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Ode to Mail Art

When did you get your first piece of mail? I think mine was an oversized postcard from my Uncle Aubrey. I brag I still have it right here. The other side told of my Uncle’s overseas peregrinations. The chipmunk reminds me of what my Uncle and I shared- a love for our family cabin on a small lake in northern Wisconsin. The story of his travels were less interesting to my 4 year old self.

All my growing up years my Mom kept a twice-weekly correspondence with her sister, my Aunt Alice. She had periods of writing on manual typewriter, by long hand, to an electric cast off from one of our college dorms. This papery and ink connection between them had the nature of a life line that I never questioned until it disappeared with Aunt Alice’s death 9 years ago. I believe the evaporation of that relationship was part of my Mom’s undoing in to Alzheimer’s disease.

I am a hound with my kids about thank you notes. They don’t always hit my mark with numbers, but they certainly have established the habit that a gift requires a hand written acknowledgement. They both have received thank you notes, which makes the teachable moment apparent. The pleasure of someone else’s hand in yours is ever so satisfying. Both kids have had pen pals over the years. My daughter is a fiend for a letter. I loved the weeks she was away at camp last summer. The mail we got from her through those days of her hating then loving being at sleep away camp are a treasure from an eleven year old’s heart. Nothing that could have been said in a text or email, passages are scratched out, time passes in-between paragraphs and we weathered the changing winds of a young girl’s heart.

As regular readers of this Laundry Line know, I am engaged in a postal discourse with my dear friend Karen. We are both mixed media artists and began this mail art collaboration over 1,000 days ago. Karen makes me a card then sends it to me. I respond. And we have not stopped all through major life transitions and travels, joy and loss, seasons of moons and loves and recipes and gardens blossoming and being put to rest. The sighs of the year, like an accordian playing sweet Italian dancing music…our cards keep us in tears and laughter, connected at the heart by the breath of our friendship.

Do you write to anyone, even seasonally? Karen and I are debating starting a “Fe-Mail” correspondence club. Here is an excerpt from our “Fe-Mail” treatise:

The work you see here at Berkshire Art Kitchen is our collaboration. The 85 or so postcards chronicle our lives, our friendship, and our dialogue in vibrant mixed media art creations. “Fe-Mail” Art is our postal discourse that visually and artistically nourishes our selves and each other as we send cards for the pleasure of giving them away. Sending art through the mail is a long-standing tradition across the globe. These cards embody our female perspective while honoring the radial Mail Art movement. “Fe-Mail” channels the flow of everyday life as our Muse with the tidbits of papers that run through our fingers, at home and on the road. Our daily lives are the fuel for our creative passions. By sending our cards out in to the postal system, we invited the Universe to collaborate with us. We invited the stamps placed on our cards and the lives the cards lived until they arrived in our mailboxes to continue our creative conversation.

What does it mean to simultaneously honor the feminine self, the role of mothering and also commune with the Muse? In this project, we answer that question in our collaboration that has lasted over 1,000 days.

Our work together as artists began in Collage Eclectica art classes that Karen teaches at IS183 Art School of the Berkshires in 2006. Meeting weekly for 3 hours of studio art, among other artists, in the spirit of creative exploration, we had all the ingredients to support and inspire us.
Karen teaches that carving out the time for art making is the first step to awakening the artist within. Suzi fell in love immediately, bursting with enthusiasm for the techniques Karen taught. She re-awakened a passion for collage that wove in her writing and daily journaling. The steady diet of discussion of creativity and life, of the overlap of mothering and doing artistic work simultaneously fueled us both to dig deeper in to our commitment to make art no matter what.

With FE-MAIL, we invite the viewer to live life to its fullest. In these cards are the impressions we made while witnessing the death of Karen’s Dad, the decline of Suzi’s Mom. Our life is intricately woven in to these cards- our celebrations and losses and the comfort and encouragement we have to offer one another. You can read deeply in to the details in these cards to glean the themes that inspire us, the artists that impact us and our digestion of busy lives as Artists, Moms, Wives, Daughters, Sisters, and all the other roles we play.”

Karen just reported that her post mistress from the tiny post office in her town took her whole family to see our show! My postal clerk blanched at my suggestion he take in our show, that he had collaborated with us in a way. Over these past weeks I have begun to get mail from other friends. I have posted Bonnie’s card to me below. My mailing address is apparent in the slideshow of our exhibit at Berkshire Art Kitchen. Send me a card and I guarantee I will write back to you. Our show is held over for 2 more weeks at BAK. If you’d like a personal tour, let me know.

My first mail art from Bonnie, who is an amazing collagist.

And no matter your proximity to BAK or “Fe-Mail”, consider sending someone a handwritten note. Let me know how that goes.

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  • Stephanie

    In the 80s in NYC I was introduced to Carlo Pittore, a unique man who was a beautiful figurative artist and had a particular love for creating mail art. Sadly, in 2005 Carlo passed away. But the Carlo Pittore Foundation was created and is the executor of his expansive creative legacy. I thought you might be interested in seeing his mail art specifically:

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