Roadside Americana: Read Between The Signs

Balloon FI

Your probably aren’t aware of it, but your sartorial life would be very different if it weren’t for the small town of Meadville in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania.

For it was here that, in the early part of the 20th Century, the zipper was invented. Imagine all the time you’d waste on buttons if it weren’t for this incredibly functional invention.



But Meadville isn’t only about practicality, it has an artsy side as well. Drive down Highway 322 and you’ll find one of the most colorful, creative examples of classic Roadside Americana and artistic recycling you’re likely to see: the “Read Between the Signs” Public Art Project.


This fun and fabulous 1200 foot mural is made entirely of retired road signs! Designed to disguise the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s equipment yard, this mural achieves its goal beautifully.

Roller Coaster

Rain storm

Public art is always a good thing, particularly when a cooperative community effort produces such positive results. The creators lovingly call this fanciful fence a “roadside intervention.”

When it comes to high quality Roadside Americana, a sense of humor, whimsy, and fun are key ingredients. And the Read Between the Signs Project gets top marks across the board. If you’d like more information, it can be found on the project website.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Last updated July 31, 2017



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

51 thoughts

  1. What a great project! Functional, sustainable and inspirational. I wish that more cities would use art as a means to spruce up areas or to solve problems. When I’ve seen it done, it seems very successful. Thanks for sharing. Great images and great post.

    1. I agree that this is a great project, and in my opinion, your first sentence defines good public art. We travel around a lot, and are always pleased when we visit a community where the spirit of art and cooperation exist. And the Read Between the Signs project is the perfect example. ~James

      1. We were so surprised when we stumbled across it. Both of us were pointing out the car window and exclaiming, “There’s a racoon … and a cow … and a snowplow!” It was too hilarious! 🙂 So glad you stopped by, Terri

  2. I love this! I’m putting Meadville on my list of places to explore now that I’m back in the USA. Thanks for sharing this cool piece of artwork. I love the canoeists, the thunderstorm and the hot air balloons. 🙂

    1. Thanks Cathy. The hot air balloons are my favorite as well. In addition to admiring them for their creativity, I checked out the technique to see exactly how they were made. These are hard, stiff, metal road signs. So how did they bend and cut them so uniformly? It remains a mystery. Way cool. ~James

    1. Thanks Pam. If you ever get up this way, it’s worth a detour. In addition to the raccoon, there were deer, fish, sheep, ducks, and cows. There was even a snowplow, which has to be a big part of life in wintertime in these parts. ~James

      1. A snowplow – that is great! Yes I remember those days as a kid living in PA. Very cute – I told my brother to go check it out.

    1. Thanks Shelley. In addition to the cool art, one of the greatest things about this mural is that it hid a really ugly sight of gravel piles, heavy equipment, and ugly warehouses. ~James

    1. Thanks Virginia. I knew that a creative, artistic type like you would appreciate a project like this. I’m not sure who brought the artists at the local college and the engineers at the DOT together, but they did a great thing. I suspect that whimsy isn’t a word one hears very often at the DOT. ~James

  3. Have to admire the community for its innovation. Fun photos. As I have wandered around America (and Canada recently), I have found more and more towns are supporting community art projects from murals to wood carvings for both community pride and tourism. It’s a great trend. I am pre-posting a blog for next week while I am at Burning Man on one of the pioneers in sign forests, Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory. –Curt

    1. It doesn’t take much travel to see how many drab and boring places there are out there. And when I see a project like this, it makes me wonder why more towns can’t pull it together. It just takes a few people with vision and focus to get the ball rolling. But you’re right. In our travels, we’re seeing more and more of these community projects, and it’s great to see. Looking forward to the Burning Man posts. ~James

  4. Quite an amazing piece of art. Thanks for writing a post about the east coast as we are planning to spend some time in FL this winter, then head up the east coast to explore next year.

    1. As I’m sure that you and Terry have discovered in your travels, if you take the time to look, just about anywhere has something of interest. We’ve lived and traveled in the eastern US for years, but if we get off the beaten path a bit, there’s still lots of cool stuff out there. ~James

    1. Thanks Susan. I think this is a fabulous project. Road signs are made of hard metal, and I can’t imagine how much time and energy it must have taken to cut out all these detailed pieces. The designing artist has incredible vision to work in all the fun elements and colors. ~James

    1. Gilda, I absolutely feel in love with this mural. It’s so creative, and the amount of work to cut up and assemble all these metal signs must have been staggering. It’s roadside Americana at its best. ~James

  5. Well now I know what all these flea markets and antiques shops can do with old license plates! In fact, maybe Trump’s wall could be covered in similar signs. Thanks for this creative post — colorful and fun!

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