What is Mail Art?
Started in the mid-1950s by NYC painter, Ray Johnson, Mail Art is a collaborative activity that allows participants to create a piece of art and then to freely share that art with someone else, hoping that they will in turn do the same. Johnson started sending small collages to people on his mailing list and he invited the recipients to do what they wanted with them, including keep them, add to them, give them away, change them, or use them as inspiration to create their own. Soon, other people started to do this outside of his list, and the movement gained momentum during the 60s and 70s. The New York Correspondence School was the name of the first network of these mail artists. In 1969, Johnsons personal network extended into Canada when he participated in an exhibition at the University of British Columbia.
The Banff Snail Mail Society
Claire Wilkinson has made the concept of Mail Art a reality in the Bow Valley as The Banff Snail Mail Society. She started by holding workshops at the Banff Public Library and recently participated in Banff Culture Days by helping people make their own art postcards in the Bison Courtyard. I had been wanting to meet Claire and our paths finally crossed in the Banff Community Greenhouse where we both own a plot. I complimented her pink flamingos, and she offered to find a source for some art materials I was looking for including a ribbon source for my analog typewriter. Soon after, I realized she would be a great person to lead a Mail Art workshop for the crafting group I co-host with Sheena Miller, called Craft Café.
At the Craft Café
Last week, Sheena & I arrived at the Wild Flour Bakery to find Claire getting set up. I instantly envied all the analog typewriters she had arranged on the tables, even with my own vintage Royal in tow.
As eager participants arrived, the anticipation grew and soon the beautiful sounds of typewriters clacking filled the air. Claire gave a short talk and then everyone was let loose to rummage through her supplies of postcards, stickers, stamps, papers, and vintage magazines for inspiration to turn boring postcards into works of art, complete with typewritten messages.
The glorious past of snail mail and typing met the splendid present as I looked up quotes on my Blackberry and photographed everything with my digital Leica.
Dea Fischer, of Canmore, attended our Mail Art soiree, and while I know Dea, this was the first time I had heard about the worldwide mail art group that she founded. Get involved or learn more by checking out this blog post. Feel free to leave a comment!
How about you? When was the last time you wrote a snail mail letter? Have you ever participate in the Mail Art movement? We would love to hear your stories of snail mail romance and betrayal