Photographer and Writer Wesley Treat Follows the Signs to Create Retro-Inspired Art

Categories: Dallas Stories

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Wesley Treat

Years ago Wesley Treat discovered an interest in roadside attractions. As a photographer, he'd found his subject and he started a blog to chronicle his travels. Around the same time two guys up in New Jersey had a blog called "Weird New Jersey" that eventually became a book and then a series. As they expanded to "Weird Name-a-State," they recruited writers, and Treat was one of them.

He's a triple threat -- writer, photographer and Texas native -- so he was a natural for the daunting Weird Texas. Treat already knew many of the roadside oddities but set out to discover even more. He dug into any book he could find, searched the Internet and when he found one, he'd always ask if the people there if they knew of any others. The result was a book that compiled the best and the quirkiest, all bound together so readers could set out on a weird adventure of their own. Treat and the creators of the series clicked so he was tapped to plot Weird Oklahoma and Weird Arizona too. This time Treat didn't have a lifetime of state knowledge so he dug in and logged mile after mile after mile. On Weird Arizona alone, he took three separate two-week trips to the state.

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This is Treat's official portrait...
After he had lived on the road on and off for a couple years, the "Weird" series dried up. The launch of Weird Texas had tons of press behind it and since we're all double-stuffed with state pride it was a tremendous success. By the time Weird Oklahoma and Weird Arizona rolled out, the staff at the publishing house turned over and the new editors didn't see the value of the series. The books were published, but without any promotion behind them, sales weren't where they should be. Not that Treat was devastated; plotting oddities for the masses was grueling work, though not without plenty of reward including one strange gentleman in a suburb in Arizona.

Over the years this man had created a massive maze on his land from reclaimed materials. It was on over an acre right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood which only added to the sheer WTF factor. His maze was a space odyssey of sorts -- his interpretation of the future as told through handmade control panels, old signs, appliances and household items.

When Treat stopped by to photograph it, the man came outside in a pith helmet eating an ice cream cone. Halfway through the guided tour, he told Treat he had to call it quits on account of his hernia. He then volunteered, "I'm wearing three pairs of underpants." Not necessarily information anyone needs to know, but certainly a hint of the characters you meet on a "Weird" assignment. Recently the landowner passed away and the woman handling the estate contacted Treat. He asked for the handmade control panel that was at the entrance of the maze and the lady was happy to send it his way.

The main reason Treat loves photography is simple -- the documentation There are huge pieces of Americana disappearing from our roadsides, but Treat does his best to capture it. When he was on the road, he'd travel back through the same town and the sign he'd just photographed was gone. Sometimes the business was gone, but even more disconcerting, sometimes it was still there.

"Maybe there was weather damage and they didn't want to pay to have it fixed," says Treat."It's really strange." One of Treat's friends was driving through a small town and he saw a man tearing down and cutting up one of his photographed signs. He pulled over and yelled, "What are you doing?" The demo man, unfazed, asked, "Why? You want it?" Well, duh.

"A lot of the crews tearing down the signs are probably happy to have someone to haul it off. What are they going to do with it?" Treat ponders. "Sell it for scrap metal, but aside from that it's worthless to them."

The love of mid-century signs lead to Treat's current vocation, which is a little hard to describe. "I don't know to call it, industrial vintage?" Treat makes signs on Satelluxe.com, but he also makes other things such as karaoke marquees and custom chandeliers out of poker chips which turned out to be a little heavier than Treat bargained for. "I had to bore out the centers because if I didn't, it weighed about 60 pounds," he says. "There are over 1,000 poker chips on it."

He got into making signs because, well, he wanted one. He went to a metal shop and picked up some aluminum, consulted a few online videos, learned to do light electrical work and eventually had a legit custom arrow on his hands. He enjoyed the process so much he started wondering if this could be a business. Then he saw marquee letters for sale at Urban Outfitters and thought, "I can do that."

Many of the signs you see are made from aluminum flashing -- roof material -- that you can bend over the corner of a table and most come with DIY light kits. Treat has always been committed to making quality signs with professional fixtures that last. Since that initial arrow, Treat expanded his education, consulting electricians and model airplane hobbyists -- "Surprisingly there are few metal sign workers still around" -- and even teamed up with a "neon guy" who helped him understand what's possible. Treat still handles all the designs though and that's his favorite part of the process, sitting down and sketching new signs and shapes.

In the beginning he focused on designs he personally liked and then it dawned on him that this was an actual business and he shifted his focus to designs people would want and need for their homes. His vintage-inspired "No Vacancy" is incredibly popular for spare rooms and guesthouses and one client even used it as an open/closed sign for a business. Another sign that's always in high demand is a custom hotel sign, but of course Treat's all-time favorite has a story. It's a "Pool Open 24 Hours" that he adapted from a sign he saw along a stretch of highway in Arizona. The hotel was long gone and basically the sign now points to the desert.

Not that there's ever a downside to being successful and in demand, but the steady flow keeps Treat from expanding his catalog of stock signs. Every year he intends on rolling out a new shape for each holiday and more often than not, that holiday just rolls on by. Triumph came a little early in 2014 when Treat designed and created a pink heart in time for Valentine's Day. He dropped it off at {neighborhood} for sale, they put it in the window and it was gone in less than 12 hours. As for what's next, Treat is ready to get back to writing and even has a book idea in mind. He swears he'll get to it ... just as soon as he finds the time.


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