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Letterheads is a group of sign makers and decorative artists dedicated to passing down traditional sign making skills. The Letterheads meet for hand lettering rallies and to exchange lost "tricks of the trade" and accumulated skills.
Originated in Denver, Colorado in 1975 by a group of SEVEN sign shop apprentices and sign artists; Rick Flores, John Frazier, Bob Mitchell, Mark Oatis, Mike Rielly, Earl Vehill, and Noel Weber. The term "Letterheads" was coined by Earl Vehill. All were unified by an interest in sign design principles and techniques which were no longer taught or valued by most of the contemporary classes, or by the shops in which they worked. Many were understudies of the talented and generous Jerry Albright, and all were acquainted with sign artist Larry Albaugh, in whose studio many early meetings were held.
It was Albaugh who commonly invoked the I.O.A.F.S. acronym, which persists among longtime practitioners to this day. The early gatherings were informal, and consisted of a fair amount of partying, centered around discussions of the sign trade. Sharing, exemplified by Jerry Albright, became the strength of the group. Together with this dedication to sharing and participation was an especial focus upon books and resources, particularly sign instruction and lettering manuals dating to the early 1900s.
Throughout the 1970s, meetings were confined to Colorado but membership began to grow. The Eighth, "Official" Letterhead was Keith Knecht of Toledo, who traveled to Denver to be initiated in the first formal ceremony. Other important early members included Mike Author, Joe Tedesco and Jim Schultz.
Hundreds of new members joined during the early 1980s, and the movement took off from there. There was a meeting at Noel's in the summer of 1982 and then Mike Jackson's Oklahoma meet in October of the same year.
Raymond Chapman had a Texas gathering in November, 1983. The composition of the seminal group, as well as the timeline of early meetings, is a matter of record within the sign industry, and can be verified by a review of letters and articles published in Signs of the Times and SignCraft magazines.
The group now has grown worldwide and numbers in the thousands. The Letterheads traditionally gather for one annual "International" meet in the US or Canada, as well as 10 or more smaller regional meets throughout, but not limited to, the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. 2005 marked the first meet held in Greece.
Meets typically last for several days, and consist of attendees participating in lettering, striping, carving, gold leafing (gilding) and often glass art. Besides the incredible amount of talent and skill demonstrated during these events, it is the free exchange of knowledge and camaraderie amongst people of the same trade that makes these weekends remarkable.
Several "walldog" meets have occurred over the years, where the Letterheads have gathered to teach, learn and practice large mural painting. One of these took place in 1997, in Belvidere, Illinois. Over 300 artists from all over the world joined forces to create nine murals in three days. The work was donated by the artists to the town of Belvidere, with all compositions depicting the town's history.
The Letterhead mission is to pass on trade "secrets" and skills through the ages, "keeping their craft alive" for future generations. With the onset of computers and vinyl films for signmaking, the Letterhead mission of passing down the traditional skills is more important today than ever before.
- "The Original Letterheads". letterville.com. Retrieved 2011-01-05.