From sleighs to Snoopy, windows declare the season

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2001

At Napa Auto Parts, elves carry wrenches, pliers and battery cables.

At Channel Bowl, a reindeer holds an armload of snowballs and throws them at bowling pins.

These are just two of the painted window designs Anne Pittman of Admiral Signs created for customers. North Star Signs and Create-A-Vation also are among the businesses painting windows to create seasonal advertisements or illustrations.

All over town, snowmen grin, reindeer prance, Rugrats menace and bells ring. Pittman has created windows at the Nugget Mall, Denali Credit Union, Donna's Restaurant, Taku Real Estate, First National Bank, the Sand Bar and Grill, the Jordan Creek Mall and Tesoro.

"I have a three-ring binder and let customers look through. Some pick out what they want, and others say, 'You pick,' " said Pittman, who became a Juneau resident a year ago.

She uses Rich Art, a water-based, nontoxic paint that the customer easily can remove with a mix of ammonia and water. Most painting is done on the outside of windows so Pittman doesn't have to worry about drips, but some customers want it inside - away from the depredations of weather.

"It's 'splash art,' " Pittman said. "That's the technical name. Before you see anything on the window, you lay out the design and sketch it on with washable marker. Then you cut in black outlines and paint it."

The outlines should not be as obvious as leading in stained glass, Pittman said, or the aesthetics of the design suffer. "Broad outlining brings it down and makes it cartoony." From time to time she avoids outlining all together, as in the large snowman face she created for Alaska Communications Systems, where she used a stippled or pointillist effect.

"Business is sort of slow, so I decided to do this and make some extra money," Pittman said.

The peak season for window painting is the two weeks immediately following Thanksgiving, said artist Melissa McCormick of Create-A-Vation. As a mother of two pre-schoolers, she usually paints for a maximum of 15 clients a year.

"It's a good hobby during the holidays," said McCormick, who also teaches art classes for children and is an event planner who specializes in theme parties, birthday parties and weddings.

Corinne Behnke, a customer service representative at Office Plus, said she enjoys the snowflakes, elf, holly, wreath and "Happy Holidays" greeting McCormick created for her windows.

"It makes people feel good when they walk in. People always say, 'Oh, your windows look nice,' " Behnke said. "But it's probably more for us than the customer. We just like to have this done."

McCormick began painting windows in Arizona 10 years ago and has been adorning them in Juneau for seven years. Her rates vary with the size of the window, the complexity of the design and the time involved.

She created the Peanuts Gang at Shattuck & Grummett, a stage coach pulled by huskies for Wells Fargo, and an elf with holly for Office Plus. For Alaska Pacific Bank in the Mendenhall Valley, she painted a snowman on an inside window and a wildlife scene on an outside one. McCormick is probably best remembered by Juneau commuters for her 2000 mural of Santa in a skiff being pulled by salmon that covered the upstairs windows of Douglas Island Pink and Chum and could be seen from Egan Drive.

The most established window painting firm in town is North Star Signs, owned by Ellen Northup, director of the Juneau Senior Center.

"We have been painting windows here since 1973," Northup said. "My daughter Melissa and I enjoy our customers and we have fun. My grandson, Alex Goese-Goble, earned all his Christmas money this way this year." Mother, daughter and grandson are being assisted this year by Celeste Dyakanoff.

Now that Northup and her daughter both have full-time jobs, North Star Signs is not looking for new business, she said. It already has decorated regular customers, including Western Auto, Sealaska, the Airport Shopping Center, First Bank (both locations) and The Broiler.

Since it had a run-in with damage from a big winter storm, North Star Signs paints only on the insides of windows.

"Most of our customers pretty much let us do what we want, but there are some special requests," Northup said. "We painted Rugrats at Evergreen Ford, and Jean Schjtuk who decorates her house to the hilt asked for a big Grinch head this year." (The owner of Evergreen is closely connected to the Rats; his son was a director for one of the cartoon's movie features.)

Melissa McCormick can be reached at 790-3949. The number for Admiral Signs is 790-9990. Ellen Northup can be reached after 3 p.m. at 789-3473.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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