The new sign above Koolkat Designs, 691 Washington Road next to Potomac Bakery, actually has been a work in progress since the store opened in 2006. Koolkat, which offers a wide range of products jewelry and accessories, represents more than 200 artists from the Pittsburgh area with many from Mt. Lebanon. Owner Kate McGrady’s mission is to promote buying locally and to recognize the quality of the artists in and around Pittsburgh.
Coming up with the perfect sign presented several challenges. “We wanted something that represented us, not just another version of what we had before,” McGrady says, of the long task of designing the sign. Also, a new sign posed physical difficulties. The original sign was part of the exterior wall of the building, so simply removing it would leave a gaping hole in the storefront. And a new sign could not be simply painted over, because the sign underneath was textured and would appear through the new paint job.
Koolkat artist Kate Wagle Hitmar ended up designing a mural sign for her sister in law, Jenny Hitmar Shankland, to paint. Shankland is a specialist in making paint look like other materials, such as wood or glass. Shankland painted the sign off site on parachute cloth—a highly durable material—to make it look like it was made of brick, so it would blend in with the rest of the building. Damon Reaves, an artist and former employee of the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia, then helped mount the mural, which involved glueing it to the old sign and sealing it with varnish.
The store celebrated the finished project by hosting a party for 75 local artists and customers. Pictures of the sign in progress and of the party are on KoolKat’s Facebook page under photo albums.