Arts & Culture

Domino Effect

The iconic Domino Sugars sign as seen by area artists.
Brian Vogt Domino Sugars Oil Painting
During his years in Baltimore, this once-landlocked Colorado native was inspired by the reflection of the Domino Sugars sign in the Inner Harbor. “At night, the bright brilliant colors from the sign and the atmospheric lights from the old factory building would reflect onto the water’s surface,” he says from Los Angeles, where he now lives. “In the same way as a beautiful sunset.” - BRIAN VOGT / OIL PAINTING

You know her, standing there, at the edge of the rippling water, against the smoke and the city lights. She walks you to work in the morning. She guides you home at night. From the distance, she seems small, tangible, pocket-size even. But in reality, all two words, 12 letters, 650 neon tubes, and 8,400 square feet of her is larger than the infield at Camden Yards.

Since 1951, the Domino Sugars sign has been a beacon of Baltimore, an iconic symbol as synonymous with Charm City as the Oriole Bird, the Old Bay can, or the winking Mr. Boh. The skyline perpetually changes—new buildings go up, old buildings come down—but beside the docks, beneath the smokestacks, there she always is: a constant in the sky.

After 65 years, it’s easy to assume she’s always been there, but the factory came first, built by New York City sugar barons in the early 1920s. In the age of Baltimore industry, it sat between the Platt & Co. cannery (now the Baltimore Museum of Industry) and Procter & Gamble (now Under Armour), turning raw cane sugar into fine refined crystals to be shipped across the country. The sign came later, an afterthought, a cherry on top of the cake.

With Baltimore’s industrial heyday now long gone, many look at the factory, with its sooty brick walls and foggy glass windows, as a derelict remnant of the past. But to this day, 1.5 billion pounds of sugar are still made annually on-site, and each night, the fading sign is as alive as ever when she turns on her neon lights.

Like all icons, she is constantly evolving, a canvas on which to blend the meaning of the moment into the context of the past. Even in the small scope of our own lives, she contains so many memories: a breakup, a proposal, a summer run at sunrise, a comforting glow on a cold winter’s night.

Through all those tiny moments, Domino Sugars is yours, and mine, and Baltimore’s. She only gets better with age.

In 2008, Baltimore contributing photographer Christopher Myers decided to wander the South Baltimore streets after a Locust Point photo shoot. “I found myself behind the factory,” he says. “I had never seen the sign from behind before. I was drawn by seeing something so iconic from a completely new perspective.”   - CHRISTOPHER MYERS / PHOTOGRAPH
Domino Juliet Ames
The Broken Plate Pendant Co. founder Juliet Ames has a vivid memory of seeing this bright sign illuminated while watching the fireworks on Fourth of July. “I love the contrast of the red light on a dark blue sky at dusk and thought it would translate well into stained glass,” she says. “The building itself is made of recycled china, a whimsical vintage pattern called Swiss Chalet to represent its American history and Baltimore’s charming personality.” - JULIET AMES / BROKEN CHINA COLLAGE
Charlie Barton Domino Screen Print
Baltimore screen-print artist Charlie Barton wasn’t inspired by Domino’s glow on a sunny summer night. Instead, it “came to me as I was driving home from work on a cloudy day,” he says. “The building against the gray sky caught my eye and I returned the following morning to take the picture that was used to make the print.” - CHARLIE BARTON / SCREEN PRINT
August 2016 Domino Sugar Needle Work2
MICA grad Danamarie Hosler created her cross-stitch with a play on words from the old adage, “Home Sweet Home.” “It’s a play on sugar and what this sign represents,” she says. “On return trips from being out of town, the Domino Sugars sign on the horizon is the cue for my son to start cheering, ‘We’re home!’” - DANAMARIE HOSLER / CROSS-STITCH
Kevin Bmoore
Local photographer Kevin B. Moore took this portrait from his favorite vantage point, the Baltimore Museum of Industry. “There are some great foreground elements like tugboats and decaying piers and pilings,” he says. “I love the way the golden-hour light hits the letters just before the neon lights come on.” In post-processing, he superimposed a “gritty canvas texture” to the original image. “As a nod to Baltimore’s industrial past,” he says. “We’re still a gritty city at heart, which is one of the reasons I love Baltimore.” - KEVIN B. MOORE / PHOTOGRAPH
Domino Papercut
Local artist Annie Howe uses Baltimore as a constant source of inspiration for her legendary papercuts. Be it the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower or a tiny arabber cart, she meticulously cuts away tiny pieces until these iconic landmarks and design elements are revealed. “I started adding the Domino Sugars sign to my pieces a few years back,” she says. “It always draws a smile from locals and tourists alike.” - ANNIE HOWE / PAPERCUT
Domino Screen
Ever since she was a child, Baltimore native Anna Pasqualucci has loved the city’s folk art tradition of window-screen painting. “It is as unique to our city as steamed crabs, Natty Boh, and the Domino light shining over the harbor,” she says. “People have commissioned me to paint this beloved landmark on their own house window screens and as outdoor art. You can’t get more Baltimore than that.” - ANNA PASQUALUCCI / SCREEN PAINTING
Monica Amneus
A native of suburban Phoenix, Ariz., Monica Amneus fell in love with Baltimore while attending the Maryland Institute College of Art. “It had this industrial quality to it that was so foreign yet so intoxicating to me,” she says of the city. “I love the old buildings, the ships in the harbor, and the history of the companies like Domino that made Baltimore their home.” - MONICA AMNEUS / ILLUSTRATION
Jct Domino Sugar 081
Baltimore contributing photographer Justin Tsucalas captured this shot at the edge of Living Classrooms. “I noticed the awesome orange glow of the sign reflecting on the water, and while it was just past dusk, there was still some soft ambient light in the sky to bring out the blue tones of the water,” he says. “The sailboat was just one of those lucky extras. I never even noticed the men working on it until today.” - JUSTIN TSUCALAS / PHOTOGRAPH
Domino Stationary
The Domino Sugars sign has a special place in Kari Miller’s heart. “On the first date with my now husband, we spent hours at the edge of the water, talking and taking in the Domino Sugars sign,” she says. “I used to joke that I ‘owned’ the sign, since I spent so much time looking over the harbor at it during my first several years in Baltimore.” - KARI MILLER / LETTERPRESS
Domino Lauren Preller
Known for her captivating takes on Baltimore icons like Cross Street Market, Cafe Hon, and Roland Park, this local mixed media artist is no newbie to the Domino Sugars sign. “The original photograph came from a client who two pieces of art for her new home,” Preller says. “She had recently gone through a difficult divorce, but the landmark always made her feel like home. It was especially significant because, when she ended her marriage, she went down to the waterfront overlooking Domino and threw both rings into the water. It was a symbolic moment of ending and starting a new life.” - LAUREN PRELLER / SCREEN PRINT
Catherine Dolch
This illustration first started as a wedding gift for Catherine Dolch’s close friends who were married in Federal Hill, “but it evolved into something more a long the lines of street art, so I gave them a difference piece,” she says. “It is a mix of watercolor, pen and ink, and Copic marker, and I chose the darker color scheme to allow purple and black to be a little nod to the football team.” - CATHERINE DOLCH / ILLUSTRATION
Gary Godbey Hey Sugar3
As a Kentucky transplant, Gary Godbey has lived in Baltimore for 10 years. “The Domino Sugars sign resonates with the Baltimore community as a symbol of longstanding tradition, having survived the test of time,” he says. “Even in periods of turmoil in the city, the sign has been a reminder of strength and longevity.” To him, it embodies its location below the Mason-Dixon line and the approachable feel of Charm City. “‘Sugar’ was a word I heard often growing up, and Baltimore has more similarities to the south than one might think. There’s an overwhelming sense of community.” - GARY GODBEY, PHOTOGRAPH AND SET TYPE