Handpainted Murals Reflect Lincoln Highway Legacy

Groundbreaking thoroughfare celebrates 100th anniversary this year
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The Lincoln Highway opened in 1913 as a 3,400-mile, transcontinental road that stretched from NYC’s Times Square to San Francisco. In an era when the federal government didn’t subsidize paved-roadway construction, the Lincoln’s construction was a bold move that was well received by the public (and made a step forward in forging America’s love affair with the car).
As representatives of the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition (ILHC) began preparations for the Grandmother Road’s (the Mother Road, Route 66, wasn’t opened until 1926) centennial celebration, they wanted to pay homage to the numerous small towns that dotted the highway (and grew up alongside it) with a series of murals that recount each city’s landmarks and local color.
Bonnie Heimbach, an ILHC board member, approached Jay Allen, owner of ShawCraft Sign Co. (Machesney Park, IL) to create a series of murals. The project, which began in 2006 with three test murals, was financed primarily through the Federal Byways Dept., which provided 80% of the funding, with the Illinois Tourism Dept. subsidizing the remainder.
Heimbach had worked with Allen for a 1997 mural project in Belvidere, IL. When the project concludes in April, Allen and Joe Marshall, a longtime ShawCraft employee, will have painted 35 murals. Bill Hueg painted the pictorials for 14 of the murals.
“Officials from each town involved in the project would determine a story of how the Lincoln Highway influenced their city’s development,” Allen said. “If they didn’t have a story, we conveyed an aspect of the Lincoln Highway’s overall history.”
The murals were applied to 3A Composites Dibond® composite-material panels (each panel comprised five, 4 x 10-ft. pieces), which Allen cut to shape on a Gerber Sabre 408 CNC router. After having created the pattern on MACtac MacMask paint mask with a Graphtec FC 4100-75 plotter, he applied the mask and painted the pictorials and text with artists’ oils, TJ Ronan and aged 1Shot lettering enamels. To protect the murals for motorists’ enjoyment, he applied Marabu’s ClearShield single-part, catalyzed-acrylic clearcoat. Allen and Marshall secured the panels to support structures built in each community to Allen’s specifications.
“I learned a great deal from this project,” Allen said. “I learned how to paint pictorials, and I became a better designer. And, through my experiences with the project, I feel like a more enlightened man.”