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Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art

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If you are one who collects off the beaten path -- i.e., your collection includes unusual stamps not issued by the usual suspects -- this book by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler might be for you. Covering every aspect of the mail art network (or just the stuff you make at home on your kitchen table) Good Mail Day has added significance as more artists, philatelists and casual stamp collectors want to do what they can for the USPS as well as postal systems worldwide, currently in horrible financial straits.

Mail Art History

While the authors will guide you in the nuts and bolts of how to become a mail artist, they also give a history of the movement, featuring some heroes of mail art. A chapter on faux postage and Artistamps serves to introduce the reader to mail artists of the past and present. Those interested in not just stamps, but also art, will find much of interest in Good Mail Day as the authors trace the antecedents of today's mail artists to the Futurists (1910), the Dadaists (1916) and the Surrealists (1919).

The Mail Art Network

Mail was basically a serious business for hundreds of years, while the only out of the ordinary things about it included messages sent via positioning of stamps or secret messages like SWAK.* It wasn't until the Fluxus movement that mail truly came out of its cocoon and became a butterfly. By far the most influential mail artist with links to Fluxus was Ray Johnson and his New York Correspondance School. He is known for popularizing the “add and pass on” form of mail art, where a number of artists contribute to a piece as it travels on its way.

One thing common to all mail art is obvious: it needs stamps to get where it has to go. The mail artist must use governmental stamps of whatever nation he is in to send his creations. And the authors deal with the meaning of stamps, both practical and artistic.

Sometimes, (especially in the case of Artistamps) the stamps are more tied in to the art than at other times. Chuck Welch, aka the Crackerjack Kid may be one of the finest mail artists in this regard, tying stamps and even postmarks to his art.

Finding Your Place in the Mail Art World

For those who wish to get involved, the authors of Good Mail Day include all sorts of mail art contact information, from names and locations of currently practicing artists to lists of philatelic and mail art websites.

On the practical side, authors Hinchcliff and Wheeler tell you how to send your creations without running afoul of the post office's rules. It also helps to be nice to the postal workers, as the authors point out that having a friend or two at the post office can assist the mail artist in practicing his networking more easily in an atmosphere of friendly understanding.

Needless to say, the stationery and supply needs of the modern mail artist are covered, including what to put in your on-the-go mail art kit. After all, just because you’re on vacation you shouldn’t stop creating. Its something to do any time, anywhere: “Mail art, at its best, is of-the-moment, not overwrought or overly precious,” write the authors. “Growing comfortable with working freely, independent of location, with available materials, is another step toward understanding the spirit of the mail art Network.”

Create and Then Collect

Although philatelists look at mail art as something to collect, the book comes at the subject as something to that is first and foremost to be created, while the collecting aspect is somewhat put in the background. Those stamp collectors that have made first day covers know the satisfaction of creating an illustrated envelope that is related to the stamp. Good Mail Day offers step by step instruction about how to create a piece of mail art. For those who need a bit of inspiration, beyond the practical concerns like how to make envelopes, there is a great selection of mail art pieces illustrated at the end of the book to get your artistic and philatelic juices flowing.

Before the Internet many stamp collectors added to their collections by exchanging with pen pals. The book has an extensive section on how to be a pen pal, from rules of etiquette to improving your handwriting skills. The authors believe that if we don’t use the post office we’ll lose it, an opinion a number of stamp collectors also share.

So while Good Mail Day deals with the pleasures of exchanging your art and communicating with a pen pal, it also presents an overview of influential artists like Harley (Terra Candella) and E.F. Higgins (Doo Da Post), who have created their own postal systems; those who have adopted an artist identity (Chuck Welch/Cracker Jack Kid); or have created their own Artistamps (Anna Banana). Good Mail Day makes it clear that it is not just the art, but the stamps that are important to these artists. If you’ve followed along and taken part in the how-to and project sections of the book, you may find -- to your pleasant surprise -- you’ve become a mail artist.

* Sealed With A Kiss

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