The envelope, please.
Several spring seasons ago, the Teton County Library hosted a most memorable show. That spring, one could visit the library’s gallery and get lost in a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, “Graceful Envelope.” It’s impossible for me, a person who values tradition (I feel about printed newspapers the way Charlton Heston did about guns; you’ll have to take it from my cold, dead hand!) to refrain from gushing over that show.
The contest’s website says “…Calligraphers and artists from around the world are invited to participate in the 15th annual Graceful Envelope Contest, conducted by the Washington (DC) Calligraphers Guild under the sponsorship of the National Association of Letter Carriers. The contest is open to all ages, with two separate categories for children.” This year’s theme is “Address the Environment.” Log on here to view the site.
You can still enter 2009’s Graceful Envelope Contest; entries must be postmarked by April 30.
A old friend recently asked for my mailing address, as she likes sending letters in lieu of email. She loves her writing paper. That request prompts this re-running of my original article on Graceful Envelope, below. Happy Easter!
“More than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak”.
John Dunne’s poetry embraces the tone of “Graceful Envelope”, a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit now on display at Teton County Library. If you haven’t been to see these illuminating, exquisite envelopes, go. The artwork evokes longing sighs, remembrance, and a feeling that you’ve tripped along a mossy, hidden path to discover a secret garden.
A hundred painted envelopes are included in the Smithsonian exhibit, that originated in 1995. Artists create envelopes for the competition, their subject matter based on a stamp or a theme chosen by the National Association of Letter Carriers. Ah, if every letter were thus conceived! The show is heartrending in its beauty. It is nectar. Step softly along the library’s walls to find artwork that seems rendered by fairies; elegant, wispy, fables for a 4 x 6 inch tablet. You will choose your own favorites, but I mention a few of mine here: Cathy Chilton, of New Mexico, fancied “Water, Earth, Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon”, an envelope inspired by stamps portraying those locations. The envelope is creased like an accordion, with alternating slices of bottle green, baked canyon orange, and an indigenous lizard. This Crafts-styled piece stands in sturdy comparison to envelopes weighted with laced grapevines and golden pears hanging heavy on the branch. Humorous takes on the funny papers include a work picturing Popeye knocking the stuffing out of the mail, and a careening “Blondie and Dagwood” sketch. “Celebrating Nature” bears a regal butterfly, emerald on its envelope, wings and antennae dipping into lacey calligraphy addressing the work.
Rhapsodic, I realize, but this exhibit unleashed such images and memory. Days of Easter Egg hunts, overgrown gardens choked with wild roses, sprawling hillsides and ladies with parasols looking down from the top of sunny hillsides to a picnic in the meadow. And I remember writing on thick paper, pages and pages of summer letters sent and received as a child.
Save your letters and envelopes. As exhibition curator Ester Washington notes, “Letters were once precious possessions, tied in bundles with silk ribbon, and kept safe in scented drawer.” We can recreate that time. Let’s try.