Giant book pages form new building sign at Hazel Park library

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 6, 2020

 The new building sign over one of the entrances to the Hazel Park Memorial District Library resembles an open book, with quotes in digitally eroded lettering that invite closer scrutiny — and a trip into the library to learn more.

The new building sign over one of the entrances to the Hazel Park Memorial District Library resembles an open book, with quotes in digitally eroded lettering that invite closer scrutiny — and a trip into the library to learn more.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 A new ground sign has also been added. Both signs were created by Richard Gage Design Studio, located in Hazel Park.

A new ground sign has also been added. Both signs were created by Richard Gage Design Studio, located in Hazel Park.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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HAZEL PARK — A new sign resembling an open book has been added over one of the entrances to the Hazel Park Memorial District Library. A new ground sign has been added as well. The building sign breathes new life into a facade weathered by time.

“About two years ago, the fascia above the Nine Mile Road emergency exit started pulling away from the building because it somehow got water behind it. The fascia also had a sign on it identifying the library. It all had to come down because it posed a public safety hazard and we were worried that it — or pieces of it — would fall on someone and injure them,” said Corrine Stocker, the library director. “We had a temporary vinyl sign made until we found a contractor to fix the fascia and make a new sign.”

That contractor was Richard Gage and his company is Richard Gage Design Studio.

“We appreciated the fact that his studio is in Hazel Park, as we like to support local business. And we knew that Rick was actively involved in the community. He was a member of the Hazel Park Arts Council and has done a lot of volunteer work to enrich the lives of people in town by bringing art into public spaces. He’s also done a lot of volunteer work and pro bono work to enhance the look of our community,” Stocker said.

The library board formed a sign committee to work with Gage. He asked the library staff for pictures of building signs and design elements they liked. He proposed making two signs at cost, which was the only way the library could have afforded them.

The ground sign features the library’s name, with the word “library” in giant, eye-catching font, the sign angled so people can view it from both Nine Mile and John R roads. The building sign, meanwhile, is a massive three-dimensional open book with quotes about libraries printed on it.

“The print is intentionally abstract, which makes it a bit tricky but not impossible to read,” Stocker said. “Rick worked extensively with the library board and I to determine the design of both signs. He really did an amazing job of incorporating our ideas and turning them into something great.”

Gage asked retired librarian Sheila Paige to research quotes for the building sign.

“The quotation project was enormously enjoyable, as it put me back in touch with the world of books and the written word, libraries and reading — the world which has been, obviously, of lifelong interest over the years,” Paige said. “I searched and presented to Rick quotes of all kinds, many of which probably could not be used, but which came from many sources.”

One example she gave was a statement by author Ernest Hemingway: “All good books have one good thing in common — they are truer than if they really happened.” Another was by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks: “Books are meat and medicine and flame and flight and flower, steel, stitch, cloud and clout, and drum beats on the air.” Paige said her favorite quotation she presented to Gage was from the late Southern writer Eudora Welty: “I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them — with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.”

Gage said he wouldn’t have been able to find the quotes on his own.

“It was Sheila’s interest in the project (that made it possible), like a good librarian will do, at the information desk. Google doesn’t dialogue with you beyond your search term,” Gage said. “I knew Sheila had worked on organizing public and private libraries, as well as helped the library board in Lexington, Michigan, develop goals for an upcoming expansion. She has shared her knowledgeable, insightful and passionate interest in books through spot-on recommendations, as well as challenging conversation about books she has read. So I asked her if she could assemble two pages of quotes about libraries.”

He said he wants the building sign to pique people’s curiosity. This is accomplished in part by digitally eroded lettering that requires some scrutiny in order to read.

“When the board decided to approve the book-style facade, I indicated it would have lettering with an optical challenge. I did not want common or expected content. The goal was to challenge and inspire curiosity by the public about what was there,” Gage said. “I wanted each sentence to mean something about the value libraries have in our social structure. Now I am working with Corrine on an information sign for inside the library, for more on the quotes on the facade. We hope to spark the interest of what the content means to bring more patrons into the library.”

The process took about a year, from planning to implementation. For the building sign, Gage used sheet metal with some structural members, the overall signage measuring 14 feet tall by 24 feet wide, with the central feature measuring 13 by 15 feet.

“With my team of sculptors … we used traditional sheet metal working techniques and fasteners, coupled with standard cutting and laser cutting,” Gage said. “Our painting process is proprietary using UV stable pigments and sealers, with an additional coating for durability.

“As artists, we like to have certainty in our final work,” he said. “In addition to my creative team I work with, we rely upon the precision our engineering mind brings to our projects. After completing both the ground sign and the facade in the shop, installation typically goes smoothly. The ground sign was installed in a few hours. The full facade was installed in about two days.”

He said he was thankful for the opportunity.

“I appreciate the library board for seeing a vision and future for their library and trusting that my studio paralleled that understanding,” Gage said.

Paige had not yet seen the finished work at press time, but she said she looks forward to it.

“I hope that every passerby and patron is reminded, as they peruse the words (on the sign), of this great gift of American free libraries,” she said.

The Hazel Park Memorial District Library is located at 123 E. Nine Mile Road in Hazel Park.

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