Making mail an art form

Second State Press offers monthly event to encourage creative letter writing and artistic collaboration in Kensington community

From l, clockwise: Adrienne O’Hanlon, Noam Berg, Aapril Rice, and Juwanna Evans craft handwritten letters during the first Mail Art and Letter Writing at Second State Press. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

In this day and age, when communicating with family and friends can boil down to a four-letter acronym to express one’s mood — “TGIF” (Thank God it’s Friday) — to auto-generated phone declines — “I’m in a meeting, call you right back,” — Second State Press is offering, if not reviving, a more traditional way to converse, and it’s not cutting any corners.

Every second Sunday, the Kensington-based nonprofit communal printmaking workshop will host Mail Art and Letter Writing Social, a free, public event aimed at pressing pause on technology and putting a pen — or whatever writing utensil or decorative apparatus you so choose — at its studio space.

The first social was held on Sunday, Feb. 11, a perfect opportunity to be reflective and sip some tea due to the dreary weather conditions.

South Philly resident and Second State Press member Adrienne O’Hanlon searched for a “letter writing” group without any luck when she moved to Philadelphia a couple years ago.

In December, she approached the director about hosting one.

“Adrienne O’Hanlon approached me with the idea to start a mail art group. She has been connected with artists around the country interested in this topic and approached me about holding meetings at SSP,” said Jenn McTague, co-founding executive director at Second State Press. “This fit right in line with our mission of creating a space to talk about art and building community.”

February seemed the most fitting month to launch the initiative.

“February is the best month for lettering writing because it combines Valentine’s Day and International Correspondence Writing Month,” O’Hanlon said. “With InCoWriMo, you make a promise to yourself to write and send a letter each day of the month.”

A book artist by career, O’Hanlon brought a small clutch filled with half-finished projects to share.

Adrienne O’Hanlon displays her handiwork prior to sending the card to a friend. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

“This is a good way to keep my skills flowing,” she said. “It’s good to have a community to do it with to keep yourself honest and send letters out.”

O’Hanlon spent some of the social jazzing up a info card from an event she had attended, which she wanted to share with a friend.

“Mail art for me is like keeping a sketchbook for other artists,” said O’Hanlon as she added details to the card.

Sisters and West Philly residents Juwanna Evans and Aapril Rice discovered the event on Facebook.

Sisters Juwanna Evans and Aapril Rice decorate hand-crafted letters during the first social hosted by Second State Press. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

“I’m a writer and I told myself this year I would get more artsy,” Evans said. “This allows me to not focus so much on writing and have fun with it.”

Rice hoped her mail art would help make amends.

“I’m having a disagreement with my significant other and hoping this card will make things better,” she said. “I think it’s more meaningful because it’s made from scratch.”

South Philly resident and O’Hanlon’s fiance, Noam Berg, was incorporating music into the mail art.

“I help tutor kids at Philly Folk Fest each summer and one of the kids plays mandolin and I do as well,” he said. “He sent me a letter and I’m replying with a letter and a song.”

Berg was including a piece of sheet music for mandolin which he wrote a few years ago “to give him the challenge.”

The social gave Berg a chance to catch up on correspondences and holiday cards, too.

The event is BYO for supplies, but artists can swap or trade materials and papers.

Tea “is offered as something to drink and enjoy while the artists are working and participants are welcome to bring other beverages with them,” McTague said.

For Second State Press, creating a community for artists to collaborate is key.

“The goal, from an organizational standpoint, is to bring artists together to share ideas, discuss art, and potentially collaborate,” McTague said.

Second State Press, 1400 N. American St., B103, will host Mail Art and Letter Writing Social every second Sunday, from 3 to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to everyone. For more details, visit secondstatepress.org, call 215–232–2110 or email info@secondstatepress.org.