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Quail Run Signs of Hamilton provides the best welcome around

John Ralph, owner of Quail Run Signs in Hamilton, looks over an yet-to-be-complete project. Times-Mirror Photo/Rick Wasser
There's a lake community up in Wisconsin, an affluent little town whose residents purchase hand-crafted wood signs that welcome people to their property. The signs are an elegant yet authoritative proclamation of whose land you're on – welcome to my domain, they announce.

John Ralph and his team at Quail Run Signs make these adornments, and once someone sees one, they need one – or, at least, they would really like one.

“With a tiny bit of ego, when you have really good-looking signs, it makes your neighbors want better-looking signs,” Ralph, telling the story of the Wisconsin community, said at his Colonial Highway shop in Hamilton. “By the end of summer, all of their neighbors in this little lake community had a sign from us.”

Ralph and his five-person team are the sculptors of some of the most recognizable business and personal signage in Loudoun County. Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. Creighton Farms. Ayrshire Farm. 1757 golf course. Corcoran vineyards and cidery. The Broadlands and Ashbriar communities. Even sister Virginia News Group publication, the Fauquier Times, indulged in the winsome artwork for its welcoming.

But it was Quail Run's contribution to historic Middleburg – the playful, oh-so-cute business signs that line Washington Street – that landed Ralph, company founder Patty Callahan and the town top billing in this year's Signatures of Loudoun Design Awards. The “Signs of Middleburg” were honored in the Details and Student's Choice categories.

Alan Hansen, chairman of the Loudoun County Design Cabinet, commented on the honor: “The attention to detail that the business community pays to signage makes Middleburg a truly unique place.”

“The Design Cabinet thinks of these signs as whimsical details adding personality, branding and visual delight to the community,” Hansen said. “The detailing is exceptional. These are made by true craftsmen, whose knowledge of design, text placement, color and textures are the building blocks of works of art. Their effect on the streetscape is significant. Collectively, nothing speaks of Middleburg more than these signs.”

The expressive, top-tier signs crafted by Quail Run and other local sign-makers set a level of expectation for the historic town, which boasts more than 150 buildings in the National and Virginia Historic Registers.

Just several of the hundreds of signs Quail Run Signs in Hamilton has produced.

For Ralph, the most elementary of business philosophies has brought success: Take pride in your work.

“We don't do anything junky,” he said. “We've made ugly things because sometimes people want things that are ugly. But we stock the best materials, the best paints, the best everything. Partially because this market will bear the price of that, but also because, you know, we don't want to make junk. We like what we make.”

A Loudoun native and former sculpture minor, Ralph partnered with Callahan more than a decade ago and eventually took over the company when Callahan stepped away.

Walking through his shop, renovated from an old fire station, Ralph said Loudoun County and its “Old Virginia” charm are a spot-on market for his carefully-crafted, high-dollar product. He understands that, for local business owners, the sign outside is the first representation of the business's product, service or both.

“It is art and it's science and it's craftsmanship,” he said. “It has all of those tied together. I enjoy making things.

“You're doing art, but it's consigned art. It has a purpose.”

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