Category Archives: Mail Art

Dear Amie

At the BPMA we regularly work with local community groups, engaging them with our collection and listening to their stories. The outcome is always rewarding, but sometimes the way these groups interpret our collections is truly heart-warming. The BPMA Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson, tells us about her experience working with a group of 10 trafficked women known as the Amies.

During the summer of 2014 I spent 12 weeks working with the Amies on a project run in partnership with the October Gallery to investigate the design history of the postal service. These women are of diverse nationalities and ages; brought together by PAN Arts, a London based Arts Company, and The Poppy Project, an organisation providing support, advocacy and accommodation for trafficked women, and as such had a wide range of experiences and outlooks.

Over the course of the 12 weeks we looked at the changing uniforms of postal workers, the process of stamp design, the poster collection and mail art.

Examples of mail art from the BPMA collections

Examples of mail art from the BPMA collections

Inspired by their own experiences and the objects and stories explored in the BPMA collections, the group responded in creative ways, guided by the artist Ella Phillips from October Gallery. We designed our own stamp artwork, sent our own mail art through the post and they sent letters to family and friends, some examples of which you can see below. In addition, each participant had their own sketch book that they could add to during the workshops and in their own time.

Some of the work created by the Amies

Some of the work created by the Amies

Dear Amie exceeded our expectations; not only did it facilitate a range of positive outcomes for the participants but it also proved invaluable to the BPMA. One of the participants described her pride in having created positive experiences and a new life for herself and there was an eagerness to develop a second phase of the project in 2015. For this the women decided they’d like to create a textile output which will be displayed in our brand new Postal Museum, due to open in 2016.

Stamp artwork created by the group

One of the Amies design for a stamp showing things important to her

For the BPMA we learned some extremely valuable lessons and gained some remarkable stories of what the postal service means to different people. The level of engagement showed us the true potential of our collection and the diverse ways in which it can be used to inspire a wide range of audiences. The postal theme resonated with the women in a way that we could not have imagined. For most of them, sending a letter to loved ones had been a lifeline through extremely difficult circumstances. Recollection of these memories, stimulated through the exploration of BPMA material, led to a fascinating and unexpected reinterpretation of some of our objects and the discovery of some truly remarkable, personal stories. It reinforced to us that our collection can be interpreted in meaningful, personal ways and act as a catalyst to uncovering touching stories such as those of the Amies.

Puzzles for Postmen

James Addison is a graphic designer currently living and working in Poole, England. In this guest post, he shares his hobby of sending peculiar addresses through the post.

Sending peculiar post has been a hobby of mine for many years. The thrill of receiving a handwritten letter or postcard really cannot be emulated by a stark and cold email. From the feel of the paper to the indentations caused when putting pen to paper; there is a sort of chemistry when you receive a physical message that feels incredibly personal. However, it’s even better when you realise and appreciate the effort it has taken to deliver that message.

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I grew up in a very leafy village in Buckinghamshire and we had a postman there called Frank who was, in my opinion, incredibly efficient. Letters would be delivered exactly at the same time every day; he knew the area inside out and he was rarely late. It was at this point that I thought I could set him a challenge, an opportunity to test both his and the sorting office’s detective skills. I started first with an envelope sent to my home address with a hand-drawn map and a drop pin as to where it should be delivered. To my disbelief the letter was delivered back the very next day (with only a second-class stamp) and so started a project spanning over 5–6 years where I would occasionally send the odd puzzle to see if it would make its way home.

Knowing of my little hobby, my parent’s bought me a book titled ‘Envelopes’ by illustrator Harriet Russell. She had a very similar project back in 1999 where she sent 130 cryptic envelopes to her home in Glasgow. This book has been of great inspiration to me over the years and has fueled my passion for all things postal.

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Unlike Russell’s prolific efforts, I have only sent twenty to thirty different envelopes of this sort. From poems and Morse code to drawing a building’s façade, only two have failed to reach their intended destination. These were an envelope with just my name and a print-out of a google map but the drop pin was slightly in the wrong place. – I’m not surprised those two didn’t make it.

I have always had a huge amount of admiration for the postal service from a very young age but after delivering my letters so successfully I have nothing but huge respect for their workforce. People do think of it as a huge well-oiled machine (which it is) but what I have discovered is that it has a very human spirit. A company with a personality is far more interesting than the faceless corporates we so often see. This is embodied in the way that the envelopes come back to me so often with smiley faces or penned scribbles from the sorting office. – A great personal touch.

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By far the best response was an envelope that read: ‘Dear Royal Mail, Please choose one of the following people who most deserves this envelope.’ Then underneath were three different friend’s addresses with a small biography about each one. Remarkably, when one of my friends finally received the letter it had a whole conversation scrawled across the front as it traversed the country. ‘No, this one…’ ‘No, no this guy’ it read. The chosen friend had a giant heart drawn around his head in pink crayon. Brilliant.

Puzzles for Postmen from James Addison.

I have since decided to give my local sorting office a break and have stopped sending cryptic mail for now in favour of clearly marked addresses. However, this small project has definitely proven that we have one of the best postal services in the world. No other mail company would embrace poorly labelled envelopes with such eccentricity and commitment to deliver everything that comes their way.

For more information about my project please visit: http://www.jamesaddison.co.uk/#/puzzles-for-postmen/