21 Jul 2012

Salisbury Ghost Sign Restoration Project

Signpainter applying red paint to coca cola sign on a white wall

The Salisbury Ghost Sign Restoration Project is an initiative of three enthusiasts in North Carolina. They have recently unveiled their first two restorations, both for Coca-Cola signs, so I thought it was time to catch up with one of the trio, Justin Dionne to find out more about the project.

Can you tell me a little about your own interest in ghostsigns and how this led to idea of the current restoration project?

Ever since I was young, I have seen the ghost signs in our town (we have counted and catalogued more than 20 so far) and wanted to restore them. For us, they serve not just as advertisements for companies, but as a sense of ‘Americana’ art for us. They serve as regional, cultural, historic art. My two buddies, Michael Alexander and Nassar Mufdi, and I were having beers last summer when we decided we wanted to make this happen. They had been thinking the same thing.

How did this idea then progress and gain support in Salisbury?

Our town is a small town pretty much smack dab in the middle of North Carolina. Southern, quaint, historic. We have a lot of pride in our downtown area and have many groups that work to improve things. We set up a meeting with our local Public Art Committee, an arm of the Salisbury Community Appearance Commission, which is part of our city government. When we met with them and proposed our idea, they suggested that we form another committee that basically consists of the three of us and three members from their committee. Thus the ‘Ghost Sign Restoration Project’ was born.

Two photos showing the repainting of a Coca-Cola sign on a wall in Salisbury

So the concept was endorsed but how did you take that from the embryonic idea to the realisation of your first restorations?

We decided to start with the two Coca-Cola signs because they are big, in excellent locations, and we found out that a neighboring town had done one about six months before. Through using contacts, I got in touch with a representative from Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated. We also contacted three artists around North Carolina who had done this kind of work before. They all came and quoted us for the work and we picked Andy Thompson. He is an actual retired Coca-Cola sign painter. He painted signs like this in the 1950s and 1960s. The cost for both of those signs was $8,000.

The Coca Cola Bottling (based in Charlotte, North Carolina, 30 minutes from where we are) were very interested in our project, who we were with, and our goal. Their representative immediately offered $4,000 (she said half of the cost) and then we had to get the rest. We achieved $3,000 from a grant from our Community Appearance Commission, and then fundraised the rest. We operate as a Non-Profit so that allows people to donate to our project and use it as a tax write-off.

Sounds like a lot of work and pulling lots of people together to make it happen. The results certainly capture the essence of these signs as they would have appeared when freshly painted. What steps did you take to ensure that they were faithful to the original layouts and colours?

We do extensive research thru everything from public records to personal pictures to find what was truly there before. In our second coke sign (the one high up), we found that what was visible when we started wasn’t even the original. They had painted over the original in the mid 1970s. We decided to restore back to the 1950s original.

Repainted Coca-Cola sign on building

What are your plans for project in the future?

These signs are just our first two. We have a lot more to go. We actually already have a painter commissioned for our next painting and are in talks to secure funding for our next two after that. I’m working on getting in touch with Wrigley Corporation about the huge Wrigley Gum mural/ghostsign in our town. We hope that this becomes a project that doesn’t stop anytime soon. Please note that we are all 26,27,and 28 in age and all work full time jobs. We are doing this as volunteers, just passionate to help bring these signs back to life and help our community.

Hand painted advertising on building for Wrigley gum

How can people interested in the project find out more and keep in touch?

We document all of our work on a dedicated Facebook page which includes photo galleries showing faded signs around Salisbury, work in progress on the restorations and the final results of each job.

Thanks for taking the time to share the details of your project and good luck with the next round.

There’s more on this site about restoration projects and I’ll add some more from the Salisbury Ghost Sign Restoration Project as their work evolves.

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