Winnipeg's Ghost Signs are Coming Back to Life this Saturday

Want a ghost experience without the supernatural side effects? Check out Painted in Light, which will bring historic Exchange District buildings back to life this Saturday night.

Also known as fading ads or brick ads, ghost signs are pieces of hand-painted, outdoor promotional art preserved on the sides of buildings. They were prevalent from the 1890s through to the 1960s, but as outdoor advertising mediums evolved, painted signs became a less popular way of advertising and were replaced by billboards and vinyl banners.

Matt Cohen, organizer of Painted in Night, first got into Ghost Signs when he was the outgoing president of the Advertising Association of Winnipeg and looking for a way to celebrate the organization’s 70th anniversary.

“I’d always been interested in the signs, so I started ghostsigns.ca as a way of documenting the ads. I thought that there were only 20 to 30 of them in the Exchange. Turned out there were close to 150 of them.”

For Painted in Light, Matt teamed up with Portland, Oregon native Craig Winslow, whose Light Capsules project has featured light installations around the world. Craig was really drawn to Winnipeg because he could do multiple signs at the same time in a concentrated area; normally it’s one per night.

Craig’s process draws on archival photos and modern technology to recreate these promotional pieces. Each sign is photographed, stitched in Photoshop, vectorized in Illustrator, animated in After Effects and then projected onto the original wall with MadMapper.

With no tour or set start point, Panted in Light is an experience more than anything. The exhibit will feature five signs: James Porter and Company and L. Galpern Candy Company at 165 McDermot Avenue; Essex Packers and Robinson & Webber  at 185 Bannatyne Avenue; and Stobart, Sons and Company at 281 McDermot Avenue.

The signs will be lit up from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and people can explore the area at their own pace. It’s all happening within one city block.

“We have this amazing collection of signs that tell a story beyond the building they’re painted on,” Matt says. “You can look at them a million ways. Some people appreciate the typography or the products they advertise. Others like them for the sign painting companies or the history the tell about our city. Everybody has a different reason that they’re drawn to them and I really wanted to give people an opportunity to experience them in an entirely new way.”

As part of the night, the Travelling Sign Painters will be performing a live painting session on the Forth rooftop patio under the Milday Chocolates Sign. Visit from 9 p.m. onwards and see the projection and installation up close.

For more information visit the Painted in Light website.

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