Shenandoah

For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a sign on the Cape house, “Shenandoah”. It’s unclear whether my father or one my uncles carved it, but “Oh, Shenandoah” was a popular song around the time the house was built in the mid-sixties, and as my Uncle Tom points out, it was a favorite song of my cousin Susan, who died at fourteen after being thrown from a horse right around Christmas of 1965. It’s of great sentimental value to my family.

For the longest time, it was left natural, with only a coat of varnish over it, and it was mounted over the walk-out from the basement. At some point it was moved over the back door, and became weathered enough that it was necessary to paint it. I re-painted it myself about a decade or so ago.

It’s continued to weather, and a couple of years ago Tom asked me about repainting it. I was concerned about its condition — it’s developed a number of surface cracks, and I was worried that it had started to rot; I knew the existing paint would need to be removed, and if rot had set it, it would be difficult to scrape or sand without damaging it. I finally took a close look at it over the summer, and found to my relief that the wood was still sound, so I asked Tom to dismount it and bring it with him on Christmas Eve, figuring I’d have time to tackle it over the winter.

Before stripping the paint, I took it to the paint store to get a match of the color. I would have liked to restore it to its original varnished state, but I knew that it wouldn’t have been feasible with all the crack filling it needed. So I matched the color that it was currently painted in, originally chosen by my father for the shutters of the house. The face of the sign was pretty faded, but the bottom edge had been sheltered, and the paint store was able to come up with a very close match.

I started work in earnest after the Bonaire trip. I was very aware that it had the potential to be one of those projects that gets put off forever, and was determined that this not be the case. I finished it Wednesday night, and re-installed it with my Uncle Tom photographing this afternoon.

Initial condition. Note the peeling paint and cracked wood. Not so noticeable, the faded color of the base paint
Initial condition. Note the peeling paint and cracked wood. Not so noticeable, the faded color of the base paint
Initial condition. Note the cracks and peeling paint.
Initial condition. Note the cracks and peeling paint.
After Stripping the paint.
The sign after stripping off the paint. Notice the cracks and raised grain. At this point, I’m just starting to get the paint out of the letters
Stripping the paint out of the last 'H'
Stripping the paint out of the last ‘H’
Filling the cracks
After applying plastic wood to fill in the cracks
Cracks Filled and Sanded
Cracks filled and sanded. The letters have also gotten a thin coat of filler and been sanded, and the ends of the letters sharpened up.
Primed
After the primer coat. The back side is now painted too, to keep out the water
Ready to paint the letters
Ready to paint the letters. The color is actually a very close match of the original, based on the unfaded bottom edge.
Done
Done
Close up
Close up of the first part.
Unweathered shingles where the sign is usually.
Something’s missing
Shenandoah back where it belongs
Shenandoah back where it belongs. Tom O’Hara photograph

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