Tourists and Memphians alike whizz by dozens of signs everyday. If they could speak up and tell their story to us, it would open a whole new world of insight into the history and culture of Memphis.
In Memphis Type History: Signs and Stories from Just Around the Corner, nineteen of these everyday signs are beautifully captured by painter Rebecca Phillips. Accompanying the artwork and historical photographs is the history behind the signs, as told by the people who experienced it.
Smell the fresh popcorn at the Lamar Theater, be soothed by the soulful atmosphere of Soulsville, U.S.A., and discover the scandalous history of a red neon lady. From the building with unexplained bumps in the night to the evolution of whole neighborhoods, you’ll discover intriguing stories from around the corner that will make your next drive in Memphis more meaningful than you’d ever imagined.
Memphis Type History is a beautiful hardcover book measuring 7.5 x 9.25 inches. From the cover to the inside pages, Rebecca’s artwork and hand lettering are a treat for the eyes. The 154 pages feature the stories of Memphis alongside artwork by Rebecca, photography by Jeremy Greene, and historical images from lovely libraries and kind Memphians. Explorers will find a hand-drawn map of the Memphis Type History landmarks created just for them by Rebecca. May this map treat you to many wonderful discoveries of Memphis.
Memphis Type History is now in presale just in time for Christmas, but only through November 2nd (tomorrow!).
If you pre-order by tomorrow you will get a signed copy of the book, a postcard set featuring Memphis Type History paintings by Rebecca, an exclusive Memphis Type History bookmark, a digital download of Chapter One, free shipping, and an illustrated map by Rebecca of all the landmark locations if you decide on local pickup at a book event (events are TBA).
Below we have a Q&A with the book’s founders, and an exclusive giveaway! Read to the end for more info on how you can win your very own copy of Memphis Type History just in time for Christmas!
Q: Where did the idea come from for Memphis Type History: Signs and Stories from Just Around the Corner?
Rebecca: The project called “Memphis Type” began with Jeremy Greene who was capturing interesting signs and graffiti around Memphis with his camera and iPhone. I loved what he was doing and thought it would be a fun subject to work on and great way for me to get back into painting. With his permission, I began an acrylic series called “Memphis Type Illustrated.” A few years later, the paintings caught some attention and Caitlin and I were given the opportunity to create a history book based on these landmarks. We continued the Memphis Type theme and called our project “Memphis Type History.”
Caitlin: We started a blog as soon as we began research for the book, which inspires us to keep exploring and sharing stories in addition to what’s in the book. For example, we toured the Sears Crosstown building with a group of photographers before the renovation began. Through the blog, we were able to share the history of the building and hopefully help others feel like they got to tour it, too
Q: Why are signs and landmarks so inspiring?
Rebecca: I love to paint landmarks because the artwork has a nostalgic feeling from days when most postcards and advertisements were produced in illustrations. Painting the signs is also a way to bring them to life. Some of the signs included in this book are often overlooked, so putting them in a form where people can see and appreciate the attention to detail in the paintings will also allow the viewer to notice detail in the construction of signs in the past. Memphis, in particular, makes an effort to preserve the history of abandoned buildings and signs which is very exciting.
Caitlin: For me, the nature of signs is that they represent something larger than themselves. Preserving them through artwork is also an act of safekeeping the stories people have about the places these signs represent. The way we approached the book by looking at Memphis history through it’s signs and the stories they hold turned out to be a unique way to get to know the city.
Q: What’s one of your favorite stories in the book?
Caitlin: It’s hard to pick a favorite story. There are two in particular that I think show how much people’s lives are held in the pages of this book. One Memphian told me about the time her 82-year-old mother made an album at Sam Phillips Recording Service. She even sang a song she wrote herself. She passed away a few years later, and her daughter said making that album was the “thrill of her life.”
I also met a couple who met and married because they met at Leahy’s Trailer Park on Summer Avenue in the fifties. The overall atmosphere at Leahy’s was very transient. So it’s interesting to see the contrast to that in their story. It was really meaningful to be able to include stories like these in the book.
Rebecca: One of my favorites was finally figuring out where the neon lady in red sign at Drink-N-Drag came from. She had been relocated all around town, so tracking down information on her was a challenge. After leaving an interview at a different landmark, they called to say their sign guy, who happened to come in for an appointment right after me, noticed a picture of the sign I left behind and said he created it! I met with him and learned how she was made and discovered there were five others just like her.
Q: How has Memphis played a role in the book coming together?
Rebecca: Memphis has been the perfect city for a project like this because of its diversity of communities, people, and an abundance of significant history. People have a lot of pride in their community, myself included. Because of that, all the landmarks are spoken about in a positive light. Another great thing about Memphis is that there are still so many interesting signs I could paint and learn about!
Caitlin: I hope this book will inspire people to explore and see Memphis in a new way. I hope they’ll wonder a bit more about the story behind the signs they pass by every day because there are a lot of discoveries to be made here.
One lucky person will win their very own copy of Memphis Type History by completing the tasks below AND you must also sign up for the Memphis Type History newsletter here. The contest will run through midnight on Wednesday and we will announce the winner on Thursday. Good luck!