In 1987, Roger Cox returned to his native Boulder after spending four months traveling around Europe.
Already a talented artist, the fresh high school graduate embarked on the journey in search of direction — a sign, if you will — about how to write the next chapter of his life. But Cox didn’t find the inspiration he was looking for overseas; the motivation to pursue a career as an artist was standing in front of him the whole time in the form of his mother, Barbara.
A talented sculptor in her own right and an art teacher in Boulder, Barbara discovered that the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in Lakewood offered instruction in the traditional techniques of signmaking. When Cox returned from Europe, Barbara encouraged him to enroll.
The timing couldn’t have been better, Cox said, as the world was right on the cusp of the computer era during the late 1980s. A few years later, Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design phased out the major as sign design went digital and manufacturing became more sophisticated.
“It’s very difficult to find this type of training anymore; that’s why what we do is so unique,” Cox said. “I was traditionally trained but also grew up in this era of expanding technology, so we kind of embrace both extremes of the industry.”
Today, Cox owns House of Signs in Frisco, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. In preparation for the milestone, Cox and his team of artists decided to do something they had never done before — put their work up against some of the top signmakers in the world by entering the 2014 “Signs of the Times” International Sign Contest.
“Signs of the Times” is a trade publication dating to 1906. This year’s contest attracted 67 shops, up from 58 in 2013, and 312 submissions, a 37 percent increase over last year.
For its efforts, House of Signs earned honors for seven of its submissions, including two first-place nods. Although “Signs of the Times” doesn’t keep exceptionally detailed records, it reported House of Signs might have set a record by taking home more awards in one year than any shop in the history of the competition.
However excited to be named among the upper echelon of the signmaking industry, Cox was quick to deflect much of spotlight to his team, which consists of longtime signmakers Steve Huyler and Mark Bocksch; Periandros Damoulis, a signmaker from Greece who moved his family to Frisco in March to work at House of Signs; and Mikaela Meister, an intern turned summer employee.
“It’s also important to me to get the word out to my clients, not only because much of the designs are originals, but because it’s not a small investment,” Cox said. “I think they’ll be as excited as me to see that their designs have not only been recognized on a national and international level, but how far their designs go toward providing an identity for themselves and the community.”
‘PUSH THOSE LIMITS’
House of Signs won awards in three categories, including first- and second-place honors in the commercial monument signs category for its “Visit Breck — Pinnacle Mountain Homes and Lodging” sign in Breckenridge and for its well-known “Welcome to Silverthorne” sign at the bottom of the eastbound exit ramp off Interstate 70, respectively.
House of Signs took second and third place, as well as an honorable mention, in the commercial freestanding category for its signs for Stagecoach Inn Restaurant and Pub, Dillon Dam Brewery and town of Alma, respectively.
To round out the competition, House of Signs earned first- and third-place recognition in the commercial building signs category.
First place went to the sign “Huus Vode Tanzende Bare,” which, when translated from Swiss, means “House of the Dancing Bears,” and third place went to the sign hanging above Inxpot in Keystone.
House of the Dancing Bears was unique, Cox said, because the 8-by-8-foot sign was privately contracted by an Aspen couple and features the most detail of any sign he submitted to the competition. The sign is hand-sculpted, features 500 hand-formed leaves and took four months to complete, Cox said.
“They wanted to have a really special conversation piece for their brand-new dream home in Aspen,” Cox said. “In that sense, they were more looking for a piece of art than a sign, which is how we approach every project.
“What really is a sign, anyway? We try to push those limits with every client.”