Canham Graphics offers signs and more on the Pawnee Square! By Cindy Ladage

Canham Graphics offers signs and more on the Pawnee Square!

PictureSince 1995, Bill and his son Doug Canham have been working at Canham Graphics on the northwest side of the Pawnee Square.  They offer signs, lettering and more at this family business located at 617 Douglas Street.  They even made the beautiful lettering outside on the
Canham Graphics sign above their door.  This two-man operation is a busy place with orders up to three weeks out.  When you visit, Chip, the mascot, a Chihuahua will greet you at the door!

Canham Graphics is in the former Herbies Bar where many Pawnee residents may recall their amazing milkshakes and hamburgers perhaps even more than the bar itself.

Bill grew up in Springfield and began his career as an art teacher at Springfield High. After teaching for ten years, he worked for a sign company for another ten or so.  Doug worked at the sign company during high school and attended Milliken studying Commercial Art and Computer Graphics, but found he was learning more on the job.  After working for others for years, the two decided to take their experience and go into business together.  They worked at a few Springfield locations before finally settling in at the Pawnee Square location.  “We opened our doors on October 2nd, 1995.  We have been here for seven years now,” Bill said about the Pawnee location.

Pawnee worked out well for the Canham family.  They were familiar with the area because they have family here.  “My Aunt Norma and Uncle LaRue Thomas owned a farm here and my son bought Lou Thomas’s house when he bought a new one.”

The Canhams said when they came to Pawnee, they decided to downsize a bit and the smaller town and available building fit the bill for the two-man team. There was room for the machines the printers and computers they need to do their signs and vehicle lettering.  In fact, when I was there, Doug was working on a lettering job for Razzo’s car.  “About 70% of our business is vehicle lettering,” Bill said.

They have done lettering for the Pawnee Fire Department, Police Department and worked with Pawnee churches and Bill said he does a lot of decals for local farm trucks. For those bigger semi’s though, he usually goes to the farm operation to apply the decals because a semi won’t fit in the building.

Things have changed a lot since Bill began the business.  “When I started it was back in the days when you used brushes and paint,” he said.

Doug working on a car.


Bill got his start from a trip to St. Louis watching a friend race. When he kept inquiring about the brightly colored race cars, the friend said to paint one if he wanted to see what it was like.  That’s just what he did.  He said it took years to perfect the technique. Today the Canhams have done a few signs for racers still.  “Hand lettering morphed into computers.  If you wanted a sign business back in the day, you just had to buy $20 worth of brushes and paint, now printers, laminators and computer programs are major expenses.”

While Bill said they use computer programs for most of their work, occasionally he still does hand lettering, and he has the expertise needed for that artistic endeavor!

As far as advertising, Canham Graphics while Bill said they have tried everything has mostly grown through word of mouth and repeat customers.  One fun way of advertising though that Bill has is his 1932 Chevy Delivery Van which has their name painted on the side.  “I take it to car shows sometimes, but I’m not into the trophies and such,” he added.
Part of their growth over the years Bill thinks is because, “We try to treat everyone fairly and we have reasonable rates.”

The move to Pawnee has been a good one for the Canhams and for the Village as well.  “Pawnee has been good to us.  At first, I was reluctant I was afraid it would have a negative impact, but we more than picked up bookings,” Bill added.

They have remained open during COVID-19 because they provide service to essential businesses like police, fire, and farmers.  While they have not had the State of Illinois business, they have kept busy with other customers during the Pandemic.

On occasion they have people stop in curious about the bright business on the square.  Bill recounted a visit by a group of Pawnee Red Hat Ladies when they first came to town.  “We made logos for them it was fun,” he shared.

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