McMinnville’s sign guy: Gerry Blankenship

I solved a big McMinnville mystery the other day. Or at least it is a mystery for sign nerds and history buffs whose hearts start racing a bit when they see a well crafted sign. (I don’t know about you, but all I need is a brown historical marker on the side of the road and I’m ready to careen off the highway to see what happened there). McMinnville seems to be a place made for sign lovers, at it’s all thanks to Gerry Blankenship, a Carlton-based sign artist who uses machine and hand-carving techniques to make some of the most prominent signs in town. Remember those Welcome to McMinnville signs? Gerry did those.

How about the signs for the Police Department, the Library, the Fire Department, the Planning Commission and many other public buildings near downtown. Yep, they are Gerry’s, too. Now, the smart approach, as someone interested in a sign, would be to walk into the prospective business and just ask where the sign came from, but since I’m sometimes an armchair investigator, it took a little bit of creative Googling to find Gerry’s Facebook page, for his small business, Northwoods Signs.

All I needed to do was look at some of the signs from his portfolio and I knew it immediately: that’’s the McMinnville sign guy! We’ were in the process of changing our sign right now and I spent the afternoon with Gerry in his workshop talking signage and seeing our new sign in development. The pic below shows our sign after Gerry replaced it.

There are so many reasons to go with a carved wooden sign, but for us, the answer is quite simple. To us, these signs mean community. They mean longevity, they mean permanence, and above all, they mean beauty. “If you put that time and effort into the building and what goes on there, your sign should reflect the quality of your work,” is how Blankenship explains it.

In the 25 years Blankenship has been doing this kind of work, he has completed more than 1,000 wooden signs for businesses and municipalities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. Each of the signs is crafted using hand tools and machine routers and grinding elements and draws on the artist’s many years of experience as a carver and craftsman. Many of Blankenship’s signs around time incorporate smaller illustrations, often landscapes, depicting the surrounding countryside, though he can also adapt more contemporary-looking logos, such as ours, an abstract landscape/toothbrush.

If you have a Northwoods sign, you should be cleaning it once a year with a mild detergent and calling Gerry to come out every 5-6 years to touch up the paint. Did you see the hail yesterday? Those kinds of elements can wreak havoc on a gorgeous sign. Now, on to the next big mystery in signs. Why do so many vinyl sign shops have awful signs to advertise their own business? Just what is the font that screams: I can make a sign for you?

Update: Gerry Blankenship passed away in 2018, but his son, Jerome Blankenship, has continued with the business.

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