A Spell With The
By Monte & Pat Jumper
Meets are Letterhead Meets! Whosoever believeth in this has not been to
Ireland...While the "hands on" projects were few, the talent was
brim full and running over.The friendship and congeniality was above and
beyond the call, and the beer? My god ...I've never seen so much beer,
Guinness or Murphy's actually, or for us light weights, the Ciders were a
welcome change from American brews.
Being somewhat simple minded, we, (Monte and Pat Jumper) were a day late getting in as started our adventure by boarding an AMTRAK train from Norman, Oklahoma to Dallas Texas (spending the night with Bill "Wetpainter" and Rhonda "SignCritic" Piper and family ) then flying into London and traveling by train across England into Swansea Wales, then a Ferry crossing to Ireland. We arrived in Ireland at sunrise and were entering Cork Harbor when the sun hit the emerald green coast line, a site I will never forget.
What a dramatic intro! After making our way into Cork on a bus, the morning of the third. We were picked up in town by Gerry Fitzgibbon and Noel Mckenna and transported to the Letterhead meet venue, (FAS Tech School). As we walked into the entry hall and saw the quality of the signs hanging (everywhere) I was sure we had walked in to the Irish Sign Painters Hall of Fame. Such quality and quantity I've never seen. Imagine the surprise when we were told, nearly all the work we were looking at was created by students with little more than 6 months experience at their craft. Everyone that was there from America was, to say the least "blown away". As you'll see from the pictures it was truly a "Spell with the Wizards".
As it turned out the first day (starting at noon) was dedicated to getting acquainted and retrieving our own Cam Bortz (the little Lebanese meat Inspector) from a meat packing venue known only to him. (and this was before the beer.)
We received the warmest of greetings as we arrived at the venue, everyone was as excited to meet us as we were them. I'm not sure what it was I expected but I can tell you, reality was way beyond any expectations we might have had. Pat and I spent the first couple of hours with our mouths open, just walking thru the venue examining each work we encountered.
The "Letterhead venue" portion of the school has 2 long lofted hallways with small booths to each side, each booth (aprox.6'x10') is designated to one student, the booth is 3 sided and contains one "mock" window and one "mock" door, during their course each student re finishes "his/her" booth with various wall papers, paints, wood grains and faux marbles along with all they learn about Lettering and sign painting, a really well rounded craftsman/woman is turned out in six months time. I can assure you they all come out of this course at a level I wouldn't look for in an American counterpart in less than 5 years. This is truly a program that needs to be examined and replicated in other venues, its obvious success is undeniable.
The Lettering and Signs portion of this school are taught by the "Head Wizard" Gerry Fitzgibbon ...friendship and patience are dripping from this man and you spend most of your time wanting to be in the puddle he provides, but you'll have to move fast, he's a veritable dynamo with a rapier wit, yet modest personality combined with the the kind of mysticism that only those born to Ireland possess. You can tell everyone there loves this man.
Noel McKenna also teaches the same students, he is an astonishingly talented man that makes wood graining look like child's play. The effects he achieves literally can't be discerned from the real thing. Not as gregarious as Gerry he nevertheless can mesmerize you as he pulls you into one of his classes. Don't even think you will stump this man, he has an answer for every question and a solution to every problem. The respect everyone shows and feels for this man is undeniable.
Len DeLaCour...What can you say about this guy? Obviously Gerry's right hand man, yet you can tell he's a man of his own. He fills in for Gerry when he needs to be elsewhere and the program never misses a beat. There is a deep talent pool here and it has been passed on to his daughter Jesse, her portfolio looked like something found in the finest graphics houses in New York. The friendship displayed between Gerry and Len is genuine and the workmanship they have passed on is unselfish and fully visible at every turn. The vast legacy these three men have instilled in others is truly immeasurable. My hats off to the "The Three Wizards." We should all have mentors of this stature.
After the rousing greeting from everyone and meeting with fellow Americans John Hodgins and his wife Mary, the incorrigible Cam Bortz, Trish O'Neil and Jeff & Mary Beth Lang. Lunch, provided by the FAS commissary, was the first time everyone was together in one room at one time. It was a pleasure to see how many of these "sign artists" were young (anyone under 40 these days is young to me) and eager to talk signs to anyone that would share or listen. Pat and I were really attracted to a couple from Limerick, Pat and Marie Castillon, most of our lunch was spent visiting them and getting acquainted. Pat has his own business (home based) as most sign business' are in Ireland and his wife is studying interior decorating.
An itinerary was proposed during lunch, and after lunch was a work shop on marbling by Gerry and a workshop on wood graining by Nole. Their methods are different than I have ever seen before, a lot of mental notes were taken. The biggest difference I've seen in methodology here is the time factor, all methods taught by the "Big Three" are quick, efficient, and long lasting.
Looking through the works in progress one piece really caught my eye, a piece of plate glass about 2'x4' and gilded from top to bottom with incredible attention to detail (God I hope the picture turns out). The creator is Eoin Quigley of Kilkenny. Watch for this piece. I'm sure it will make the publications.
Late afternoon was allotted to getting "dug in" at our bed and breakfast, then off (by bus) to a "Traditional Irish Pub" complete with Irish sausages and chips, Guiness and of course, more cider. As it turned out one of the beer companies was having a promotional night and we got a good dose of costumed well wishers dancing to American "rock and roll", almost like being home, only with Guiness. A good time was had by all. Gerry made arrangements for us all to be returned to our home bases by bus. Another well orchestrated feat by the maestro.
After a filling "Irish Breakfast" 2 eggs (cooked the way "they" like them) a cooked tomato, 2 bacon, 2 sausages, toast and a large black pellet called "black Pudding" (later to be identified as Blood sausages). Shortly after we're all loaded on a bus for a Sign Tour of Clonakilty, a twenty minute ride into our first Irish "village", the countryside was truly magnificent.
The local signman, who's work is most prolific in the village Clonakilty, is Tommy Tupier. (pronounced Tupper) Tommy was to give the tour, but as fate would have it, there was a death in his immediate family and justifiably he had to step down. After seeing his work, it was easy to see he is a master at his craft. He has been almost solely responsible for the renaissance that has transformed this and other towns into the traditional look of yesteryear. You will see some vinyl here and there but for the most part the computer is used as a layout, design and pattern tool by most painters in Ireland. As you can see by some of the pictures taken hand lettering is more than alive and well in Ireland.
After lunch a local architect / historian, Morris McArthur, filling in for Tommy, presented a slide show depicting Clonakilty 30 years ago in contrast to now, what an achievement for one man, Tommy has literally changed the face of the town and attitudes of all the towns people, almost single-handedly. His premise was to not just paint signs, but to design and create entire facades, including all the moldings panel systems and signage. With this and the "Tidy Town" project that has inspired all of Ireland to restore its towns to their once quaint grandeur. The renaissance is completed with the finished touches of Floral baskets everywhere you looked. As it turned out all of Ireland is covered in flora, whether it be along the road side or be it man placed in every town we visited. What a beautiful place to be! I heard one comment during the tour (I wish I could remember from whom) "It's as though the whole town of Clonakilty was built just so we could come here to take this sign tour." The funniest event of the day came as I took a breather and noticed we (as a group) had all the towns people town "looking up" to see what we were looking at.
Our next stop was the Jameson Distillery, where they make Jameson Irish Whisky. As I recall it is the oldest Distillery in Ireland and was still a working still all the way into the 60's when it was closed down and a new Building was built to house it. A walking tour thru the old buildings brought on feelings that are hard to describe, just imagining what it was like to work there was intriguing to say the least. The tour ended with a whisky tasting session with two of "Americas best" Trish and Cam, and twin representatives of the Irish persuasion. The report as best they could remember was blurred at best, but nearly comprehend able (only kidding, they handled it like journeymen ;) The distillery held some interest to Gerry as a place for his students to get some hands-on experience designing and developing signage for the buildings on site. I hope that comes to fruition, I would like to return there and see the outcome.
Later that day we toured the "Model Village" a miniature of all the county, (about a half block square) including all the landmarks complete with miniature railway and tour guide. It was very well done with every detail painstakingly precise and lovingly maintained. A fun little tour and a nice way to spend the afternoon.
As the day progressed we road the bus into Kinsale for an evening in a traditional pub. "The Spaniard" is a PUB and restaurant that dated back (if I recall right) several hundred years to the time when pirates used the area to plunder passing ships. A traditional Irish band (complete with the traditional "Irish bongos" of Len DeLaCour and a song or two from Gerry) played for several hours and the buffet provided was a terrific spread. A lot of Guiness was downed, speaches came from several different sources, stand up Irish comedy from Joe Flynn and some of the most heart felt poetry I've ever heard coming from Brian O'Prey, an extraordinarily talented signpainter from Northern Ireland. All the poetry was written by himself and as we talked later, I found out some of it has even been published.
day we were up at the crack of 9:30 (nearly missing breakfast at the
b&b)we hopped a bus and headed for the venue, everyone was there
getting ready to take group and project pictures. A lot of sad looks and
hand shakes this day. We traded as many cards as we could then went up
stairs for one last time and Gerry gave away all the sponsored door
Special thanks needs to go to two other people that worked behind the scenes, Nora O'Sullivan (Gerry's significant other) and Declan Newman "Deccy" to his friends. Both of these people were more than gracious and went way beyond the call to see to it everyone was taken care of.
The format of this meet was quite different from anything we have experienced before and I think that is what made it so refreshing. A whole new batch of people ,all with the same thing in common coming together on unfamiliar turf (for us anyway) and sharing information openly and freely. For the hand lettering purist this is Sign Nirvana and for the contemporary sign maker it is a chance to visit the roots of your craft.
Ireland has something for everyone and the friendship this country poured out to us will never be forgotten.
Thank you to the "Three Wizards of the Emerald Isle" and all our friends in Ireland.
New friendships were created of a lasting nature, mental pictures of these people make us smile every day.
We'll see you there...
One final note: After re-reading this brief reflection of events I couldn't help but notice how many times I used the word "friend" It would seem as tho, that one word says everything that can be said about Ireland.
Thank you "Friend, Ireland"...
Respectfully submitted: Monte &Pat Jumper / SIGNLanguage Norman, Okla.
More On Our Ireland Trip To Come! Watch For It Here.
What's It Cost To Attend A Meet In Ireland?
Things outlined here will only include the cost covering the 4 days of the meet; I will put together another listing that include the entire trip from August 28 to Sept.15th 1999. All the following is for 2 people. Costs are shown in US Dollars.
Airfare : Dallas to London (Gatwick airport) $1,400.00
Train Fare: Norman to Dallas (round
trip 50 mph) $ 88.00
Ocean Travel : Swansea to Cork Ferry
Taxis: London (cruising) $ 21.00
Bed & Breakfast: London (1 night
rip off) $ 203.00
Meals: London (2 meals and a snack)
Souvenirs: Hard Rock Cafe $ 20.00
Misc.: Stamps and postcards (London)
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