March 31, 2014

[PHOTOS] An Artist's Touch Revitalizes a Mississippi Main Street

  • By: Lauren Walser

Artist Bill Warren hand paints the lettering on a window at The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery.

There’s a renaissance happening in the small town of Water Valley, Miss., as you read in the Spring 2014 issue of Preservation magazine.

Long-vacant storefronts are now teeming with life. Residents and visitors spend afternoons and evenings on Main Street, grabbing a sandwich at The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery, a new market and eatery started by a local couple in a 140-year-old brick building; snacking on ice cream at Turnage Drug Store, a 109-year-old family-owned Water Valley institution; or perusing the latest shows at Bozarts Gallery or Yalo Studio, two new galleries in storefronts dating to the 1840s and 1910, respectively.

But it’s not just the newly renovated buildings that have brought vigor to Water Valley. A major part of the town’s revival comes from the beautiful, hand-painted signs lining Main Street, welcoming shoppers to stores and creating a unique visual identity for the town.

This sign for Turnage Drug Store hangs prominently on the sidewalk of Main Street.

These signs are the handiwork of Bill Warren, artist and co-chair of the Water Valley Arts Council, who moved to Water Valley in 2008. His work has been widely recognized as a major impetus for downtown’s growth and has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, the Oxford Home Guide, and Water Valley’s North Mississippi Herald.

In 2012, the Mississippi Main Street Association honored Warren the award for Best New Signage .

“Through his artistic eye for detail and design, his precision, knowledge of calligraphy, and his keen sense of color and scale, Warren has literally and single-handedly re-signed Water Valley’s downtown revival,” Mickey Howley, Water Valley Main Street Association director, wrote in a letter nominating Warren’s signs for the Mississippi Main Street Association award. “Traditional signs add character to a downtown and bring a return not only to a historical style, but add a whimsy that cut vinyl signs just can’t convey.”

Last November, Warren reproduced an 8-by-12-foot mural from 1907 on the wall of the North
Mississippi Herald building.

Warren has his own ideas for what his signs can accomplish in a town experiencing an architectural revival.

“The idea is that a community is more humanized by the handmade touch,” Warren wrote in an email to Preservation. “A good sign unites people in a shared event in a particular place.”

Warren’s signs do more than unite. They create a sense of place and instill pride in the citizens of Water Valley. And while you saw some of Warren’s handiwork in action in our print story, we thought we’d give you a close-up of his creations -- and another look at the streets of Water Valley.

At the Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum, Warren’s sign unites the town’s new identity with its history as a bustling rail town.


Warren’s sandwich board-style signs, left, also greet visitors to the weekly Water Valley Farmers and Artists Market and welcomes shoppers to Mississippi Mudd, by Cora Ray, right, a bakery featuring homemade treats on Main Street.


The back entrance to Bozarts Gallery also features a sign by Warren.


For people coming down Duncan Street, Warren’s sign points the way to Turnage Drug Store.


The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery is, Nic Brown writes in our Spring 2014 issue, “a social and gastronomical hub for the town.”

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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