Verona, NJ signshop owner remembered for his gilded signage
On June 24, Matthew Beneduce-McGrath was working late (as was his habit) at his shop, Benegrathic Sign Design, in Verona, NJ. He told Bill O’Donnell, who shared his shop, that he’d be back. Several minutes later, he was killed as he walked across the street, the victim of a hit-and-run. He was 59.
Matthew was well known in and around Verona and Essex County. He was one of the town’s “characters,” an outgoing, engaging kind of guy. He was the sign man – the one who did all the exquisitely carved and gilded signs for numerous businesses, governments, schools and churches.
Matthew was also a great supporter of the American Sign Museum, and a personal friend of mine. It was a real honor to have Matthew and his wife of 32 years, Gloria, at the museum’s grand opening four years ago. His mark can be felt throughout, particularly in those areas devoted to signpainting materials and tools. He’d donated pints and quarts of lettering enamels; vintage tools and brushes; manufacturer’s brochures and catalogs; vintage signpainting books, and even a neon clock. These were either passed down by older signpainters or purchased in an antique store or flea market.
In May of this year, I picked up a sign that Jeff Friedman, owner of NYC’s Let There Be Neon, graciously stored for me. I mentioned it to Matthew. He said he had “a few more things for the museum.” So I drove to New Jersey – just across the river from Tribeca – and picked him up. He presented me with a handpainted and gilded tin sign that read, “Alfred Breunig – Truck Lettering.” He’d purchased it from another area signpainter who had found it face-down in a barn, cleaned it up and added the stabilizing frame. I’ll never know his name now; Matthew was going to write a description about him.
I spent many hours with Matthew in my dozen or so visits to his shop; he rarely talked about himself. He was more likely to acknowledge the gifts of all the area signpainters who had been his mentors. Or, he’d pull stuff out of corners of his shop and say, “Oh, and this belongs in the Museum, too.”
I learned about Matthew’s deep signpainting roots. His father had dabbled, but Mathew’s grandfather had been a real signpainter, as was his great-grandfather, back in Matthew’s hometown of Logansport, IN.
I learned of Matthew’s love of music. He had taken blues-harp lessons, and was known to play a mean washboard as well. A friend played a song at the memorial service, noting that it was one he and Matthew had been working on. They met nearly every Wednesday night to write songs together.
But Matthew was most known for his sign work. Not only in Essex County, but in Logansport, whose local paper remembered Matthew’s passing with a feature story on the sign he had carved and gilded for the town’s Dentzel Carousel 20 years ago.
You can rest now, Matthew. Your signs will endure as lasting memories of your contributions to your hometown and adopted city. You’ve made a lasting, positive mark. And, if St. Peter needs a new carved and gilded entrance sign, I know just the man to do it.
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