SIGNS, WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY-CREATED, handcrafted or handwritten, provide insights into a community beyond simply identifying information.
I find myself drawn to signs, especially when exploring small towns. Three months ago my attention focused on signage in downtown Pine Island. This community of nearly 3,900 some 15 miles north of Rochester in Goodhue County provides plenty of signs to catch my interest.
Likewise, I am drawn to the town’s historic architecture.
This was not my first visit to Pine Island. I’ve dined here, picnicked at Trailhead Park, followed the Douglas State Trail a short distance, popped into an antique shop and more. I wonder how often motorists traveling along busy US Highway 52, if they have no connection to the community, pull off the four-lane to explore. Pine Island, along the Zumbro River, is worth a stop, a walk, a close-up look, as are most small towns.
As historical accounts go, the Dakota sheltered here in tipis during the winter months, thick pine boughs protecting their temporary homes from the wind and snow. A stand of pines once stood here, like an island in the prairie. The town’s name comes from the Native word wazuweeta, translated to “Isle of Pines.”
My brief walk through the heart of Pine Island revealed none of that Indigenous history. However, I spotted community pride, diversity, entrepreneurship, compassion and more in signs. Signage says a lot about what people value, about a business community, about communicating in a succinct and eye-catching way.
Some of my favorite finds are handwritten or homemade notes posted in shop windows. I appreciate these messages in our fast-paced, technology-based world. A dash of writing, perhaps added art, combine to create meaningful, connective communication that feels decidedly personal.
My interest in signs traces to my love of words and of associated graphics. Both matter to me. I even make product decisions sometimes based solely on either. In Pine Island I noted the art on Taqueria Let’s Go Tacos signs and how that connects with the restaurant’s heritage and food. The same goes for The Little Hair Salon with comb and scissors graphics on signage.
In another location, I needed to sleuth online to decipher the meaning of I.O.O.F. and three other faded letters, FLT, linked in a link on a dirty window pane. The letters stand for Independent Order of Odd Fellows and their mission of Friendship, Love and Truth.
These are the things I discover in small towns, those places often passed by as people hurry from one destination to the next. Each community is unique. I discover individuality in words and art bannered upon buildings, taped on doors and windows, printed on sandwich boards…
I glimpse a town’s personality through signage as I explore places like Pine Island.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling