James McNeill Whistler, American artist, from One Hundred Portraits Engraved by Barry Moser (2010). The foreword by Ann Patchett and the afterword by Moser alone are worth the price of admission.
H.L. Mencken, American journalist, editor, writer and Baltimore legend
Edgar Allan Poe, American writer
Wilhelmina Haggard Holmes Moser, the artist’s mother
Frederick Douglass, American writer and abolitionist
Google “mail art” and you will find authorities saying mail art began in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Mail art… initially developed out of what eventually became Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School in the 1950s and the Fluxus movement in the 1960s… The American artist Ray Johnson is considered to be the first mail artist.”
“Mail art—broadly defined as artists’ postal communication—emerged in the early 1960s from Fluxus, Nouveau Réalisme, and Conceptual art practices and expanded into a decentralized, global network… Artful correspondence has a long tradition [italics mine], but by the early 1960s artists were self-organizing into extended exchange networks.”
— Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
I find these definitions confining. MOMA, at least, notes earlier “artful correspondence,” but books like More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (2005) by Liza Kirwin, and British Pictorial Envelopes of the 19th Century (1984) by Ritchie Bodily, Christ Jarvis and Charles Hahn, are filled with abundant examples of art in the mail — if not “Mail Art” then at least “mailed art” — from artists and gifted amateurs alike, well before the 1950s, even a hundred years before.
A selection of mail art from British Pictorial Envelopes of the 19th Century
And more mail art, from auction catalogs…
Picasso to Jean Cocteau
Henri Cassiers, 1902
Art by Charles M. Russell
The Green Parasol (1911) by Guy Orlando Rose
Two Chas Addams New Yorker Valentine’s Day covers.
“She was wearing a blue Lastex swimsuit, which was like a dress and showed off her legs, which looked lovely to me. I was trying to keep my eyes on her face as she talked, but it was difficult when all I wanted to do was lay my muzzle on her lap and have her play with my ears and pull my tail.”
— The voice of Bernie Gunther in Prague Fatale (2011) by Philip Kerr
Illustrations by Bob Childress and Jack White