Friendly Signs Monument a Great Investment for Illinois Bank

Illuminated monument shows institution's community strength
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Municipal Bank, a Bourbonnais, IL-based bank with additional branches in Momence and Manteno, IL, is the type of prudently run financial institution with the strength to withstand troubled times.

Friendly Signs embraced the task of helping Municipal Bank owner Merlin Carlock develop a sign that represents its local standing. He wanted a monument sign for the Bourbonnais location that under-scored the institution’s strength. While considering the project, I noticed the white-brick construction of each branch, the use of pillars, and a few, small, concrete lion sculp-tures around the property. I thought a lion of large stature would let customers know that Municipal Bank offered a strong community presence.

Using Adobe Creative Suite, we developed seven designs for the client to review. However, we expected the lion design would be chosen. In this situation, it made the most sense. I envisioned residents telling visitors to turn “by the bank with the lion sign,” and kids wanting to run errands with their parents just to see the Municipal Bank lion.
Foam and function
Friendly Signs subscribes to several sign-industry and design magazines, including ST, and I’d heard about the work of Chisel 3-D (Atlanta), which produces hardcoated, expanded-polystyrene (EPS) foam sculptures for unconventional signage, and museum and theatrical applications. When we got the green light for the lion design, I immediately thought of that company and the possibility of a coated-foam lion sculpture. Its owner, Gary Bystrom, liked the idea of a 10-ft.-tall lion sculpture as the sign’s centerpiece.

Gary, Sarah Andreina (she managed the project for Municipal Bank) and I carefully considered the lion’s design. I didn’t want it to appear like an afterthought, compared to the rest of the sign. Also, I wanted him to look strong, not scary. I studied lots of lion poses, and decided that a lion on the prowl and roaring, as if standing guard over a rocky hillside, would be the most appropriate design.

We’d never built a sign with this type of material, so I knew it would be a learning process. Gary provided very detailed information about the material, how it would perform, the type of steel structure needed to support the sculpture, and the hardware required to attach it.

I sent Gary pictures of a traditional, stone lion. Chisel 3-D then created a small maquette, or model, which we scanned to create a template for the larger version. Instead of a conventional, concrete appearance, we opted for a coating that resembled a lime-stone patina. Limestone is still mined in our region, so it made sense.

Chisel 3-D fabricated the EPS lion on CNC milling equipment, and then its team of artisans assembled the pieces for detail sculpting by hand. EPS is better known by Dow Chemical’s trade name, Styrofoam™. Even though the material used for this project is stouter than EPS material used to make cups and coolers, it still required an application of a poly-urethane, spray-on hardcoat for outdoor durability.

Chisel 3-D MIG-welded the steel substructure. They specified mild steel to provide the required structural integrity because galvanized steel is difficult to weld. The completed sculpture was too large to ship in a crate. We mounted it on a structure that could be secured to a low, flatbed trailer, and Chisel 3-D wrapped it securely to stave off the elements. The driver who transported the lion from Georgia to Illinois was instructed to avoid low-hanging limbs and anything else that could damage it. The lion was transported successfully.

Chisel 3-D built the base to match the monument structure’s base (a third-party contractor built the masonry) and provided a template that indicated where installers should drill holes to adequately support the sculpture. Friendly Signs drilled steel bolts into the lion’s integral steel frame.

We used entirely custom-made steel components, instead of stock hardware, to provide the required tensile strength. Friendly Signs welded a cross-braced steel frame within the monument structure to ensure it met wind-load requirements. We designed the structure so the approximately 600-lb. lion could be lifted with the crane, set on top of the monument and, with minor adjustments, attached to the frames via the bolts.
Bright ideas
Although the lion provides the visual focal point for Municipal Bank’s monument sign, other elements played key roles. The 13-in.-tall channel letters feature aluminum returns, and Plexiglas® acrylic faces were cut on an AXYZ 5000 Series CNC router. The plastic faces were decorated with 3M green and black translucent film. The stripes under the logo were also outfitted with chrome-finish, gold vinyl. The sign was secured to the monument using 1-in.-long, PVC standoffs. The letters were halo-lit with JS LED’s JE-005A amber modules. In our experience, they’ve proven to be among the brightest on the market.

For the monument’s message board, we selected Time-O-Matic’s Watchfire 19mm-pitch, 80 x 160-
matrix, LED displays. The displays, which measure 5 ft. 5 in. x 8 ft. 3 in., allow up to 10 lines of 5-in.-tall copy. The client handles updates via wireless radio communication.

The most challenging part of the installation was carefully maneuvering the lion over a thicket of trees with an 87-ton crane. When the lion and other sign elements were installed, several reporters and photographers watched. It slowed us down a bit, but the exposure was more than worth it.

The project required numerous reviews, revisions, permits and measurements, but once all parties involved were on the same page, we moved forward successfully with no interruptions. Working with a new material and a creative concept will certainly enhance our process for future projects.