In early 2003, Beverly DeMotte, art teacher at UHS, received an invitation from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to participate in Dino-Mite Days, a fund raiser for the renovation of Dinosaur Hall and project modeled after the hugely successful “Cow Parades” in Chicago and New York. In 1899, Andrew Carnegie ignited the world of research in paleontology with the discovery of a new species of dinosaur named Diplodocus carnegii in honor of its sponsor. After one hundred years as most popular museum site, Dinosaur Hall required a massive renovation and so Dino-Mite Days ensued.
Understanding the limited funding for school art departments, a competition was devised for three divisions (elementary, middle school, and high school) in which the winner of each would receive a free dinosaur and voucher for expenses to replicate the winning design plan. What started as a homework sketch assignment for all art students in January of 2003, culminated in a “think tank” approach to improving and refining the ideas. The students eventually narrowed the field by voting for the best ten final designs based on artistic criteria, with the final judgment determined by a field of teachers and administrators. The Uniontown High School Sign-O-Saurus entry won in a competition field of 33 Pittsburgh area high schools. The honors had just begun.
Sign-O-Saurus, a humorous “motorist warning” to the complexity of the Pittsburgh roadscape, had humble beginnings in early spring when the large, fragile Torosaurus (sometimes mistakenly referred to as a Triceratops) arrived in the back of a pick up truck. Mounted on a wheel-based frame, the approximately one-third sized replica would not fit in through the art room door so it found its second home on a tarp between the old art and home economics rooms. Not one incident of vandalism occurred as the project was universally acknowledged as “something special going on” in UHS. All students enrolled in art that semester helped to chalk-draw and quick-dry-oil-enamel-paint it, faithfully following the prize-winning design. In fact if you look behind the frill (the large collar behind the face) the names on each of the street signs represent a student who artistically contributed to the project.
When completed, Sign-O-Saurus was displayed throughout the summer of 2003 at Dominion Plaza in Pittsburgh along with the 99 other dinosaurs in various locations, all the while the silent Auction fundraiser took place via the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. At the conclusion of the auction in the fall of 2003, Sign-O-Saurus was honored as the only Dino-Mite Days finalist to find a home in the museum at the end of Dinosaur Hall as a part of the Childrens Tour for two years. Further raising its fund raising potential, the honor continued as the popularity of Sign-O-Saurus designated it as one of the few dinosaurs chosen to sport its image on mugs, magnets and t-shirts for sale in all Carnegie Museum stores throughout Pittsburgh.
Sign-O-Saurus did not have an illustrious existence for the next five years when the anonymous silent auction buyer donated it to the City of Uniontown. Not knowing where to display it, the dinosaur was stashed in a closed store and then in the basement of a parking garage. In 2010 the City of Uniontown donated it to Uniontown High School. In the last last days of school in 2010, the five Uniontown Area School District art teachers, Beverly DeMotte, Rebecca Gartley, Angela Capuzzi, Kris Dowling and Aimee Vacanti, undertook the restoration of Sign-O-Saurus, as it had sadly deteriorated in poor storage conditions. The art teachers carefully bubble-wrapped the re-finished dinosaur and it was properly stored until it was returned to its rightful home in the new art room for a few months. Meanwhile, current art teacher Rebecca Gartley’s art students affectionately nicknamed the dino “Deloris” and now Sign-O-Saurus is in its final display at the entrance of the newly renovated UHS in 2012.
Sign-O-Saurus celebrates its 10th birthday in 2013. While it had a curious existence of ups and downs in its tender years, Sign-O-Saurus deserves to be enjoyed and respected as a valuable work of art that honors the creative spirit of the UHS art department, past, present and future.