OKLAHOMA CITY | After decades of attempts to preserve portions of the old Mother Road, U.S. Route 66, comes an effort to preserve landmarks from the landscape: vintage advertising that touted everything from long-gone motels to car dealers to shaving cream.
Vintage signs are arriving one by one at Superior Neon, a sign company near the Oklahoma Capitol that is acting as a quasi-headquarters for organizers of the Billboard Museum, a proposed memorial to historic billboards, signs and advertising from all over the country, including those that once lined Route 66 in Oklahoma. Supporters are amid fundraising and have set up a new website to tout the proposed museum.
Kathy Anderson, president of the nonprofit Billboard Museum Association Inc., and others envision the Billboard Museum as an educational and immersive museum along Route 66 near Bethany or Yukon that will house and display unique art and advertising dating back to the late 1800s. An indoor museum will house a variety of exhibits, while an outdoor driving loop will showcase vintage billboard structures and other signs. Buying the undeveloped land alone could cost up to $4 million, Anderson said.
“This is not going to be cheap. Even if someone out of the goodness of their heart donated land … it’s still going to cost a lot of money to develop, so not only do we need individual memberships, we need volunteer help when we come to construction or refurbishing. We will need corporate donations, certainly, and one-time large gifts, hopefully,” Anderson said.
Anderson, joined by Jim Gleason, vice president of the association and a second generation sign-maker, and secretary-treasurer Monica Knudsen, unveiled the museum’s logo and new website at a vintage sign and mural workshop and demonstration this month for about 30 family, friends and colleagues.
Todd Schafer, who attended the ceremony, owns a sign company in Topeka, Kan., and is a fan of Route 66. He’s restored a sign along Route 66 in Pontiac, Ill., and said sign-making and restoration is a craftsmanship that must be learned and preserved.
Bob Palmer, one of three artists on hand who demonstrated his art, said he is anxious to see how the museum develops.
“I think it’s quite unique. And I think for me, I feel inspired and it’s long overdue. It’s just another way to appreciate this art form,” said Palmer, who has been creating murals for 30 years.
Palmer, who has created about 1,600 pieces across the state, including in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown and at the State Capitol, said there are fewer and fewer muralists around, and he’s hoping the museum would attract people wanting to learn more about the art form.
U.S. 66 was a major east-west route — winding from Chicago to LA, as the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” goes — until being bypassed by interstate highways in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many states have sought to preserve old portions of the highway to allow motorists take a trip down Memory Lane. Most of the old route through Oklahoma is preserved and well-marked, but old advertising is long gone.
While there is still a lot of interest in the creation of murals, Palmer, who used to teach mural painting at a local university, said young people aren’t as interested in learning how do it themselves because of the hard work involved in creating the large-scale pieces.
“I get people just wanting to watch, to observe, just whole classes,” he said.
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