Signed & Numbered, a gallery and frame shop on West Temple, has been at its latest location for a little more than a year. But its owners have been instrumental in Salt Lake’s art scene for more than a decade.
Before Phil Sherburne and Leia Bell started Signed & Numbered, the couple ran Kilby Court, one of Salt Lake City’s premier venues for fledgling indie rock bands.
“That was sort of accidental,” Sherburne said. “At the time, there was a shortage of places for bands to play, and I just had the space.”
What started as extra room that was part of Sherburne’s woodworking shop was retooled to host bands such as Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes and The Shins. If the beginning of Kilby Court sounds like an unlikely tale, the way Sherburne got his start in carpentry is even more miraculous.
In 1996, after he dropped out of college, Sherburne found $2,000 at the counter of a Beans and Brew Coffee House. He turned the money over to police; after they were unable to locate the owner, they handed the cash back to him.
“When they gave it back, I thought it was kind of a sign to start my first wood shop,” Sherburne said. “That’s how I started it, and that led to Kilby.”
Bell met Sherburne at Kilby Court, where she used to regularly attend concerts. She eventually went from being a concertgoer to a sort of concert promoter, screen-printing gig posters for the venue.
“It was just a way for me to use my art degree,” Bell said. “I didn’t realize there was a whole scene going on.”
The couple eventually connected with the larger gig-poster-collecting community when they attended a trade show in Austin, Texas, that coincided with the South by Southwest Festival in 2003. Bell and Sherburne made the drive to the Lone Star State with their youngest child and about 60 posters (they carried multiple prints of each one).
“Some collector came by and bought everything we had. He just ask, ‘How much do you want for everything?’ ” Bell said. “That’s when I realized — that was the moment — I said I could quit my day job and work as an artist full time.”
The combined income from Kilby Court and poster sales was not enough to support their growing family.
“It was fun and it was great, but it was definitely a labor of love. It wasn’t enough to raise three kids,” Sherburne said.
In 2008, Sherburne and Bell sold Kilby Court to start a new business — right in the middle of a recession.
“We never really worried about it. We really had nothing to lose,” Sherburne said. “We had been poor for so long, and we really couldn’t get poorer.”
As the couple kicked around different business ideas, they kept one thing in mind: They wanted their new venture to be an extension of what they had been doing, something within the realm of art and music.
“I collected so many other people’s posters from trading with other artists and buying them,” Bell said. “So I had this huge collection, and I thought it would be great to have a gallery for just posters.”
To meet customers’ demands, the couple added a frame shop to Signed & Numbered, which started as a contemporary art gallery, and Sherburne went back to woodworking. That’s when the business really took off.
Signed & Numbered has since outgrown two storefronts. Sherburne and Bell now employ 11 workers at their newest space, 2320 S. West Temple, which is a combination gallery and wood shop.
“It’s harder and harder to make a living as a craftsperson. We try to employ artists and craftspeople,” Sherburne said. “I would love it if we could provide a good living for people like ourselves.”
*Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.