Postcards to Brattleboro: 40 Years of Mail Art

March 14 - October 12, 2020

Stuart Copans’ artwork speaks through the simple tools and materials of everyday life: paper, scissors, postcards, and stamps. The art he creates moves quietly around the world through a distribution network operated by an enormous postal bureaucracy. Mail carriers in Brattleboro, Vermont, know about Copans’ unusual mail, and mail clerks participate (unaware or voluntarily) in the placement of postmarks and other rubber cancellation marks. 

Mail art senders are also receivers. In fact, in the world of mail art, the address IS the art, and mail carriers are heroes! This exhibition is a testimony to what Copans has received through many years of participation in what would otherwise be an invisible art form, hidden to all except the local post folks. Said Copans, “Postal officials appreciate my mail, even the inflated water toy that looked like a dragon!” No wonder he is a legend in Brattleboro to all who handle his mail.

There is no simple explanation of what Copans does, even though his intricate mailings employ standard tools. He is prolific with the objects he creates for intentional postings, whether postcards, artists’ books, stamps, poetry, or objects he finds, like driftwood from the Connecticut River. On one occasion, Copans sent CrackerJack Kid a box of pistachio shells, each marked with whimsical faces, that fell out of their box—all 100 shells everywhere on the Kid’s kitchen floor. Was this planned, was it an accident, or was it a box of serendipity?

Copans’ postcards and philatelic “first-day covers” are festooned with rubber stamps, whimsical doodles, eloquent cut-outs, drawings on birch bark, poems, ditties, and Rorschach-like silhouettes, cut with fantastic agility and speed. All of Copans’ mail art appears under the mysterious pseudonym “Shmuel,” a name that has come to personify something beautiful, weird, and unexpected. For nearly fifty years, recipients have welcomed Shmuel’s sendings in anticipation of objects that are fascinating, intriguing, mysterious, provocative, and humorous. Opening his mail is always an event!

Postcards to Brattleboro includes mail art from Shmuel to another New England mail artist, CrackerJack Kid (yours truly). Also included in this exhibition are mail art ephemera that Copans received from Kandy Phillips, Walt Evans, Julie Hagan Bloch, John Bennett, Jazzy Lupa, Peter Dudley, Andrea Jay, and Ryosuke Cohen. Finding these artists’ mail art involved searching through numerous packages and boxes in Copans’ extensive mail art archive. His collection is estimated to include over 25,000 artifacts. It is one of New England’s best-kept secrets—until now. 

— Chuck Welch, Curator

RELATED RESOURCES

Photo Gallery
Virtual Exhibit Tour
“Irony & Failure: David Keith and Stu Copans talk about their collaborative books”
Irony” Artist Book by David Keith and Stu Copans
Failure” Artist Book by David Keith and Stu Copans

RELATED EVENTS

March 14, Saturday, 3-5 p.m. – Opening of New Exhibits
May 1, Friday, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Talking Mail Art with Shmuel during Gallery Walk
May 20, Wednesday, 7 p.m. – Panel: Surprise! You’ve Got Mail Art
June 5, Friday, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Talking Mail Art with Shmuel during Gallery Walk