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Positive Signs Spotted Around Town, Knoxville, July 2023 (Photo by Luke Frazier)
Positive Signs Spotted Around Town, Knoxville, July 2023 (Photo by Luke Frazier)

(Today’s article marks a return of Luke Frazier, guest writer)

Everywhere you look there are signs, it’s part of city life. Some are brilliant, others just dull. The Tennessee Theater sign serves as a nice background for tourist pics on Gay St. while the JFG Coffee sign on West Jackson reminds you it’s the best part of the meal. Some make us laugh, and we tell someone about them. Some signs are clever, or pretty, or maddening in their lack of clarity. And some signs are worth repeating.

I’ve seen two small wooden signs around downtown Knoxville that say the same thing: THIS IS A POSITIVE SIGN. One is down by the river on Neyland Drive, right at the Basler Boathouse. The approximate 18” square of plywood was painted yellow a while ago and the words are black and look stenciled. Now it’s faded and weather beaten.   

The other is in South Knoxville in the 1500 block of Island Home Avenue, just down from Printshop Beer Company. This time it’s orange letters on a blue background and not quite as faded as its Neyland counterpart. The stenciling looks the same, so I’ll guess the same person(s) are behind them both. I noticed the Island Home one first a month ago on a walk over there, though I absolutely should have seen the Neyland one before it since I’ve walked that greenway multiple times since moving here last Fall.


Both locations beg the same question: why did someone decide to make them and put them up?

I thought of the famous surrealist Renee Magritte’s painting, “The Treachery of Images,” where a pipe is pictured with the words This is Not a Pipe beneath it. Good old Magritte. Is it possible someone in Knox is providing a nod and a wink to the Belgian while delivering a positive statement to the world at large? Probably not.

Nor do I think the declarations are tied to a specific event or place, like the one on Neyland having been put up as a thumbs up for the boathouse being built or something? Nah. And what would the Island Home Ave sign be referencing, the artful graffiti on the building across the street in a kind of social commentary? Highly doubtful.

Perhaps the THIS IS A POSITIVE SIGN signs were put up to encourage us to stop & ponder just what a positive sign might be. Many of us look for “signs” around us and about us, clues to our current circumstances, predictions of things to come, wishes and wants to yearn by. Could these signs be a call to action, asking us to find a positive sign in our own lives about something? 

It’s true that negative things happen in life and we don’t know why. We try and assemble cause and effect, seek to identify patterns, fit the pieces together. We wonder about fate. We want there to be positive signs on the horizon. 

In at least a couple of locations around downtown the horizon does include a positive sign. And if these unassuming, slightly battered plywood signs offer a moment to pause and reflect on what is positive around us then it serves a good purpose.

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