books

Book Review: Good Mail Day by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler

In 2014, we put out a call for entry for mail art. The idea was to create a one-off exhibit of mail art received from all over the world to introduce locals to the medium and encourage their participation. At the time, I was myself somewhat new to engaging with mail art and my experience with the world-wide mail art Network – yes, that’s a thing – was limited at best. Yet there I was, helping to coordinate a mail art call for entry and co-curate the resulting show. Enter Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler’s Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art.

This book differs from other mail art books that I’ve read (such as Mail Me Art by Darren Di Lieto and Correspondence Art, edited by Michael Crane and Mary Stofflet, both of which are wonderful) in that it’s not only a gallery of mail art, but a sort of mail art workshop, as the authors offer oodles of advice for how to make mail art, start a mail art project, and navigate the mail art world. Plus, it introduces readers to mail art terminology and, perhaps most importantly, mail art etiquette.

But what’s mail art? A basic, common definition of mail art (a.k.a. correspondence or postal art) is that mail art is when people send small-scale works of art to one another through the postal service, often with the package itself being considered the work of art. Frankly, that definition falls flat and fails to describe the vibrancy of this decades-long movement. In my experience, the best way to describe mail art is to hand someone a stack of it. The only sure thing about mail art is that it is, as Hinchcliff and Gilligan Wheeler write, for everyone: “Anyone can be a mail artist, regardless of skill level or style of artwork.” The mail art itself is all over the place and all mediums are welcome. (The authors remind us, however, not to send anyone anything that we don’t want to deal with in our own mailboxes, such as perishable items.)

Although mail art is for everyone, the Network, like any other, has some basic rules. Namely, that “every piece of mail art that comes into your mailbox should receive some sort of acknowledgement in return.” That is, send something back! In the mail art world, this reciprocity is known as documentation. “No returns” is another tenet of mail art exchanges, meaning that each piece you receive is yours to keep, just as each piece you send out is someone else’s to keep. I appreciate that Hinchcliff and Gilligan Wheeler tell us the rules and “Time-honored Traditions” of mail art culture at the start. It’s as if they’re telling us that if we cannot respect those rules, then we needn’t read further or participate.

Of course, there are non-Network rules that mail artists must abide by, such as those of the postal service (or services, when mailing internationally). As such, we’re reminded to become familiar with our local postal regulations and to keep in mind that mail is categorized based not only on shape, but on thickness and weight. For example, if an envelope exceeds the maximum dimensions or thickness, then it may be categorized as a package and, accordingly, require more postage. The chapter that touches on regulations also includes “The Ten Commandments of Mail Art,” “The Seven Sins of Mailing,” and “Seven Suggestions for Shepherding Your Mail Art Safely to Its Destination.” You’ll also find tips on wooing your mail carrier and becoming friends with those who work in the post office.

The bulk of the book isn’t about defining mail art or mail art rules, but about having fun and making mail art. A few pages cover turning everyday objects, such as produce stickers, wrappers, leaves, and bird feathers into mailable mail art. What to do with those old dryer sheets? Mail them! As the authors discovered, they make for durable mail art. The point is that you may creatively make use of whatever you have nearby and whatever you find laying around, like found objects, old catalogs, junk mail, etc.

Ideas for decorating and illustrating envelopes, whether ready-made or those you create yourself, are included in this title, as are other techniques, such as paper-folding, texturing, and creating patterns, as well as stenciling, faux postage and artistamps, refining your handwriting, finding pen pals, and developing your postal personality.

My old friend, Chapter 10, details how to start a mail art project of your own, including writing a call for entry, creating documentation, and developing a correspondence register, which is more involved than keeping a list or address book of mail art contacts because it has more information. For example, a correspondence register might have columns for name, address, what you received, when you received it, what you sent back, when you sent it, and any other tidbits that you’d care to include. Trust, when coordinating a mail art project, which involves sending documentation (i.e. mail art thank yous) to those who send to you, a register is handy!

“You Can Take It with You: The Traveling Mail Art Kit,” is one of my favorite chapters. In the chapter, the authors emphasize that “mail art can happen anywhere, at any time, and in any place.” Think a waiting room that you’re stuck in, when you’re on hold making a phone call, or utilizing public transportation, or some such situation. The idea behind the mail art kit is that it’s possible to make mail art even when time is limited. The “Suggested Items for a Well-stocked Mail Art Kit” list is great, though your kit may contain whatever you like. What’s in my kit varies from time to time, though at minimum it includes stamps, stationary, and a few envelopes.

Peppered throughout the book are mini-interviews with mail artists from around the world, as well as great visuals, with the book ending with a mail art gallery followed by a contributor’s list, further resources, and an envelope template. Interestingly, the authors became friends when getting to know one another through mail art after meeting at a book arts event. Thus, the mail art that they’ve exchanged is a visual account of how their friendship developed—so cool!

So, is Good Mail Day a good primer for aspiring mail artists? Indeed, as it continues to guide me through what started as a one-off mail art project in 2014 and has since turned into an ongoing project for our growing collection. At the time of this writing, we have 300+ pieces of mail art from around the world in our collection and we’re about half-way into our third mail art exhibit, which is accompanied by an active call for entry. Visit us at www.postartlibrary.org to learn more about Post Mail Art Projekt 2021: Show Me Mail Art and check out Hinchcliff and Gilligan Wheeler’s Good Mail Day to learn how to get started.

As always, happy reading. And happy mailing!

By Post Art Library Director Jill Sullivan

Art Exhibit: The ABCs of Folklore and Slang

The ABCs of Folklore and Slang, an exhibit featuring 26 linocuts by artist Deby Gilley, is open now through Sunday, May 30, 2021 in The Bramlage and Willcoxon Foundation Gallery inside Joplin Public Library .

Inspired by positive feedback about the titles she gives her works, this series is based on an alphabetical sequence of key letters of the words within the titles. Gilley created these works, which reflect an Ozark heritage, using the relief-printmaking process.

“I am hopeful that my chosen images and titles offers a new and refreshing experience to the use of the slang and familiar sayings. Some of the images are people and animals that I know very well,” said Gilley.

Her book, The ABCs of Folklore and Slang Told in 26 Linocuts, was released in 2020. For more information, contact Post Art Library director Jill Sullivan at 417-623-7953 x1041 or jhsullivan@postartlibrary.org.

 

Book Review: The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin

Book Review by Post Art Library director Jill Sullivan

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, I encourage you to read a book written by – or, better yet, by and about – a woman. I started this year’s celebration by doing just that, with Margot Mifflin’s The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Admittedly, this wasn’t my first reading of this title, but my third.

Olive Oatman was born to parents who decided to settle in the American southwest as it was becoming the American southwest. Although much of the Mormonism that she was brought up with was left out of the many narratives about her life, Mifflin picks up Olive’s story at the point when it was, in fact, that very Mormonism that influenced the family’s move. Following the Brewsterite sect that broke away from Brigham Young, the Oatmans set west with others to what they thought would be a sanctuary and some sort of nation in and of itself, a nation within an expanding nation (both of which were destructive, to say the least, in their makings).

On their trek to California from Illinois, Olive’s father, Royce, broke the family away from the original Brewsterite caravan in what is now southwestern Arizona, quickly leading to the family’s demise. After an intense night “marooned on a tiny island surrounded by quicksand in the Gila River in Mexico,” the family encountered members of the Yavapai Indian tribe, who, after seemingly harmless initial contact, killed Royce, his wife Mary Ann, and four of their seven children. Lorenzo, who was all but dead after the attack, was thrown off a cliff and left to (presumably) die, while two of the daughters – Olive, 14, and a younger sister, Mary Ann – were taken by the Yavapai.

Olive and her younger sister spent about a year with the Yavapai Indians. According to Mifflin (and others), they were treated as captives, which is to say that they were treated poorly. The Mohave tribe, upon seeing the girls’ mistreatment, requested that they were traded to them. After negotiations, the girls were traded to the Mohaves, who accepted, raised, and treated them as their own. Olive spent about four years with the Mohaves; Mary Ann fewer only because she perished during a famine that they experienced.

Olive and Mary Ann were led to the beautifully described Mohave Valley by Topeka, who became their Mohave sister. Espaniole, a festival chief, and his wife, Aespaneo, became the girls’ Mohave parents. The bond that the girls, especially Olive, had with their Mohave family was strong. When Mary Ann died, both Olive and Aespaneo mourned in the traditional Mohave manner. The Mohaves gave Olive a nickname, which “confirms her acceptance within the culture; if she had been marginalized within the tribe, she would never had warranted one.” Some suspect, though never substantiated, that Olive married and had children while with the tribe.

It’s unknown whether Olive actually wanted to rejoin white society after her time with the Mohaves. It is known, however, that she had no choice but to do so once her whereabouts were discovered. The Mohave Indians were forced to return her to the whites “in exchange for horses, blankets, and beads.” Olive was upset during her so-called restoration to white society, which, as Mifflin points out, is an indication that she did not wish to return. Also, Olive never spoke ill of the Mohaves and, when the opportunity arose later in life, she went to greet and see a member of the tribe speak at an event.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Olive’s tattoo – the blue tattoo – not only because that is the book’s title, but because I am a visibly tattooed woman, though in another, vastly different, context. Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by Olive’s status as a tattooed woman, as well as interested in the history of women and tattoos, which, admittedly, is what prompted my initial reading of this book (and others by the same author).

Placed on her chin, Olive’s tattoo was a very public, permanent mark – in the 1850s – of her time with the Mohaves. Unlike some other tribes, the Mohaves did not tattoo their captives. Rather they tattooed only those who became a part of their tribe. Mifflin writes that Olive’s willingness to be tattooed indicates her willingness to become Mohave. Olive is the first known tattooed white woman in the United States, as well as the first known to profit from her tattoos. (In addition to her chin tattoo, she had vertical lines on her arms, though those were never shown publicly.) Olive’s narrative became so popular that tattooed ladies – women with real tattoos – started showing their skin in circuses and sideshows, stealing Olive’s story, distorting it and claiming it as their own, saying that they were captured and forcibly tattooed by Indians.

Olive was not like any other woman of her time. Upon her return to white culture, a man by name of Stratton wrote a (highly profitable) sensationalized account of her capture and she became a touring lecturer during a time in which it was highly unfavorable for women to work or have agency outside of the home. Eventually, Olive married a man named John B. Fairchild. In a letter to her aunt that the author includes and discusses in the postscript, it seems Olive’s marriage was a happy one. Eventually, Olive and her husband settled in Texas, where she died in 1903.

In her epilogue, Mifflin discusses Olive’s posthumous appearances. That is, her ongoing legacy in literature and television, connecting her to numerous novels and shows inspired by her story, as well as to those who tried to write themselves into her story. The author refers to this legacy as “Oatman’s Literary Half-Life” and notes, and seems disappointed, that not once in these fictional accounts is Olive reunited with her Mohave family. Indeed, it is disappointing that, even in fiction, Olive never makes her way back to the Mohaves.

I might mention that you will not find this book on the library’s shelves, but as an e-book via the library’s Ebsco eBook Collection database, which may be accessed with your library card on Joplin Public Library’s website or through their card catalog.

As always, happy reading.

Display: BOOKBINDING by Sullivan Book Arts

This display features the steps and tools of bookbinding as practiced by Sullivan Book Arts, a bindery based out of Pittsburg, Kansas.

Olive Sullivan is obsessed with books. She is a writer as well as a bookbinder and recently opened her own Little Free Library. Her poetry collection, Wandering Bone, was published in 2017 (Meadowlark Books, Emporia). She began bookbinding with Sharen May in 2011 and is now training her own apprentice, Angel Abshire, in this art.

Sullivan Book Arts specializes in restoration, custom bookbinding, art books, and more. For more information, visit them HERE.

Bookbinding is on display inside Joplin Public Library now through November 15, 2020.

Click HERE to see a news feature about Sullivan Book Arts’ Bookbinding.

Above: Bookbinding by Sullivan Book Arts
Above: Restoration In-progrss
Bookbinding by Sullivan Book Arts