Danger Mail

Lost Lions Gorey

From The Lost Lions (2011) by Edward Gorey


Tea & Letters

Matania 1

Fortunino Mantania was an Italian artist, living in London, who worked as an “allied war artist” during World War I, with most of his work being published in The Sphere. Above, British officers having afternoon tea in a ruined farm house in Ypres, and below, a soldier writes a Christmas letter to his family, using an ammunition box as a desk.

Matania 2

From Goodbye, Old Man: Mantania’s Vision of the First World War (2014) by Lucinda Gosling.

Mail Art & Mailed Art

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.

mailed 1

A selection of mail art from British Pictorial Envelopes of the 19th Century

mailed 2

mailed 3

mailed 4

mailed 5

And more mail art, from auction catalogs…

Mail Lake

Mail Keg

Mail Picasso to Jean Cocteau

Picasso to Jean Cocteau

Mail 1874

Mail Henri Cassiers, 1902

Henri Cassiers, 1902

Mail Book


Letter Drop

PO Box ChicagoThe lobby mailbox in the LaSalle Bank Building (1934), today the Bank of America Building, in Chicago, IL. The mailbox, which also receives all the mail deposited from the floors above, is a model of the building; the lights in the windows indicate the location of the elevators. From Art Deco Mailboxes (2015) by Karen Greene and Lynne Lavelle, a magnificent history and design collection.