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Your City's 'Ghost Signs' Have Stories to Tell

The faded advertisements on old brick buildings often go unnoticed, and they’re disappearing fast. That’s why one artist is shining a light on just how much they tell us about a city’s history.
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Courtesy of Craig Winslow

When the side of a 111-year-old brick building lit up in Winnipeg, Canada, on a recent night in July, a crowd of about 50 people looked up to see a newly vivid message that had been there all along: “Porter & Co., crockery, china, glassware, lamps, silverware, cutlery.” A few moments later, the words faded and a new message appeared: “The Home of Milady Chocolates.” This late-night light show was a seance of sorts, and Craig Winslow was the medium.

Winslow revives ghost signs, those faded hand-painted ads left to weather on the sides of old buildings in cities around the world. He doesn’t repaint the old signs; instead, he brings them back to life through light. By digging deep into historical archives, he finds what these advertisements looked like when they were fresh, digitally reconstructing them and projecting them over the faded remnants that hang there today. Many ads have several layers, so he animates each of them, briefly recalling images of a city's forgotten past for the sake of nostalgia and conversation in the community.