SIGN OF THINGS TO COME: Shawn Gilheeney, above, is co-owner of Providence Painted Signs, a company founded by three local artists with an eye for traditional typefaces. It’s currently tackling work for businesses going into the new Arcade.
For generations, hand-painted business signs were the backdrops for American central business districts, providing a unique splash of color and lettering to each Main Street.
The transition to machine printing in the latter half of the 20th century made those handmade signs rare and most downtowns a little more anonymous.
Now Providence Painted Signs, a company founded by three local artists with an eye for traditional typefaces, is helping bring the original form of commercial advertising back to Rhode Island.
The bright colors and traditional fonts of Providence Painted Signs’ work is now noticeable from above the doors of restaurants, boutiques, food trucks, condominiums and bowling alleys throughout the city and some parts of the state.
This year the company has been working on its largest and highest-profile job yet, the interior and exterior signs for the renovated Arcade in Providence’s Financial District.
“This is our first big job and it’s keeping us really busy,” said Shawn Gilheeney, Providence Painted Signs co-owner and chief executive.
With about 16 exterior signs and at least 18 signs for the new shops opening in the building, the Arcade should become a high-profile advertisement for Providence Painted Signs’ work.
Among the roughly 50 businesses that Painted Signs has made signs for are some of the Providence area’s more popular establishments with the creative set.
They include local-craft shops Frog & Toad on Hope Street and Craftland on Westminster Street; restaurants Local 121 on Washington Street, Flan Y Ajo on Westminster Street, Bodega Malasana on Union Street and a new Gourmet Heaven on Thayer Street; apartments at the Pearl Street Lofts building on the West Side and bowling alley Lang’s Bowlerama in Cranston.
A Coventry native, Gilheeney was first introduced to hand-painted signs while working at a high-end commercial print shop in Seattle.
An older colleague at the print shop who made signs back in the day taught Gilheeney the techniques used.
When Gilheeney returned to Rhode Island in 2004, he found a community of other young artists interested in traditional lettering and design that included Buck Hastings and Greg Pennisten.