CADC Students and Faculty Create Signage for Graham Farm and Nature Center

Over the past two years, Assistant Professor Rob Holmes and Associate Professor Robert Finkel of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) have been working with Graham Farm and Nature Center (GFNC) in Jackson County, Alabama, to develop interpretive signage. Holmes, who teaches in the college’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, and Finkel, of the graphic design program, were awarded a CADC Seed Grant to complete the project, titled “A Self-Guided Tour of the Graham Farm.” Finkel’s students created interpretive trail signage based on research completed by students from Holmes’ Alabama Lab design studio. Graham Farm, a family homestead recently donated to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), is currently being developed to educate adults and youth on natural resource conservation, animal science, ecology and historical preservation.

Holmes’ Alabama Lab students visited the farm several times to conduct their fieldwork. They interviewed the staff, studied the landscape and created plans to develop GFNC’s infrastructure. Donna Sands, an Extension staff member at GFNC, said that the students’ presentations exceeded her expectations. “One student literally brought me to tears,” she said of the students’ research. “I proudly show it to others and often unroll it for renewed inspiration on particularly hard days at work. We will bring those visions to life.” After the semester concluded, Holmes worked with one of the students, Natalia Almonacid, to prepare a report synthesizing the students’ design visions for the farm.

Once the MLA students’ work was complete, Finkel asked his Environmental/Graphic Design class to use the research in designing interpretive trail signage that tells the story of Graham Farm, emphasizing cultural and historical preservation. The farm consists of 491 acres which include a main house, exterior agricultural buildings and nature trails overlooking natural features like sinkholes, waterways and a wide variety of wildlife and plants. After a class visit to the property and many weeks of interviews and presentations, a design was chosen. The signs were produced by Southern Custom Exhibits in Anniston, Alabama, and both Holmes and Finkel assisted Graham Farm staff in their placement. “GFNC has faced many delays in other necessary projects,” said Sands. “However thanks to Robert’s persistence and dedication, Phase I is complete!” Finkel hopes to have a future class design signage for Phase II, which includes the interior exhibits on the property.

Both ACES and CADC faculty and students benefitted from this unique partnership. Themika Sims, County Extension Coordinator at GFNC, said, “We are excited about the relationship that we have developed with Rob Holmes and Robert Finkel. Words cannot my appreciation for the both of them. The Graham Farm is in a better place due to their time and efforts.”

Finkel and Holmes presented their initial work on Graham Farm at the Auburn Faculty Research Symposium in January 2021.

Related people:
Robert Finkel, Rob Holmes