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Route 66 News

Professors honored for preserving vintage neon-sign drawings

Two professors from the University of New Mexico were given a state preservation award for saving hundreds of old drawings from the state’s oldest neon-sign company. Many of them mock-ups of signs eventually were installed on Route 66.

The New Mexico Historic Preservation Division honored Ellen Babcock and Mark Childs in the Heritage Publication division for saving the documents from Albuquerque’s Electrical Products of New Mexico, aka Zeon Signs, and showing some of them into a book last year, “The Zeon Files.”

Babcock told the Albuquerque Journal how she discovered the drawings:

No longer needed and deemed a fire hazard, the file drawers were moved outside and placed on pallets under a tree.

Ellen Babcock spotted them during one of her many visits to Zeon Signs as part of her interest in sign-making and the installation of public artwork on unused signs in Albuquerque. […]

The University of New Mexico sculpture professor found hundreds of yellowing envelopes containing folded drawings of some of the memorable neon signs on Route 66, one of the first roads in the U.S. highway system. […]

The sketches detailed signage for gas stations, motels, burger joints, bowling alleys, dry cleaners and coffee shops. In some cases, they were the only records left of the beacons that lit the famous highway from the 1950s to the 1970s.

“Finely drawn and just gorgeous,” Babcock said of the first drawing she unfolded.

The university’s Center for Southwest Research recently cataloged the collection and placed the documents in protective sleeves.

The documents eventually will be digitized so people around the world can peruse the collection online.

You can read my review of “The Zeon Files” here.

(Excerpted image from “The Zeon Files” of a drawing of the future Totah Theatre neon sign in Farmington, New Mexico)

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