Letter by painstaking letter, Joseph Burg Sr. created many of the hand-painted signs that adorned local shops and businesses around the Five Towns.

"He was always interested in doing commercial art and he had apprenticed when he was very young," said his daughter-in-law, Christine Burg. "His specialty was gold leaf."

Burg died Aug. 30 of natural causes at his home in Woodmere. He was 105.

He started working at a young age after attending trade school to study the craft of sign painting. "He started his business when he was 16. He was just right out of school," Christine Burg said, noting that he went to work so early to help his family. "He lost his father at 10 years old."

In 1934, Burg married Hilda Smith, an usherette at the theater in Cedarhurst who later became a teletype operator for the Queensborough Gas and Electric Company.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was deployed during World War II to the Pacific theater with the 74th Seabees as a painter first class. The Seabees performed construction duties. "They built an airstrip for the Marines in Tarawa, and he did signage and things there," Christine Burg said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Upon his return, Burg moved to Woodmere and his handiwork began showing up at local businesses and events.

"He did stores and most of the fire departments, and there were a lot of wooden signs like dentists and doctors would hang outside, and he painted the Community Chest sign every year," she said. "He also did the banners that hung from one side of the street to the other."

The sign he painted for the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library is still on display in the library's basement.

His style of hand-painting is increasingly rare, Christine Burg said. "The gold-leafing now, it's a different process and it's computerized," she said. "It's a very tedious thing, almost like painting with tweezers."

In his free time, Burg loved sailing and joined the Keystone Yacht Club in 1930 -- he was the club's official sign painter and also painted many of his friends' boats.

His own sailboats were named Hi-Jo, a combination of his and Hilda's names.

Burg was interred at Trinity Church Yard in Hewlett on Sept. 2. He is survived by his sister Virginia Wood, 100, of Crystal River, Florida; and his son, Joseph Jr., 69, of Woodmere.