Tigard Library Hosts Unusual Sign Museum

Jack Falk stands next to “The International Museum of No Smoking”, which continues through the end of March at the Tigard Library. Michael Antonelli/Tigard Life
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A new exhibit at the Tigard Library may be the only one like it in the world. The small display, titled “The International Museum of No Smoking Signs,” was curated and loaned to the library by local musician Jack Falk.

Falk said the “museum” is a fun idea that began in a Russian café many years ago. He had just finished a gig and was in the café on his last night in town when he was intrigued by the irony of a no-smoking sign on the wall of the smoke-filled room. Though his Russian cousin advised against it, Falk asked the owner where he could get a sign like that and was surprised at what she did next.

“She pulled a chair against the wall, got the sign down, and just handed it to me,” he said. The sign ended up on Falk’s dining room wall for years but came down when the room was repainted, and gradually, other signs found their way to Falk.

Another sign came from a friend who found a no-smoking sign in Polish in a Chinese restaurant in Warsaw. “Everyone was smoking in the restaurant, and some of the signs are even smoke-stained,” he said.

More signs came his way from friends and relatives. They include a no smoking sign in Maori from New Zealand, a no smoking sign in Yiddish from Tel Aviv from when his son was going to school there, and a friend visiting the Philippines brought back a hand-made wooden no smoking sign in Philipino/Tagalog.

About 20 years ago, when Falk was in a tiny Dutch village with a small bar in a garage, a Dutch sign translated to “smoking and scratching forbidden.” Some signs don’t just say no smoking. One in Italian says, “Danger – don’t throw cigarettes out the window,” and one in Romanian states, “Trees hate cigarettes.”

Falk said the germ of an idea that grew into the “international museum” started many years ago when he and his wife were in New York and got on an elevator with no smoking signs in “many, many languages” on the walls, and “it was really well done – must have stayed in my memory banks,” he said.

The Tigard Library, where Falk is a volunteer, has a policy to allow patrons to display their art or collection, so he applied.

“When I met with the librarian in charge of that, she just started laughing,” he said. “But she provided display material for placard holders, and she even made up little cards with captions on them.”

The International Museum of No Smoking Signs opened on March 4 and will continue through the end of the month.

Falk, 74, says he enjoys his work as a volunteer archivist at the library, and though his globe-trotting days are over, he still performs as a singer and clarinetist with his band, the Carpathian Pacific Express.

“I’ve retired from everything except music and family,” he said.

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