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Graphics: American signage

Although predominately a 3D person, I've always been interested in how graphics is used in the built environment and have collected lots of images of signs and text. Looking through my picture folders I realize I've got quite an accumulation so am starting this new category with pictures taken in America during my three trips to the southern states. Some cool, some retro, some funny.........

In Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Great juxtaposition of hand done and manufactured signage. The great thing about text stencilled or painted directly on to a surface is the way it weathers and seems to become incorporated into the fabric of the wall. I'm always attracted to graphics from previous eras - here, I love the way 'phone' is written .

In Athens, Georgia. The best kind of graphics for me is when the letters actually become three-dimensional sculptures in their own right!

As above. America is a great place to find graphics unchanged for decades and I think 60s graphics like this looks really cool.

This crazy sign is in one of the craziest places I've ever visited - Alpine Helen in the Georgia Appalachian Mountains. The whole town is built in the style of a Swiss or Tyrolean village - this is one of the candy shops - 'SweetsRland' geddit??

Chattanooga, Tennessee - cool 1940s(?) graphics

Not strictly a sign - this was spray-painted on the ground next to reservoir in North Carolina. My partner - artist Justin Mortimer - used this hilarious phrase as the title for an exhibition he had in London a couple of years ago- everyone loved it and remembered it!
(I did a post on his studio and above, his website)

Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Spruce Pine is a pretty remote little town in the Appalachian Mountains. This fantastic sign and old building were in the original downtown, right next to the railroad tracks (where we saw the longest freight train known to man!) I wasn't blogging at the time, otherwise would have taken lots more photos - I love the simplicity of the writing (reminiscent of the font used in the London Underground) and the way the words have become sculptures hanging in the air. We found out that Johnny Cash came to perform in this building, arriving by train, but they wouldn't let him in as he was drunk and it's strictly a DRY county! We loved that story - so America!
My partner, artist Justin Mortimer, (more about him below) used this sign in one of his paintings - called 'Community Project' - follow this link and scroll down the page.

Knoxville, Tennessee. I love the hanging road signs in America and how - unlike in Europe - people refer to the streets just by the name and not using the word 'street' or 'road' after it. So minimal.

In the Old City of Knoxville - I reckon this sign had been there - along with the shop - for decades.

Knoxville again - actually I've already shown a few of these huge painted graphics in the post I did on the Old City The scale is fantastic.

Athens, Georgia. A great mixture of different graphics

Alpine Helen again. So old-style - even the top of the sign has an alpine roof. The word 'motel' is so evocative for Europeans.

'Country Store' - another name so typical of America. This one was out of this world, high up in the Georgian Appalachians, all dark wood inside with log fire and animal skins and lots of pictures of local bears which cheekily come around for tit bits.

Who could resist staying somewhere called' Blood Mountain Cabins'? We couldn't!

Arriving at Asheville, North Carolina - but could be any American town -sign overload.

Back to Athens - these tiles are uncannily reminiscent of my Setsquares tile collection I thought! I am clearly working in the wrong decade,

A nightclub just next to the Greyhound Station in downtown Atlanta. The cut-outs are massive. Big effort.

Knoxville. It's worth travelling to America just to find these amazing old HUGE graphic signs. Check out the steaming cup of coffee.

No one in England can really believe there is a supermarket chain called Piggly Wiggly - but here's the proof.

I know - yuk! That's half of my other half in front of the sign - he didn't indulge, but we were both impressed by the serious attempt to make these letters three-dimensional - if that was the idea!

How old-style is this? Somewhere in the middle of nowhere -literally - in North Carolina. I've got a feeling the name might reference something but it was over our heads.

A contemporary version of traditional graphics in Knoxville. This area of the Old City has been regenerated by design and media companies and I thought it was great that they had decided to continue the wall painting tradition instead of just commissioning modern plastic signage.


Great name!

Chatanooga - a great cacophony of signage.

Knoxville. I would love to have seen the guys actually painting these signs way up on the top of high buildings - you could see this from really far away, such impact.

Come on............! I had to put it in................. (snapped on the ladies' restroom door in the Fried Hot Dog joint) ...........not that I agree or anything..........

You may also like my other posts on America:
Knoxville Old City
and Antebellum Houses


  1. we're surrounded by this but so rarely look up and actually take notice . . . what an interesting collection of signs/ lettering

  2. I was born and raised in Georgia and still live here. Helen is a quirky little town, with the beautiful Chattahoochee River running through it and lovely people who live there. Georgia is truly a wonderful place to live. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos and your thoughts. Cynthia in Sharpsburg GA

  3. Hi Cynthia, I'm thrilled to have a reader in Georgia! You certainly are living in a beautiful and diverse state with wonderful landscape and some amazing architecture. I forgot to add a link to another post I did about Antebellum Houses in Georgia (I have now put a link up at bottom of post). It was to see these houses that we first visited Georgia and from there went on to explore the mountains and rented a cabin way off the beaten track - a fantastic visit!.

  4. Ruth Ling27/1/11

    Hi, Kathy,

    Love your graphics in the USA blog. Actually, I love your blog full stop. I have a look at it every couple of months or so and there is always something new, and great photos. Especially like the found interiors. You won't remember me, but I was at Jacob Kramer a couple of years after you (and in Newcastle at the same time as Muggy) but I think you were contemporary with my sister Elspeth, both at JK and at Lawnswood.

    I'll be back for another visit in a month or so - am sure to find something new and intriguing.

    All the best,



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