Dimensional Letterforms

I took this photograph in Boston at an old railway station this summer. It must have been a laborious process to make this particular sign. There are glass cabochons inset in beveled copper rings that are riveted through the ceramic coated sheet metal. A sign such as this one if it was custom fabricated today would cost thousands of dollars.

The art of the dimensional “sign” is a craft dating back thousands of years. Iconography and letterforms started out as dimensional glyphs then evolved from three dimensional icons to relief forms and then onward to a two dimensional rendering. If we understand the importance of the letterform from the perspective of a mid-ninteenth century shop keeper we reflect upon materials and tools used to create letterform works of art. My grandfather was a sheet metal fabricator and worked at the old Iron Works in Bellefontaine Ohio. Using sheet metal benders, saws, heat, and archaic welding tools that looked like steampunk artifacts these craftsman went through painstaking processes to create outdoor signage. The signage of this period really captured and reflected the homespun personality and quality of the period in retail. Often it was up to the fabricator to render, design, fabricate, and install. With the exception of newspaper companies old signage factories housed most of the graphic designers of the day. My grandfather and great grandfather were exceptional craftsman and took great pride in creating signage in glass, steel, paint, wood, and neon.

Today we have managed to bring the outside in and again make the dimensional letterform relevent in our retail environments, living spaces, and restaurants. Taking the printed letterform off of the page and creating it as a three dimensional form is really a way of celebrating its unique heritage and beauty.

~Clint Joseph Bova