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When I was a student of graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1960s, I became very interested in the bizarre shape of signs for motels I saw on roads throughout New England. This peculiar shape, the geometric name of which I have never discovered, seemed to have been traditional for roadside signs. Probably first developed during the deco 1930s and reaching its zenith with pierced holes in the jet-age 1950s, this shape mostly designated motels and restaurants. Always wider at the top than bottom and usually leaning out over the highway, it became an icon of mid-century “modern style.”

I began to develop an idea to photograph some of these roadside motel signs and put them into a portfolio of prints, my thought being that the collection would become part of a school project. I spent many days during the spring, summer, and fall of 1969 driving through Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine finding motel signs to photograph. They were all shot on 35mm Kodak Plus-X film using an Asahi Pentax H1a with a 50mm lens.

As I progressed, I realized that I wanted to make the collection into a small book, but at the time the technology to do so was prohibitively expensive, and the project was abandoned. So here we are, over forty years later, and the technology has finally caught up with my student idea. I have scanned the original negatives, retouched them with Photoshop to get rid of dust spots and scratches on the film, and layed out the book electronically with InDesign.

Most of the motels are now long gone. Some still exist in a different format, but for the most part the “modern style” of their signs has finally gone completely out of style. This small collection of images, then, is a visual record of a time past, when free TV in the room was a major attraction.

Printed copies of this collection in book form are available directly from Click here for a link to more information about acquiring the book.

NOTE: When I made these images back in the late 1960s, I did not keep very accurate records of the locations, and over the years what memory there was faded away. At the time I put the book together in 2011, I was still missing the locations of several of the original signs. But thanks to Google Maps and Street-View, as well as internet searches, all locations have now been identified, corrected, and are noted in this Suite.

Copyright © 2017 by Will Tenney. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without prior written permission.