Totten, Art

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                                     ART TOTTEN 

Art Totten is gradually changing the appearance of the Miramichi, and he’s buying a small industry in the process.

You can see his efforts at the Big Spot in Chatham, and at the Miramichi Foundry across the way. During Chatham Old Home Week and Pioneer Days. Mr. Totten’s work appears on many chests. Members of the Nordin Minor Hockey Association and the Nordin Dart Hockey League will soon be carrying his work on their backs and shoulders.

Sign painting and screen printing is the method he is using to brighten the face of the area.

Mr. Totten came to Chatham from Manitoulin Island, Ontario, where he had been s fishing guide and charter boat operator as well as a sign painter and screen printer. He and his wife had originally came to this area to “baby sit” their grandchildren.

Planned Retirement

His son-in-law was serving with the Canadian Forces at CFB Chatham, and his daughter was working full-time. Mr. Totten planned to retire in this area to be with them and their children. It didn’t quite work out that way.

People learned he was a sign painter, and started asking him to letter trucks. He did a few and that led to painting signs. He did the Big Spot and while he was up on the scaffold, he was asked to do Miramichi Foundry’s sign. He designed a sign with raised lettering for the foundry so that it could be re-painted by a person who was not a craftsman.

He knew when he did that sign that he would probably not be able to repaint it himself when it was needed. He jokes saying that “they seem to be making three quarter inch plywood about three times as heavy as they used to.” Mr. Totten is a diabetic.

Asked how old he is, he replies, “I’m so close to 70 that you can’t joke about it. I can’t do the things I used to physically, but there is nothing wrong with my brain.”

Primary Concern

One of his primary concerns is to pass on his knowledge to others. Mr. Totten speaks with pride about his son who is a computer salesman, but he wasn’t interested in following his father’s trade.

When he started painting signs and doing screen printing work here, Mr. Totten says several young people asked him where they could learn the skills involved. ‘I thought if I could get something together, I could pass my knowledge on. As it was, when I go, it goes with me,” he says.

About three years ago he purchased a building on Kelly Road, just beyond the Chatham town limits. The structure had been used by Forest Protection Limited for mixing and storing spray chemicals. Most of his savings have been invested in renovations to the building. He has an added office on one side and divided the building up into a sign painting division and a screen printing division.

Severe Handicap

The sign painting shop has a suspended furnace to keep the flames above the level of any fumes and to keep floor space clear. Mr. Totten says he has done truck lettering but he is working under a severe handicap. That part of the shop at the front of the building still has only a dirt floor. He doesn’t have compressed air equipment needed for spraying involved in truck painting. Compressed air is also needed for doing plastic signs.

Smaller signs are painted in the part of the shop that is used for screen printing. The screen printing portion of his business brings out Mr. Totten’s enthusiasm as he talks about the versatility of the technique.

“Most people aren’t aware of the developments in screen printing,” he says displaying a photo of a gasket being printed onto an engine block in a General Motors plant. Circuit boards for electronic equipment and the antennas and rear window defroster wires that are incorporated into windshields are all screen printed.

“An ordinary printer is limited by the thickness of what he can put in the press. We’re not limited. The size and curvature doesn’t matter. You name it; we’ll print on it whether it’s your pen or a 45 gallon drum,” says Mr. Totten.

Crests, T-shirts and ribbons are ordinary items for a screen printer as are posters and banners. Many of the beauty queens crowned on the Miramichi recently wore banners printed by Mr. Totten.


Banners and some crests are done with a screen printing process known as “flocking.” In this process, threads one forty-second of an inch long are stood on the end of the fabric in a flocking. The result is a velvet effect. “We can print a line finer than a hair, on a flock crest,” says Mr. Totten.

Though there is much that he can do, there are severe limitations because of lack of equipment. “We’re now working entirely with shop made equipment. We can produce the quality but we can’t produce the quantity,” says Mr. Totten.

“The average local user, ball teams, hockey teams etc., require at most three dozen T-shirts. If that was sent to a big firm, they’d do it by hand anyways. By the time you set up a machine and cleaned it up after, it would be cheaper to do it by hand. A machine to mass produce T-shirts can cost up to $25,000,” he says.

Souvenir items for the tourist season such as plates, or tiles that could be used as hot mats could be screen printed here on the Miramichi, but the big problem is lack of equipment. Various avenues of financing have been fruitless for Mr. Totten. He has tried various government departments without success.

Age and location have been the reason his applications have been refused. He thinks lack of knowledge about the possibilities of screen printing on the part of officials has been another road block.


“I think now a great many people are becoming more knowledgeable about the potential. You can’t go through a day without handling something that is screen printed,” says Mr. Totten. He hopes that some funding will be available under programs recently extended to this area.

He sees potential in various areas including decals and screen printed crests. Swiss embroidery and chenille crests will likely never be done here but he can have them done.

“There is a terrific amount of volume of work in this field,” says Mr. Totten. “Even if we could only get a small portion of the Maritime business that is going out of the provinces, we could have a viable industry for three or four people.”

His main concern is to provide a facility where the younger people can learn the trade. “I’ve been approached by young people who have taken commercial art courses but they’re scared to go to a plant and call themselves a commercial artist because they don’t know what would be required of them in an industrial situation. I’m a commercial artist as well as a screen printer. With this operation I could show them and they could get work anywhere.”

Sands of Time

“I felt bad that I was leaving no foot prints on the sands of time. There’s the signs, but they’ll soon be gone. If I passed my knowledge on to someone else then it would help them to get a start and develop something on their own,” says Mr. Totten. He’s made some steps toward accomplishing that. Steve Jardine of Chatham is working with him now to learn the skills of sign painting and screen printing.

The office work involved in the business doesn’t appeal to him, but it is necessary to reach his goals.” I have to be a salesman and a promoter here, but mainly I’m a craftsman. I’m happiest out in the shop,” he says. His ink and nicotine stained hands lend credence to that remark.

His firm, Arts Products Company has the potential to become a viable industry on the Miramichi.

Source: North Shore Leader – April 6, 1977

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