Read between the signs

blogIMG_8704.jpgWhere do old, outdated, and worn out highway signs go when they die? I think I found one of the answers.

Abundant highway signs are everywhere, always visible when traveling down any road or by-way. Signs tell us to stop, what route number we’re traveling on, names of streets, when to yield to oncoming traffic.

They warn us of people and animal crossings, one-way streets, curves, and hills. Signs tell us how fast we can legally drive our vehicles, when we’re entering a work zone, when passing lanes end, and when traffic lanes shift.

But have you ever wondered what becomes of old signs? Do they just end up in a landfill somewhere? Or are they recycled?

On one of our day-trips northward, Papa and I exited off the interstate highway (I-79) to search for a restaurant in the town of Meadville, PA. After sightseeing all day and starting the drive home, our empty stomachs gave us signs that dinnertime was approaching.

Paused at a stoplight signaling red, I noticed some unusual art work on the side of the road. Before I could grab my camera to try to snap some photos, the light switched to green.  We continued on to the restaurant we’d chosen, but I was determined to capture that art on our way back to the interstate.

blogIMG_8703.jpgI marveled at the ingenuity and creativity of whoever fashioned this approximately one-quarter mile long art display.  

Several years ago, the Meadville Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) maintenance facility wanted to welcome visitors to town with reclaimed road signs. So they reached out to art professor Amara Geffen from the town’s Allegheny College to help initiate a project.

Working with college art students, PennDOT welders and road crews created the first part of the mural – a sculpture garden of road sign flowers fashioned from cut and welded old, used signs. That clever display consists of 12 flowers, each around 10 feet high.


Road sign flower garden

Even more discarded signs were utilized to construct a long, creative wall sculpture. This quirky but amazing mural contains blue hospital signs fashioned into ocean waves; a red barn, constructed from stop signs, complete with a white silo made of junction signs; rainbow colored hot air balloons; and other creative sculptures, some of which have moving parts.

blogIMG_8706.jpgThis unusual way of recycling old highway signs caused me to remember an early 1970’s song, Signs, by Five Man Electrical Band.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Those song lyrics were written by a man named Les Emmerson as he was traveling in California on Route 66 and couldn’t help but notice that so many billboards obscured the scenic views.

I couldn’t help but think that the art display alongside the road in Meadville wasn’t blocking out the scenery but enhancing it. Instead those signs presented something unusual and interesting to gaze at. And that artwork did kind of ‘break’ my mind.

“In the eighteenth century, it was ladies and gentlemen and swings in a garden; today, it may be Campbell’s soup cans or highway signs. There is no real difference. The artist still takes his everyday world and tries to make something out of it.” ~ Corita Kent