The opening line in this year’s Laity Lodge Youth Camp brochure asks campers and their parents How do you know when you have arrived at camp? The pages offer possible answers—Is it the sound of the gravel road crunching beneath your tires? Or when you step out of your vehicle and breathe in the fragrance of the cedars? Or the sound of splashing water when you drive through the river? And then there’s this: Or is it when you spot that first wooden sign, pointing the way to camp?
So many over the last half century have oriented themselves by the hand-routed, cypress signs throughout the Canyon. The prospect of gradually updating the signs to better match our new branding has been both exhilarating and fraught with an appropriate amount of anxiety. The signs had to feel at home in the Canyon: sufficiently rustic without being cornpone, on-brand without being out-of-place. And the new had to work alongside the old, since we can’t replace all the signs at once.
In short, they should look like they’ve always belonged.
The main entrance to the camp would prove an extra challenge: Flanking the gravel entrance are two monumental slabs of wood. The new signs needed to be larger, which required sourcing just the right pieces of cypress, then cutting them so they would bookend match. The new signs would offer new names (The H. E. Butt Family Foundation Camp replaces the previous H. E. Butt Foundation Camp, for example) and employ new typefaces (part of the rebranding includes specific guidelines for the all-caps, rounded lettering that gets carved into all new signs).
In the late summer of 2013, the branding team undertook a visual survey of the Canyon, visiting each of the camps and capturing reference photography of the permanent and semi-permanent signage, monuments, labels, and posted notices.
Later, we broadly categorized and evaluated these photos in order to make the observations and recommendations that follow, all with an eye toward making the visual landscape of the canyon more consistent, well-designed, hospitable, and intentional.
Entrance, circa 2005
The Canyon has a long history of using routed, wooden wayfinding signage; over the decades it has remained a strong, consistent part of the visual shorthand that signals to people that they have arrived. The use of cypress planks and cedar posts telegraphs that this is a natural destination, similar to the vernacular of state parks, nature preserves, and national forests. Although the rustic shapes of the wooden signs themselves—as well as the methods and hardware used for creating the signs—have varied over the years, we knew that the enduring HEBFF brand would continue to incorporate these rustic signs.
Historically, the Canyon’s signage was all crafted by a member of the foundation’s maintenance team, Dolfie Gonzalez, who brought a strong level of craftsmanship to the task. For years after Dolfie’s retirement, various members of the maintenance team continued to fabricate the signs. The process was described as follows:
Plane the boards flat. Stencil letters on. Route out the letters with a free-handed router (this requires craftsmanship). Mix up white, reflective paint by introducing crushed glass. Paint letter interiors. Create the rustic, notched indentions in the sides by hand, utilizing a hatchet (also requires a great degree of craftsmanship and care to pull off well). Stain the signs with Cabot dark grey stain.
The main entrance signs were designed and redesigned over a 12-month period ending with approvals in March 2016. (The dimensions were adjusted this spring to accommodate the addition of HEBFF Outdoor.)
We knew that sourcing, cutting, and curing cypress logs of this size takes time. In May, HEBFF Director of Facilities Chris Ray secured the cypress from Wooden Nickel Sawmill in Center Point, TX. Owner Charlie Forster salvaged the cypress log about five or six years ago from a creek that flows into the Guadalupe right at the Schumacher Crossing at Hunt, Texas. Forster milled the lumber and let it cure until 2016.
In early May, the wood was delivered to James Salter Craftsman in Kerrville, who cut and routed the letterforms with a 3-axis CNC router using vector digital files Communications supplied.
In late May, the signs were delivered to the Canyon, where the pieces were book-matched and painted. They were installed in the first week of June.
UPDATE: June, 2016: The new main entrance signs—and the new mileage marker signs—are in place. This piece of the HEBFF rebrand represents several years of work, but also represents the collaborative work of many people across the Foundation, including an all-hands-on-deck effort to get the signs up during the first week of summer camp season.