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Tell a friend mail art

What a fun surprise it is to receive a beautiful or interesting piece of artwork in the mail; with mail art, the correspondence is the gallery.

I’ve been a mail art enthusiast ever since my first exchange of letters through the postal service. For the past several Januaries, I’ve taken the previous years’ wall calendars and transformed the pages into glossy, colorful envelopes using the simple templates from Haila Harvey’s The Envelope Mill. (Creative Correspondence by Michael & Judy Jacobs is an excellent mail art resource as well.)

Mail art doesn’t have to conform to a typical stationery-in-an-envelope letter. Here are some of the things I’ve successfully sent through the mail:

  • clear plastic water bottles, emptied and dried, filled with colorful confetti or sand and tiny seashells and rolled-up messages
  • pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, which when put together, displays a handwritten message
  • giant postcards made from sturdy sheets of painted cardboard
  • giant messages rolled up and mailed in poster tubes
  • tiny messages mailed in Rx pill bottles
  • messages mailed in empty candy boxes or tins
  • catalog-size envelopes made from two wall calendar pages sewn together around the edges
  • letters written on large pieces of fabric, sometimes meant to be worn as artful scarves
  • collage art
  • sticker art
  • personalized books I’ve made with spiral wire or sewn bindings
  • personalized board games I’ve made myself
  • music and audio mixes
  • videotapes

12:05, mail art by Matthew Rose
12:05 by Matthew Rose

I’ve had a lot of fun with this creative expression, but apparently, I’m rather tame as a mail artist. On occasion, I correspond with the famous mail artist John Held, Jr., who’s received everything from a preserved blowfish to a simple dollar bill, mailed sans envelope. (Even John could hardly believe those things made it through the postal service.) Pretty much anything can be mailed as long as it’s safe and legal and the postage can be hand-stamped. You can even mail a set of keys, as long as the key chain fob has the correct address and postage.

For more inspiration — or if you’d prefer to admire the mail art of others rather than create your own — I recommend the fabulous Griffin & Sabine series by Nick Bantock.

Posted November 18, 2005 by Mariva in arts, books, community, fun, resources

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5 Responses to “mail art”

  1. Afish says:

    So, can you just put the address on the water bottle? Or do you have to pack it in a cardboard box, rectangular shape?

  2. Mariva says:

    Hi, Afish,

    Yes, you can affix the address label and postage directly to the (empty) water bottle and mail it as is, sans cardboard box. The Post Office will accept it as long as the postage can be hand-canceled. I usually use a large self-adhesive address label, leave some room around the address, and affix the postage stamps to the label so that the hand-canceled stamp can be easily seen. I’ve never had a “message in a bottle” go missing in the mail.

  3. MATTHEW ROSE says:

    Thanks for putting up my 12:05 piece on your page here. It’s actually at the Galerie Tristesse Deluxe in Berlin right now. Over the bar.

    By the way, Ray Johnson once told me: “Someone mailed me a fetal goat.” Really? I asked him. “Sure, want to come over and see it?” I declined, but was pretty sure he did have that goat. When he died and police and others entered his house there was no sign of the goat, however. Or at least none that I’ve ever seen published.


    Matthew Rose
    Paris, France

  4. Mariva says:

    Dear Mr. Rose,

    It’s an honor to hear from you. Your 12:05 piece is beautiful, and I’m glad it’s being shown.

    Great story about Ray Johnson. He was most definitely one of a kind.

    Best wishes,

  5. MATTHEW ROSE says:

    Hi Mariva,

    I just came back from Denver where I installed my show Spelling With Scissors (see the web site with installation shots). We screened How to Draw a Bunny and I spoke at length about Ray Johnson. There’s so much to his work. It was the fifth time I’ve seen the film and each viewing yields more insight into his particular world. Hope you’ve seen this film. Above all it’s a great lesson in Ray’s school, however sad however joyous, but one you’ll never forget.

    Take care,