The Art of Sign Making
As an elementary school student in the late 1950s and early 1960s growing up on Long Island’s north shore just forty miles east of New York City I always looked forward to school field trips. I especially enjoyed the ones that involved touring places where we could watch things being made or produced.
The Joy of Seeing Things Made
I lived just half a mile from Huntington Harbor and remember going on a school field trip to a boatyard owned by the family of one of my classmates. I was fascinated to watch wooden boats being built. I remember another school outing where we got to see a newspaper being printed on a massive printing press with paper speeding through the press at lightening speed as we were engulfed by the aroma of ink permeating the pressroom. Back in the days before computers, typesetting was an art form and watching type being set and a printing press larger than my childhood home spew out one of New York’s large daily newspapers left me in awe. As a teenager I got to tour paper mills and shoe factories in Maine where I spent summers.
In 1979 I jumped at the opportunity to tour Ford ‘s Thunderbird assembly plant in Chicago. Ford was a client and having the opportunity to see cars assembled was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. My mouth was agape as I walked through a mammoth moving maze of parts traveling along an assembly line as the cars miraculously came together. I marveled at how the different parts as they came from distant sections of the factory to be assembled. Blue hoods, fenders, dashboards, seats, etc. all meet in just the right area followed by green, red and silver ones. To this day I am still baffled as to how Ford was able to magically get all the same color coordinated components to arrive in the right order at the same time in the same place. I am lucky to remember to put on matching shoes each morning for Pete’s sake!
Visiting ASI Affiliates
As I visit ASI affiliates around the country, meeting their staffs and learning about the production and sales processes of architectural signage I cannot help feeling the same excitement and enthusiasm I felt as a youngster. Once again a huge grin spreads across my face as I observe the complex process of signs springing to life. So much of what we use in our lives we take for granted; rarely do we ponder the complexity involved in the design and fabrication of what we see and use. Watching the production of the vast selection of signs that some affiliates produce has proven just as exciting as watching boats being built, newspapers being printed, paper being produced, shoes being put together and Thunderbirds being assembled.
Signs don’t miraculously pop out of a box. The state of the art computer directed machinery combined with the highly skilled craftsmanship of true artisans join to produce today’s signage. Sophisticated lasers, expansive paint booths that rivaled those I saw in the Ford plant plus a vast array of supplies from vinyl to aluminum to paint and ink and laminates all come into play in the production of signs in a wide array of designs, colors, textures, shapes and sizes. Even the packaging of signs for shipment is complex as signs must be packaged just right to ensure that that they arrive at their destinations without breaking.
Sign Making Is a Combination of Science and Craftmanship
Visits to Mike Gessel’s operations in St. Louis, MO and and Tom Latimer’s in Grinnell, IA instilled a profound respect for the combination of science and craftsmanship, the talent of their staffs and their mastery of complex processes all critical in the production of today’s attractive and complex signage. Frequently many of us lament that nothing is made in America any longer. Some of our signs come from overseas and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it is also reassuring to know that we still employ American workers to produce signs right here in the good ole USA!
The young schoolboy spirit still inside me was just as excited during my recent visit to sign shops in St. Louis and Grinnell as I was fifty years ago. I look forward to future affiliate visits where I will gain even more knowledge about and respect for the art of sign making.
WOW, I still get to go on field trips and now I even get paid to do so! How neat is that?
To view additional photos that I took during my visits to the ASI, St Louis, MO and ASI, Grinnell, IA facilities just click on the links below:
ASI – St. Louis, MO
ASI – Grinnell, IA