More Midwestern ‘Hot’ Metal, Folk Art and Designby Philip Kelly on 13/08/2012
Following on from my recent trip and last post, here’s three more inspired examples of signage, display lettering and graphic folk art applied to buildings in Chicago and Detroit.
1. Central Camera Co. Chicago.
Searching for a decent camera store in downtown Chicago to purchase some B&W 35mm film I was directed to this gem underneath the elevated ‘L’ line train. Founded in 1899 it is almost as old as the famous elevated rail system, parts of which date back to 1892. A stunning façade in functioning neon and metal with some great display lettering on the glass. The interior of the store is a time warp full of vintage Kodak display cases, clocks and advertising ephemera. And the staff are as quirky and timeless as the exterior suggests. A perfect place for all your analog needs – and digital too if you need it.
2. Sam’s Loans, Michigan Avenue, Detroit
Inner city Detroit is awash with untenanted buildings and Sam’s is one of it’s finest examples. Situated on Michigan Avenue, an old arterial route into the city driving east from Chicago, it stands diagonally across from Detroit’s most famous ruin, the abandoned railway station. This ex-pawn shop is covered in faded signwriting and a broken but stellar period neon and steel sign. Sam’s stands on a block in the Corktown district that is one of the success stories of inner city redevelopment. A number of restaurants, bars and small businesses have quietly reinhabited this small strip, and Sam’s is also up for a new lease of life. Put up for sale recently, it was purchased by the proprietors of Slow’s BBQ and Detroit author Toby Barlow. The building will house a restaurant on the street level and residential spaces on the other two floors. The new owners say that they will retain much of the the exterior graphics, thus ensuring the life of an iconic local site.
3. The Heidelberg Project,
A trip to local artist Tyree Guyton’s folk art environment, the Heidelberg Project, is a must for anyone wanting to see an example of beauty wrested from the ruins. Begun in 1986 as a response to the city’s urban blight, it has withstood the march of time, Detroit’s extreme weather conditions and notoriously troubled city politics to become an icon of local creativity. Despite having been partially demolished in 1991 and 1998, today it still spans two city blocks, covering abandoned houses and empty lots in a riot of colour and invention. Shown here are some of the more graphically oriented houses Guyton has decorated as part of the larger work, looking like an untrained meeting of Yayoi Kusama and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Amongst the more bizarre works is a house covered in soft toys and one in records, as well as modified cars, a sculpture garden, painted sidewalks, roading and more. You can visit it online at www.heidelberg.org. A quick trip via Google street view along 3600 Heidelberg Street, Detroit, MI 48207, left on Mt Elliott, and left again on Elba Place will give a sense of the work and it’s context amongst the emptiness of East Detroit.