Pictured: The founding Letterheads, Denver, June 1985, courtesy of Mark Oatis. From left: Bob Mitchell, Mark Oatis, John Frazier, Mike Rielley, Noel Weber, Earl Vehill, Rick Flores. (But does anyone know the name of the woman far right? Please email.)
In 1975 a small group of sign painting apprentices in Denver, Colorado, got together to talk about lettering, signs, and the techniques used to design and produce them. Their approach to sharing knowledge and experience quickly spread among others practising the craft, and led to similar ‘meets’ elsewhere. These were originally based in the USA, but eventually spread around the world to Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
These founding Letterheads started a movement that continues to this day, grounded in an ethos that promotes teaching, learning and the passing of skills from one generation to the next. This underlying philosophy is summarised in the following extract from The Beginnings of a Movement by Mark Oatis (founding Letterhead) which was published in Signs of the Times in 1985.
My feeling is that our movement will continue to grow and move forward provided the following happens:
That all concerned remember that this “club” was started by apprentices, and that the enthusiasm and contributions of new, often less experienced members are its life blood.
That the key word to remember at a meeting is participation. Bring something to show, trade or demonstrate… or at least, bring your kit and be prepared to get your hands “dirty”. It’s impossible to learn anything from a chair positioned over in the corner.
Leave your ego at the door. Our clients should believe that we’re “the best,” but we know better. People who waste time trying to convince others of their genius stop growing.
Finally, it’s important that a formal organization – with officers, dues etc. – is never made of the Letterheads. As long as things remain somewhat spontaneous, dependent on individual effort and participation, things will remain fun. Give it a president and collect dues, and it becomes an establishment to rebel against… and sign artists are a typically rebellious lot, anyway.
– Mark Oatis, founding Letterhead, Signs of the Times, May 1985
Our Letterheads: Big in Japan meet continued this tradition, run entirely by volunteers on a not-for-profit basis for the benefit of novices and experienced hands alike.