Drew Matta revives iconic logo with paint brush, bucket

By Leigh Ann Rutledge
Accent Editor
The Free Press Standard

June 4, 2013

Click to see this article on The Free Press Standard's site

Mail Pouch Barn
Drew Matta (left) and Ryan Graham touch up original work of Harley Warrick, famed barn painter. Matta helped Warrick for several years and does upkeep on the barns at the Algonquin Mill Complex and his farm as a tribute to Warrick.

Barn referenced in this article:  MPB 35-10-05

When Drew Matta offered barn painter Harley Warrick a helping hand, he couldn’t have imagined what he would get in return...a friend, a passion and an appreciation.

The two met after Warrick, last of the Mail Pouch sign painters, put down his paintbrush and retired in 1993.  He painted or retouched more than 20,000 barns across 13 states during his lengthy career. 

Matta, with help from Ryan Graham, a commercial painter with Thomarios, touched up the red Mail Pouch Barn at the Algonquin Mill Complex on SR 332 south of Carrollton recently as a tribute to his dear friend, Harley.  Matta is the first to say he is not a painter or an artist, “just a guy who moves paint around.”  

How did he become the “touch-up man” for the well-known Mail Pouch signs and mill sign at the Algonquin Mill Complex?

Matta lives on his grandfather’s farm and remembers his grandfather saying he wished he would have had his barn painted by the Mail Pouch barn painters.  Painters for the Bloch Brothers (then maker of Mail Pouch Tobacco) traveled around 13 states painting barns with the familiar black background and yellow and white letters stating, “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself to the Best.”  After his grandfather passed away in 1988, Matta restored the barn with new wood and primer. 

Remembering his grandfather’s wish to have the barn painted, Matta asked his wife, Kelly, to see if the Mail Pouch barn painters were still painting.  Kelly found a phone number for Warrick and Matta called him.

“I told him I restored the barn, put fresh primer on it and that it was located along a state road,” said Matta.  “He didn’t seem too impressed but told me he would put my barn on his ‘wish list’ but it was a big list.”

A month later the Mattas traveled to Michigan to visit family and as soon as they arrived were told someone was painting their barn.  They returned home to find one side completely painted and were able to watch as the second side was painted the next day. 

In 1994, Warrick came back to Matta’s barn to touch it up.  Being retired, Warrick was not being paid by the Mail Pouch Company and when he refused payment from Matta, they struck up a deal.  Matta offered his assistance to Warrick anytime he needed help with painting jobs. 

Warrick took Matta’s offer and they spent numerous hours touching up Mail Pouch barns and talking. 

“Harley had so many stories.  We could talk for hours,” noted Matta.  “He talked about painting Ted Koppel’s barn, Jimmy Stewart’s father’s barn and Chuck Yeager’s, who used to say he knew he was close to home when he spotted his barn.”

The pair painted the Alqonquin Mill sign on the schoolhouse on the Mill complex Labor Day of 2000 shortly before Warrick passed in away in November.  When they stopped to take a break, Matta told Warrick he spelled Algonquin wrong. 

“He checked and rechecked the spelling,” Matta laughed.  “Then he realized I got him.  Harley was a jokester too!” 

After Warrick passed away, Matta talked to Mike Mangan, the manager of Mill complex and told him he would touch up the Mail Pouch and Algonquin signs when needed as a tribute to his friend. 

It took Matta and Graham 12 hours to repaint the red barn at the Algonquin Mill Complex.  “Harley would have completed it in six hours,” stated Matta.  “He could start with a blank barn side and have it finished in eight hours.”

Matta is interested in antiques and old customs and each year paints a couple small signs for the Barnstormers Club in Belmont County.  They hold an annual dinner and auction each July to help raise interest in Mail Pouch barns, Warrick and other nostalgia.  Information about the group can be found by visiting, www.ohiobarns.com. 

Matta will continue to “touch-up” the barns on his farm and at the Mill complex as a tribute to Warrick every six years or so.  Matta claims he is not an artist or a painter like Warrick, but he is helping a legend live on.

“Harley always said people would ask him what is the best part of his job and he said, ‘Looking at it in the rear-view mirror.’” Matta reminisced.  “I continue Harley’s words and say that too.”

Note:  President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act into law Oct. 22, 1965.  The act called for control of outdoor advertising, including removal of certain types of signs, along the nation’s growing Interstate Highway System. Mail Pouch discontinued sign painting in 1969, in part due to the Federal Highway Beautification Act that prohibited outdoor advertising within 660-feet of a federally funded highway.  Existing signs weren’t affected but further restrictions and costs doomed the program.    

An amendment to the act in 1974 stated:  Also, so-called “landmark signs” (artistic or historic significance), or signs painted on barns were allowed, containing messages such as “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco.”

Mail Pouch signs were designated National Landmarks which allowed Warrick to continue painting despite restrictions on tobacco advertising.   An estimated 17,000 barns carried the Mail Pouch sign in 1965 and sadly today only number in the 1,000s. 

Matta’s barn is located along SR 171 between Carrollton and Waynesburg.