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Signs of the Times

Paintings and photographs of Memphis signs inspire book on local history.



Vestiges of Memphis' past live on in signs and murals across the city — the old neon Lamar theater sign on Crump, the giant roller skate atop Skateland, and the rusted green Leahy's trailer park sign on Summer to name a few.

The stories behind those signs and places will accompany corresponding paintings and photographs of them in a book called Memphis Type History. Painter Rebecca Phillips and writer Caitlin Horton announced their book deal in November, and they're now looking for Memphians who can share personal stories about the places and signs that will be featured in the book. The book is scheduled for an October 2014 release.

"Most of these places are not the traditional touristy places. These images are Memphis as Memphians see it when we drive down the road," said Horton, who sells Phillips' work on her online art gallery, Front Porch Art.

The Memphis Type project began in 2009 when photographer Jeremy Greene began documenting old and overlooked Memphis signs just for fun. He sought out signs with compelling type, as well as interesting graffiti. Then he posted the artsy images to a website,

"It started as a side project. A friend and I were taking pictures of cool signs around town. I took the first few images on my Canon 5D, and I was taking it more seriously. But then I just started taking them with my iPhone," said Greene, who moved from Memphis to Dallas in September.

Phillips worked with Greene at the time, and when she saw his images, she was inspired to recreate them on canvas.

"I would keep looking at the photographs and would think about how much I wanted to paint them because he wasn't just taking images of modern places. It was also places like Leahy's that people would completely overlook," Phillips said.

Horton sold some of Phillips' painting on, where she helps artists market their work and shares the stories behind the pieces. Phillips' paintings caught the attention of The History Press, and a book deal was born.

Now Phillips and Horton are in the process of researching the history of the places that will be featured. And Greene will soon be visiting Memphis to shoot a few more images for the book.

A website — — has been set up to collect stories from people who have memories of the signs and places to be featured. There's a "Contact Us" page where people can ask to be interviewed for the book.

Horton and Phillips are looking to interview people about the following locations, which have corresponding paintings of signs to accompany the text about them in the book: Universal Life Insurance, Downtown Dolls, Advance Rubber Stamps, the Arcade Restaurant, B.B. King's Company Store, Sam Phillips Studio, the Beauty Shop Restaurant, the Normal Beauty Shop, Joe's Wines, Casey's Motel, Love's Science, Chicago Pizza Factory, Soulsville, Leahy's Weekly Rentals, Skateland, and the Lorraine Motel.

"Every piece will have its own chapter, and we will include some bare factual history. But we want to include people's stories and experiences," Horton said. "When you read the book, we want you to feel like you're in that place."


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