Destination: A mail-obsessed artist’s mailbox

von_span_lead_photo

[Jennie Hinchcliff] I am one of those people you’ve heard about. It all starts out very innocently: a postcard here, a letter there. A trip to the post office to see what kind of stamps are available. To the uninitiated, this behavior might appear a bit strange — the postal clerks know me by name, but heck, maybe they’re just friendly. There are any number of reasonable explanations for these postal-y things that may seem slightly odd to you, but are perfectly normal to me.

I’ll let you in on my secret: I am obsessed. Not only with airmail envelopes, postage stamps and ephemera of all stripes, but with mail art, artistamps and any other oddity that finds a way into my mailbox. And boy-oh-boy, have there been missives worth noting: a chunk of astroturf, cut to postcard size; a clear plastic coffee cup with a crocheted bird swinging around inside … just to name two.

Why do these things come to my mailbox? Well, that’s what mail artists do – send stuff to each other. And how? Via the USPS, of course. Who would possibly mail such … unusual items? Friends and artists from near and far. Can you even mail something the approximate size and weight of a coconut through the USPS? With enough postage, practically anything can make it through the mail.

I have been sending art through the mail for over 15 years; it all started with the book SWAK: The Complete Book of Mail Fun for Kids by Randy Harelson, checked out from the library when I was in the fifth grade. As an adult, I’ve built up a network of postal friends from both around the world and across town. Visiting the post office means that a world of surprise awaits — my mailbox is literally a museum, filled with ever changing artwork and a variety of personalities. I am an “on-the-fly” curator: constantly writing, educating and introducing people to this colorful, creative world, which has — for the most part —been hiding under the radar.

Logistically speaking, mail art is something that anyone can do, any time, anywhere. You don’t need fancy supplies or expensive schooling — often, the best mail art is created spontaneously, using things that are readily available. I myself am a hoarder and collector, so much of my mail-art aesthetic incorporates unusual papers (ledger books, dictionary pages, foreign language texts), bizarre rubber stamps (recently acquired: a set of pharmacist’s rubber stamps from the 1940s) and office supplies of all kinds (have you any idea the things you can do with staples?).

My budget for postage stamps is astronomical, it’s true. A handful of envelopes that other folks see as “all the same” find a way into my studio, because each one seems “uniquely different” to me. There is a constant stack of postcards on the kitchen table, waiting to have postage applied. Every piece of mail art I send out is one of a kind; no mass-production postcard printing for me! On an average week, I’ll send out anywhere from 10–20 pieces of mail … more, if there’s a holiday coming up, or if I’ve created a special edition of work. It is entirely possible that my mail-art friends and I will singlehandedly save the USPS, through our postage purchases alone.

What is it about mail art that keeps me going, constantly making, sending and archiving? Perhaps it’s the promise of something amusing waiting in my PO box. Maybe it has to do with the feeling that somebody, somewhere put something into the post, with me in mind. A good friend of mine, unversed in the ways of my postal preoccupations, summed up it up nicely: “It certainly beats the bills that I always seem to get.” And at the end of the day, I know she’s right: Who wouldn’t want a rubber chicken covered in postage stamps, addressed and waiting for them when they check the mail?

[Above and lead photo courtesy of Von Span Photography 2010]

Jennie Hinchcliff receives odd items at her PO box on a fairly regular basis; as a mail artist and co-author of the book Good Mail Day, she is constantly inspired by incoming correspondence. Her blog chronicles the myriad adventures and interactions she has with both the USPS and mail artists around the globe. For the curious, she suggests:

Photos: Good Mail Day photo pool
Get involved: Mail Art Projects
Find other mail artists: IUOMA (International Union of Mail Artists)

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Comments (26)

  1. Posted by A Kuhntributor on 11.5.10 at 3:33 pm

    Merci, Jennie! I marvel at this mail! I applaud its audacity. And I could never, ever ‘pproach Priestess Hincliff’s prolificosity! But I did send an envelope yesterday … that I hope will find favor. In admiration, A.

  2. Posted by Pamela Gerard on 11.5.10 at 9:26 pm

    This is too cool. FAB article and photos. Jennie-you do great work (and I see one of my envelopes in there too!). Thanks for sharing. I don’t know if you can or cannot photograph in the PO but if they bust you–call me!

  3. Posted by Kurls on 11.5.10 at 9:35 pm

    Excellent post! This has reinvigorated my passion for mail art and all things postal. I have busted out my stationary and have started writing a letter to a dear friend in San Francisco. I am going to start a pot of coffee and get my arts and crafts out to decorate the envelope! Thanks so much for the SWAK book for kids link and cheers to people going postal, in the best possible way, every where! Cheers! :-)

  4. Posted by Carroll on 11.5.10 at 10:48 pm

    Wonderful to see you in action! Right there, at the Postal Service’s PO Box sorting table! Your Ghost Post postcard arrived today, and unleashed a last minute Day of the Dead postcard, headed back your way.

    Carroll

  5. Posted by Jack Lattemann on 11.5.10 at 11:30 pm

    Danke, Jennie for the great photos showing Red Letter Day in action! The postal sweatshop at Cascadia Artpost has been busy and will soon be sending a very ELECTRIC mailing to your PO box. All the best,
    Jack @ Cascadia Artpost

  6. Posted by Marguerite on 11.5.10 at 11:44 pm

    A fabulous article with lovely photos! I am just head over heels for Good Mail Day, and after years of sending carefully crafted mail to friends who didn’t always appreciate my obsession, I am thrilled to meet like-minded folks who find joy in sending Real Mail. Thank you!

  7. Posted by Cathy Stewart on 11.5.10 at 11:48 pm

    WOO HOO. Thanks for the great article on mail artist Jennie. She has inspired me mightly with her book GOOD MAIL DAY and I just loved all the photos and tidbits in this post!! Have to go send off a few postcards now.

  8. Posted by Sally Wassink on 11.6.10 at 12:40 am

    What!?! I’ve got that SWAK book too! Of course I was just a tad older than 5th grade when I bought it, but that’s not the point. The point is: crazy mail artists have a lot in common. Thanks for the great article and the inspiring photos.

  9. Posted by chowder3000 on 11.6.10 at 12:49 am

    A true artist can create anytime using any materials. That’s Jennie –and apparently lots of Jennie’s friends too. This was fun to read and inspiring too –just like Good Mail Day. thanks

  10. Posted by annie on 11.6.10 at 1:20 am

    jennie is an amazing mail artist, & she and i have been corresponding on and off – it’s always really cool to get her postcards and other goodies in the mail!

  11. Posted by Mae on 11.6.10 at 1:33 am

    Great article. Now I’m more fascinated with mail art.

  12. Posted by linda on 11.6.10 at 2:03 am

    I certainly enjoyed reading the great article and seeing the pictures all about this talented lady. What an inspiration Jennie and the book, GOOD DAY MAIL, has been to this new mailartist!

  13. Posted by Lauren Nicole on 11.6.10 at 2:12 am

    jennie is AMAZING. her mail art is AMAZING. mail art in general is full of awesome. thanks for featuring her! she’s the coolest and so darn photogentic. i loved the photos and also seeing all her incoming mail! very neat. <3 <3

  14. Posted by Monica on 11.6.10 at 3:41 am

    I wasn’t aware of Felt and Wire until now. Thank you, Jennie, for introducing it. Also, regarding this sentence: “It is entirely possible that my mail-art friends and I will singlehandedly save the USPS, through our postage purchases alone.” I sure hope so!! :)

  15. Posted by Jackie Flaherty on 11.6.10 at 9:07 am

    What a great article! Loved seeing pics of Jennie at the PO with all her mail. Just lovely. And inspiring!

  16. Posted by Tim AumAn on 11.6.10 at 9:39 am

    Thanks to Jennie of Red Letter Day for forwarding me to Felt and Wire. Next time I fry a drive, I shall have to resist the urge to scramble it and poach, um post it.

  17. Posted by Lisa on 11.6.10 at 10:09 am

    What a great article! Thanks for spotlighting this talented artist. I’ve received one of her fabulous postcards and it made my day!

  18. Posted by Nix Sidhe on 11.6.10 at 10:12 am

    This is a great article and great inspiration.

  19. Posted by Karen Cutter on 11.6.10 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for the inspiring article. And thank you, Jenny, for introducing me to Felt and Wire. I’m off to my studio now to sew up some fun envelopes.

  20. Posted by Jesa on 11.6.10 at 2:35 pm

    I just finished reading her book The Good Mail Day and signed up for her blog. Wow! She introduced me to a whole new realm of artwork incorporating all the things I love!! Now I get a bonus by linking me to Felt and Wire.

  21. Posted by Carolee on 11.6.10 at 5:17 pm

    Wonderful post, Alyson & Jennie! For more mail art loveliness, the curious can also take a look at the Good Mail Day blog
    http://www.good-mail-day.com
    and the Good Mail Day tumblr!
    http://goodmailday.tumblr.com

    –carolee

  22. Posted by Melissa M. on 11.6.10 at 6:18 pm

    Becuase of Jennie, I no longer look at paper the same way-I have to feel it, buy it, cut it, fold it, stab it, poke holes through it, sew through it, stamp it…and just MAKE.

    Thanks for the inspiration, and awesomeness being featured!

  23. Posted by A Kuhntributor on 11.8.10 at 7:22 pm

    Dear Carolee & All Commenters I Don’t Know Personally — I am honored to have been the First Commenter on Jennie’s fabulous post … which I hope will be HER FIRST of MANY, or at least SEVERAL, for Felt & Wire. And, of course, I’m delighted that it has brought new, paper-obsessive readers to F&W!

  24. Posted by Sharon on 11.9.10 at 4:49 pm

    Jennie’s mail art rocks…it’s a nice thing to see mail artists featured on the web. I will definitely come and check this web site again. Thanks for showing a great American mail artist like Jennie and Red Letter Day Zine!

  25. Posted by Erin on 11.11.10 at 10:49 am

    I love this post! I’m so jealous of the mail you get. I guess if I expect to get anything nearly that creative, I should expand my address list beyond my two grandparents. :) Congrats on a fabulous, well-written blog post and awesome photos.

  26. Posted by Justin on 11.17.10 at 11:13 am

    This is cool stuff. I have a couple of typewriter penpals but I don’t know anyone who sends art through the mail. These are some great ideas.

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