Ghost letter paintings 'giving life' to Pikeville history

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - As downtown revitalization efforts continue in Pikeville, the city is now working to highlight the character of some of its oldest buildings.

Some of the buildings' ghost letters - old advertisements and signage that were once painted on the facades - are now being updated. Not to make them different, but to make them more noticeable.

"We're just bringing that back at a certain strength that still looks like its era," said Pikeville Main Street Director Minta Trimble. "So that takes a little bit of talent."

She said they found the perfect company through the National Main Street Center in Washington, D.C. They contacted Jeremy Russell, co-owner of Brushcan Custom Murals.

"This guy is very much a history buff and he's very into preservation and that's what Main Street does and we're just so proud to have him," Trimble said.

Russell said research is a huge part of his process since his work is to restore, not revamp, the look of the art.

"When the town hires us, we try to be as authentic as possible," he said.

He said his process includes researching building history, including photos of the building if possible. But, he said, you can tell a lot about an original design based on the paint it leaves behind as the "ghost" becomes more transparent over the years.

"When you try looking at little places, you'll see where paint, it was still there, like, collected in the corners and stuff," Russell said. "You have to pay attention to those little details to make it look real, otherwise it just looks fake."

He said his company often creates its own versions of the ghost lettering on buildings to make them appear old. But when it is asked to freshen up an existing sign, it becomes all about staying true to the original and not taking too many liberties.

"Well, you could, but then you're erasing history," he added.

Russell is working on five different signs on buildings in the downtown area. He already touched up a "Call Bros. Hardware" sign and moved on to the Kentucky Wholesale sign, which wraps around the building next to Pike Street.

"We're not painting. We're not deforming it in any way," Trimble said. "We are just giving it its life back."

Trimble said along with freshening up the history, the group has been discovering more details about the buildings. Which is what she says the Pikeville Main Street Program is all about.

To see more about Brushcan Custom Murals, visit the company's Facebook page.

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