Considering the postcard

When I left home as a scholarship student at a university thousands of miles away, my best friend gave me a book of twenty Frida Kahlo postcards, each of which she had stamped and addressed with her own address. And that act kicked off a postcard exchange that has lasted for three decades. And because she gave me those postcards, I have sent my friends and family postcards both when I travel and when I find one I like in a bookshop or boutique. Some of these friends have felt obligated to send me postcards back. I have kept them all. A new and recent friendship was cemented when he asked for my snail mail address via text and I received a postcard from him the following week, before I had even disclosed my fondness for them. 2019 has been a year of postcard making. To cope with climate despair, I started collecting botanicals on hikes and printing them, most commonly on postcards. I both gave some of these away blank and wrote messages on others and posted them.

Botanical 2019, monotype

Botanical 2019, monotype


This spring, I started a series of little activist self-care postcards, using linocut—things to inspire the community organizers and teachers and social workers I know. I both gave these away and sent them through the mail.

People Power postcard, 2019, linocut

People Power postcard, 2019, linocut


This summer when I had a chance to travel, I decided to bring only my most portable art supplies and packed a stash of markers and blank postcards. And while I did buy postcards at various stops, I also started making little watercolors of places I visited and putting them in the mail.

World’s Largest Tree, 2019, watercolor brush markers and ink

World’s Largest Tree, 2019, watercolor brush markers and ink

So imagine my delight when I happened across this book by accident on a display at my local public library:

https://thamesandhudson.com/the-world-exists-to-be-put-on-a-postcard-artists-postcards-from-1960-to-now-9780500480434

https://thamesandhudson.com/the-world-exists-to-be-put-on-a-postcard-artists-postcards-from-1960-to-now-9780500480434

It opens with these passages: “One of the pleasures of artists’ work with postcards is that, being made of non-precious material, they invite handling, ask to be included in our lives, picked up and turned over and puzzled about, shown to friends. The inexpensiveness of production encourages artists to experiment in their design…Egalitarian is the vital word concerning postcards. Until recently postcards were part of everyone’s life, displayed on the mantelpieces of urban flats and pinned to the walls of artists’ studios. They have influenced the creation of radical new works of art…Artists still work with, and on, postcards, cutting, scraping, collaging, painting, embroidering and erasing to make unique pieces.” That phrase “until recently” points to the ways in which texting and social media have supplanted the postcard. In my day job as a sociology instructor, I sometimes ask my students to make postcards that are visual statements from canonical texts in sociology, such as C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination:

Student postcard, 2017

Student postcard, 2017

I ask them to mail these postcards out as acts of civic engagement to a recipient of their choice. When we do this activity, most students have to be taught how to address a postcard, where to find stamps and where to put the stamp on the postcard. So, Jeremy Cooper is quite right to imply that postcards are no longer part of everyone’s life. In addition to all of the points Cooper makes about their accessibility, their potential disappearance from everyday life also drives my interest in postcards as a genre. It is perhaps not an accident that this year I have doubled down on my own lifelong postcard obsession? practice? Even if you do not make your own postcards, I would encourage you to pick one up now and then, write a short note on the back and pop it in the mail. You will bring a moment of delight to its recipient.

Two big boosts to my work: A Belle Foundation for Cultural Development grant and a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty fellowship

This news from from the Belle Foundation came at the tail end of a two week long bout of the flu in which I was questioning my life choices and what it means to pursue a second shift of artmaking on top of my day job as a sociology instructor. I feel so so grateful for the encouragement that this grant represented to me and am using the grant to develop my printmaking practice and hire an animator for my historical documentary called The Spider Web that is currently in post-production. Since the letter from the Belle Foundation, I also was one of 26 inaugural fellows nationwide awarded a 2019 Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learning Societies Community College Faculty Fellowship, which I will be using to begin reading and analyzing the now 600+ interviews contributed to the 1500 Stories project in order to develop a public sociology podcast about the lived experience of economic inequality in the U.S. It is ridiculously exciting to be facing the prospect of having the time to delve into the stories collected by volunteers in New Jersey, Wisconsin and the Silicon Valley. You can read the abstract for my Mellon/ACLS project here.

This year for Giving Tuesday, help 1500 Stories give voice to economic inequality

If you believe in the power of stories to build empathy across our differences, consider making a donation to the 1500 Stories project. 1500 Stories is a collaborative art and digital storytelling project about economic inequality in the U.S. So, far we have collected nearly 500 stories from people living at different economic positions in the Silicon Valley, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Your donation can help us share those stories with the world! If you aren’t ready to donate, you can still become advocate for the project by sharing the Giving Tuesday campaign within your social networks. Go to:

https://www.givecampus.com/schools/FoothillDeAnzaFoundation/1500-stories

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 7.06.27 AM.png