¿Qué es todo esto? Hablamos Español en Charleston, West Virginia. Un artista denominó a Amy Williams lo demuestra.
I noticed the first of these signs as I approached my office today on Capitol Street and I thought it was probably something for a school field trip. Immediately I was reminded of signs I would see when I lived in San Antonio...the ones that marked the transition into the migrant neighborhoods, where all the signs would be in Spanish. The basic colors of the signs and the simple, stenciled transmission of the necessary information always stood out on the cluttered backdrop of the city. So I still didn't know what this particular sign on the clock was for, but I really liked it.
Later in the morning, I walked back out of the building and, coming from that direction, I noticed another sign in the windows of Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream:
Finally, I walked out about lunch time, heading to my favorite coffee shop (slash cafe slash book store slash art gallery) a few doors down. Spotting yet another sign (in the coffee shop window), I asked the woman at the book and art counter what was up with the signs. She said they were part of city-wide installation piece called "Press 2 for Spanish" by local artist Amy Williams. She said there were even more signs around Charleston and suddenly I was hooked! All of a sudden this cool sign mounted on a clock post became a hide-and-seek that was way even more cool!! I decided to find out more, and e-mailed the artist. (If you go to her MySpace page, and add her as a friend, you can see pictures of any of the signs that I haven't yet come across..or may have already seen yourself.)
So as I walked from my office at the end of the day, and headed for the parking garage, I photographed the three signs I'd seen and prepared to look online tonight for the rest. (The Man has blocked access to MySpace in our building.) On the way to the garage, I saw this:
...and then I saw this...
I had, just in the nick of time, snatched Anna from the jaws of insanity (she works eight hours a day in the infant room at a daycare center), when we saw this sign and I pointed it out to her:
Maybe we're just an overly-excitable bunch, but Anna was a San Antonian for only the first six months of her life. Assuming she didn't get out much for random street sign reading at that point, she isn't at all used to seeing street signs labeled in a language besides American English. When I told her that they were art and that there were a lot more of them around, she was drawn into my quest to undertake this sort of scavenger hunt with no clues.
So we went home, finished up the second bath of the day for the girls (which the babysitter had been so very helpful to start after a hot afternoon at the park), and took the kids to get something to eat. After we had packed the children back into the van, bellies full and sleepiness setting in, we set out to find whatever others signs we could. We drove back-and-forth on the four streets that run parallel along the river in our small city. We made our way down The Boulevard, then circled back toward town, making sure to pass the hospitals and the downtown fire station (all places we thought a sign might be spotted). We jumped and pointed when we saw anything red, white, and square (including for-sale signs and yield signs).
Usually, though, we would zip by a sign somewhere we weren't expecting it, yell and point as we drove by, then make a quick circle around the block, timing the stop lights so we could get a picture without obstructing traffic. As simple as it sounds, this was a fun time. The almost-four-year-old, like nearly any child her age, was lulled to sleep by the warm night and just driving around. My older daughter and my son showed off the random Spanish words they could think of from school. Anna asked good questions like "What makes that art?" and talked about trying to schedule an art class this fall, her first semester of college. It was a continuation of our conversations during a recent art show near our house where she got to see people her age (and younger) recognized for their urban art and realized that artists don't always look like old hippies or wine-sipping, black-turtleneck-wearing pretentious folk.
So we circled the blocks and photographed all the signs we could find before the time set in to get the other kids home for bed, too. Here they are:
It's time like this that make being a parent seem easy. It's not easy...but sometimes it seems that way for a minute.
Oh! And we were glad that we didn't know in advance where the signs were. I still don't know where they all are, but know for sure that I missed at least one, based on the artist's front page of her MySpace. I'm not sure I'll look at the her other pictures for a while. It'd seem like reading ahead to the last page of a book. But in this book, you get to interpret your own story. Whatever it means to Amy Williams, it can mean a dozen other things to you, or maybe nothing at all.