Ever Wonder How A Family Heirloom Becomes Mail-Art in Finland?

What you’re looking at here is a delightful collage piece from the wonderful and talented Amy Irwen who lives in Rosemount Minnesota USA. She’s consistently amazing, a mail-art coconspirator many times over. She sent this piece to another awe inspiring artist from Petsmo Finland named, Carina Granlund. I cannot write how many ideas I have blatantly taken from these two women over the years.
What I’m doing here is tracing the movement of those yellowed cowboy images in the back of the collage. I often send packages of paper and bits of ephemera to other mail-artists. Those two images were in one of those packages I sent to Amy a few months ago. Every time I send something like this I have the expectation that people are going to repurpose the gift. I want them to add the bits of paper to another collage. I want them to cut things up and move them around the world. It’s a nice feeling seeing those items pop up in people’s work.
So often the images I get are taken from my constant thrift store shopping. Every week I go to thrift stores, mostly looking for things I can put into collages and mail around the world. Mainly I spend time in the used book sections looking for weird shit. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve gone through moldy encyclopedias, microwave cookbooks, and the autobiography of Lee Iaococo to get to that one gem. I really like line drawings. I like medical books. I like ‘how to’ tomes about pretty much anything, I like the strange. Every week I buy these books for a dime or a quarter or a dollar, take them home… rip them up. I make sure to keep the front and back covers to make collages out of. Sometimes my collection of images will stack up; so I’ll go through them, cut them down, add then add them to packages filled with collages and add and passes.
The two cowboy images in the above collage didn’t come to me in this way. Some moths back my mom gave me a stack of books from my great aunt and uncle who had recently died. I meticulously went through the books, keeping all of the books intact that had remnants of the previous owner; you know things like drawings or handmade notes. The rest I ripped up to make into collages. I didn’t feel too great doing this, ripping up a gift in this way, but giving each book new life around the world, felt right. The images could be used, could be enjoyed by so many more people if they were allowed to leave my possession. Maybe I’d be the only person to know the book came from Caroline, Mary, Amy, Ken, James, or the weird kid down the street who just left it at my ancestral manse, but that was ok.
One of those books was a small cowboy book that was copyright form the 1930’s. This would have been when my great-aunt and uncle and grandparents were children. Not that I know it was their book, but it probably originated in my family at some time. Somehow things just end up in people’s houses.
Let’s back up, the book came into my families possession in the 1930’s (it sounds better this way since there’s no way to really know), my family kept it until just last year, when I took it apart in my kitchen in Winston Salem North Carolina, mailed it to a mail art friend in Minnesota, and then she created something new out of it and then sent it to Finland. The person in Finland then shared that image with the rest of the world, amazing. I can’t think of a better way to honor such a present than to gift it.
I prefer to think that this was my great-aunt Caroline’s book even though the subject matter really didn’t fit for a young girl. I like to think it’s her book because Caroline is in some way responsible for my interest in mail-art. Caroline always sent postcards. She sent them to me before she moved back to North Carolina from Philadelphia and continued sending them when I was in college. Every trip I’d take I’d send her a card. Slowly but surely I got into the habit of mailing cards to all of my friends. Some of them were purchased at tourist traps and others were a little more creative. At this point, in 2016, I must have sent certain close friends hundreds of things through the mail.
And then I saw How to Draw a Bunny, the documentary about Ray Johnson, and it was all over. After a failed attempt at making and then sending mail-art, the whole “thing” took hold on me about six years ago. Since that time I’ve worked on something, even in the smallest way by cutting or pasting, pretty much every day. Mail art has been a creative force that has allowed me to connect with people across the world, and it has motivated me to create. It also helps to feed my thrift store addiction that started well before I mailed my first postcard.
So there it is, in a roundabout way I sometimes get to see the strange remnants of my family, my history, and my creativity whenever someone posts a scanned postcard from the forests of Finland.


Nina said…
Now I know the story behind those book pages you have send me and many others. Thanks for this great story!
Amy said…
Awesome Jon...I love getting your little packages of bits...I save what I know I will use and pass on to another mail artist the bits that I won't use...Your story makes be feel very good about upcycling.
zzzzzzzz said…
Nina, yeah that is the story. I've tried to used my addiction to thrift stores to help others out from time to time. Thanks so much for reading.

Amy, that's great, I'm glad that you pass it on. I love seeing where random bits of paper end up. Sometimes I recognize something I had a hand in appearing in the strangest of places. Keep it moving! Thanks for reading and thanks for being part of the whole story, Amy.