Put a Stamp on It: Flood Gallery’s Annual Mail Art Show

Carlos Steward awaits your letters, though he prefers 3-D mail art, such as decoupaged candy boxes (see below).
Photo by Colby Rabon

The United States Postal Service is in dire trouble, and Flood Gallery Fine Art Center is recruiting artists to defend it, via the gallery’s 15th Annual Mail Art Exhibition, Anything Goes, Everything Shows, says Carlos Steward, Flood Gallery’s current director. 

Steward explains that the uncensored show has only one rule, namely, “There are no rules.” He elaborates, “We will show whatever we get, although we prefer 3-D items mailed without packaging, because it’s more fun that way. In this country, you can put postage and an address on objects and just mail them. One year, we got a ham sandwich in a plastic bag and put that on the wall, and another time someone sent a lamp they decorated that arrived with the lightbulb still intact.”

Postcard art.
Photo by Colby Rabon

In 2020, though, a definite theme has formed. Steward suggests that contributors include a special shout-out to the beleaguered government agency that will deliver their work. Some submissions he’s received so far have included a written message of thanks to the post office, while others have incorporated a postal theme, meant to be seen by carriers and clerks.

Photo by Colby Rabon

The USPS is one of the nation’s largest employers of military veterans, but ironically, the idea of a mail-in exhibit originated as a protest of World War I, during the Dada art movement, when adherents sent avant-garde creations through the mail as an experiment in collective (but also highly individual) political statement. In the 1950s, artists at Black Mountain College revived the tradition, which has since evolved into an international phenomenon. 

The inspiration behind the local show came to Steward as an impromptu “plan B” ad lib 15 years ago, when a scheduled exhibit was canceled on short notice. He later learned about the Dada connection from his artist friend Connie Bostic (whose work is currently on exhibit at Flood).

Photo by Colby Rabon

“It’s crazy how popular it’s become,” Steward says. “Now there are active mail-art unions in Europe and Asia. I expect that we’ll receive between 600 and 700 submissions this year, from about 70 different countries.” 

Steward has extended the entry dates to encourage more submissions. He points out that each mailed piece helps to boost USPS revenue — and, ideally, postal-worker morale, as well.

Photo by Colby Rabon

The Mail Art Show at Flood Gallery Fine Art Center (850 Blue Ridge Road, Black Mountain) is accepting submissions until Nov. 3. Art should be addressed to Flood Gallery Fine Art Center, Mail Art Show c/o Carlos, PO Box 9907 Asheville, NC 28815. The show opens with a reception happening on Saturday, Nov. 21, 6-9 pm, and runs through the end of the year. The gallery observes healthy social-distancing protocols, and, during the opening event, will offer food and games outside under tents. Visit ncarts.org and floodgallery.org for more information.

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