RICHMOND, Va. -- Walking by or into the Byrd Theatre you might not give them a second glance. But look again, closely.
Original artwork is hanging in plain sight, down to the letter.
“It is amazing. I love it. It has a circus feel to it and I love it,” says General Manager Todd Schall-Vess. “I really feel that this has a character that you just don’t see anymore.”
Schall-Vess finds a timeless beauty in each masterful stroke.
This artwork is not hanging on the wall behind a glass frame. Rather, these hand painted signs are advertising refreshments like candy, popcorn and drinks at The Byrd’s concession stand.
“There are only a handful of people left in the country who do work at this level,” says Schall-Vess.
The signs are the creation of Fred Hedgecoth. Fred, with his steady hand, spends hours hunched over his workspace in his Henrico County home working with ink and paper.
He never likes to rush; after all, haste makes waste -- especially when it comes to your living.
“I take my time. I am very meticulous,” Fred says. “As a rule, I will sit down with a sheet of paper. And the rest is just up to me.”
The 65-year-old certainly has a way with words. Not their meaning so much as their appearance.
“Most people will look at it and go, ‘WOW! That is really good,’” says the professional calligrapher who relishes each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.
“It is that tie to the way things used to be done for centuries,” says Fred.
Fred never dreamed of becoming a professional calligrapher.
Originally, he wanted to paint words as a radio reporter.
“When a paid position came open I applied but was told my voice was too high,” says Fred.
This grandfather’s resume runs the gamut though, from personalized invitations for Virginia’s governors and wedding invitations to countless Christmas cards.
Richmond shoppers may not know his name or face, but they may recognize his body of work. Fred created weekly circulars for Ukrop’s.
“I started free-lancing in about 1980,” says Fred. “I was the only person on staff that could do this kind of lettering style.
Some of the nearly 40-year-old advertisements drawn by Fred featured three pounds of USDA ground beef for 99 cents and an eight pack of Dr. Pepper for $1.59.
But times change and so does the way that calligraphers create. Fred laments, but accepts that technology is revolutionizing his field. Computer generated letters are pushing aside custom.
“Penmanship isn’t even being taught in schools anymore,” says Fred. “You can do incredibly good artwork without ever touching a pen.”
Still, Fred believes some clients will always prefer hand drawn.
“I like doing this because it’s something that is individual. It’s uncommon,” says Fred.
The man with surgeon-like precision promises to leave his mark till his ink well runs dry.
With a hearty laugh Fred says, “I’m not a traveler. There is no place I want to go. So I might as well stay here and work.”
So, next time you visit the Byrd pause at the popcorn stand and admire Fred’s artwork before the main attraction. It is quite an opening act.
“It is like magic watching the letters come out of the end of his paint brush. If you want to be impressed with what he does you need to try it,” says general manager Schall-Vess.
“It absolutely adds to and enhances the character of a property like the Byrd Theatre.”
If you can recommend someone to feature in the “I Have a Story” segment email Reporter Greg McQuade.