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A Paintin’ Safari

The Letterheads add color to the Cincinnati Zoo.



Twelve years ago, ST first hosted the Letterhead movement's International meet at the Cincinnati Zoo. In June, we returned to present Safari at the Zoo 2, which celebrated the fellowship, spirit and education integral to this loose affiliation of signmakers who revere the craft's traditional techniques.

Approximately 180 sign-industry professionals and their families attended the meet, which included an enjoyable mix of longtime Letterheads such as Bill Riedel, who's been crafting signs for more than a half-century (see ST, February 2004, page 60); Kent Smith, owner of Greeley, CO's third-generation Smith Sign Studio; and newcomers such as Sheila Davis — who recently opened Newport, KY's Davis Signs — all of whom eagerly absorbed the opportunity to perfect new design and fabrication skills.

The zoo's family-friendly environment encouraged attendees to bring their children, many of whom enjoyed the chance to learn handlettering and design techniques.

Everywhere one turned during the Safari, the spirit of teaching and sharing was in full force. Whether it was John Jordan, an Australian signmaker and Letterhead fixture with six decades of experience, offering an in-depth analysis of proper glass-gilding materials and techniques; Abracadabra Signs (Ayr, Ontario, Canada) owner Steve Greer's lively presentation of cartooning tips; or Francis Lestingi, the owner of Williamsville, NY's Signs of Gold, offering hands-on instruction in casting architectural-sign appliqués, myriad opportunities addressed new skills or techniques to grow a shop's repertoire.


Creativity also abounded in the zoo parking lot, where pinstripers Tramp Warner, Dewayne Connot, Bill Riedel and Brian Briskie showed their expertise under the big top. Several intrepid car owners, including David Horne, who works in ST Media Group Intl.'s marketing department, left their rides to this veteran quartet's imaginations.

Telling the meet's complete story through prose would require reams of paper, so ST's staff submits these photos to underscore Safari at the Zoo 2's camaraderie and energy.


A Scottish Tickle

Nearly 120 Letterheads converged on Stewart and Avril McLaren's Callender, Scotland-based shop May 11-13 for the Tickle in the Trossachs meet for a weekend of education, mural painting and panel decoration (Stewart noted that nearly half of the attendees hailed from outside the United Kingdom). Henry Barker, a British expatriate who now operates Täby, Sweden-based Signcraft, said he drew inspiration from John Studden, Noel Weber and others who demonstrated the finer points of glass gilding using screenprinted panels that the McLarens provided for the meet.

"I have experience with gilding sandblasted and routed signs, but I'd never really used goldleaf on glass," Barker said. "But, after learning more about the process, I'm eager to perfect my skills and take on more such jobs at my shop."

Others who offered their expertise to fellow Letterheads included David Kynaston, who demonstrated script design; Alan Brindle, who showed how to properly paint over metal leaf; and Tramp Warner, who provided an impromptu lesson about proper pinstriping.


Jill Welsh, owner of Jill's Custom Signs (Butler, PA), said numerous attendees helped carve murals with Sign•Foam® high-density urethane that were donated to the local school that furnished its gym for the panel-jam area. Several signpainters also painted murals on a somewhat unusual surface — the longboats that frequently navigate Scottish waterways.

"The level of detail the painters created using just 1Shot® and standard brushes was simply amazing," she said.

As with all other Letterhead meets, extracurricular activities helped fuel the Tickle's excitement. A bagpipe ensemble regaled the crowd with sounds of traditional Scotland; boat rides on Lake Kitrane provided ample opportunities to enjoy its natural beauty, and a trip to the William Wallace memorial — a landmark in nearby Stirling that pays homage to Scotland's revered warrior and leader who led the rebellion that, after his death, ultimately wrested Scotland from English rule in the 14th Century — helped provide a sense of place.

Stewart enjoyed the spirit that embodies virtually all Letterhead gatherings.

"There were a few people who thought they were above a registration fee, and those who thought they should get a discount because their granny has a wee, cute dog," he said. "But, most were just there to learn and have a good time, which is what makes this such a marvelous group.

ST and Letterheads: A Toast to a Beautiful Friendship

The following is a transcript of Kent Smith's toast to ST's 100th anniversary and the magazine's role in helping foster the Letterhead movement.

"The Letterheads are a rag-tag bunch of like-minded individuals who remain a non-organization, without a leader, but with an underlying purpose. I believe that, since I've been outspoken in the past and often a quasi-spokesman for the group, I have been designated anonymously to lead a toast to Signs of the Times magazine in celebration of its 100th Anniversary from the International Letterheads and all of the followers of the movement.

When I began to think about what it means to be 100 years old, a few thoughts came to mind. Very few people live to be 100, and even fewer companies do so. We, of all people, know this fact all too well. We make the construction-site signs, the "Coming Soon and "Grand Opening" signs, and the "Get Acquainted" and "Going Out of Business Sale" signs.

The ancient Romans were the first to recognize the unequaled value of the number 100 — they had no less than 15 derivatives of the root word, centum. Century, of course, we all know, but there's also centuria, which means company; centumuiri, a panel of wise men or judges; centrum, or the center of all things, or centurion, a leader or captain.

Apply these words to ST: they have a hundred years of tradition and experience; they've had hundreds of staff members over the years; hundreds of contributors; hundreds of advertisers; hundreds of loyal readers; and most important to us, Tod [Swormstedt, executive director of the American Sign Museum], who, through the magazine, is responsible for helping the Letterheads grow from the Original Seven to many hundreds worldwide.

Raise your glasses! Here's to hundreds more, and at least another 100 years. Media parens centrum [Smith said this essentially means "the medium that gave birth to all others"]. Cheers!"

Upcoming Letterhead Meets

Brush Bash 2

August 4-6

Chippewa Falls, WI

Gaber Signs

(715) 723-3437

New Zealand Letterhead Meet

October 6-8

Napier, New Zealand

Wilson Signs

Dixie Letterheads 2006

October 13-15

Suwanee, GA

Sign Creations

(770) 923-9933



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