Lonely Planet Writer

Photographer documents unique hand painted signs and symbols of Americana across Route 1

A photographer has shared a stunning series of images that capture the unique character of hand painted signs and advertisements along the famous Route 1 in the USA.

Miss Wiscasset, Wiscasset, Maine.
Miss Wiscasset, Wiscasset, Maine. Image by Tricia O’Neill
Sign Painting

ABC Vacuum, North Attleborough, Massachusetts. Image by Tricia O’Neill
 Beachcomber Motel, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Beachcomber Motel, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Image by Tricia O’Neill

The project is called Sign Language: Route 1 and was created by Tricia O’Neill, a photographer and sign painter with a degree in a fine art. The idea behind the series was to capture the unique and ephemeral nature of vintage and hand-painted signs and advertisements across the east coast of America, showing the skill and craftsmanship of a trade that is dying out. Throughout the project, Tricia passed through seven states, travelling from north to south, meeting shop owners and locals and learning whatever history she could about the art.

Hilltop Steak House, Saugus, Massachusetts.
Hilltop Steak House, Saugus, Massachusetts.
30-foot Nativa American statue, Freeport, Maine.
30-foot Native American statue, Freeport, Maine. Image by Tricai O’Neill
Karla’s Shoes, Danvers, Massachusetts.
Karla’s Shoes, Danvers, Massachusetts. Image by Tricia O’Neill

“The inspiration for this project stems from a desire to capture a disappearing America. I also wanted to honour painters and sign makers who have greatly contributed to the accessible outdoor artwork that we call ‘Americana’. I use photography to preserve the tradition and histories of the art, paying homage to those that came before me and recording those remaining manifestations of hand-lettered signage,” Tricia told Lonely Planet News.

Body Shop, The Bronx, New York.
Body Shop, The Bronx, New York. Image by Tricia O’Neill
Orange Dinosaur, Saugus, Massachusetts.
Orange Dinosaur, Saugus, Massachusetts. Image by Tricia O’Neill
Skylark, Edison, New Jersey.
Skylark, Edison, New Jersey. Image by Tricia O’Neill

Because of today’s municipal ordinances controlling size and structure, some of the old signs featured in the project cannot be replaced as they exist today. As a sign painter herself, Tricia wanted to capture the fact that traditional methods are being replaced with digitally printed or electronic signs. While much of the old work is visually beautiful, the photographer also wanted to outline the fact that the medium was a trade designed to keep food on the table for many talented artists. “I wanted to represent and hold up the people that make all of this work but are not perhaps considered artists ultimately because they have to work for a living and don’t have the luxury of pursuing art for art’s sake,” Tricia said.

New York Pizza, Linden, New Jersey.
New York Pizza, Linden, New Jersey. Image by Tricia O’Neill
Tin Woman, South Brunswick, New Jersey.
Tin Woman, South Brunswick, New Jersey. Image by Tricia O’Neill
Eat, Providence, Rhode Island.
Eat, Providence, Rhode Island. Image by Tricia O’Neill

The photographer is working on another project that sees her capturing the Martello Towers scattered around Ireland in a similar documentary style.

More information on her shows and work can be seen at her website.