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Signs of Life

Wow! I’ve been seriously neglecting Plop! with all my busy-ness of late. But, good news! There are indeed signs of life in this little blog. I have some great articles in the hopper and a whole list of inspired pond posts to share.

But, first, I decided it was time to let you in on one of my closet intrigues. Since I was a college student at Mississippi State University studying art and architecture, I have had a growing fascination with signs, particularly hand-made ones. My penchant for graphic design, found art objects and architecture’s sense of place all rolled into one ball of interest in my freshman year when I was assigned a project to find examples of local art for Dr. Paul Grootkerk’s art appreciation class. When you recognize the wonderful small town environments prevalent in our neck of the woods, you’ll understand the particular challenge Dr. Grootkerk was issuing. To complete the project, I decided to focus my attention on graffiti as a form of art and communication. Even in the small town deep South we have graffiti.

For centuries, men have been putting their creativity to work to communicate ideas in visual form — from cave paintings to feudal crests to favicons. It’s the essence of graphic design. That project of some 20 years ago (yikes!) began my journey of noticing the creativity people employ to convey their messages. There is something very inspiring about a person’s desire to create a sign, putting it on display, to communicate what matters to him. Closet intrigue was born. I have since enjoyed collecting various images from the small (and big) ponds I visit that document some of that creative sign making. The $10 word I use for it is “vernacular typography” — type expressed in an untrained manner, and often without the benefit of mechanical processes. The less nerdy term is hand-painted signs. I like them. I like to imagine the person who made them. I like to notice the ingenuity required to execute them. I like to acknowledge the inherent creativity and pride of place found in the desire to make them. I thought I would share some of these inspiring, funny and quirky examples as I find them. And, in the process, you can visit a few of the small ponds that produced them.

Recently I was able to take a drive through central Mississippi to visit with a restaurant client. I left earlier than needed, and I brought my camera. I’m posting an essay about the unexpected benefits of that winding roadtrip over at EyeJunkie later, but suffice it to say: the road was indeed winding, and I made quite a few turns and back turns to satisfy my need to capture some signs of life. [Read girl in heels traipsing down the side of a two lane highway with camera in hand.]

This odd little one-word message in Good Hope, MS (along Hwy 31 S) caught my attention. When I saw the word “trash,” I thought “how thorough.” Someone wanted to make sure everyone knew the freezer was destined for the landfill. But, as I drove through a little more of Good Hope, I realized that beside each mailbox was a boxy trash bin as well. It must be some requirement of waste management, a county ordinance or some attempt at protecting the beautification program from raccoons (because I don’t think we have bears here). The word “trash” took on a whole new meaning. Rather than a simple declaration, it was an instruction: “pick up our trash here.” Now that’s repurposing! And, I suppose it’s a lesson in how much advertising copy is too little copy.

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