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    In Memoriam: Charles Barnard

    Charles Barnard, a masterful Stockton sign artist whose scintillating and spectacular creations helped turn Las Vegas into a supremely dazzling destination, died Monday, October 23, 2017. He was 89.


    Barnard, who worked for the Stockton firm Ad Art for 36 years, 23 years as executive art director, passed away peacefully at home.

    “We believe he was one of the great sign designers,” Cynthia Behr Warso of the Neon Museum of Las Vegas said. “Not just of his era. We think his work stands the test of time.”

    Charles F. “Chuck” Barnard was born in Glendale in 1928. He attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. After serving in the U.S Army from 1948-51, working in Southern California, and marrying, Barnard moved to Stockton in 1957 to work for Scott Bros. advertising. In 1965 he joined the design staff at Ad Art, Inc.

    Ad Art then was an upstart advertising company breaking into the intense competition to create ever-larger and more brilliant signs for Las Vegas hotels and casinos. The signs, lightwork and architecture that they designed and fabricated were phenomenal. Barnard designed the concept for Vegas’ 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower; the New Orleans Superdome’s 200-foot mega-sign; and the Reno Arch.

    Barnard’s scintillating and sophisticated port cochere for The Aladdin.

    In the 1990s, Barnard cut back on his hours and stepped down as art director to author the Bible of Vegas neon, “The Magic Sign.” The book captures the excitement of the feverish competition, incendiary creativity and round-the-clock work that went into designing and fabricating Vegas signs. In the text, Barnard displays his modesty, celebrating rival designers and sometimes mentioning his work last.

    Barnard’s friend, Steve Wynn, thought that typical. In the forward to “The Magic Sign,” the casino magnate behind resorts such as The Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio, wrote in 1993:

    “His work in Las Vegas and elsewhere powerfully establishes his credentials as … the most recognized and creative man in this singular profession today.”

    Barnard fathered four children. The youngest, Kim Barnard, called his father “a great dad, a wonderful human being and a person I’ve been aspiring to be as good as all my life.” “He really did set a milestone,” Kim Barnard said. “And he did it naturally. He didn’t try. He did everything with a level of perfection, and humility.”

    Barnard retired in 2001. At the 2005 Centennial of Las Vegas, city officials presented him The Fabulous Neon Award “for illuminating Las Vegas to the World.”

    In retirement, Barnard traveled and painted. He was working on an updated edition of “The Magic Sign” when he took ill.

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