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Original Letterhead Mike Rielley (1944-2014)

A fellow original Letterhead discusses Mike and the early days




Early Denver Influences, ca. 1970-1975

Mike worked at Brisson Sign Co., which was generally regarded as the region’s premier union shop. The lead journeyman, Joe Ferry, was also a great inspiration to me. Another key contributor to Mike’s workplace learning at Brisson was Curt Jones. Mike was very skilled at automotive and truck painting as well as signpainting.

Apprentice School
Our first "meister" in the union program (Sign and Pictorial Painter’s Local Union #1045) was Josef Lerch. Joe, a native Germany, came to the U.S. in the 50’s. An ace signpainter, he schooled us on perfect letterforms and layout, as well as old-world, professional discipline and pride of craft.

The classes were held at Jerry Albright Lettering. Jerry, who also taught some the classes, was perhaps the most respected (and by we, budding Letterheads, beloved) of local Denver sign artists. His work was ultra-creative; he was an expert in all media (great pictorials, perfect showcards, exquisite gold on glass work), and he was the embodiment of a mentor; relaxed, patient and encouraging. Mike and I both spent a lot of time learning from Jerry.

Letterhead era, 1975 and on


Mike and I both graduated as journeymen at around the same time. Weekly gatherings at Rick Flores’ Rustic Sign Studio were in full swing. Rick sandblasted wood signs — a technique he’d learned from Gary Volkmann, who had learned it from Walter Methner, the SoCal originator of the style. We all jumped on board: Mike began making sandblasted signs, too.

I left my bulletin-lettering job at Eller Outdoor in late 1975 to become the "commercial" lettering department of Rustic Sign Studio. Mike moved into the Eller position (Eller later became Gannett Outdoor) and, except for a Texas hiatus in the early 80’s, remained there until about 1994. He worked at Elitch Gardens Amusement park sign shop for the remainder of nis career.

The Mike I knew

Mike conveyed pure enthusiasm (amazement, even) for graphic projects fine art, and living. From the time I first met him (1970 until our last meeting (May 2014), he related events with a certain gusto: a thrill of mysteries being solved. He could make the story of an afternoon painting a sign on a swing stage sound like a detective thriller. It was infectious. During virtually every conversation, he related some human anecdote: and always with plenty of robust laughter.

He was excited to learn the 40th annual meeting was being planned (for September 2015), and he swore he’d make it if he could.

He also told me that he was proud of me. It was an unexpected thing to hear from a professional peer; it touched me deeply. We took some time to say a few things that mattered, apart from all the sign stuff. I am grateful that we did.




Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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