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Sign here: Exhibit pays tribute to Coney Island banners

Sign here: Exhibit pays tribute to Coney Island banners
Handy man: Stephen Powers’s hand-painted signage is on display as a Brooklyn Museum installation on the classic Coney Island craft.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

It’s a sign of the times — and of the place.

An artist is paying tribute to Coney Island with a collage of hand-painted signs — an art form indigenous to the dreamy beach town — displayed as part of Brooklyn Museum’s focus on the history and look of the waterfront nabe. The sign-painter says his connection to the People’s Playground gives the multi-tiered installation a special down-home vibe.

“We were employees, we were workers in the amusement park and in the neighborhood,” said Stephen Powers of his Coney Island-born sign-painting service Icy Signs, whose exhibition “Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)” is now on display in the Museum. “I think we bring a really interesting inside perspective to it.”

Powers said he mastered his craft in the neighborhood’s fast-paced and competitive signage scene, where local businesses show off flashy and colorful hand-painted lettering from skilled neighborhood artists. The artists of Icy, which now operates out of Boerum Hill, churned out signs for local spots like laundromats and restaurants in Coney Island, where makers and consumers alike have strong opinions about the craft.

The Brooklyn Museum installation is a hodge-podge of signage created by Powers and fellow Icy artists as a tribute to the area’s local aesthetic, which affects every member of the local artist community.

“In Coney, everybody carries 150 years on their back with everything they do,” said Powers. “They’re all well-versed in the history of Coney Island and they all play their part in the present day and in paying tribute to the past.”

That history is laid out in the museum’s accompanying exhibition “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland,” which features photographs by famed freak photographer Diane Arbus, nineteenth-century landscape paintings, and novelty items dating from 1861 to 2008. The display tracks the changes in the neighborhood, in the arts community, and in the country as a whole, said the curator.

“It’s about the way that Coney Island has inspired artists since the late 19th Century, and the way it has reflected what has been happening in the world at large,” said Sharon Matt Atkins.

“Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)” and “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638–5000, www.brooklynmuseum.org]. On display until March 13. $16 suggested donation.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Sign language: A new exhibit at the Brooklyhn Museum demonstrates the kinds of sign that hawk Coney Island wares.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

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