October 28, 2012

Elections bring good business for Hallowell sign maker

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

and Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL -- Ken Garant's one-man print shop a mile south of the State House is naturally a destination for perhaps the most recognizable political campaign symbol -- the sign.

click image to enlarge

A driver looks at campaign signs while turning off Western Avenue onto Route 17 on Thursday afternoon, near the Manchester Town Office.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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It's not hard to tell he's in the business -- every election cycle he covers a side of his North Street building with his season's work. The wall is dominated by municipal and state candidates from Freeport to Franklin County.

"It's a lot of fun every couple years having the politicians come by, because nobody will just stay and pick up their signs. They'll always end up talking about something," Garant said. "It's a part of the business I really enjoy."

The idea is ancient, but the sign isn't going out of style. If done right, signs can not only show a measure of support and make candidates' names known, but they can personify the politician's outlook or sense of humor.

All about name

Cindy Kam, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said signs work to reinforce the names of candidates in low-level races, when there's scarce information on candidates' positions.

"There's not a lot of information on actually what the issues are," she said. "Even names can be affiliated with ideology. Symbols can do that as well. Images can do that as well."

That means with names like Berry and Knight, you have plenty of possibilities.

State Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, has three blueberries and two green leaves on his campaign signs. The legislator, running for his fourth term in the House, said he's used the design since his first campaign.

He attributes the design to boosting name recognition in his first race and says they remain popular with constituents because of the design.

"For me, blueberries were a natural association between my name and what's best about Maine," he said. "It was a no-brainer."

And state Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, has used a blue-and-white sign adorned in two corners with yellow, twinkling stars and a waxing crescent moon in the last three of his four campaigns.

"My slogan is, 'A difference of Knight and day' -- whoever my opposition is," Knight said. "The motif, if you will, carries through to all of my campaign communications, whether it's my ads in the paper, my handouts at the doorway or my mailers."

Though, he concedes, the play on words isn't grammatically correct. "Maybe the British Knights of the Round Table would have been a little more appropriate," he said.

"I get a lot of favorable compliments on it because it's punny," Knight said of the design. "Some might think it's a little hokey, but why not have some fun while you're doing it?"

And while Knight is a good name, Angus is too. Independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King uses a mostly green sign with his first name and leaves off his last.

Garant thought that choice was bold.

"It's pretty good," Garant said, mentioning he wanted to do King's signs for this cycle, but was never asked to put in a bid.

"I'd say it was great if I'd done it," the printer quipped.

'Keep it simple'

When it comes to signs, Garant doesn't have flashy taste. As he stood in front of his outside wall, sign designs that stuck out to him had colored backgrounds and white print with large names in sans serif font.

In his favorites, names are paired with the office the candidate's running for -- nothing else.

"Everything I've heard, and it hasn't been disproved since, is 'Keep it simple and straightforward,' " Garant said. "You have to have something easily recognizable."

(Continued on page 2)

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