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  • Mail Call class at BEAM camp

    For a week this summer, I was a guest instructor at BEAM camp in New Hampshire. It's a sleep-away camp way out there in nature, specializing in innovation and building and making things happen, a very cool place to be. I was there to teach two art classes, the first of which was Mail Call, designed to teach kids all about mail and mail art (not male art, as I keep having to explain). The idea was that I'd show the kids some examples of mail art, point them toward a pile of supplies, and then set them loose to create their own weird things to send to friends and family back home. I managed to snap some photos of the kids' work before all the postcards and letters were mailed.

    I purchased some antique-style cat stickers recently and they proved to be one of the most popular supplies in the art barn. Everyone had to make a cat postcard! Yes, everyone. The kids also really liked the washi tape, decades-old Pantone swatch book, and rubber stamps from the supply box.

    More postcards by various artists. Note that the cat sticker on the card in the lower left corner is saying "Please love me Aidan!" I hope Aidan received this postcard and chose to love that beautiful, mysterious cat admirer. The kids also enjoyed using typewriters for their mail projects.

    Nature postcards made of collected nature in cellophane bags

    A kid made this postcard of lace and the dictionary definition for "gentle"

    On the last day of class, the plan was to teach the kids to carve erasers into custom rubber stamps. But when the day arrived, we couldn't find the knives anywhere. We ended up making do with the one x-acto I'd brought from home and a couple of craft knives we found in the office. "Please, please just watch out for your fingers," I said, giving a lesson on knife safety before the kids got started "And please don't lean your face in quite so close while I'm carving. Please." I said a little prayer for no lost fingers and no poked eyes, and then let them go to it.

    Eraser carving was going great! Kids were sharing materials, waiting patiently for use of one of the knives, asking for help carving some of the tiny details. And then the lights went out. Yes. Thirteen of us (me, my assistant, and eleven campers) sat in the dark as much of camp lost power. "Just keep working!" I chirped, trying to keep a cool exterior. Carving erasers was my backup plan, the final structured activity I had planned for these kids, and it wasn't safe to have them wielding knives in the dark. We'd have to do something else. Sure, I could improvise something, but in the dark? That made it a little more tricky. "Hey, can we carve on the porch?" one of the kids asked. Great idea! So half of us went out to the porch, finding that the floor of the porch was mostly dry enough to sit on. We sat out there, working on our stamps, when someone had the excellent idea to tell ghost stories, because that's what you do when the power goes out. I had a chance to tell my most favorite ghost story, which the kids deemed "creepy but also nice." By the end of the afternoon, we had many stamps to show.

    Eggplant by a counselor; all others kid-made!

    When I got home from camp, I made a stack of camp-inspired postcards in thanks to the mail artists who sent us interesting, beautiful, or mysterious mail at camp. It's amazing that how many people are willing to share their time and their creations to keep the art form going! Many thanks go out to Angela J., Christine N., Linda W., Jacque D., Aaron J., Pamela G., Billie Jo S., and Judith M. Check your mailboxes soon!

    Special thanks, also, to my friends at the Letter Writers Alliance for multiple mails including the pigeon, to Superdilettante for excellent mail, and to Virginia and Leah for stationery donations. Please stay tuned for a post about what we made in my other class!