Thursday August 23, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- Re ceiving letters in the mail can be one of those small joys in life. As a kid, maybe a Highlights magazine or a birthday card stuffed with $5 from grandma gave reason to tear through the paper. As an adult, the postal carriers only bring bills and coupon booklets -- far less exciting than a Zoo Book.

But for one group of women, with eager artist Tara O'Brien at the helm, the postal service has delivered art in the form of small packages and intricately designed postcards.

"Postal Pinacotheca: A Mail Exchange Between Artists from America & Australia," on view starting Thursday, Aug. 30, at PRESS gallery in North Adams as part of DownStreet Art, is a display of the work of six female artists who came together with thoughtfulness and the help of a few stamps.

Pinacotheca meant a picture gallery in ancient Greece or Rome.

"Have you ever gotten anything like this in the mail before?" asked Melanie Mow inski, founder of PRESS, in a recent interview. She held out a small yellow box that fit in the palm of her hand.

"I could never send this in the United States, because this is smaller than we're allowed to send things," she said.

This particular piece of mail came from one of the Australian artists who joined in the mail exchange. Mowinski, an assistant professor of art at the Mas sachusetts College of Liberal Arts, says one of the most interesting points of the exhibit is the differences in sizes and postage stamps from each artist.

Out of the singularities of each artist, the exchange developed six themes: Money, Inside/ Outside, Travel, Habitat, Weather, and Animal-Mineral-Vegetable. Mowinski focused her pieces on weather.

"We all picked a theme, and everyone had to make something," Mowinski said. "How ever they interpreted whatever that word was, they would make whatever they wanted to make."

O'Brien brought the six wo men together. She had gone to Australia for a presen tation and met Babette Angell, Anne-Maree Hunter and Heather Matthew there. O'Brien knew Mowinski, along with Katie Baldwin, from the graduate program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

"All six of us had had some kind of history at some point where we have done some kind of mail art in the past," Mow inski said.

Starting in August 2011, the artists had artworks due every two months, finishing the first in September, then November, January, March, May and July. The artists could take their time; they set a postmark deadline for the last day of each month. The exhibit will show only the works Mowinski and Angell received.

With the rapidity of today's day-to-day life, the artists wanted to take some time to slow down.

"When you write something or print something, you think about it a little bit more," Mowinski said. "You're a little bit more conscious about what you are putting on paper because you can't just backspace or delete."

Part of the appeal of "Postal Pinacotheca" was the expectation of receiving a piece of mail and wondering what ideas went into the package.

"There's this waiting period," she said.

One piece O'Brien sent to Mow inski came from Ben Frank lin's post office in Philadelphia. Only from there can someone receive a specific cancellation stamp.

"She really thought about that cancellation stamp," Mowinski said. "Every single part of this was thought out."

In an artist's statement, O'Brien said: " There is also the unavoidable audience/participant factor -- the postal workers in our global postal system. The mail is unpredictable -- the items we've sent have traveled have traveled through many hands to reach the recipient. The journey leaves its own marks."

There's a real intimacy in the artwork these female printmakers and book artists have produced. According to Mowinski, each piece took, on average, two to three hours, if not longer. Each artist spent between 20 and 30 hours on the project, collectively 120 to 180 hours.

"It's a really great opportunity to look at what we did and share it with other people and just see what the possibilities are and how different people interpret the same thing."


What: 'Postal Pinacotheca'
at DownStreet Art, opening with refreshments

When: Thursday, Aug. 30, from 6 to 9 p.m.

‘Postal Pinacotheca' will run from Aug. 30 to Sept. 23.

Where: PRESS, 105 Main St. in North Adams
Information: letterpresspublicartproject.wordpress.com or letterpress105@gmail.com.