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Sudbury exhibit looks for book-inspired 'mail art'

SUDBURY – Mail art, a decades-old art form, is making a small comeback spurred by the pandemic, with one of the latest postal projects popping up in Sudbury.

With the help of the Postal Service, Bethany Shaw of the Sudbury Art Association and Amy Wilson Sheldon of the literary project A Lifely Read are collecting works of art for a project called bookMARKED. Submissions are inspired by a book that had a significant impact on the creator. Maximum size is 5 x 9 inches (127 x 229mm), with postage preferably attached directly to the art though envelopes are allowed.

It's a mode of expression that bloomed in the late 1950s, pioneered by artist Ray Johnson, who mailed small-scale pieces to friends and strangers with instructions to change the image and send it back to him. Sheldon called it a "renegade art form" with no barrier to participate.

"It's a casual kind of art," said Sheldon. "Anyone can do it — you stick it in your mailbox and off it goes."

The call for art first went out around February, as Shaw and Sheldon were searching for ways to bring their two interests together — art and books — and collaborate. When the COVID-19 crisis shuttered art galleries and studios, it forced artists to come up with new and creative ways to create and share their work, bringing new meaning to the project. 

The plan is to eventually exhibit the work at the Goodnow Library, with a date still to be determined. There is currently no deadline for the project.

Work from across the world, including Japan, Germany, and Spain, has flooded in. One example created by a Framingham artist depicts children's character Harold, armed with his purple crayon, scrawling a line through Goodnow Library and the Grist Mill. In another, an artist sending from Greece had pasted scraps of their travel guide: a 1969 copy of a Fodor's guide to Turkey.

The damage and postal markings the art endures as it navigates mailboxes and post offices quickly becomes part of it, said Sheldon. For one San Antonio artist, her creation fell apart in the mail, arriving as just a blank yellow postcard. On the "Bookmarked01776" Instagram account, the artist promised that more mail art was on its way to Sudbury.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Sudbury Cultural Council, a local agency, which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. 

Anyone can participate. There's no fees, no jury, and no return. Art should be submitted to Sudbury Art Association, P.O. Box 192, Sudbury, MA 01776, USA.

"This is the perfect project for the time we find ourselves in -- you just need some stamps and the ability to get to a mailbox or post office," said Sheldon.

Zane Razzaq writes about education. Reach her at 508-626-3919 or zrazzaq@wickedlocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz. 

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