|The SPOT sign in question.|
I got to about ten thrift stores every week. In a good week I might hit as many as twenty. I’ve done this for about fifteen years straight. Normally I look for various forms of media, solid colored button up shirts both in long and short sleeves, and random things to use in mail-art. Unfortunately, I spend most of my time in Goodwill’s since there’s so many of them. I prefer thrift stores that will attempt to sell anything. Goodwill generally sells “nicer stuff.” The places that sell a box of rusted nails for a dollar are perfect. If the thrift store has the unwritten (or written moto) of “put it on a shelf,” it’s my kind of place.
Periodically I find paintings and drawings. If they have some personality and a weird perspective, I buy them. Mostly these end up being paintings. I flip through a lot of bad landscapes and Bob Ross triumphs to get to something interesting. Finding mail-art at a thrift store, especially a Goodwill, seems impossible. I couldn’t imagine someone’s collection coming in, and the person pricing it, realizing their pile of envelopes was art. In seconds those would be tossed into the trash. The only mail-art in my collection that wasn’t directly sent to me was given to me by a friend. I’m not even sure if people collect mail-art if they’re not in the network. That seems like a question to put out there…future idea, noted.
I was at the Waughtown Goodwill in Winston-Salem, looking at the games and puzzles, when something grabbed my attention. It was a stop sign, or at least it appeared that way from the corner of my eye. It felt out of place. It felt odd. I picked up the sign and noticed that it read “SPOT” instead of “STOP” on the front. I turned it around and saw that it said “For Alex Cheek 10/25” at the top, underneath I saw Richard Canard’s famous signature. The price was 50 cents. I paused in the aisle marveling at the plastic “spot sign,” wondering how I was the person to come across the item. I wondered how many of these types of things I had simply passed by in my years of going to thrift stores. Immediately I paid for my new treasure and took it back home.
Richard didn’t answer my request for more information about the sign through IUOMA’s site. I figured he’d be more likely to respond if I sent him a letter with images of the sign. A few days after sending the letter I see that I got a call from him. It took another three or four days of back and forth messages before we got to talk about the sign. In his quick and truncated fashion, Richard told me a little bit about Alex Cheek, someone I haven’t sent to. He said that he lived in Winston-Salem and even gave me his address (Richard’s most recent mail had been returned), his phone number, his wife’s name and what he remembers about him. Richard told me that he was a Wake Forest University graduate, a stamp collector, and might have been an instructor at a local university.
Richard told me that the “SPOT SIGN” had been done in a series “about fifteen years ago.” He told me had some leftover and if I “wanted another one” he’d send it to me. “Sure,” I said, any of Richard’s work is a treat even if it’s like other work. The two of us talked for a little bit, he asked about my summer, and I asked about his, and then we ended our conversation. I forgot to ask what was behind the series and where others might have been sent. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he remembered who he sent the others to. The sign is “on brand” for Richard. He’s playing with language and common iconography, it’s deceptively simple, and funny. It’s work that looks familiar but can be noticed while someone is rushing through Goodwill looking for bingo cards.
I got off the phone and did a little sleuthing. When I googled the address that Richard gave me for Alex Cheek, I was a little surprised by the ranch style home just a few miles from where I currently live. Periodically I do this, I street view addresses I’ve been sending to for years and I’m always a little disappointed. Mail-artists should live in houses surrounded by mystery. They should live in holes in the ground, large race car shaped houses but not in ranch houses with detached garages. The house in question recently sold, mix this with the appearance of his things at a Goodwill…and it looked bleak for finding the man. I didn’t find an obituary. I didn’t find anything concerning his wife through a simple google search or through Facebook searches. The only thing I could find were references to his work from years ago in other mail-art anthologies.
One of those references came through John Held, Jr so I sent him a message. He responded, “Maybe around for 2 years or so. If I find more info, I’ll send. seemed like an older gentleman, probably a veteran. I had the feeling he was into fake stamps, more than mail art... maybe a philatelist.”
The other reference was with Chuck Welch. He confirmed a few things that I had run across in talking with Richard C., that Cheek “was a mail art provocateur.” Someone maybe a little bit on the right of the political spectrum which is not too common in the network. He went on with, “he lives near Winston Salem and conducts Civil marriages as a full-time job. I did google search with his name. Haven’t been in touch with him for decades. He dropped out of mail art around the same time as Mark Corroto.” I sent a message to Corroto but I haven’t heard back.
If you have any info to share, please post in the comments.