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Our First Sign Ever!

It would hardly be worth documenting the history of Banana Banners without first describing in a little more detail, the illuminating pasts of both me and Karen, for the decisive paths we have chosen, have brought us here and we are the very soul of this company. It is with utmost satisfaction, that we look upon our lives, and know that we are doing now, is what we have always wanted to do. Recognizing the personal success, in that piece alone, fuels our fire to dream and create. It’s also what makes working with us a truly unique experience.

 I was born and raised in Lawrence, MA. My attraction to signs was seeded growing up amongst the color and noise of the city: lots of people, great food, and signs everywhere. From the gigantic cut out letters at ALL-Brite Carpets and the Boston Garden to the Green Monster in Fenway and the beautifully carved and gilded church signs, each one was a stunning piece of art that evoked some sort of emotion.  Bright painting on restaurant windows enticed the hungry customers as much as did the aromas wafting from their kitchens. The chase lights and neon of the Golden Cue Billiards literally seduced the night owls. I joke with my family that I learned to read looking at signs while my Dad was lost driving around Logan Airport but they quickly assured me I had learned nothing, the day I innocently asked them what a “TV-POOL” was, as we drove past the cheezy hotels on Route One. I did understand, however, at a very young age, that not only is it what you say, and how you say it, but the way the words look, that really creates the connection to their meaning.

The summer of 1976 brought with it my first paying sign gig. I was coerced, I mean convinced, to paint the 4’x4’ plywood sponsor signs around our softball field. My father was the president of our league and he decided the sign project would be a wonderful fundraiser for them, and it would give me “purpose” for that summer. While he went off to pitch the idea to the local businesses and gather the supplies, I was dropped off every morning to apprentice in Paul Privetera’s sign shop. I learned how to drink coffee, swear like a grown man, work hard, laugh louder, and most importantly, with brush in hand, that the perfect “O” was also the Holy Grail of sign making. I practiced every day, and my skills improved with each session. I finished 40 signs that summer, and got paid $4 each!  I knew, right then, that I wanted to paint signs for the rest of my life.

 Investing my riches into my high school education, I enrolled at Phillips Academy, in Andover, MA, where I took every art and philosophy class that  I possibly could. My joy was compounded when I discovered I could take calligraphy for credit! I finished my senior year with an independent project: a 4’x8’ collage, complete with brushed text, illuminating a Wilfred Owen quote about the horror of war. Perfectly, my political views were expressed with words, letters and color. My work was selected to be displayed in the Addison Gallery. Even better, it was stolen before the spring term was over.

In the fall of 1982, I again began my journey into the work force. I worked in the family print shop running a printing press and the cameras, then for a commercial printer, selling lithography to the most prestigious galleries on Newbury Street. Finally, I ended up in Maine pulling a squeegee for a small t-shirt printer. It was there, in 1989, that I was introduced to computer aided sign making. Although still in its infancy, it offered one amazing bonus. I’d never have to agonize over brushing that perfect “o” by hand again, and instead I could spend those hours on concept and design. My love for the sign making trade was rekindled. I eventually purchased the sign making equipment when that business closed, and in 1992, Banana Banners was established.

I spent the first few years, working out of my home, building a customer base while raising my two small children. I loved the freedom of being able to schedule my time so that I could spend time with them, and work in the wee hours of the morning while they slept. But I soon needed more space, and a garage where I could letter trucks. In 1995, I leased some space at 160 Main Street and the business continued to grow. I eventually purchased the property in 1998, converted the second floor of the old barn into a spacious apartment and moved in with my kids in 2000. In 2002, Karen joined me to work at Banana Banners. I’ve deemed this next piece “chapter two”.

Have you ever thought you were destined to do great things with your life?  How about a destiny that may have actually started before you were born?  Karen’s love of drag racing helped point her in the direction of sign painting.  In fact, both her parents drag raced.  Some say her Mother marked her for life – driving until just two weeks before Karen was born.  Karen got an early start in drag racing, she was at the track the weekend after she born.

Karen grew up at the race track and loved it.  She was always interested in fast cars and their colorful paint jobs; and, she had an eye for design.  One day when Karen was 11, her parents took her to a friend’s sign shop.  It was a renaissance day for Karen – he told her about his education at Butera School of Art and how fulfilling his career was.  Karen was hooked.  From that point forward, she was completely motivated and inspired to become a sign painter.  She knew there would be no other career that would be able to completely satisfy her creative abilities. She still remembers visiting his shop like it was yesterday.

In 1996, Karen enrolled in Butera School of Art in Boston .  Butera is one of the only schools in the country that offers a complete, professional, study in the arena of sign art.  She was trained in the art of hand painting and airbrushing for which the school specializes. The year before she graduated, during the summer, Karen came to me looking for a job where she could get some computer experience with sign making software and utilize her hand painting talent. You can’t imagine my excitement when I watched her paint the first piece. She was the ‘”real deal”: sweet, kindhearted, talented, determined and with a sense of humor to boot. I was happy to hire her, even if it was only for the summer. I felt I could teach her a lot about the sign business, and likewise, she taught me a lot about technical skill, painting, design, and signs in general.  That fall, she returned to school and excelled in her studies.  Even before she graduated in 1998, she was hired by an established sign company just outside of Boston.  By the way, if you’re ever in Boston, just look around, as many of the signs you see at prominent Boston businesses and landmarks could be some of Karen’s handiwork!

Alas, after several years of living in the big city, Karen’s ties to a simpler life in Maine kept haunting her.  Eventually, she decided it was time to return home to be closer to family. At the same time, Banana Banners was growing and I realized I could no longer wear all the hats, and do each job well. I needed someone who I could trust to help raise my “baby” with the utmost care and professionalism.  I was looking to hire not just an employee, but someone who shared my passion for the business. I needed someone with whom I could collaborate, someone who would challenge my ideas and keep things fresh. I sought after Karen, and at the very same time, she was making her plans to move back to Maine. Now if that isn’t a fortunate twist of fate, I don’t know what is!


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