They’re everywhere; a constant part of the American landscape that we sometimes see without actually seeing. Signs. Signs advertising automobiles, signs advertising restaurants, signs advertising attorneys. If somebody makes it, sells it, rents it or hauls it to the dump after it’s worn out and no longer needed, there’s a sign somewhere telling you about it.
But have you ever really noticed the signs around you? Sings are an art form that tells the story of American commerce throughout history. And the history of those signs is celebrated at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Founded by Tod Swormstedt, former editor and publisher of Signs of the Times magazine, a visit to the Sign Museum is a trip back through time to the days when glowing neon beacons attracted road weary travelers off the highway for dinner and a room for the night. Anyone who ever traveled Route 66, old U.S. 30, or any of the other historic American roads will rekindle pleasant memories during an afternoon spent at the museum.
Housed in an old building in the Camp Washington area of Cincinnati that once was home to a women’s clothing manufacturer and later a parachute factory, American Sign Museum’s 19,000 square feet of exhibit space is filled with reminders of the past.
The oldest signs on display are beautiful gold leaf glass signs from the late 1800s and early 1900s. During that period gilding was considered a highly developed art; only the best sign makers employed the technique and only the most prosperous businesses could afford it.
One such artist who plied his trade late into the 20th Century was Steven Parrish, the “Gold Man of the Great Plains,” whose work was in high demand across Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Parrish did most of his work for banks, and was so well respected by his customers that many gave him keys to the banks so he could work at night undisturbed. During his career he traveled over 300,000 miles in his old Lincoln, it’s trunk filled with paint, brushes, easels, and tables. Parrish became so well known that he was featured on Charles Kuralt’s popular Sunday Morning Show.
Other displays include hand painted signs, backlit signs, and an amazing collection of neon signs of every shape and size.
One display is called Main Street and is made up to look like a typical city street in the 1940s or 50s. I could have stayed there all day!
Along with the colorful neon signs were descriptions of the businesses they advertised and about how sign art evolved over time.
A business called Neonworks of Cincinnati is located next door to the Sign Museum and they share a common wall. There are large windows through which museum visitors can watch sign makers at work. Note: the shop is open weekdays only.
But not all signs are created equally, and not all of them are illuminated. The American Sign Museum has some great examples of other types of signs, both inside and outside.
Just walking through this place could make you hungry.
Visitors to the museum can wander through the exhibits on their own, or take an hour long guided tour that brings to life the stories behind the individual signs and the evolution of signs on the American landscape. On weekdays only, the tour includes a visit next door to Neonworks of Cincinnati for a demonstration on how neon signs are made. When they have the time, the craftsmen at the shop will take the time to chat with visitors during the tour.
We were impressed with the Sign Museum. It’s one of those hidden treasures that we are thrilled to discover as we explore the great land of ours.
Located at 1330 Monmouth Street, the American Sign Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The museum has free off-street parking for cars. A large RV would have difficulty finding a parking space on the street. Admission to the museum is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, students with ID, and active duty military. Children 12 and under are admitted free with an accompanying adult. For more information, call the museum at (513) 541-6366 or visit their website at www.americansignmuseum.org.
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Thought For The Day – A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.