Mail Pouch painter dies, but legacy lives

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BELMONT, Ohio – Ohio native Harley Warrick, who painted his way into history with “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” signs on barns from Ohio to Missouri, died Nov. 24 at age 76.

About a month after repainting his last barn in his hometown of Belmont, the man who made famous the Mail Pouch slogan, died of an aneurysm in his abdominal area.

The last of a dozen men who painted barns all over the country with Mail Pouch advertisements, Warrick’s work ethic and love for his work is evident on each of the 20,000 barns he covered with that familiar black, white and yellow lettering.

There’s not a museum anywhere big enough to hold all the artwork turned out by Warrick. Logging more than 50,000 miles per year, he spent 12 hours a day painting barns, billboards and roofs to promote Mail Pouch.

He did most of his work in a nine-state area that included Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, Missouri and New York.

His career began in 1946, when a crew came to his family’s home in Londonderry, Ohio to repaint their dairy barn. While talking with the guys as they completed the project, he discovered they needed another painter.

It didn’t take long for the 21-year-old to take the job. He started out painting six days a week and mixing paint on Sundays. His starting wage was $32 a week.

His style was as amazing as his final product. He never used a stencil or template. He started his projects with the ‘E’ in CHEW and then eye-balled the rest. Six hours later, his masterpiece was complete. Sometimes, he even painted from right to left, instead of left to right.

He often had a helper who painted the solid black background, while he completed the lettering. If repainting was all the barn needed, Warrick could do five a day.

After 19 years of painting, his career nearly ended in 1965 when the Highway Beautification Act prohibited advertising signs within 600 feet of a highway. However, with some doing, the Mail Pouch signs were designated as national landmarks – and Warrick continued painting.

In the early 1990s, he put away his paint brush and “retired.” Wishing to see the art he perfected carry on, he began a book chronicling the history of Mail Pouch. The project is expected to be completed, even though Warrick will not be around to see it published.

Even after retiring in 1991, Warrick had plenty to do. He traveled locally, repainting barns whose slogans had faded through the years. He also honored requests by painting those words on anything from mailboxes to bird feeders and even a pair of jeans.

Those who know the story behind the Mail Pouch barns will think of Warrick each time they drive by one. His legacy also lives on through Scott Hagan of Jerusalem, Ohio, to whom Warrick gave some pointers about barn painting.

Hagan, who uses the same wooden plank Warrick used to paint so many Mail Pouch barns, began in 1998 painting barns with the red, white and blue Ohio Bicentennial logos throughout the state.

Warrick is survived by his wife, Louise, two daughters and two sons.

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