By KRIS HORIUCHI
POWELL, Wyo. — “Look for the tall brick chimney off Highway 14, and when you see the two large trees, slow down and cross over the railroad tracks.”
For years, these were the directions to the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, but with the speed limit at 70 mph, people would often pass right by the site. Tucked within agricultural fields set far back from the highway, the interpretive center is a series of low-profile structures in the landscape.
“Driving down the highway it’s difficult to see all the buildings or know what they are,” observes Claudia Wade, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board member and executive director of the Park County Travel Council, and “visible signage is critical.”
The foundation prioritized a new sign that would increase roadside visibility while reinforcing the identity of the interpretive center.
“Signage directs people already coming here, and also attracts those who didn’t plan to visit us,” comments Dakota Russell, interim executive director, “but it also serves as our welcome mat. For travelers that might not know anything about our history or locals who have passed by a thousand times, the sign is an invitation.”
Kris Horiuchi, board member and principal of Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects, describes the design process as “part optics, part story-telling.”
There was the basic technical requirement of sizing letters large enough for people to read while traveling from a distance at high speeds.
“It also needed to be more than just a billboard,” Horiuchi notes, “and we devoted considerable thought to creating a meaningful design element.”
Each of the components – letters, form, color, materials – is simple, yet purposefully detailed, and when combined, creates a powerful overall narrative.
A historic photo inspired the design concept of white letters on a black background. Based on the original block letters from the camp sign, a custom typeface by graphic designer Julian Kelly is juxtaposed with the Futura font from the 1942 “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry” poster.
The sign’s black background is a long rectangle that recalls the tar-paper barracks, while the vertical posts reference the fencing that once enclosed the camp. A symbol for the entire experience of incarceration, relocation, and homesteading, the black signface extends past the vertical posts toward the highway as if in motion – a tribute to both the incarcerees as they were released from the camp at the end of the war and to the homesteaders that moved barracks to new locations.
Distinctly contemporary in character, the sign expresses the foundation’s relevance today as a leader in racial justice issues.
“The sign is very evocative of the museum and site as a whole,” notes Russell. “It clarifies who we are, and you get a sense of what you’re going to experience here just by looking at it.”
Built of industrial aluminum and galvanized steel I-beams by Production Machine Inc., the sign is engineered to withstand the area’s high wind forces.
To owner Tate McCoy and his brother, Brett, who earlier completed the Honor Roll flagpole and sun shade structure on the interpretive trail, their work at the museum has been personal. “The sign is so much more than just a location and a name. What took place at Heart Mountain is important to me. It’s a big part of Powell’s history. Many people and places throughout my life in Powell have been influenced by the camp, and it’s been an honor to be involved in this project.”
Fabricated in six months, the sign was installed just in time for this year’s Heart Mountain Pilgrimage. Measuring 8 feet tall by 30 feet long, it is positioned in the agricultural field perpendicular to the highway, visible to travelers from both Cody and Powell.
Asked whether the sign has improved visitation to the museum, Kim Barhaug, HMWF historic site manager, notes, “Probably the best endorsement of the sign is the tire marks on the highway where people have braked and turned around!”
With Heart Mountain rising above in the background, Darrell Kunitomi contemplates, “Now we have a sign so strong it cannot be ignored. It’s a statement and a marker on the land that says, “Passerby, here is our piece of American history. Here, we have built a center to remember. We have a story for you.”
For more information about the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, write to 1539 Road 19, Powell, WY 82435, call (307) 754-8000, or go online to www.heartmountain.org.