August 10, 2004: Headlines: COS- Romania: Art History: Idaho Statesman: Two years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria intervened, but when she got back to Boise, Vangie Osborn still had old signs on her mind. She realized they were so cool they needed to be in a public space

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Romania: Peace Corps Romania : The Peace Corps in Romania: August 10, 2004: Headlines: COS- Romania: Art History: Idaho Statesman: Two years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria intervened, but when she got back to Boise, Vangie Osborn still had old signs on her mind. She realized they were so cool they needed to be in a public space

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Two years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria intervened, but when she got back to Boise, Vangie Osborn still had old signs on her mind. She realized they were so cool they needed to be in a public space

Two years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria intervened, but when she got back to Boise, Vangie Osborn still had old signs on her mind. She realized they were so cool they needed to be in a public space

Two years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria intervened, but when she got back to Boise, Vangie Osborn still had old signs on her mind. She realized they were so cool they needed to be in a public space

Anna Webb interviews "Signs of Our Times" project creator Vangie Osborn
Edition Date: 08-10-2004

There's this great old movie from the '50s called "On the Town."

Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra play a couple sailors. They have 24 hours of shore leave in New York City. The boys are impossibly charismatic in their white sailor suits. But the neon signs in one dance sequence are nearly as dazzling, overwhelming a wide-eyed Gene with big city glamour.

Neon is plain romantic. Even a new neon sign can make you feel nostalgic for eras you never actually lived through yourself.

"Signs of Our Times" is a public art project in the works that will turn an alley downtown into a candy-colored, walk-through museum of Boise's late, great signs.

Vangie Osborn is the brains behind the project. When she's not tracking down the pop culture treasures the giant diamonds, rotating shoes and cups of joe that used to grace Boise buildings she's presiding over the Humane Society Board and working as a consultant for non-profit organizations.

Before getting into the dogs, cats and non-profits, Osborn spent eight-and-a-half years as managing director at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Her first encounter with old signs was because of this job.

Around 10 years ago, Osborn was planning a festival event, looking around empty downtown storefronts for a location.

Inside one of the abandoned spaces she spotted a couple old neon beauties. There was a coffee cup from 8th Street and a sign from Royal Optical shaped like a pair of cat's-eye glasses that Boiseans of a certain age might remember from Idaho Street.

She and the other Shakespeareans were "junk collectors" back then, she says, because they never knew when some odd object might come in handy as set decor. So when the business owner offered the signs to Osborn, she was sorely tempted. But as wonderful as they were, she wasn't exactly sure what to do with them at that moment. Plus, they were seriously large.

Two years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria intervened, but when she got back to Boise, Osborn still had old signs on her mind. She realized they were so cool they needed to be in a public space.

Her friend and painter Surel Mitchell told her that she'd better get to work on the project or it would never come to be.


Also, Osborn knew that the signs around town, not obviously works of art in the classic sense, were vulnerable like lots of Americana is liable to rust, get razed, recycled, or buried in a junk yard.

Osborn started working on the project in earnest. She gathered creative consultants, Thrive's Will Spearman and architectural designer Dwaine Carver. She formed an advisory committee (which includes her original "prodder" Surel Mitchell plus a score of others). The sign collection, a mix of neon and old-style painted signs some of which will also be part of the project grew. Nearly all the signs were donated from sign companies, individuals and institutions.

Osborn pitched her project to Ken Swanson, museum and historic sites administrator at the Idaho Historical Society. Swanson joined the advisory board and donated signs from the society's collection.

There are 23 signs now (including the Royal Optical specs and the 8th Street coffee cup, which she went back to rescue), stashed, waiting, in various spots around town and in various states of repair. Osborn's favorite, besides the cat's-eye optical sign that started it all, is the old "Mel Day's Fiesta Ballroom" sign, complete with pink maracas.

At first, Osborn visualized an installation appropriate for the "City of Trees" in which the signs would stand in a downtown pocket park on posts like lollipops. She and her group eventually realized an alley would be the best fit for "Signs of Our Times."

"Alleys are sort of untouched by progress," says Osborn. "They're the last remaining piece of our history." On the practical side, there are no building facades to tangle with. On the artistic side, most of Boise alleys have "ghost signs," or remnants of signs painted right on the buildings.

Osborn and her cohorts are working with the city to find the perfect downtown alley. They're almost ready to finalize a location.

There's already evidence of community support for the project. The Idaho Heritage Trust awarded $2,500 for technical assistance. Boise 2000 Lasting Legacy, overseen by Boise City and the Capital City Development Corp., gave $25,000. Another $15,500 came from the Idaho Commission on the Arts and approximately $5,000 has come from private donors.

Most, if not all, of the signs need work new neon tubes, wiring that will be up to modern code and paint, though in certain cases refurbishers will leave a sign's patina intact if it has artistic value.

Repair costs per sign will vary. One thousand dollars is the low end. About $21,000 is the high end, says Osborn for the sign that used to hang in front of the Bouquet, boasting "Eats and Drinks" in mobster-era lettering.

The group needs to raise $150,000 more, which will include an endowment for upkeep. The public can donate through the "Signs of our Times" "Adopt a Watt" program.

Contributors can anticipate a special treat seeing their own names in lights, on a special donor sign created for the project.


"Signs of Our Times" needs you:

J If you want to donate, or have photographs of old Boise signs, contact Vangie Osborn at vangieoz@yahoo.com.

J Osborn is also on a hunt for certain lost signs, including the Royal Restaurant, Bamboo Garden, the Frisco Club and many others. Are they in your garage?

Check the Web site for the whole list: www.signsofourtimes.org.

Want to know more about old neon?

J A Web site called Roadside Peek has a great online collection of neon across America, including "motels, bowling alleys, drive-in theaters, neon signs, petrol pumps, googie sites, tiki villages, and other roadside treasures, even Route 66."

J Come get your kicks at: www.roadsidepeek.com.





When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.


Read the stories and leave your comments.






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Story Source: Idaho Statesman

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS- Romania; Art History

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