In 1982, when the Methow Valley News occupied what is now the Tappi restaurant building on Glover Street, publisher Mike Irwin and editor John Bonica (who now owns the building and the restaurant) commissioned local wood carver Bruce Morrison to create an identifying sign for the newspaper.
Bruce came up with a 50-by-36-inch, two-sided sign made of clear western red cedar and yellow Alaskan cedar, with hand-carved lettering and intricate carvings of wheat stalks (56 in all) decorating its borders. It was put together with wooden dowels. The only metal used was for two brackets from which to hang the sign, fabricated by Methow Valley metalworker and artist Barry Stromberger.
The sign hung in front of the building for many years, until the newspaper moved a couple of blocks north to the old Evergreen grocery store building at Second Avenue, a two-story brick edifice that had already been around for about a century. There, the Methow Valley News sign rested on the inside ledge of a big front window, with only one side visible to the public, for another 15 years or so.
When we moved to the TwispWorks campus in February of this year, the sign came along. It was weathered from its years outside, and the side that had faced the window in the Second and Glover building was faded by sunlight. The sign was also a little rickety, with a few of the dowels loose in their fittings.
We leaned the sign against a pole supporting the porch of our new building to help people find us. Not long after that, Bruce approached us about refurbishing the sign. Until then, I’m not sure I had even noticed the tiny, carved signature “B. Morrison 1982” in a lower corner of the sign. When we met to talk about it, Bruce’s pride in his 34-year-old artistry was evident as he explained how the sign was constructed and how the cedar glowed when the sign was new.
A few weeks later, after a lot of sanding, gluing and refinishing, the sign glows again. To complete the historic cycle, we have asked Stromberger to help us figure out the best way to hang it up so it will be visible from the TwispWorks parking lot and, to some extent, from Highway 20.
I think it’s beautiful and elegant. More than that, it’s moving testimony to the enduring power of creative passion. In a sense, it was, is and always will be Bruce’s sign, and he cares about what happens to it.
“I’m proud of it,” he says. “There’s a lot of quality in it.”
It took a long time and steady attention to carve the wheat stalks, Bruce says. That care is evident in the result: a single, striking motif made up of dozens of small, individual works.
Bruce speculates the weather took its toll on the sign over the years, and being inside “probably saved it.” In preparing to refurbish the sign, he found the original notes he made while designing and building it all those years ago. “It certainly was a nostalgic journey,” Bruce says. “It was at the beginning of my career as a carver.”
Working on the sign led him to ruminate about all the additional history the valley has accumulated since 1982, how things have changed, and to some extent the newspaper’s role in all that. At the same time, he says, the fundamental attractions of the Methow haven’t changed a bit.
I’m looking forward to seeing the sign restored to its proper function in its rediscovered splendor. It’s more than just a commercial fixture. It’s historic, connective, unique and a public work of Methow Valley art. Perhaps 34 years from now it will be in a museum, and people will be reading these words to learn about its life and times. Or maybe it will still be helping people find the newspaper office.