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Remembering Charles F. Barnard (1928-2017)

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When Ad Art’s Charles F. Barnard passed away on October 23 at age 89, he left behind a sign legacy as grand and dazzling as any Las Vegas spectacular.

Barnard was born in Glendale, CA in 1928 and attended the ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles. After serving four years in the US Army, Barnard moved back to California and began doing sign work for Scott Bros. Advertising. In 1965, he started his 36-year career at the notable sign firm Ad Art Inc. (Stockton, CA).

During his tenure at Ad Art, Barnard’s teams created concepts for many Las Vegas signs, including the Stratosphere Tower, the Golden Nugget, the Flamingo, Caesars Palace, the Stardust and, most famously, Glitter Gulch’s world-renowned “Vegas Vickie” – among many others.

Barnard had a vision as unique as Las Vegas itself, and he brought it to life. He “painted” the entire city using lights in a way and a scale that hadn’t been seen before. Barnard often referred to this new branding technique as “electric architecture.”

It’s worth noting that sign spectaculars, which seem almost commonplace today, were pioneered during this period by Barnard and his peers. They envisioned electric signs as a new form of commercial art. With each successive design, Barnard broke new ground, pushed boundaries and raised the bar for all the incredible signs to come.

Those who knew “Chuck” remember his humility, work ethic and encyclopedic knowledge of Las Vegas sign history. His 1993 book, The Magic Sign (published by ST Books, though now out of print), detailed the evolution of Las Vegas signage and has become something of a collector’s item.

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On behalf of all of us who live (and love) signs, I’d like to thank Charles F. Barnard for making the world a more spectacular place, one electric sign at a time.

Special thanks to Jack DuBois and Ed Mercer for their contributions to this column.

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