PORTLAND – Don’t be surprised if you start seeing glimpses of city life slung across someone’s shoulder or toted in her hand.

Banners that once hung from lampposts to promote Portland’s downtown are finding new lives as purses, tote bags and duffels.

Some of the items feature iconic images of Portland, like the dome of City Hall’s clock tower or the peaked front of the Hay Building. Others are more abstract and some include type. Names of institutions like the Maine College of Art might be highlighted in some instances while in others phrases — like “lifelong learning” from a Portland Public Library banner — are prominent. Some of the banners carry the names of businesses that sponsored them.

The bags are the work of Nancy Lawrence, the owner of Portmanteau, a shop that specializes in bags, jackets and cloaks. Through her involvement with Portland’s Downtown District, Lawrence learned that the group’s old banners — deemed too damaged and too dusty to be of any use — were destined for the landfill.

Because Lawrence expressed interest in the used banners, Janis Beitzer, the group’s executive director, provided her with a few. After a spin in Lawrence’s washing machine, they emerged as good materials for bags.

“Jan and I went to the bowels of the garage and found that there was this trove of banners that is just incredible,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence estimates that she has enough banners to make bags for about a year, though she has already made bags out of the banners that were one- or few-of-a-kind. Prices range from $24.50 to $124.50.

Beitzer said Lawrence has provided her organization with banner bags for its downtown guides and for events like trade shows and raffles.

“To me, it’s really exciting when artisans figure out how to reuse common or specific-use items into something different and useful,” Beitzer said. “How she chooses how to cut them up, that’s an art form in and of itself.”

The organization started putting up the banners in the 1990s. Each batch has a life expectancy of about seven years, Beitzer said.

The latest banners, designed by graphic designer Amy Teh, went up in June.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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