Yellow Springs Arts Council
displays vintage banners


A small sampling of the many beautiful banners in the exhibit. 

By Terri Gordon

As Maxine Skuba tells it, it all began with rip-stop nylon, a lightweight fabric that doesn’t fray when cut. It was relatively inexpensive and she liked how it was “luminescent in the light—like stained glass,” she says. “I liked it a lot!”

She used it to make decorative windsocks, garden flags, and small personal banners. One day she realized the town’s utility poles had brackets for hanging things, and an idea popped into her head. Already a proponent of public art, she foresaw banners—made by local artists and townspeople—fluttering on those poles, bringing cheerful color to the otherwise dreary winter months.

The first Yellow Springs Banner Festival took place in 1988. There were 23 more until 2012, when the group just ran out of steam.

Now the Yellow Springs Arts Council and the Yellow Springs Arts & Culture Commission present “Celebrating the Banner Festival,” an exhibit of banners and photographs from those glory days. The display is hosted by the Village of Yellow Springs in the John Bryan Community Center.

Teri Schoch was working as a graphic artist when she met Maxine Skuba.

“Maxine Skuba, had been doing banners and all sorts of stitchery since I met her sometime in the late 1980s,” she recalls. “Every year of the Yellow Springs Banner Festival, she would ask me when I was going to do a banner. At that early point I was not doing much art since I was distracted with my day job, so every year I would say, ‘Maybe this year,’ but every year, I never did. I loved the idea, I just couldn’t find the time. Finally, though, I succumbed.”

Schoch’s time came in 2000, when she agreed to create a banner for the festival. The graphics and large blocks of color fit in with her graphic arts experience, and she was ready to try her hand.

“My first banner was a bit of a variation from the norm in that it was constructed of an unusual material,” says Schoch. “Maxine had discovered that the rip-stop nylon used to make sails was ideal for these. It did not fray, it could be sewn on a home sewing machine, and it came in a huge range of colors. Bean Bag City/Sailors’ Tailor also made custom sails and would sell this fabric by the yard. Being the procrastinator that I was, I waited to make my banner and could not get the nylon fabric when they were open. I was in the hardware store and saw the variety of screen materials and the idea of using sunshade fabric appliquéd to inexpensive window screen seemed fun. That first banner was a success and I was hooked.”

Schoch went on to make other banners, eventually using the rip-stop nylon, each year for the next twelve. She even served as the event’s director for several years.

Nancy Mellon is the curator of the Yellow Springs Arts Council’s Permanent Collection. The group preserves local art history about art events and organizations. They have started an annual Local Art History Series. This year’s event showcases new works added to the collection, introduces the John Bryan Community Center as the new home of the Permanent Collection, and celebrates the town’s Banner Festivals.

On display are several of those original banners as well as photographs from those high times.

Mellon remembers attending the festival in its later years, as she had moved into the community. “When I moved to Yellow Springs, I got to see some of the last Banner Festivals,” she says. “It was always a wonderful surprise to turn a corner, and there they were, a sea of waving color and humor and beauty. It was such a pleasure when banners bloomed on the poles of Yellow Springs.”

Putting the exhibit together was its own labor of love as banners were hunted out and unearthed from people’s basements and back rooms

“We got clues to who might still have a banner and went seeking them,” says Mellon. “Often one banner maker suggested another to ask. I researched old banner festival brochures for names and sent out inquiries to whomever I could find a contact for.” Memories were resurrected, too.

“All kinds of people participated,” says Skuba, “and that’s what makes it such a grand thing! It was great because people saw them. It was an attraction, like, ‘Let’s go down and look at the banners.’ This was a form of public art, and it was all done by community members, and that made it even better.”

For those who remember the festivals, Celebrating the Banner Festival will be a trek down Memory Lane. For those who missed the banners’ heydays, it will be an introduction—to the history, the art, the sense of community, and to the power of an idea.

“The purpose of the exhibit is to celebrate the people who created the banners and who coordinated the Festivals and to remember the joy that the Banner Festivals gave our village,” says Mellon. “Over 400 people created banners over the years. Young people, old people, artists, and non-artists made banners. Groups, partners, families, and friends made banners together.”

All three women would love to see the Festival return to Yellow Springs, even if on a smaller scale. It just needs a champion. Maybe it’s you!

The Celebrating the Banner Festival exhibit is hosted by the Village of Yellow Springs, in the John Bryan Community Center at 100 Dayton St., Yellow Springs, and runs through June 30. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit YSArtsCouncil.org.

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Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks (http://tsgordon.blogspot.com) is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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