Anatomy of a Sign

Original CHS Sign
Original CHS Sign

Since 2004, Everett Rand’s elegant sign has stood in front of St. James Church, announcing it to be the home of the Cleveland Historical Society.  However, after years of Central New York weather, the sign had become in desperate need of repair.

At closer inspection, it became apparent that the original plywood base and the molding was suffering from dry rot and that a new frame would need to be constructed.  Our initial thought was that the frame design could be easily duplicated, but we wanted to save the original artwork and carvings if possible.

Recreation of original artwork.
Recreation of original artwork.

The first step was to take digital photographs of the artwork.  Using Adobe Photoshop, vector graphics were created from the images and they were scaled to match the original sign’s actual size.

Carvings as the stood after removal.
Carvings as the stood after removal.

Once the artwork had been preserved, we began the dis-assembly process by removing the carvings.  Unfortunately, weathering had taken a considerable toll, splitting the carvings in many areas.  Additionally, each carving was glued, screwed and nailed to the base making removal extremely delicate.  Due to the dry rot, the underlying plywood literally fell apart as the carvings were removed.

Sign after carving removal.
Sign after carving removal.

We filled all the carving cracks with wood putty and allowed them to dry.  After repeating this process a few times, each piece became stable enough to be wrapped in a protective covering and inserted into a vice.  This allowed us to gently saw off the screws and nails on the carvings’ backside.  Then, with a wood chisel, we began the exhaustive process of removing the old glue and the layers of plywood it had adhered to.

Carving after 2nd layer of wood putty.
Carving after 2nd layer of wood putty.

Once the back was finished, another coat of wood putty was applied to fill the holes where nails and screws had been.  Each piece was then hand sanded to remove all excess putty and allowed to dry as we moved onto the frame.

Going into the project, we wanted to avoid using plywood to ensure that sign would weather a little better in the future.  So we made the decision to trace the frame design on an 8 x 12 piece of pressure treated wood.  We would then cut grooves (tracks) into the center of the frame to insert the art panels into.  What we failed to think about was how we would be able to execute the grooves into a curved piece.  To address this, we decided to keep straight lines on all of the inside pieces of the frame and to mount the carvings on the top of the frame.

Pieces of the original frame where brought down to Lowes and we had all of the paint colors matched in the store.  After sanding down the frame, multiple coats of paint were applied and the entire frame was clear coated to assist in the prevention of weathering.

Stencils assembled and adhered to the surface.
Stencils assembled and adhered to the surface.

Meanwhile, we had chosen treated sheets of luan for the reproduction of the artwork.  The sheets were cut down to fit the frame and the backs coated for weathering.  Using a Cameo Silhouette scribe, we cut out the reproduced artwork over several 8″ x 10″ sheets and assembled the stencil.

Hand painting the stencils.
Hand painting the stencils.

The completed stencils where adhered to each piece of luan and then several coats of hand painting was applied.  Unfortunately, after hours and hours of work, we came to the heartbreaking conclusion that the paint was pulling up where the stencil was being removed.

Failed attempt at stenciling.
Failed attempt at stenciling.

Although we had tested all of the paint colors on a scrap piece and sprayed the sample with a garden hose to ensure it would withstand the water, we didn’t anticipate that the layers of paint would peal as the stencil was removed.  The result was unusable.

Stencils on plexiglass.
Stencils on plexiglass.

Going back to the drawing board, we decided to switch the media to Plexiglas.  The stenciling process began all over again … printing, assembly and adhering.  This time, however, we applied to stencil to the back side of each panel of plastic.  The result was infinitely better.  After a couple of coats of letter painting, we began to spray paint over the artwork with white to eliminate the transparency.

The completed sign.
The completed sign.

After several coats of white paint, the panels were placed back to back with a separation layer between them and then sealed together as a single unit.  Now they were ready to be inserted into the frame.

The carvings were attached to the frame using adhesive bonding and wood screws.  Then wood putty was applied once more to fill the new screw holes.  The carvings were sanded, painted and clear coated.  The new sign was completed and a much greater appreciation for the work put into the original was realized.

A special thank you goes out to Keith Comins, Steven Czaja, Dan Alberico and Shannon Comins for their help with this project.  The new sign has now been replaced to its original home outside of St. James Church.

 — gmsc

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