Going Postal at SF Center for the Book!

Written by in Events


We thmail/art/book exhibition 

at the San Francisco Center for the Book

The February 14 opening of mail/art/book, the new exhibition at the San Francisco Center for the Book, was quite the love fest. And it was only the beginning, the kick-off caper to an entire weekend of mail art madness, called Ex Postal Facto.


Above, The party swirled around the display cases and the presses.
Many artworks were also “filed” in mail bins, with enticing placards: Please touch.

Mail art, which really got its start in the early 1960s, embraces the notion that artists can share their work without commercial middlemen, simply by mailing it to others of like mind. In the spirit of “mail art tourism,” mail/art/book is non-commercial and non-judgmental: every piece submitted was de facto accepted. None of the artwork is for sale, and none of it will be returned. Co-curator Jennie Hinchcliff will be the keeper of it all, and we expect she will put the collection to fab use (and re-use).


Co-curator John Held, Jr. has written extensively about mail art for various publications, in addition to being a prolific practitioner. He is currently organizing and inventorying the collection of mail artist Patricia Tavenner (who passed away in 2013). Tavenner’s archival collection wonderfully illustrates the evolution of mail art on the West Coasts of Canada and the U.S. over 40-some years. With the generous permission of Tavenner’s family, John has filled two cases with key documents to set the stage for visitors to mail/art/book. These works are also included in the catalog.

Above, the full-color 100-page catalog is also great for collecting 
signatures and rubber stampings from participating artists. Co-curator
John Held stamped the title page of his essay for me, with
dancing peanuts and self-portrait-with-party-hat.

 The catalog, designed by Maureen Forys of Happenstance Type-O-Rama, showcases every work in the show, all of which were mailed – from some 300 artists in 30 countries – to Jennie’s Post Office Box in San Francisco. Entries range from elaborate postcards and fanciful envelopes to handmade books and artworks made by altering books – and, of course, artistamps, also known as Cinderellas (the poor step-child of real postage stamps) or poster stamps.


Above, Niko Courtelis created two artistamps to trade with other
mail artists at Ex Postal Facto. Photo courtesy of Niko Courtelis. 

Niko Courtelis typed two artistamp designs on his U.S. Navy-issue Underwood Universal typewriter, then scanned them. Sheets were laser printed and personally perforated by Jennie at her Red Letter Day studio. Niko used four pieces of wood type to create his EPF! rubber stamp.


Karen Van Hatcher’s palette arrived from Oregon in
great shape.Yes, that’s wood. The U.S. postage is at upper right.

Each event (Opening Reception, Vendor Expo [at the magnificent Elks Lodge on Saturday], Panel Discussion & Forum [at the SF Public Library on Sunday afternoon] had a special cancellation for everyone’s passport. Many mail artists also brought their own special rubber stamps – and some superb artistamps – for embellishing each others’ passports.


Above, Interior pages of the official passport for Ex Postal Facto 2014 are printed
on Neenah Royal Sundance Natural (Fiber finish = just perfect!). 

One of my favorite rubber stamps was deployed by James Cline, founding postmaster of the Black Rock City Post Office – a.k.a. Burning Man. On Friday evening, James sported his full postal regalia and manned the mail collection booth he built to take to Burning Man years ago. He collected several hundred pieces of outgoing mail, which he entrusted to Jennie for cancelling with her USPS-approved postmark.

Julie Peasley, founding postmistress of the ephemeral Black Rock City Post Office, coined the motto, “No plain envelopes allowed.” I cherish it.


James Cline, founding postmaster of the Black Rock City Post Office
– a.k.a. Burning Man. Photo below, James stamps my passport.

no plain envelopes

Hey?! What’s the Big Idea?!!

What:  mail/art/book exhibition

When:  Through April 27

Where: SF Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island Street, at the foot of Potrero Hill in San Francisco 94103

Cost: Admission is free.

All photos, except as noted, © 2014 Von Span.

Labeled as:
  1. 03
    tom wright said:

    If there could be a Doctorate on “Going Postal” Alyson would be sponsor of such a degree. She has so much passion for the art of both the letter and the way in which the contents are delivered. It’s a thrill to have her insight and news from the street where we all get to learn.

  2. 03
    Alyson Kuhn said:

    Thank you, Tom! I am enveloped with delight by your comment. And you were absolutely present in spirit at the mail-arty party

  3. 03

    Thank you Alyson for such a wonderfully descriptive write up! The Ex Postal Facto weekend was an incredible celebration of postal cultural, philatelics, and of course — paper! From start to finish, it was a delight to work with Neenah products (exhibition signage, weekend passports); your article perfectly captures the essence of both the event and the commemorative keepsakes.

  4. 03

    we all had a great time! i met new friends, mail art buddies, and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. my new Ex Postal Facto passport will be cherished as it’s filled with Cinderellas, rubber stampings, and newfound friends. <3

  5. 03

    it was a pleasure to attend, and honor to speak, and a reward to once again be on some mail artist’s
    lists after so many years.

  6. 03
    jesarchives said:

    big CONGRATS . . . for a job well done . . . . . double fist bumps . . . . . thank you for all the work , time and energy that you have contributed to this project . . . and i love your visuals . . . . . .
    from a poor step child . . . of the universal long distance postage parade . . . . . .

  7. 03
    PamelaArts said:

    Alyson–fabulous event and fabulous article. The mail art at SFCB is so wonderful I am going back a few times to see it. The opening was such fun and the three days of XPF were amazing. thanks to all who were involved — especially Jennie Hinchcliff.

  8. 03

    Thanks Alyson! You are entertaining and insightful, and your article really captured the spirit of the wonderful Ex Postal Facto weekend. Those passports are real treasures. Bravo!