Last week I took my first trip to the USA to attend my inaugural ‘Letterheads Meet’. Hosted by Mike Meyer, this was billed as ‘Mazeppa Mardi Gras‘ and took place in Mike’s home of Mazeppa, Minnesota. Awesome is a word I heard a lot in the states to describe things that were quite good. The seven days I spent with Mike and the international letterheads that traveled the world to be there was awesome in the true sense of the word. I was overwhelmed with the skill, passion, creativity and sharing spirit that was found everywhere in abundance. This little photo essay attempts to capture some of the week.
There was no trouble finding Mike at Minnesota airport. Wear the fox hat!
On the drive to Mickey’s Diner for my first burger and fries, Mike took me to see this wall piece which features in the Sign Painter Movie.
This illuminated sign greeted our entry to Mazeppa.
The broad format of a Letterheads Meet involves working on a variety of projects. Some of these are self-initiated, some come from the local community and some emerge across the event. Here are Scott Lindley (a.k.a. Cornbread) and Mike Meyer using a projector to layout a wall piece for Grain Belt beer on the night before the official start of the meet.
The red goes down.
Emma Brudos gets involved in creating the black outline.
The finished piece with some other miscellaneous signage from Mike’s workshop framing it.
Across the five days I was general event support which broadly involved working the reception desk and being a bit of a fixer when random things needed to be done. The fun factor increased when George Brudos turned up from New Mexico with a load of Mardi Gras fancy dress. I became known as ‘Sam I Am’ and the hat is now at home with me.
Cheryl McLean from Sydney also got into the Mardi Gras spirit with a pink wig and flashing glasses.
Sadly not everyone who wanted to be there could make it. Noel Weber, one of the original Letterheads from the 1970s, sent a box of stuff for us to enjoy, including this stunning layout.
For those that did make it there was a seemingly endless supply of refreshing drinks, neatly kept cool in the snow.
The major purpose of the meets are to share and learn. Even complete beginners like me can have a go and get tips and coaching from the masters of the craft. Here I am trying to work my vertical stroke. [Confession: The script lettering above and to the right of where I’m working isn’t mine.]
This resource is painted on one of the big walls in Mike’s workshop and is a great visual guide for constructing basic Gothic letters in paint.
This is how the board ended up, some of it is mine but you can also see evidence of others who have come along to show me how to do things.
Even in temperatures of -23C (-10F) we still got outside for some of the work. Here are Ashley Bishop and Mike Meyer working on sandblasting a piece of glasswork before getting it back inside for glue chipping, gilding and painting.
Ashley Bishop working on the same glass piece. This will eventually hang in a bar in nearby Zumba Falls.
After all the lettering there was a variety of entertainment to indulge in. Here I am losing at Bingo.
The Bingo was held at Leo’s Sports Bar which is easy to find because of this sign.
This is the start of another big Grain Belt project. Stewart McLaren and Scott Telfer are working it a bit harder than Ashley Bishop.
The piece is based on this picture found in a 1955 issue of Signs of the Times magazine. It is a great find for a letterheads project as it features both beer and sign painters, two essential ingredients for any meet.
In the same issue I found this interesting advertisement.
Here’s Dave Correll at work on the piece.
Here it is, just awaiting the addition of the rope on the right side. Fantastic work!
The learning at the meet wasn’t just restricted to novices like me. Every day we had two groups come in from the local schools as part of their art class. The first group at 8.30am sometime got a slightly hungover bunch of signwriters to talk to but they were all clearly inspired by their visits. The picture above shows them listening to Mike Meyer while watching Scott Telfer at work.
A few of the children requested painted pieces which Mark Josling took on as an impromptu brief.
The art teacher from the school was very grateful for all the visits and baked this cake for all the letterheads. In light of the icing Stewart McLaren made her a fellow letterhead on the spot.
On Saturday one of the children came back with her dad to collect her piece. She seems quite happy with it and deserves a commendation for the copy she submitted.
Mike cuts the cake in recognition of his work bringing the local community into the thick of the meet. It [the cake] didn’t last long after this.
Here’s me and Kurt Gaber priming one of the bigger jobs, this merry-go-round for a local motor company. It then sat there primed and ready for lettering for three days. As the man responsible for monitoring the completion of jobs I got a bit anxious about the lack of progress on this one. But then Manfred and Marcus from Germany turned up.
First they finished off this mural at the entrance to the workshop.
Then they moved onto the merry-go-round which was completed on the final day by Andrew Henry from Geogia.
This was my first letterheads meet but many of those there had attended dozens before. There were lots of meetings of old friends. Here’s Michael Clark and Mike Meyer sharing a moment.
Stuart, Cornbread and Mike.
This is Bill Hueg at work on a huge 7-Up bottle. Bill started out as a billboard painter in the 1970s and is a true master of the craft. He was very generous with his advice and sharing of knowledge, both talking to one of the school groups and facilitating a seminar based on his work on this piece.
Here’s the finished bottle. This fetched the highest price in an auction of work at the end of the meet. The auction itself was hosted by Todd…
Bill showed his versatility when this small piece came in to be painted on a saw.
Norman was chuffed when he came in to collect this finished saw.
An unplanned leisure activity to attendees was going for a snowmobile ride. I had to have a go so jumped on the back. I asked if I’d need to hold on and the driver said ‘Oh yeah!’. It was truly exhilarating, hitting 110mph and doing a few jumps on the 3-minute circuit.
Just after the group photo (see end of this essay) a few of us took to opportunity to have a portrait with the host, Mike Meyer, in front of his vintage truck.
I stayed a day after everyone else had left. By that point the snow had thawed enough to get a go at the wheel. Mike kindly pointed out that I was topping 50mph in a 30mph-zone so I guess I wasn’t tuned into the American road signs yet.
A number of vehicles got brought in for customisation, including this race car. Ted Turner of Harley-Davidson took the brief and got straight to work.
Slightly bigger was this huge truck which had a team working on it, including Stewart McLaren doing the lettering on the door.
Too good to drive?
Here’s Cornbread working on a Coke piece for the local baseball park fence. He’s a member of the Walldogs who descend on towns to create murals and so is a master of these larger-scale pieces.
It’s not all about painted letters and Cheryl McLean from Sydney hosted a seminar on her specialty of chalkboard lettering. Here she is creating a self-initiated piece that eventually made it into the auction.
I initiated my own project at the meet. This was to create a board with a faux ghostsign on it. Randy Howe from Canada helped me create a mask to lay down the letters after I had done the brick effect.
With the mask down I was wondering how to get the ‘ghosted’ effect onto the letters. Lots of people gave advice and in the end I selected the Stuart McLaren ‘brush and smudge’ technique which worked a treat.
The whole piece was loosely based on this real ghostsign from London.
Next I wanted to create the effect of the mortar lines in the sign itself. Kurt Gaber gave some great tips and out came the masking tape and sandpaper.
Here it is with some paint drying the night before completion.
The next day I roughed it up again with some sandpaper and a scotch pad. It’ll get photographed soon and use it for the Ghostsigns site and maybe some t-shirts.
On the day I flew out, Mike took a few of us on a tour around the area which included this real ghostsign in Wabasha. He had kindly phoned ahead to get the Pepsi machine placed there to add to the effect.
We also went to this place in the neighbouring state of Wisconsin. They serve a mean ice cream but my advice is just to get one scoop.
Thursday night was another round of entertainment, this time the screening of Sign Painters. It was fantastic to be there for this film being shown in Mike’s local movie theatre.
All the family turned out, here’s Mike with his older and younger brothers. Tim Meyer (right) was involved in organising the meet so big thanks to him for helping to make it happen.
The movie theatre (cinema) had these lovely fittings for the restrooms (toilets).
Things got a bit rowdy on the bus journey home. Here’s the English Ash Bishop bear hugging Rod Tickle from Australia with a little help from Scott Telfer from Scotland.
It wasn’t all carnage, here are best of friends Kellie Miller and Stewart McLaren.
By the end of the meet there were all sorts of things happening on reception, including a brush sale. Kurt Gaber created the sign which promised a free puppy for all sales of 10 or more brushes.
Cheryl came good with a bulk order of ten brushes, and Kurt came good with his promise of a puppy, a lettered variety.
One of the big projects that was being worked on throughout the meet was this for local beautician Rhonda. Here is Rick Dolphens at work on the sign. Rhonda’s talents don’t end with beauty treatments, she hosted 30+ complete strangers for dinner on the first night of the meet. The meal was delicious so I hope she thinks the same about her new sign.
This was an impromptu project that developed out of me and Ashley Bishop messing around with the Profanisaurus. It’s the worlds first ‘Profani-Panel’ (or ‘Painted Profanity’).
This was another piece that went up for auction, an airbrushed pop machine created by Rod Tickle across the meet.
It was clearly thirsty work and so a Highland Park Whisky on the luge at the ice bar was called for.
Something I learned a lot about was pinstriping. This commemorative piece by John Parker went up for auction and now I think I should have bid for it as well as the one I got.
Ted Turner (left) and John Parker (right) teamed up to pinstripe my eReader. They presented it to me like this with the screen covered with their work. Nice, but not great for reading on! Being a pair of practical jokers they had covered the screen with a clear mask and painted on that so it was all laughs when that was revealed.
Urban Billmeier came to the meet to talk about gold beating (for gilding) and brought with him these samples of calligraphed documents on calf skin velum. These are torn into strips and used as part of the gold beating process i.e. taking a lot of physical abuse. Realising the age of these, Urban has saved them from further damage. They are all from the UK, some of them older than the USA.
The hangers on took a trip to the National Eagle Centre and got a glimpse of the Mississippi river. Here are Mike Meyer, wife Ayleen, Otto Baum (Germany), Cheryl McLean (Australia) and me posing with the statue of the native American that the town of Wabasha is named after.
If you love lettering then you must book for a letterheads meet near you. Mike is already plotting his next Mardi Gras meet but there are others before that, including one in Rochester, England, in September.
Mike was an amazing host, here we see John Ingles capturing his new innovation, painted ice lettering.
This mural painted at the 1999 Mazeppa meet sums up how I feel about this small town in the Mid-West. Mike’s work and that of everyone who attends his meets makes this a little gold mine of painted lettering, well worth a pilgramage. The meet was even picked up by a number of local press outlets, including the Post Bulletin and KTTC TV.
I can’t wait for the next one. Thank you everyone, it’s been emotional, I.O.A.F.S. Sam