It celebrates the legacy of a late, beloved artist and the growing respect for a skilled woodworker who now calls the village home. It even pays tribute to the very history of Collinsville.
For many, the sign over its front door does so much more than indicate you’ve arrived at the .
Recently Collinsville-based company, Lawrence P. Stewart Custom Interiors, rebuilt the restaurant’s sign, originally the handiwork of the late Garth Francis, who crafted it for the restaurant opening in 2005.
“I think that’s iconic as anything in Collinsville,” Stewart said.
Of course, the sign and the restaurant’s name pay homage to the symbol of the Collins Company, the factory the village was created around beginning in the 1820s.
Rebuilding the sign was actually quite the task.
First Stewart had to deal with was some misunderstanding when the restaurant temporarily hung a brightly colored banner in its place.
Chef and owner Jonathan White described it as the "ugliest thing he had ever seen” and he and Stewart heard plenty about it.
“People became emotional,” Stewart said. “Everyone was so worried we were going to change the integrity of the sign.”
The plan, however, was to keep as much of the original as possible and when that wasn't possible, closely replicate the work of Francis, who died in 2009.
“Garth was clearly an artist,” Stewart said. “The components are beautiful.”
Stewart, with the help of his business partner Jerry Mullin, assistant Zachary Goldberg and daughter Hannah, spent some 30 hours over the course of a week replicating Francis’ work.
The wood on the sign is all new but many original parts including the lettering, hammerhead and copper were reused. Stewart was able to incorporate his shipbuilding background to seal the wood from the elements.
Stewart used an angle grinder to shine the copper and for the wood background created a pattern from the original so the threaded rods on the letters would fall into the correct place.
Francis, in turn, put many, many hours into the original.
For example, creating the arm holding the hammer handle was a task in itself.
Jules Poirier of Avon was good friends with Francis and connected the artist with framer John Busha, who had the kind of build Francis was looking for.
Francis and fellow artist Chip Heuer built a mold so they could use plaster to create a likeness of Busha’s arm.
It took a little patience as the plaster didn't work correctly the first time. And once he had the mold, Francis had to flatten the back for the sign and in the final product add fiberglass and resin to protect it from the elements.
“It was quite a process,” Heuer said .
But like anything else, the artist wanted to make sure it was right, often on his own terms. As he friends put it, he operated on “Garth time.”
“He would not do anything unless it was 100 or 110 percent done properly,” Poirier said.
For Susan Tancredi, one of the owners who took over the Crown in 2011, the rebuilt sign also came out just right.
“We were really happy to work with such a talented local craftsman to refurbish our classic sign,” she said.
Poirier also feels it came out great.
"It looks perfect," he said. "It's almost identical."
Francis was a welder, art-assistant to John Chamberlin, conservator, handyman and more. He moved to Connecticut in 1999 and soon landed in Collinsville. He worked on many buildings in town but the Crown was much more than a job, Francis’ sister Chris Whitten said.
“I think it was a labor of love to help John (Rainey) make it happen,” Whitten said. “He really wanted to see that become something.”
Stewart does not generally work on signs but ran into restaurant partner Jim Tancredi, who asked him if he wanted the work.
“At the end of the day I was honored to work on the sign,” Stewart said.
For Whitten, the sign and many other details Garth worked on at the Crown have special meaning.
“Personally when I go there the whole place is filled with him,” Whitten said.