room where radio was allowed during lessons (Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” conjures instantly that era for me). Would I be interested in doing some screen printing with Solid Rock Signs? The owner shook my hand, having liked my work in a recent school exhibition which I’d curated, and had an opening. I could hardly believe my luck, as this very type of thing was what I’d been hoping to find before the Alberta College of Art took me as a student that fall.

The ACA rejected my application, however, and my summer at SRS turned into over four years. Initially, we worked from Terry’s garage, with him teaching me the printing and George (RIP) doing most of the artwork. Then we moved to new premises above an auto dealership and repair shop; but the business was never financially very successful. Yet I went on to become irreplaceably good, they later told me, at hand-printing up to eight perfectly registered colors of ink, mostly on small, highly detailed stickers or baseball cap crests as advertising for provincial companies. George’s artwork was always a pleasure, and I still have an album of my best work. We later also got into larger cut vinyl signs, for small volume or one-off orders, and even some sandblasted and varnished cedar signs. The smell of the lacquer thinner cleanup fumes! That, too, will send me back there, as long as those fumes haven’t done permanent damage to my memory cells of the time…

I reminisced on all of this as I was working on a couple of vinyl signs for my own guest house in our village in Svaneti. My brother-in-law had had them printed (not cut, as we used to do) on the sticky-back substrate, and had also helped me weld the framework for the larger sign, which would go in our yard. I’d sanded and spray-painted it in final preparation.

The secret to getting a smooth, air bubble-free laying on the sticker is this: you wet the receiving surface with water and a few drops of liquid dish detergent, apply the sticker, then smooth out everything with a squeegee, sponge or towel. Otherwise, dry, it can be really tricky. It’s also important to have everything dust-free, of course.

I dug holes where my wife and I had agreed it would go, put the sign in place, wired it down to a couple of pegs, checked for straightness and good visibility from all sides, and mixed my cement with sand and gravel. This was the first time I ever made it without using a container, on a flat metal surface. Ever try mixing cake ingredients on a counter-top, with no pan or bowl? The experts make it look easy, but there is definitely a knack to it, which I seem to have learned as well. You make a “volcanic caldera” of the dry ingredients with a hole in the top, pour in the water, fold the stuff in with a shovel, and repeat until it’s the right consistency. But it does look a bit like builder’s magic. Add the cement around the sign’s post holes, and then let it dry, which is a chemical reaction rather than a process of evaporation, so it will happen even in the rain.

Those skills I learned some 32 years ago are still useful today, and the years of memories with my bosses, great friends and mentors at my first full-time job, also echo forward into now.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 1700 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Iskari hamlet of Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

07 September 2017 18:58