Memphis Type History Book Is Released

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  • Rebecca Phillips

Older areas of Memphis are peppered with retro neon signs, murals with business names and logos, and other architectural remnants of the city's past.

Memphis Type History, a new illustrated history book by writer Caitlin Horton and painter Rebecca Phillips, shares a few of those stories through photographs and personal tales from Memphians who remember the significance of the signs and places they represent. Memphis Type History is available for pre-order through November 2nd.

Each chapter features a painting of an iconic sign by Rebecca Phillips, as well as historical images and additional current-day photographs by Jeremy Greene. The history of the sign and they places they represent are told through personal stories. Featured signs include the Universal Life Insurance Company sign on M.L.K. Jr. Avenue, the old Chicago Pizza Factory sign that was replaced with Chiwawa's "Midtown Is Memphis" sign, the sputnik sign at Joe's Wines and Liquors, the Drink-n-Drag sign on Club Spectrum, and the Skateland roller skate.

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, MemphisType.com.

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 FrontPorchArt.com, 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. Horton and Phillips immediately began collecting stories from Memphians to include in the book.

"There are a lot of stories that stuck with me," Horton said. "One of my favorites, though, came from Carolyn Jensen, who told me about the time she took her 82-year-old mother to record her own album at Sam Phillips Recording Studio. Her mother sang some of her favorite '40s and '50s songs and one she wrote herself. She passed away a few years later, and Carolyn told me that recording the album was 'the thrill of her life.' It was really meaningful to be able to include that story in the book."

Those who pre-order the book before November 2nd will also receive a postcard set featuring three of Phillips' paintings, a hand-drawn map print, and some bonus goodies.

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