The Fall 2016 University Libraries’ Willard Lecture features authors and UNM faculty members Mark Childs and Ellen Babcock presenting, “Prismacolor and Neon: the craftwork of mid-century Route 66 signs.” Visitors will also be offered a glimpse into the Zeon Company archive through a display of some of their original drawings. The lecture is Wed., Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Zimmerman Library West Wing and will be followed by a book signing and a reception.
This event also marks the official opening of the exhibit “Life and Times on NM Route 66” in the Frank Waters Room in Zimmerman Library. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the completion of Route 66 and many celebrations are being held across the country.
Childs, professor of architecture and associate dean of research in the School of Architecture & Planning; and Babcock, associate professor of art and art history, in the UNM College of Fine Arts, revealed the art and craft of neon sign making through their new book The Zeon Files. Zeon Signs is a long time Albuquerque company founded as Electric Products of New Mexico in 1939, but during World War II, they shut down only to reopen again in 1946.
As an urban designer, Childs is intrigued by the impact of the signs. “In their time, they created a hedge of signage that defined the street," he said. "They provided a sense of enclosure. Central Avenue (Route 66) was made by the signs. If you were to take away the signs, it could be any street anywhere." For those who remember Albuquerque from the mid-1950s to the 1970s, the neon signs are burned into their minds: Paris Shoe Store, the Indian School Plaza arrow, Fiesta Bowl and of course, Terrace Drive In with the flamenco dancer whose skirt swayed seductively lighting up the night.
Working on the book gave Babcock a great deal of satisfaction. “I enjoyed bringing the book to the sign guys. They saw it as recognition of their craft and expertise. They also enjoyed talking about the company – their fathers, uncles and grandfathers. Many of them have memories of their childhoods spent helping to put up the signs,” she said.
The inventory of the Zeon Sign Company records from 1955-1972 is available through the Rocky Mountain Online Archive. Those interested in donating to the processing and restoration of the files can go to UNM Fund.
The Willard Lecture Series
The Willard Lecture Series, established in honor of former UNM Regent Larry Willard, features engaging speakers highlighting collections from the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, the work of University of New Mexico scholars and topics impacting today’s changing libraries and their impact on the world of academics and research.
For more information on the lecture contact University Libraries at (505) 277.4241 or visit their wesbite.