Straight By Eye
Savannah is unique among American cities for its abundance of hand-
painted signs. Whether freshly painted or weatherworn, these signs
eloquently tell the stories of the businesses and the neighborhoods
they adorn. Some have been around for years; but most fade away with
the businesses they serve, which can often come and go before the
In most cities, sign painting began to decline in the 1950s, with new technology and an emphasis on progress. Savannah, however, proudly
resists modernization in many ways, and it seems fitting that, new
hand-painted signs appear almost daily in Savannah, created by a few
contemporary sign painters that stubbornly preserve this tradition.
Three artists are responsible for most of the signs now on display in Savannah:
Jimmie Williams, a Vietnam veteran and former art teacher, has work
all over Savannah. From hot dogs to hairstyles, Williams’ colorful
illustrations are reminiscent of illustration styles popular in the
1950′s, and his typography is usually a fluid, legible script.
Leonard Miller is a quiet man who works meticulously to make his signs fit the “brand” of each business that hires him. Miller has no formal training but has studied lettering and calligraphy on his own.
Perhaps the most prolific painter now working in Savannah is Marcus
Polite. He rides around on a bike soliciting work, often coming in below Williams and Miller’s prices. Polite works in all caps and in a script that appears to be a hybrid of Old English type and calligraphy.
Completed in early 2005, “Straight by Eye” is an exploration of
Savannah’s hand-painted signs and a closer look at some of the men who create them. The purpose of this collection is to record the beauty, humor, and style of one of Savannah’s most easily observed—and most easily overlooked—traditions.
Rebecca Boehm Carr received her MFA in Graphic Design from The
Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005. She worked for Tom Varisco Designs in New Orleans for three years until starting Rebecca Carr Design in 2008. She is also a member of the adjunct faculty at Tulane School of Continuing Studies, where she has taught Graphic Design II since 2007.
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