Motel sign, Grand Coulee, Washington

by John Margolies

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Artist Statement

Shot in 2003, this retro roadside sign beckons us to a riverside retreat of yesteryear. Heavily weathered and encircled by an abundance of shrubbery, the sign is an ode to what once was. Perched streetside near the Grand Coulee Dam along the Columbia River, Motel sign would’ve been a welcome sight to weary roadtrippers in the heyday of the American Highway. While off-grid Airbnbs and cookie cutter chain hotels seem to have taken over the road trip industry, Mom & Pop motels were once ubiquitous along the country’s smaller highways in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Why We Love It

The quintessential American roadside style came about as suburban living boomed post-World War II, necessitating the creation of more paved roads, and more ways to bring travelers into roadside businesses. New building materials and techniques had emerged, allowing for playfully eccentric free-form structures to pop up. Signs, artifacts, and buildings ranged from whimsical to psychedelic, their main purpose an elaborate enticement. As the style spread, critics derided it as “tacky”, “florid”, and “ugly”. Margolies strongly disagreed: in his mind, these ephemeral pieces better expressed the story of 20th century America than canonical works that didn’t reflect the everyday experience of the people who used them.

Details

+ Limited-edition, exclusive to 20x200
+ Museum quality: archival inks, 100% cotton rag paper unless noted
+ Handcrafted custom-framing is available

Our quoted dimensions are for the size of paper containing the images, not the printed image itself. We do not alter the aspect ratio, nor do we crop or resize the artists’ originals. All of our prints have a minimum border of .5 inches and maximum of 2.5” to allow for framing.

Medium:

Innova Exhibition Photo Baryta IFA 69

8"x10" | edition of 10
11"x14" | edition of 150
16"x20" | edition of 25
20"x24" | edition of 10
30"x40" | edition of 5

John Margolies

Margolies was drawn to mid-century roadside architecture from a young age. On family car trips, these commercial structures designed to seduce weary travelers called to him even as his parents repeatedly refused to stop. Margolies took this boyhood unrequited love and turned it into a 30+ year photography career that took him all across America.In his travels, Margolies took more than 11,000 photographs of vernacular buildings across America’s criss-crossing network of highways, main streets, and back roads. Though many of his images involved the architecture that defined car travel—motels, diners, gas stations, and the like—he also photographed the purely American... Read More
quirk that lined the roads: buildings shaped like dinosaurs, a giant pair of dice on the mini-golf course, a gator-mouth entrance to a Florida theme park.This eccentric style came about as suburban living boomed post-World War II, necessitating the creation of more paved roads, and more ways to bring travelers into roadside businesses. New building materials and techniques had emerged, allowing for playfully eccentric free-form structures to pop up. Signs, artifacts, and buildings ranged from whimsical to psychedelic, their main purpose an elaborate enticement. As the style spread, critics derided it as “tacky”, “florid”, and “ugly”. Margolies strongly disagreed: in his mind, these ephemeral pieces better expressed the story of 20th century America than canonical works that didn’t reflect the everyday experience of the people who used them.It was this mindset that inspired Margolies to drive over 100,000 miles capturing a unique slice of American architecture and history, even as it faded. Much of what he photographed is now gone. A few times, he found out that he’d photographed a building mere days before it was demolished.His treasure trove of images has been turned into quite a few books, most notably Roadside America, featuring a curated set of around 400 photographs. It was published in 2010, six years before Margolies passed away of pneumonia at 76.
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