Thursday, March 25, 2010

Signs appeal to deSIGNers...

The museum is many things to many people.  To the design community, it’s an excellent resource for tracing the history of advertising and commercial design. Whether interested in type design or design trends, designers—both professional and student—find the museum of special interest.
Matt Davis, chair of Bowling Green State University’s division of Graphic Design, knows this, so he and colleague Amy Fidler, an instructor in the Graphic Design program, brought 38 junior and senior students with Majors in Graphic Design for a tour in mid-March. One of them forwarded me this group photo with this comment:

'Thanks again for taking me and my fellow peers through your exhibit on Friday. I know I can speak for everyone when I say we all had a blast! Your displays were not only aesthetically pleasing but also full of history and background info... '

The Museum has also been a perennial draw for local academia, including students and professors at the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Art, Architecture and Planning School (DAAP); the Art Academy; Northern Kentucky University and the College of Mt. St. Joseph.

Have YOU been to the museum yet?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Family Business

I was on a road trip in Arizona a couple weeks back.  Driving through Kingman, I was scanning the horizon - as I always do - for signs in general and SIGNS signs in particular. Imagine my delight when I spied just such a sign in the distance.  I, of course, turned around, found a way across the railroad tracks, wandered in, and introduced myself.
I was pleased to discover they knew of the American Sign Museum. But more than that, I had stumbled upon a family who has been in the sign business since World War II. 
Deloris Mack was there behind the counter, with her son, Dave. Her husband, Victor, now runs things from his bed, but he had had the foresight to capture their legacy in more than several scrap books.
Victor was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He began his sign career after the war in Spokane, Washington. When he needed a crane truck, he thought of his military connections and got himself a gun turret, which he retro-engineered into a crane boom and attached to a flatbed truck. He also developed a changeable letter, which he patented and later sold.
Deloris and Victor had 11 kids, 5 of whom are in 'the business' from LA to Memphis, along with some of the grandkids. Their story reflects two common threads that run through the history of signmaking:  family and innovation. I'm talking about these folks because I only just discovered them, at a time when I least expected it.  But there are so many other stories like theirs.  I only hope the American Sign Museum can honor these families and innovators in ways that they deserve.
If you know of a family like the Mack's, or your own story is one of generations of sign makers, please share your stories and/or photos by sending them to Depending on what we receive, hopefully we'll be able to assemble a tribute to the 'family business' for the museum. It's an important part of our legacy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Soapbox Media Comes to the Camp

We get a surprising amount of press, just from word of mouth.  A few days ago a reporter from Soapbox media interviewed me, then sent a photographer to gather some images. The result is the article below.  Pretty straightforward and overall a good summary of what's happening.

American Sign Museum hopes to move into renovated Camp Washington building by 2012

Soapbox, 3/9/2010

Tod Swormstedt has known for some time that he wanted to grow the American Sign Museum beyond its current 4,500 square-foot Walnut Hills location. He also knew that he wanted to grow the museum's scope as well, making it a landmark for those in the sign industry around the country. With the recent purchase of a Camp Washington factory attached to the Middle Earth Developers-built Machine Flats project, its now a reality.

The American Sign Museum will eventually use more than 42,000 square feet of space at the factory, but is initially working on 19,300 square feet of space to get started. In addition to the expanded size, the facility boasts 23-foot high ceilings that are perfect for the museum's needs.

"I looked all over town and especially along McMicken Street near the Brewery District of Over-the-Rhine but I couldn't find what I needed in my price range," said Swormstedt. "I wanted to be in OTR, but the structures there just weren't big enough, then an artist told me about the Camp Washington space and I knew right away that this was it."

The new museum space will dedicate the initial expansion to the history of signs that the Museum is well known for displaying. The additional expansion will be used as a lab area for the development of new technologies and to show off high-tech products in the sign industry. The development of new technologies is something that Swormstedt hopes to get DAAP students involved with especially with the new Terence M. Fruth/Gemini Chair of Signage Design and Community Planning endownment at UC.

"I'm hoping Cincinnati can become a signage research and resource capital," said Swormstedt. "Having the main industry magazine based here, the museum, the University of Cincinnati's College of DAAP, and the sign conference that was held by UC late last year are all helping to accomplish this."

Signs of the Times magazine is the sign industry standard his great grandfather first edited in 1906, and the publication Swormstedt himself has worked on for close to 27 years.

The operations of the American Sign Museum are also handled by Swormstedt with the help of volunteers that are often related to DAAP and College of Business students involved with the signage research endowments at UC. But the work of renovating the Camp Washington space and moving from Walnut Hills is something that will take millions of dollars in addition to the valuable volunteer work on which the museum relies.

"So far we've raised and spent $1.5 million on the former Camp Washington factory, and we need another $900,000 to open up the first 19,300 square feet," said Swormstedt. "Once we get the full amount we need we can probably build out the space in 8 months and would love to be moved by 2012."

The completed project will include the NeonWorks shop where visitors will get to see neon being made, 'Signs of Main Street' which will pay homage to the history of signs, a restoration shop, and a lab area for sign technology innovation.

Those interested in donating the project can do so in a variety of creative ways besides making an outright contribution to the museum's website, contacting Tod Swormstedt at (513) 258-4020 or You can also purchase a brick paver with your name on it, or purchase a panel that you can paint and design that will be mounted on the wall at the museum's front entrance.

Writer: Randy A. Simes

Photography by Tiffany Fisher

Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

American Sign Museum hopes to move into renovated Camp Washington building by 2012

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