Custom Craftsman Signs Creates Rustic Monument Sign for Pigeon Forge Park

Metalworker, homebuilding firm contribute to iconic Wear Park sign
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Brother Zank operates Custom Craftsman Signs (Sevierville, TN) with his wife, Vicki.
EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
Adhesive: Gorilla Glue all-purpose adhesive, from Gorilla Glue (Cincinnati), (800) 966-3458 or www.gorillatough.com
Coating: Primer and exterior-latex paint, from Sherwin-Williams (Cleveland), (216) 566-2000 or www.sherwin-williams.com
Frame: River rock, harvested from Tennessee River riverbeds; Trex® wood-composite decking material, from Trex Co. Inc. (Winchester, VA), (800) 289-8739 or www.trex.com
Metalwork: Powdercoated-steel substructure and armature, from Miller Iron Works (Sevierville, TN), (865) 429-3386 or www.millerironworks.com
Substrate: Sign•Foam® 15-lb. HDU, from Sign Arts Products Corp. (Laguna Hills, CA), (800) 338-4030 or www.signfoam.com; Grain-Fraim® sandblasting frame, from Sign Arts Products Corp.; glass-bead sandblasting media, from such suppliers as Kramer Industries (Piscataway, NJ), (888) 515-9443 or www.kramerindustries.com
Tools: Sandblasting equipment, from such vendors as Fastenal (Winona, MN), (507) 454-5374 or www.fastenal.com; chisels, mill knives and assorted distressing tools, from art-supply or home-improvement stores
Pigeon Forge and Sevier County, TN continue to enhance their reputation as a destination for family fun and youth activities with numerous new sports venues. One such facility is the Wear Farm City Park, a beautiful development in downtown Pigeon Forge that serves as the city’s main park. It’s conveniently located near the buzzing Pigeon Forge Parkway on 118 historically relevant acres of land once owned by Col. Samuel Wear, a military hero who became one of the area’s earliest white settlers.
Design process
Respect for the original land use and local officials’ wishes inspired a farm-themed design. I initially proposed repurposing antique wood from a barn that had been on the property before it was developed. However, the project’s specifications dictated low maintenance, which forced a new material choice. So, we decided to build the monument sign from Trex® composite decking material, local river rock, high-density urethane (HDU) and metal roofing. A powdercoated steel substructure supports the sign.
Pigeon Forge issued a request for proposal (RFP) with a set budget. Such an RFP is a wise approach, because it allows a selection process that focuses on the best solution for the money, rather than simply pursuing the cheapest price, which seldom yields the best, long-term value. The project site has a great deal of road frontage, which affords substantial visibility for a relatively small, code-compliant freestanding display that rises 15 ft. tall and spans less than 100 sq. ft.
Building it right
The keys to a sign’s success and longevity are the assembly of a team of quality-minded subcontractors, good communication and task coordination. I regularly team up with Bush Builders for this type of project (www.bushbuilderstn.com/index.html). Peter Bush’s small, quality-conscious, homebuilding firm possesses the organization and knowledge of process to address challenges and overcome my weaknesses.
Likewise, I’ve respected the venerable craft of ironwork for my entire career. In my book, Keith Miller of Miller Iron Works (www.millerironworks.com) is among the best. The accuracy of his work fulfills the tolerances I demand, and his welds are a thing of beauty.
My approach to fabrication, as with most things, starts with structural integrity. Everything else has less to do with permanence and more to do with augmentation. Effective design and well-made graphics are undeniably important, but these elements lose value in the event of structural failure. Thorough consideration of aesthetics and common-sense engineering guide where I place structural elements, as well as where I install tabs and clips to attach panels and graphic components. Planning ahead is paramount for efficiency and accuracy in assembling and disassembling components.
The powdercoated-tube steel and angle-iron core structure is carcass-framed with steel studs, and then sheathed in plywood and Trex composite decking planks with battens. Captured-nut mounting plates are integral to steel framing between the legs, where I can easily attach and remove the “crotch” appendage that hangs under the sign.
The native-river-rock base stumps are batten-laid to visually anchor the composition with proportionate mass. Strategically positioned, surrounding rocks reflect a natural outcropping. The gambrel roof has the customary sheathing and tarpaper topped off with galvanized, corrugated roofing metal.
Curb appeal
The sign’s upper graphic elements feature Pigeon Forge’s official blacksmith image and slogan on a bead-blasted, 15-lb., HDU, radius-top panel. To create contrast, I blasted the horizontal, flanking panels with a Grain-Fraim® textured-surface tool. I band-sawed the “Wear Farm” letters from 15-lb. Sign•Foam® HDU, and then hack-carved and hewed them with hand chisels, mill knives and various distressing tools. Finally, we finished them with Sherwin-Williams exterior-latex paint, and then mounted them to 3/16-in.-thick, powdercoated, sawed, aluminum-outline panels, which provide a convenient flange to screw-mount the letters to the signface. I similarly outlined and mounted the “City Park” letters, but once cut and rounded, I wiggle-carved them to create a contrasting, rustic appearance.
The bottom appendage displays the property-logo graphic via a 4.5-in.-thick Sign•Foam assembly of layers, which were joined together with Gorilla Glue and encapsulated. A 1.5-in.-thick, powdercoated, tube-steel armature secures the panel. The layers may be removed for easy painting and repair.
A background panel presents the graphic message and can contribute to theming. Often, when hampered by weak logo graphics, the signface can serve as the visual design element that compels its viewer to absorb the message once within readable range.
Branding
Identifying our creations is an important opportunity to express pride in our finished product. Appropriate size and placement of our badge allows the promotion to not compete with the intended message and aesthetic of the sign. For this sign, I decided to recess a cast-aluminum plaque flush into the composite ankle trim at the base of both legs, where they face left and right. This solution offers good visibility for a potential client who inspects the sign without interfering with the intended message’s presentation.
My best designs benefit from evolution. The value of superior design is expressed in proven results. An appropriate design features multiple elements, and the design-development process should consider your intent. What result or effect do you expect to create? Also, consider other factors:
• aesthetic or theme;
• size and visibility;
• color usage and graphics;
• typography;
• And, your client’s budgetary, legal and aesthetic limitations.
When you invest the time to address all issues, the natural result is higher value.
 
More About Brother Zank
Brother Zank is a 38-year veteran of design and fabrication. He cut his professional teeth on graphic design for print advertising in Cleveland, and eventually pursued electric-sign fabrication. Doing this work, he learned to appreciate ingenuity and mechanical aptitude, he says. After a three-year “compatibility test,” his wife Vicki married him in 1980, and they moved to Lexington, KY, where they founded Custom Craftsman Signs. In 1991, Zank and Vicki relocated to Sevierville, TN.
He said, “To develop and define our unique brand of mountain craftsman-style design, we researched characteristics of several resort towns around the US, and settled on the Smoky Mountain’s foothills in east Tennessee. Few trades, besides architecture, allow you to influence the aesthetic landscape as much as sign design -- I consider this to be an awesome responsibility. We are blessed indeed to live and practice our craft in an environment so abundant with exceptional people and creative opportunity.”