by: Rita A. Leonard, Sellwood Branch Library volunteer Emily Carlson creates a display of local “Mail Art”, currently posted on the bulletin board in the Children’s Section.

The Sellwood Branch Library has organized its first display of public 'Mail Art'. This type of participatory artwork is created and sent through the postal system by the artist, and can occur in many fascinating forms.

Following a successful Mail Art show at Multnomah County's Central Library, the Sellwood branch's Youth Librarian, Brianne Williams, suggested trying a similar program at that location, focused on books and reading.

Library Assistant Ann Knutson, who has worked nine years at the branch library at S.E. 13th and Bidwell Streets, has received some Mail Art by post, as well as some dropped off by patrons.

'A lot of people have been taking our information and fliers,' she reports. 'Although we offer some colored card stock here for them to use, we'll accept all Mail Art pieces from both children and adults. Call us at 503/988-5398 for information.'

The Mail Art concept evolved about 50 years ago, and was influenced by other art movements of the time. It is now recognized globally, and is part of the art culture in at least 50 countries.

'People send all kinds of things in as Mail Art,' says Knutson. 'We're doing a Library theme here, but for the Main Library display, artists sent in collages, fold-out artwork, handmade books, maps, rubbings, photos, paintings, drawings, and even fruit box labels - all kinds of fun stuff.'

Since most of this sort of art is paperwork, or 'ephemera', it's not expected to last forever. It's hoped that the Library Mail Art program will inspire local families to have some fun with art and books, and focus interest on reading.

'We started displaying our Mail Art in mid-February, but we'll likely keep it up only about a month,' says Knutson. 'We have other programs to highlight in March and April, so we'll probably store the items here afterwards.'

Library Volunteer Emily Carlson has posted Sellwood-Moreland's Mail Art on the bulletin board in the Children's Area. 'We're pleased with the submissions we've received,' she said. 'These include collage, sticker and fabric art, stamps, maps, and drawings.'

As Knutson examines Mail Art online at the main County Library website,, she notes that some items arrived in Portland from Switzerland, Mexico, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany. 'Even the stamps are part of the art,' she says. 'I love how people have used library items - old library book pockets, discarded catalog cards, and parts of worn-out books - as part of their artwork. There seem to be a lot of bird themes, too.'

Perhaps reading, like art and bird watching, appeals to the quiet and solitary side of our souls.

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