Artist Bill Mack Paints Hollywood Legends on the Hollywood Sign

Artist and memorabilia collector Bill Mack creates nostalgia from a historic Hollywood sign.

“Iconic” best describes artist Bill Mack’s work, studio, art and memorabilia collection. Mack is known for his relief sculptures primarily of the sensuous female form. But he has also created many in-the-round sculptures including the larger-than-life statues of Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame ballplayers Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew that grace the grounds of Target Field.

Mack’s latest artistic endeavor has worldwide fans of both art and memorabilia buzzing and buying. Collectors are snapping up portraits of Hollywood legends that Mack paints on actual sections of the original Hollywood sign.

Mack’s artwork is published by Erin Taylor Editions, which is housed inside yet another icon, the old Camelot restaurant building in Edina. The Camelot, a stone “castle” complete with a moat, was known as a restaurant of distinction during the 1960s and  ’70s. Mack bought the 25,000-square-foot building 18 years ago and has left its historic charm largely undisturbed. He and his wife Deb later opened Griffin Gallery in one section of the building to showcase not only Mack’s artwork but also the artwork of other Minnesota artists, emerging and established. “We grew up here,” says Deb. “We still live in Minnesota and want to support local Minnesota artists.”

The restaurant turned studio and gallery also houses much of Mack’s art collection, including original works by world-famous artists such as Picasso and Chagall, as well as more recent art-world stars such as Peter Max and Jim Dine. But Mack also has a passion for memorabilia and has been collecting Hollywood memorabilia for decades. His collection over the years has included costumes like the lion suit from The Wizard of Oz, an ensemble worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Clark Gable’s coat from Gone with the Wind and Lon Chaney’s suit from Phantom of the Opera. Mack also purchased the original gates that once stood at the entrance of Marilyn Monroe’s Hollywood home. Those gates now provide a backdrop in the atmospheric bar of the old Camelot where the Macks often host private parties for art buyers and Thursday-night wine-group fundraiser events.

What may be Bill Mack’s ultimate memorabilia purchase is the original Hollywood sign that was erected in the 1920s on a Los Angeles hillside, and later replaced with a new sign in the late 1970s. That sign, made of rusted sheets of barn tin, once defined an era of Hollywood glamour and was later scrapped and stored. In 2007, Mack bought the nearly 90-year-old sign and has been infusing it with new life by transforming it into works of art.

The metal facing of the old Hollywood sign, complete with holes that were drilled to allow wind relief, now serves as a canvas for Mack’s photorealistic paintings of legendary Hollywood movie stars. Images of actors like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe sell right away. A painting of Mae West is framed inside an actual Rolls Royce grille and hangs on a wall at the old Camelot, a stylish depiction of a bygone era.

The Mae West piece is just one example of how Mack has incorporated bits of his extensive memorabilia collection right into the paintings. A bit of John Wayne’s scarf is integrated into a painting of the rugged Oscar-winning actor. Another painting is of Charles Lindbergh and includes a scrap from the actual seat of the Spirit of St. Louis. Mack has also pieced together enough salvaged signage to replicate a scaled-down version of the letter H, on which he has painted a collage of historic Hollywood celebrities. But that’s not all.

Outside the old Camelot, on a grassy hillside dotted with colorful live peacocks, just beyond the building’s moat where real swans glide over its waters, and visible from a renovated patio, Mack reconstructed the full-size H from the original Hollywood sign. The 50-foot letter was kept hidden from the public until the Macks hosted a Hollywood Nights event this past summer. Artists, art collectors and friends were treated to a special night of elegance and an unveiling of this pièce de resistance of Mack’s memorabilia collection.

“The phone doesn’t stop ringing,” says Deb. “The H will probably be sold. Maybe to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Maybe to Disney. Who knows?” One thing Bill and Deb Mack know for sure is that people’s love of nostalgia and beautiful artwork never goes out of style.