The U.S.P.S. Stamps blog introduced me to lettering artist Erik Marinovich and his Do Not Open envelopes project. He creates one-of-a-kind hand-addressed envelopes for a fee. Customers submit the address and he uses his lettering skills and artistry to turn a bubble mailer into treasure instead of the typical trash. I love more than I can really express. What a great way to make the mundane into magic. That is one of the real powers of mail, in my opinion- the reinsertion of wonder into the world. You can hear an interview with Erik about the project here. Great work!
In the spirit of W. Reginald Bray and Harriet Russell, comes the project by James Addison, "Puzzles for Postmen." There's something so fun about what each of these people did to experiment with the post. I love the wonderment contained in such simple things. That's, at heart, the magic of the mail. Here's what James has to say about his project:
"I’ve always had a fascination with the Royal Mail. How a letter can physically travel from one end of the country to the other for just 57p is still brilliant (you can’t even buy a Double-Decker chocolate bar for that price).
For the past five years I have been challenging the British postal system by writing and sending cryptic addresses on envelopes. From maps and symbols to word-searches and drawings of the destination, they never fail to deliver and I have a growing admiration for their patience and perseverance."
One of my favorite exhibitors at mail/art/book was Niko Courtelis. He commits "scandalous acts of butchery against postage stamps" and then reassembles the pieces into new works of art. They've been called Frankenstiens, but I think they're more like chimeras. You can see more of his work on his site, but in exciting news, Kat Ran Press is publishing a lookbook of the works as part of their series The Kat Ran Essays in Philatelics. You can pre-order the book here and explore their collection of stamps by typography designers here.
Open until April 27 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, CA is a show of the work of Shirley Familian. It's lots and lots and lots and lots of stamps; stamps arranged in new patterns of design, stamps enveloping objects, stamps becoming more than stamps, the art of stamps transformed into new art. The piece above is titled "The Bells Are Ringing." From the website:
"Using stamps like mosaic tiles or fabric swatches, she composes collages that recall quilting, elaborate tile work, or intricate wallpaper design. While the process is repetitive, the result is always unique. The exhibition title reflects Familian’s precise count and arduous indexing of each postage stamp that she used in this collection of work."
I've had two penpals recommend it so far. If you have the opportunity, it seems like a fun thing to check out.
These collages are some examples of work by artist Sarah Nicole Phillips. I am always thrilled when I see people using security envelope patterns in art. It's like the literal silver lining of a cloud, if clouds were junk mail and silver was intricate patterns. There's beauty to be found in the most mundane of sources. You can see a lot more of her work on her website, or in person at her current show "You've Been Selected" at the McKinley Arts and Culture Center in Reno, NV. The show only runs through the end of the month though. Still, you can get involved from afar. She accepts donations of envelopes. You can mail them to her at:
Sarah Phillips 75 3rd Street, #3 Brooklyn, NY 11231
Forward: It was with great pleasure and surprise that I opened my electronic mail to find this article written by the esteemed John Held, Jr. He is a mail artist and stamp maker extraordiare. Why, he even has a Wikipedia page and I have written about him here on the blog previously. What follows is his account of the wonderful Ex Postal Facto from this past week in San Francisco. I am so happy that he chose to share it with us. I've added some helpful links in case you need more elucidation on various personages. Now, on to the report!
Correspond(a)nce Caravan: An Ex Postal Facto Field Report
by John Held, Jr.
In the summer of 1968, Fluxus artist Robert Filliou conceptualized the idea of an “Eternal Network,” promoting the idea of a community of international artists drawn together by common interests in cooperation, divorced from competition. In this network, some would be entering and some would be leaving, but a core group would remain to impart previous concerns and history. Mail Artists, an international band of postal based artists, were quick to adopt this concept, fusing it with Ray Johnson’s New York Correspond(a)nce School, and using it as the foundation of a commodity free community based activity.
Mail Art is obviously a time delayed, geographically diverse operation, but there is a long tradition of participants meeting their correspondents in real-time site-specific situations. The latest of these meetings took place in San Francisco over Valentine’s Day weekend 2014 bringing together well over two hundred correspondents from six countries in a series of events that highlighted the evolution of the medium over a fifty-year history.
Organized by San Francisco book artist Jennie Hinchcliff, the author (with Carolee Gilligan Wheeler) of “Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art,” published in 2009, and the founder in 2011 of the San Francisco Correspondence Co-op, Ex Postal Facto was held in various venues throughout San Francisco from Friday, February 14 though Sunday, February 16, bringing together an enthusiastic gathering of both Mail Art veterans and those newly arrived to the field.
The festivities began at a reception at Arch art supply store on Missouri Street, Potrero Hill, and quickly moved to The San Francisco Center for the Book, for the opening reception of two exhibitions, “The History of West Coast Mail Art,” curated by John Held, Jr., and “mail/art book,” curated by Hinchcliff and Held. The two shows, like the weekend itself, brought together both the old and new in Mail Art.
“The History of West Coast Mail Art,” featured selected works from the archive of the late Oakland Mail Artist Patricia Tavenner. From Wallace Berman’s “Semina” magazine published in 1961 to work received just prior to her passing in the spring of 2013, the exhibition covered a range of correspondence, artist publications, artist postage stamps, rubber stamp works, exhibition and event documentation collected by the late artist over a fifty years period. In so doing, it showed both the evolution of the medium and common threads of activity spanning the years. Invitations to the “Deccadance,” an early 1974 meeting of Mail Artists in Los Angeles, and programs featuring “Interdada 80,” and “Interdada 84,” in San Francisco, acquainted those newly come to the medium with previous gatherings of correspondents.
“mail/art/book,” was organized in the manner of a traditional Mail Art exhibition, encouraging open participation (no fees to enter, no curatorial selection) to those inclined to contribute. Invitations to submit work on the theme of the book were sent throughout the Mail Art network, eliciting responses from over 300 artists from 30 countries. A number of auxiliary events coincided with the opening reception, including a cancelling station for weekend “passports,” manned by Burning Man Postmaster James Cline from Berkeley. Collage material and rubber stamps were provided by the Center for the Book to make Valentine cards and Mail Art, and there was a hearty contingent at work throughout the opening. Passport holders were busy throughout the evening collecting rubber stamp impressions and artist postage stamps from the participating artists. A full color catalog was printed to accompany the exhibition by the Center for the Book, with essays contributed by curators Hinchcliff (“Our Path is Strewn with Words and Letters: Making, Mailing, and Postal Modernism”) and Held, Jr. (“A History of West Coast Mail Art: Artwork from the Patricia Tavenner Archive”).
On Saturday, the caravan of correspondence transpired to the historic Elk’s building on Post Street. Tables were provided to those wishing to sell and exchange self-produced work and Mail Art collectibles. A number of Mail Art “legends” participated, including Anna Banana, former San Francisco resident, now residing in Vancouver, Canada; buZ blurr from Gurdon, Arkansas (the subject of a current exhibition at Adobe Books in San Francisco’s Mission district); James Felter, also from Vancouver, who curated the first show of artist postage stamps in 1974; Carl Chew from Seattle; E. F. Higgins III from New York City, and Harley from Forestville, three pioneers of the artist postage stamp medium; Leslie Caldera and Neal Taylor from Los Angeles; as well as the indomitable V. Vale of San Francisco, publisher of Re/Search books focusing on alternative culture.
Vale, who is a maven on manning booths at all manner of underground events (and a former organist for psychedelic sixties rock group Blue Cheer), writes of his participation in Ex Postal Facto:
'Twas truly one of the most BEAUTIFUL events I've ever attended - super-well organized, thoughtful attention to miniscule details, immediate help when needed, and - all the time I've been in San Francisco, I never knew such a beautiful Elks Club environment EXISTED - may it remain as it is FOREVER! Hope there will be another event there again...(AND, they had a grand piano which I got to play twice...)
This was a true outpouring of alternative culture at its grassroots finest. Jennie Hinchcliff and a support crew drawn from the San Francisco Correspondence Co-op, San Francisco Center for the Book and the Special Collections Department of the San Francisco Public Library, provided organization free from mainstream cultural support. Although Mail Art is a growing phenomena (as witnessed by the large turnout for all the weekend events) and central to the contemporary critical concern of “social practice” in the arts, Mail Art’s acceptance by the gallery and museum establishment is practically non-existent. Therefore, Mail Artists, like Hinchcliff, do-it-themselves, self-producing and distributing; providing an alternative to artistic competition, focusing instead on cooperation.
The last day of Ex Postal Facto took place at the San Francisco Main Public Library. Two panels marked the culmination of the weekend activities. “A Brief History of West Coast Mail Art,” featured panelists Anna Banana, Carl Chew, Leslie Caldera, Lowell Darling, and was moderated by John Held, Jr. Organizer of the 1974 Los Angles Deccadance, Darling provided an important touchstone to an important moment in Mail Art 40 years ago. Carl Chew provided insight on the history of Mail Art in the Seattle area; Leslie Caldera expounded upon the scene in Los Angeles; while Anna Banana narrated the growth of the medium in Vancouver and San Francisco.
Jennie Hinchcliff moderated the second panel discussion on, “Artistamps and Their Makers: Seeing the World in Miniature,” featuring panelists James Felter, James Cline, Harley, and Ginny Lloyd, formerly of the Bay Area, appearing via Skype from Jupiter, Florida. Felter talked about the organization of the first artist postage stamp show he curated in 1974; Cline discussed the evolution of his yearly Burning Man Post Office; Harley traced the evolution of his Terra Candella local post; while Lloyd reminisced about her organization of “Interdada 84,” a direct forerunner of Ex Postal Facto.
While major Mail Art past gatherings like “Deccadance” (1974), “Interdada” (1980 & 1984) and the “Mail Art Congresses” (1986 & 1992) attracted large gatherings of artists, none exceeded Ex Postal Facto in number of attendees or diversity of participants. Former events convened long time participants of the field, while Ex Postal Facto drew from both legendary practitioners and those recently drawn to the medium on the heels of Hinchcliff’s, “Good Mail Day,” and proselytizing via the San Francisco Correspondence Co-op. Mail Artists both old and new were invigorated by the encounter, while those previously unaware of the field, came away with new appreciation for a mediated social network preceding the Internet.
Thanks again, to John Held, Jr. for this summary of the Ex Postal Facto weekend. I do hope it can become an annual or semi-annual event in some capacity. It was so energizing and fascinating. I'll have some more posts on Ex Postal Facto coming up next week. If there's something you have a particular question on, let me know in the comments!
These are just some of the winners of the Graceful Envelope Contest from 2013 with the theme of "A World of Change". You can see more envelopes on their Flickr stream. The contest is run every year by the Washington Calligraphers Guild with an adult and child category. This year's theme is "The Superlative Letter 'S'". Entries are to be postmarked by March 24 and mailed to:
The Graceful Envelope Contest 100 Indiana Ave. NW Washington, DC 20001
I was a happy participant in this artistamp exchange the first time around. Now it's back! Friends and Faux is a way to share and send on artistamps while making an eventual, fully-collaborative art postcard which Sue of TangleCrafts then puts into a zine. There's space on the website to upload images and track the cards while they make their journeys as well. It's really fun. There's a contest too! Everything Sue does is pretty great. I'm constantly impressed by anything she sends me in the mail. Do join in the fun, won't you?
In this era of instantaneous communication, a handwritten letter is a rare and wondrous item. The Letter Writers Alliance is dedicated to preserving this art form. Prepare your pen and paper, moisten your tongue, and get ready to write more letters!
May 3rd (Sunday)
World-Wide Virtual Social
See our faces, listen to us nerd out on mail, enjoy the silence as we scribble letters, and ask us mail questions live. Live Video via Google Hangouts. Participate with #LWASocial on Twitter & Instagram. Video will be recorded and put on YouTube if you can't make it live. Event Page
June 7th (Sunday)
Chicago, IL Mix & Mailology
L.W.A. Clubhouse at 3:30-5pm
Old Fashions and Wax Seals, two old-timey things we love. Learn the secrets of mixing an excellent Old Fashion and making the perfect wax impression on your envelopes. We will also have other wax-like experiments for your mail art pleasure. Our solutions, both alcoholic and artistic, will surprise you. All materials, including liquid forms, will be provided.
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July 12th (Sunday)
World-Wide L.W.A. Book Club
Join Kathy, Donovan, and a special guest Margaret Haas (of Paper Pastries) via live video while we discuss Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Discussion and further info can be found on the Goodreads book group page. Event Page
The L.W.A. was established in 2007 by Kathy Zadrozny & Donovan Beeson. These two ladies manage every aspect of the Alliance, from design, to packing orders, to maintaining the website. The L.W.A. is a labor of love and we are happy you have joined us in sharing a love for letters.