Heidi Howard, Sign Maker & Painter

In a bucolic corner of Connecticut, Heidi Howard creates the illusion of the past in trade and tavern signs fashioned in the style of 18th- and 19th-century New England sign painters.

Heidi Howard in her Connecticut studio.

Heidi Howard’s folk art captures the look, feel, and artistry of early American hand-painted signs. Each piece is handcrafted from 100- to 200-year-old boards, then painted—often with many coats—lettered by hand, and aged to resemble its antique predecessors. Although the signs appear authentic down to the hand-cut nails she uses to fasten them, they are true pieces of folk art and not intended for use outdoors.

Growing up in rural Vermont, Heidi’s attraction to weathered surfaces and crusty paint began early. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, she went through a succession of jobs and roles before discovering her true vocation as a folk artist.

Just as itinerant sign makers created works that connect us from one generation to another, Heidi’s paintings are replete with unique, sometimes quirky touches that capture the spirit of the old originals. She uses period-appropriate fonts for wording, often with excessive punctuation intended to enhance the sense of the past.

Her trade signs typically include mostly lettering, while the larger tavern signs incorporate a dominant image as well. Motifs tend toward the powerfully symbolic: an eagle, an owl, a lamb lying down with a lion. Period signs, she notes, had to be large enough to be seen easily from the road.

Custom work is her specialty. “I can reproduce an early sign or create something new that looks as though it’s had a long history,” she says. She also accepts commissions. Heidi shows and sells her work at select shows and through a new online shop. Trade signs begin at about $325; an elaborate tavern sign costs up to $1,650.

An example of a hand-lettered and heavily weathered trade sign.

Whales, seahorses, a ship, and lighthouse adorn Howard’s folk art painting “Ship’s Inn.”

“The Beehive” is an imagined scene with elements reminiscent of muralist Rufus Porter.

Meet Heidi and see her handmade signs at the Designer Craftsmen Show at the Valley Forge Casino Resort & Convention Center, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania,
Feb. 28–March 2, 2014.

Heidi Howard, Maker & Painter
(860) 974-3979
P.O. Box 112
Eastford, CT 06242