Leaving his mark

Local artist, sign-painter leaves legacy across the county

Published 7:58 am Wednesday, April 28, 2021

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STANFORD – For over 50 years, John Arnett left his mark on Lincoln County in the form of signs – from storefronts to boats to work trucks – he did a lot of artwork around town.

John, who passed away at the age of 71 in March, painted signs for local businesses for most of his life.

According to his wife, Carol Arnett, John had his hand in a little bit of everything, and most of the signs and artwork in downtown Stanford were done by those hands.

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“He did a lot of freelance but he also had a shop downtown for a while,” Carol said. “He did a little bit of everything. He did lettering on trucks, he did it on glass, he did it on sides of buildings, he painted on boats. He did art, too.”

John opened his business Arnett Signs on Main Street in Stanford in 1991. He was featured in The Interior Journal with a photo of him putting the finishing touches on an oil painting.

According to the news archives, Arnett’s business specialized in “lettering and painting business signs on windows, vans or any surface” and he also painted oil portraits and heirloom pictures of homes.

“He painted signs around the county for around 50 years,” Carol said. “He moved here in 1971.”

John was even commissioned to do historic reproduction work. In 2003, First Southern National Bank hired him to reproduce a sign that once adorned the side of a building on the corner of Depot and Main Streets in Stanford. He was hired to repaint “W. H. Higgins Groceries, Hardware & Buggies,” on the building.

The Lincoln County Ready Mix sign was also his handy work, Carol said, as well as many other business signs in Lincoln County.

“He designed the Alford Real Estate signs,” she said. “He also did the Hart Insurance sign. There’s so many of them.”

And there really are – John’s work spread across the state to Carrollton, Somerset, Danville, and across state lines into Cincinnati.

Carol keeps a portfolio of all of John’s work, which includes photos of various commissions, freelance jobs, freehand artwork, and even poetry.

“Something else he did was he wrote poetry and he actually had poetry published in a book about Greenup County, which is where he was born,” she said. “He also designed the cover for the book.”

The book is called “Greenup County, Kentucky; An Historical Reflection” she said, and was written by a friend of John’s whom he went to school with there.

No matter which side of Main Street in Stanford you’re looking at, John’s artwork can be seen. But Stanford isn’t the only town he shared his work with – Carol said John’s work has reached as far as Germany, France, and Jamaica.

He was meticulous, she said, and rarely made mistakes, which is why he was always sought after, even by young artists, of which John took several under his wings to mentor.

“He never minded spectators,” Carol said. People would often stop to watch John work and admire his freehand abilities, she said.

Carol said her husband suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease later in life but whenever he came down Main Street, he would point to his signs and remember that he painted them.

“For a while, he went to just family and when they would bring him home he would tell them on the way home, ‘That’s one of my signs,’ or ‘I did that one,’ and would point them out all the way home,” she said.