Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Signs as pieces of art in community

Signs of community

Walking or driving through a city, countryside or a mall, there is one thing that is everywhere: signs. Whether that be the name of a business, directions or promoting a show, you simply cannot get away from signs. They can also come in many different forms: from neon signs to simple ones, they are quite plentiful. 

Seen here are prints of Lance Thomas’ artwork from his collection of Signs of Community at a reception held at Whitewater’s Art Alliance located on Main Street Mar. 21 2024.
(Katie McIlheran)

To showcase signs, the Whitewater Arts Alliance teamed up with photographer Lance Thomas in their “Signs of Community” exhibition. This exhibition featured photographs of signs around Wisconsin, including Madison, Milwaukee and Whitewater. It also included photographs from other cities, such as Boston, St. Louis and Cleveland. 

“If I was to come to Whitewater, I was going to travel the city, get personal with it and take photos of it,” said Thomas. “I basically walked every block I could: Main Street, off Main Street, everywhere I could, took like a thousand photos and picked my favorites from that. A lot of them just came from my walk around Whitewater.”

One photo that was featured at the exhibition was of the newly torn down “Hawk Bowl” sign. The photo, which is a favorite of Thomas’s, features the neon sign glowing in the night sky.

“It was one of my favorites from the start. Any neon sign where the sky is dark and blue as it was at dusk like that is going to be good. In life, nobody tells you when something is going to be gone,” Thomas said.

When looking at these photographs, do not only pay attention to the photo, pay attention to the frame as well. Each frame is designed to fit the specific photo it frames. 

“They come together in a couple of different ways,” said Thomas. “I could get inspired by the material and then the photo connects, or I have a photo and find the material. I never force it together. There has to be a reason or rationale behind why I pick the material.”

One frame that seemed unique was fr

Lance Thomas’s Signs of Community artwork is seen here displayed at Whitewater’s Art Alliance Mar. 21 2024 (Katie McIlheran)

om the picture “Gas Wipe.” The frame is a metal toilet paper holder surrounded by a regular wood frame. Another frame, which Thomas described as it was not featured in the exhibit, featured a pulley system and rope, which represented the picture of a theatre.

“Why can’t the frame become part of the art and support the photos instead of the photos being set in a pretty frame? For my work, it’s supposed to be a kind of 50/50 endeavor with the frame and the artwork,” said Thomas.

With the photos and the frames, these pieces really show the artistic mind of Lance Thomas. Every artist has their own way of making their rendition of art, and the pieces that “Signs of Community” showcased showed Thomas’s rendition.

People of Whitewater are gathered at Whitewater’s Art Alliance to look at Lance Thomas’s Signs of Community artwork Mar. 21 2024. (Katie McIlheran)

“I was really worried when I first started doing this about the collective nature. A lot of artists sort of have a common thematic presentation, while mine is kind of chaotic and all over the place, but people kind of like it,” said Thomas.

The Whitewater Arts Alliance holds an exhibition every month, with the month of April being the “Whitewater Unified School District Exhibit 2024.” They also hold fundraisers and events for the community to participate in, so make sure to check out their website.

Lance Thomas will also continue to take photos and make frames, you can check out his website at, or his Facebook page, Lance Thomas Industrial Artwork.

Seen here is a sign of Grebe’s Bakery located in Milwaukee, this is one of Lance Thomas’s Signs of Community artwork showcased in Whitewater’s Art Alliance Mar. 21 2024. (Katie McIlheran)


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About the Contributors
Josh Stoughton
Josh Stoughton, Arts & Recreation Editor
Katie McIlheran
Katie McIlheran, Lead Photographer

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