Sign City has a message for you: “If you bring it; they can make a sign for it.” The business, located at 300 Sierra Way in Hawthorne, is more than

Sign City owner Wade Barton hard at work in his office. (Stephen Tool photo)

Sign City has a message for you: “If you bring it; they can make a sign for it.” The business, located at 300 Sierra Way in Hawthorne, is more than a mere sign shop; it’s an art studio for owners Wade and Kay Barton.

Barton, a Hawthorne native, left the area after graduation, working jobs from Reno to Colorado. But always with the intention of moving back to Nevada. After a stint in surveying school, Barton found a job surveying for a lithium mine up in the Silver Peak area. 

Barton eventually got interested in politics and won an Esmeralda County commissioner’s seat in the early 1990s. About a week after he took office the mine laid off Barton. “I didn’t even see the writing on the wall,” Barton said.

After subsequently working for a contractor on the same site, Barton didn’t see much future for he and his new wife, Kay, in Silver Peak. “I’ve always had an interest in signing, or sign painting and I had great layout skills,” Barton said.

Barton cut his teeth on the Lotus program and eventually graduated to AutoCAD (Computer Aided Design) which is a 2D and 3D drafting and design program. “I got pretty good at that,” Barton said.

The contractor in Silver Peak knew of Barton’s skills with AutoCAD and hired him to make signs for a tire project. The tire enterprise failed, but Barton was on his way. He bought a 486 computer and a DOS-based sign making program and started a company called Enlightening Graphics. Barton still uses DOS on his design computers.

After Barton’s term as commissioner expired, he and his wife moved back to Hawthorne to help Barton’s mother with her nursery, but he immediately picked up sign painting business for the depot, which remains a customer.

If you see a sign around town, chances are, it came from Sign City. Barton is an equal opportunity sign painter. For example, he crafted the election signs for sheriff candidates, Stewart Handte and Randall Adams.

Signing covers many areas of art and Barton has a number of billboards he designed and painted as well. He owner of Tonopah Station provided Barton’s biggest job. “We did every billboard of his from Luning to Beatty, including the casino. It was about a $40,.000 job,” Barton said. Barton also does signs for many of the areas mining interests.

Some of Barton’s favorite and most inventive designs adorn various brothels in Nevada. Both Barton’s name the Cottontail Ranch sign as a particular favorite.

Barton stays abreast of advances in the graphic arts field by subscribing to magazines, attending classes and cooperation with other artists. Barton said it is not unusual for signmakers to collaborate or even help one another with design issues.

It’s obvious from Barton’s work that he is very good at what he does and he takes appropriate pride in it. Most of all, he loves what he does. “It’s been a great journey,” Barton concluded.

The Barton’s have a liberal open door policy and the shop is well worth a visit just to see the quantity and quality of work done by Sign City. Art is more than one form of expression.

It’s obvious from Barton’s work that he is very good at what he does and he takes appropriate pride in it. Most of all, he loves what he does. “It’s been a great journey,” Barton concluded.