Gracing various parks, museums, nature preserves, and heritage sites across the country are signs, exhibits, and dioramas that have earned Taylor Studios, Inc. in Rantoul, Illinois, accolades aplenty.
From three-dimensional wayfinding signage to a life-size woolly mammoth to interactive corporate displays, Taylor Studios has made a name for itself since its inception in 1991, within the signage and display arenas.
And one such project that has captured the attention of many is a series of graphic panels the Taylor Studios’ team designed and fabricated for both Busey Woods, a fifty-nine-acre natural area, and Meadowbrook Park, both located in Urbana, Illinois.
Noted for its bird watching, spring wildflower display, and delightful 1/3-mile elevated boardwalk where visitors can get up close and personal with nature, Busey Woods celebrates all of the unique natural elements found within its environs.
As such, the Taylor Studios’ team was tasked with designing a whimsical tree-shaped gateway, which included a sculptural interpretative panel, for the boardwalk that would entice visitors to read, learn, and engage with all the elements they saw along the trail.
According to Betty Brennan, president of Taylor Studios, the overall idea of the Busey Woods gateway is not just to be a portal to the boardwalk through the woods but to illustrate the significance of that site and the important environmental management practice within the natural space.
“Within the area, they plant specific plants that attract particular insects that, in turn, attract specific birds,” says Brennan. “You can see this within our design. Looking down below on the concrete pad, there are plants and insect silhouettes within the Corten ‘bush’ shapes that wrap the feet of the kiosk.
“Looking at eye level or on the kiosk, there’s a song bird silhouette perched. Then looking at the tree there’s a raptor silhouette that is hunting the song bird. This is all meant to direct your eye back to the kiosk to learn all about this life cycle.”
Because exhibit planning, design, fabrication, and 3D storytelling is the backbone of Taylor Studios’ work, for the Busey Woods gateway project, the team also incorporated a kiosk with a high-pressure laminate (HPL) graphic flip book.
Along the trail, interpretive panels are stationed to provide historical information about the region, explain management practices of the nature area, and call attention to the park’s ecology.
As Jason Cox, creative director at Taylor Studios explains, the client provided Osage Orange wood boards for the kiosks that they milled down themselves. “They cleared out some areas of their properties and wanted to use the wood,” he says.
In addition, Taylor Studios used Corten steel for the tree and foliage cut-outs below.
“Spacers needed to be used between the HPL graphics, such as the large leaf, so rust streaks wouldn’t get onto the graphics,” says Cox. “We thought the Corten rust color would be good for the exterior use, but it would also look striking in the spring and summer with the green forest backdrop.
“The style of the tree worked well—it indicated bark in how we designed the lines in the trunk silhouette but also looked seamless and dead during the winter months.”
The design of the tree using layered flats not only cut down on overall cost but also worked well with the overall graphic design.
At Meadowbrook Park, Taylor Studios also designed and fabricated a gateway signage system that was reminiscent of that found at Busey Woods.
Specifically, the signage project at Meadowbrook Park included a Prairie Outlook signage system that measured 36-by-24 inches and had a total of twelve graphics distributed on three signs.
The Douglas Creek sign measured 24-by-36 inches and included a total of four graphics on one sign, and the Anita Purvas Nature Center features a total of six graphics on two signs, measuring 38-by-48 and 24-by-36 inches respectively.
Finally the Rain Garden sign at Meadowbrook Park features a 36-by-24-inch sign with a total of four graphics.
“The prairie plant silhouettes that match the Busey Woods tree silhouette/cut outs were so tall we needed to strategically overlap the plant stems to account for wind and structural support,” says Brennan. “The footprint size was important because of weight and wind issues. With the butterfly silhouette, we strategically designed the wings to have openings to allow the wind to go through.”
In addition, the client poured the concrete pads so Taylor Studios had to communicate carefully, providing them with drawings and having discussions about the engineering of the pad to accommodate the large sculpture and meet ADA standards.
Taylor Studios’ Busey Woods and Meadowbrook Park signage projects illustrate how the company strives to meet its mission to create products and experiences that inspire people.
“These types of projects encourage people to get out into nature, learn about it, and fall in love with it,” explains Brennan. “We are very proud of both the Busey Woods and Meadowbrook entry signs. The large cut-out of the tree and plants are eye-catching and creative.
“We’re grateful the client embraced this design. We think it’s a big ‘wow’!”