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Foster Hall has a new/old look

Local sign maker Mike Murtha (left) and Hammond Arts Alliance treasurer Paulette Anderson proudly display the sign Murtha made and donated to Foster Hall and the HAA. The sign is an almost exact duplicate of the one that originally hung there the first nine years of the HAA’s existence. (Photo by Sarah Young)1 / 2
Sign maker Mike Murtha of Mike’s Signs in Hammond holds a photo of the original sign he made for Foster Hall almost 18 years ago. The new sign is almost identical. (Photo by Sarah Young)2 / 2

Foster Hall’s new sign might look a bit familiar to local residents.

That’s because it’s almost identical to the one that used to hang on the building’s facade at 865 Davis St. in Hammond. The Hammond Arts Alliance, co-founded by Bruce Foster, was housed in Foster Hall for the first nine years of its 18-year existence. Foster donated the use of the building to the group.

When the building was sold and the HAA had to move across the street to the Hammond Hotel, the Foster Hall sign was taken down and thrown out by the new owner, according to HAA treasurer Paulette Anderson.

The original sign, designed and made by local sign maker Mike Murtha, was bought by and donated to Foster Hall by then owner of the Hammond Hotel, Fred Kramer. Anderson said he was a mentor and father figure to her.

At the time the Foster Hall sign was hung, Kramer also commissioned three signs to be made of the same design for the Hammond Hotel. One of those signs still hangs on the north side of the Hotel.

When the HAA lost its home in the basement of the Associated Bank when the bank building was sold in January 2013, the nonprofit arts organization was given the opportunity to again rent its former home, Foster Hall, from WESTconsin Credit Union.

Last year, two anonymous donors bought the building for the HAA, and they have five years to pay back the loan.

One of the goals of the group was to erect a permanent sign on the building. They just didn’t know how they were going to pay for it, especially since they have a building loan to pay off.

But Murtha knew. He decided this past January to make another sign like the original, and donate it to the organization.

“They’re back in business here,” Murtha said as he and Anderson held the new sign. “I wanted to do something to help them. I putzed with it this winter.”

Murtha, who is also the sign coordinator for the St. Croix County Highway Department, learned handlettering and took classes for vinyl graphics. His shop, Mike’s Signs, is located at 985 Davis St., just down the road from Foster Hall.

He started with a piece of sign board, called medium density overlay (MDO), primed it, painted it black and searched his computer for the font he used on the old sign. He had it, so he applied the vinyl and the sign was reborn with its original white lettering and border.

“Simple is better,” Murtha said of the clean lines and easy to read font of the Foster Hall sign. “Sometimes people create crazy things that would take way too much time to make, but they want it because they created it. Signs like that are hard to read. They can be distracting,” Murtha said.

Murtha has been in business since 1987. His signs grace businesses in Roberts, Hammond, Baldwin, River Falls and the surrounding area. He also does vehicle lettering for many local businesses, such as the former St. Croix Tree Service. Murtha is also a member of the popular local band “Trigger Happy.”

Murtha said he gets to make signs for the Highway Department, but “it’s not as creative there.” He coordinates sign placement for state road projects, works with towns on weight limit signs and detours, among other coordination duties.

Locals Chuck Webb and Jason Vasfaret volunteered to hang the sign for Anderson, in its rightful place where it hung all those years ago. Foster Hall has a new/old look.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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