The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts November 18, 2005

Art Goes Completely Postal
Envelope Collective Encourages Creation of Mail Art
Sent on their way: Envelope Collective received this writing mail art from an art therapy patient at the McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA

As the use of postal mail moves further toward becoming a lost practice, two College senior art majors are working to create a new perspective on the mail. Garrett Miller and Adam Morse recently began the Envelope Collective, an ongoing experiment that involves sending art, in envelope or other forms, through the mail.

“There aren’t really any rules [to the project],” said Morse. “But essentially what we ask is that you decorate an envelope, but not necessarily an envelope, because an envelope is a very ambiguous term, but send something — a letter, a box — through the mail.”

They encourage all people to become involved in the collective, calling for submissions in any form.

“You don’t have to be an artist to send something. People are so self-conscious about doing art, but anything is art,” said Miller. “It can be anonymous if you want, too. [Whatever you send is] art in itself.”

The two received sponsorship to set up a P.O. Box through the Oberlin post office as a place to receive submissions for the collective. At this point in the project, they have made a call for submissions through their website, which will eventually serve as an online gallery of the pieces that they receive.

“The greater cause is to make a series, a collection of the envelopes that come in and be able to auction them off to independent galleries and charities that are committed to spreading art in a positive way — for example, ones that would deliver art materials to those who don’t have the means, or artists affected by Katrina,” said Miller. “We don’t know where the project is going to go, other than seeing how the website goes and how the community itself responds to it.”

So far, the art community is responding very well. Last week, the Envelope Collective was featured on three popular websites. In addition to filled e-mail accounts, the actual P.O. Box is already beginning to fill as well. Though the project is based in Oberlin and they encourage local participation, their hopes are for the collective to become international.

“We’ve gotten tons of e-mails from people who are really enthusiastic, from all over the world,” said Morse, “from places like Greece, Norway, Portugal, Brazil, Singapore and Germany.”

For example, an art therapy director at Mclean hospital in Belmont, Mass. learned of the project and used it as therapy for her patients. Last week, the collective received a package of 14 unique letters from the patients.

The idea for the collective began separately between Miller and Morse over the past year. The collaboration has enabled the project to take form.

“I had a fascination with the post office,” said Morse. “Last year I thought a lot about this world of instant communication, like with cell phones and e-mail. And it’s an amazing feeling to get something in the mail with an actual stamp on it because someone took the time to send it to you. Essentially, each piece of art that comes in has traveled its own journey.”

Miller appreciates the process of sending mail in comparison to the electronic means by which most communication occurs today.

“When you get actual mail, through snail mail, you can see the personality and what goes into the pieces,” he said. “It’s always really cool to think about whose hands it’s passed through and who’s seen it. And especially if it’s a piece of art itself, and that means that everyone who touches it has seen [the art]. You’re forced to see it. And you don’t know anything about it...It adds so much more depth to the art.”

Despite apparent contradictions between the individuality of the mailings and the impersonality of the Internet as a place to hold the project, they believe that it is the most logical and efficient medium.

“The thing about the Internet is that it’s the one thing that unifies everyone in the world — it’s a way to feature everything,” said Miller. “We hope to create an online dynamic community where people can get together and comment on each other’s work and see how it all comes together.”

Miller and Morse intend for the Envelope Collective to become a new means for artistic conversation.“As an artist, one of the best ways to communicate with those you know and love is by doing something for them,” said Miller. “So much effort is put into this thing that you’re mailing, knowing that you’re not going to get it back.”

Since the contributors do not receive anything in return, Miller and Morse imagined possible discontent with their project.

“The whole thing about mail art is that if you send something through the mail, you expect to get something back from another mail artist, and so that was sort of this iffy thing,” said Miller. “But we are showing this project as donating your art to the cause and being featured on the site, without getting anything back [as a response to that].”

The Envelope Collective, though in its infancy, appears to be off to a grand beginning. Miller and Morse hope to feature shows of the mail art locally in the future.

For more information, go to

To submit art, mail your piece to The Envelope Collective, P.O. Box 365, Oberlin, Ohio 44074.


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