The fact that he's legally blind hasn't kept Gary Voth from making a living as a sign maker for the past 37 years. But the business has had its ups and downs. Voth started out in Glendale and now owns Aviation Signs in Lawndale. He spoke with Jolie Gorchov about his work and his disability.
I was born totally blind, then at 5 years old my vision turned on, and I was able to go to regular school. I'm visually handicapped now, actually legally blind. I have to do all my work 16 inches in front of my nose, and I can't drive a car.
With sign-making, you have to picture everything in your mind then follow through. As long as I'm close to the work, I can do anything. I make a scale-model drawing and measure each letter. Customers don't even know I'm legally blind.
When I started out, I was 19 years old and I worked in a factory in Glendale, doing manual labor. I was getting my hair cut, and my barber asked me if I could do a sign. He knew I was artistic, because when I was in school, all I did was cartooning. I loved it.
So I did the sign in three days. I thought, maybe there's something here for me, so I pursued it. After that, I just went out and handed out index cards that said, "I do signs." I started getting orders.
I spent many years starving. It's hard when you can't drive a truck. I've tried employees but found that people don't have the incentive to help the guy who hired them. I have members of my family who help me with the work and deliveries and driving me around. My daughter helps since my wife died.
I never went to college. I've taught myself everything I know, and I'm a one-man shop. I've been working out of my garage for the last 37 years. I'm probably one of the very few sign painters capable of lettering by hand. I do everything: fabrication of signs, building, painting, murals and computerized signs.
I get a lot of jobs from an ad in the Yellow Pages, and that works just fine. Also, once people find out you can do the kind of work they want, and you keep your word, they come back. Even when my wife died, and I had to cancel the business for a while, they still stuck with me.
I'm lucky to have a job that I created for myself.
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