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HARLEY of TERRA CANDELLA - HISTORY OF MY ARCHIVE
Fragment of video tape made by Harley 12.17.96
Transcribed for the pamphlet accompanying the Harley Terra Candella Stamp Art Show at the Kaliningrad State Art Gallery, February-March 2000.

 

Courtesy Wardell Photography  

In 1975, I established Tristan Local Post. This was named after my son Tristan, who was in turn named after Tristan da Cunha, the little isolated island that so fascinated me. This local post was established in a purely philatelic context. Local posts operated in the 19th Century as well as periodically in the 20th Century where the hegemony of the government post office was suspended, either by a strike or if the post office didn't serve a particular locality. Interestingly enough, one of the most famous local posts is in Lake Erie, the Rattlesnake Island Local Post. Various owners of this island issued very slick, multicolored, perforated stamps over the years. These stamps were known in philatelic circles internationally. (top)

   

So I established Tristan Local Post and started issuing stamps for this post. My first issue, I think, was a Valentine's Day issue. Also in 1975, I had my first one-man show in New York City. I issued a Tristan Local Post stamp for this event, which I released through the United Nations Post Office in New York. At that point, I had seen or read no mention of artistamps – other artists who were using stamps as a format for their artwork. In 1976, Ellen Johnson, the late art historian and mentor for many in the Art Department at Oberlin, came to me one day and gave me a catalog. She said "I don't understand what this is, but I know you like stamps." The catalog that had been sent to her was for James Warren Felter's exhibition of artistamps and stamp images, which he organized for Simon Eraser University in Vancouver. Like I said, this was 1975-76. (top)

 

   

This, of course, was a great revelation to me. It was the first time I had seen any material from artists who were working in the same area – I mean, were using stamps and stamplike formats and envelopes or covers as part of their studio work. I was, of course, very excited. I bundled up a bunch of my stamps and covers and sent them off to Mr. Felter in Vancouver. This work from Tristan Local Post was included in the exhibition, which toured Canada, the United States, and Europe over the next few years. From that point, because of my material, my name and address, etc., being available through this exhibition all over the world, I started being contacted by artists around the world who responded to my work. That's the beginning of what ended up twenty years later when Oberlin College Library's Special Collections purchasedmy Archive, where I had at that time work from over 1,200 artists from over sixty countries around the world. But it all started with my being included in the Felter exhibition, and that, as I said, was triggered by Ellen Johnson giving me that catalog. (top)

1977 saw the production of Candella Pavanne, Dance of Light. This was a production that was financed by a grant to me of $10,000 from the Cleveland Foundation. For the previous eight years, my painting had involved a cast of characters led by the major male protagonist, which was an anthropomorphic unicorn, hence my title, "The Painter of Unicorns of Terra Candella ." The major female protagonist was an anthropomorphized Celtic cow, which came originally from the beautiful Celtic cow image on an Irish stamp issue. (top)

   

Candella Pavanne, as I said, was a huge shadow puppet production. It played on 300 square feet of ilhuminated screen. The libretto or text was written by Patricia Ikeda, a poet who was in Oberlin at that time, and an original musical score was composed by Richard Kassel, a composer who lived in Oberlin at the time. Candella Pavanne was performed several times at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. It toured. It performed in several different locations, mostly in the Midwest, and then it was finally performed at some national or international conference of puppetry. But Candella Pavanne, that title, "Dance of Light" is what triggered, certainly from a name point of view, the transition from Tristan Local Post to Terra Candella, which is rough or loose Latin for "Land of Light." (top)

That was 1977, and the Cleveland Foundation Grant funded this production. We made the next step to the creation of Terra Candella, an independent state as opposed to a local post. Also, around that time – 1978 – through my association and participation in an exhibition at Smith College, organized by Al Souza, an invitational exhtibition of artistamps. I brought that exhibition to Oberlin. It was the first artistamp exhibition at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. That took place in 1978. So, in the late '70s and the very early '80s, we had established Terra Candella. (top)

 

   

What happened at that point, and 1980 in particular, I had been working with Christopher Breuer, a potter who lives in Oberlin. I had done some Raku covers, i.e., simulacra of envelopes and cancels and stamps, etc., in clay, the Raku process. These came to the attention of Lara Vincy, who runs a gallery in Paris. She still runs a gallery in Paris. She has always been associated, through Pierre Restany, the French critic, with different kinds of mail art and stamp art. Her gallery always has a selection of at least reproductions and cards of stamp art, people like Donald Evans, etc. At any rate, Lara Vincy, in 1980, decided she wanted to show some of these ceramic covers of mine. I used that to "prime the pump," as it were, and get a trip to Europe. It was very exciting. It was my first trip to Europe in 1980. I had trips very much related to my stamp art activity to Europe in '80, '81, '85, and '86. The 1980 trip was triggered by the exhibition of my clay stamp work at Lara Vincy in Paris. (top)

   

By 1981, I had proposed the first international mail art congress. I had done this through an art organization in Cleveland. They financed my trip in 1981 to go to Europe and speak to various mail artists, etc. about this first international mail art congress. The proposal of this congress is the point here. The art organization collapsed–the director disappeared and subsequently burned to death in a car crash or something dramatic–so the congress never came to pass, but I had planted the idea at this time for this vast, very organic network of artists to get together. This was counter to the nature of mail art, correspondence art, up to that point. One of the primary motivations for mail artists and stamp artists to get involved in this area was the circumvention of the art establishment. There are several different sources–Ray Johnson is one important source, of course. There were several different areas where stamp art and correspondence art sort of spontaneously appeared. As I said, a common thread is this circumvention of the art establishment. (top)

 

   

So, in 1981 I was going around Western Europe, and talking to various artists about this first international mail art congress. On that and subsequent trips, I met several very fascinating and frequently pivotal people in the mail art, artistamp movement. In the Netherlands, I had very interesting meetings with Woody van Amen; with the critic and curator, Ulises Carrion, from Mexico, who lived in the Netherlands then and is deceased now; my dear friend, Ferenc Gogos, a Hungarian exile who lives in the Netherlands; and Claudio Goulart. I spent time at de Apple, a major arts exhibition area and organization in Amsterdam and at Stempelplaats, which I think is defunct now; it was very important in the '80s for having mail art, stamp art, and artists' books exhibitions and did several publications around those subjects. I spent time with Guy Schraenen in Belgium; in France with Henri Niotou, Lara Vincy, and as I said, Pierre Restany, a major European critic, who has written several books and is associated with Yves Kline and Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely; and another pivotal artist Henning Mittendorf and his lovely wife, Anjelica, in Stuttgart. (top)

Italy was a gold mine for me. Discovering Italy was an extraordinary, exciting--and remains a very exciting--part of my life. I went to Brescia and met Guglieimo Achille Cavellini who is now deceased, a very wealthy man who had inherited a sort of Italian five-and-dime family fortune, and decided to use his wealth to fill the world with little catalogs and proliferations of his sausage sticker and books on his work arad artistamps. Also, other people, very important there: Nicola and. Angela Frangioni in Monza. Nicola has organized many important art exhibitions, collaborative CD discs and records, has spent a lot of time doing important work in the mail art field. Bruno and Wanda Talpo in Bergamo, (very dear friends of mine. Bruno has done stamps and public sculpture), Adriano Bonari from that area and Giancinto Formentini, also Giancintohas done a lot of work in organizing exhibitions around mail art and artistamps. (top)

   

Also during these years, the early '80s, I was meeting and visiting with other people in this country: C T Chew in Seattle, who did very beautiful artistamps early on, and still does artistamps; the critic Peter Frank, who was one of the first critics to publish an article of any substance on artistamps; Ray Johnson, who is one of the founding fathers of the mail art movement; and Jean Brown of Tyringham, Massachusetts, who is now deceased as is Ray Johnson. (Jean Brown had a very important archive. It started with Surrealism, Dadaism, moved through the Fluxus Movement and then was involved with a lot of major mail artists and stamp artists. That archive was purchased by the Getty Foundation.) (top)

Also at this time, 1981, I curated one of my first large mail art shows, at SPACES in Cleveland. It was a self-portrait show. It was another boost. There were a couple of hundred people from around the world who participated. It was another boost as far as more people becoming aware of my name and address, and enhancing my mailbox. (top)

 

   

In 1984, something very meaningful to me, something very important, took place. That was Michael Bidner's Artistampex in London, Ontario. 1984, that was when I first met Cracker Jack Kid (Chuck Welch), and Dogfish (Bobbie Rudine). We met through Michael Bidner at his exhibition in London, Ontario. Artistampex is notable for two things. It's the primary launching of Michael's coining of the term "artistamps," putting it together as one word, and it was the first artistamp exhibition organized in the manner of a philatelic exhibition. Michael was very interested in the connections between philately and artistamps. Unfortunately, Michael died most prematurely of AIDS. At the time of his death, he had been working on an artistamp catalog in the format of the Scott standard postage stamp catalog. He had over 10,000 entries at the time of his death. This project has never come to fruition, unfortunately. So, like I said, 1984 Artistampex was a very important year for me.(top)

   

Then starting in 1986 and coming to fruition in 1987 was "Corresponding Worlds." This was the first museum-level exhibition curated of artistamps and mail art in the United States. It took place at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. I'm indebted to Kirby Talley, who was briefly head of the Museum at Oberlin and who put this exhibition on the schedule. In addition to the exhibition, like I said, it was the first museum exhibition of artistamps and mail art in the United States. We had a symposium. I used part of my budget to bring together quite an impressive list of mail artists and stamp artists from all over the United States and Canada. This included Michael Bidner, John P. Jacob from New York, Gerard and Fernand Barbot from New York, Judith Hoffberg from California–she's the editor of Umbrella; Reid Wood, who is known as State of Being, and who is in Oberlin; Ed Varney from Vancouver; Dog Fish from Seattle; E. F.. Higgins, III, of Doodah Post fame in New York; Cracker Jack Kid (Chuck Welch) from the East Coast; John Held, Jr., from Texas, who at that time worked for the Dallas Public Library. He lives in San Francisco now, but during those years, he was doing very important work publishing a catalog of mail art exhibitions and doing other pioneer work; Patrick Beilman from Wisconsin; Joel Smith from Illinois; Joel Lipman, a poet who is tangential to the mail art movement, primarily through artists books. He lives in Toledo and he came and participated; Dennis Higdon, who I'm afraid, was lost in the whole brouhaha. He does very beautiful little hand-painted stamps (they're in the Archives) and primarily had no knowledge of artistamps or mail art. I think he found us perhaps a rather frightening group of people, but he did beautiful work, primarily in a philatelic context. He came to the exhibition as well. Steven Esrati, who's an important philatelic writer who lives in northern Ohio, as well, came to the exhibition. We did a lot of crossover work through "Corresponding Worlds." We got very good publicity, some of the first major articles on artistamps and mail art in major philatelic publications like Linn's Stamp News. (top)

 

Jumping briefly forward, the second or the third major artistamp exhibition I curated took place in 1995. It was called "It's In the Mail," at the California Museum of Art in Santa Rosa, California. This exhibition was again an important museum-level exhibition, and it was two things: it was made up of sort of the creme de la creme from the Archive, which now resides with the Fine Art Library at Oberlin, and mail art show, primarily focused on solicitations from artists in California. This show brought together again a really interesting group of people: Buz Blurr from Arkansas; Bonny Bird from Seattle, who does compost; Dog Fish, again, from Seattle; Bill Gaglione from San Francisco, a major participant in mail art for many, many years; John Held,Jr.; Pat Tavenner foom San Francisco; Mike Dyer, Tim Mancusi; and Geoffrey Cook, were among those who attended this exhibition. So that takes us through the late '40s, what I did in the '50s, the '60s, and activity in the '70s and '80s. I feel a hundred years old! So, that brings us to 1995. (top)

1995 was the year that the Harley Terra Candella Archive was purchased by the Special Collections division of Oberlin College Library. The Archive represents twenty years of work on my part, 1975-1995. The Archive consists of a variety of materials. It represents the work from over 1,250 artists and organizations from some 60 countries. There are more than 3,000 covers (i.e., envelopes) of either mail art, artistamps or philatelic import or interest. There are over 600 catalogs and periodicals (i.e., issues) of mail art and artistamps exhibitions and articles, etc. There are over 850 sheets of artistamps. That's a pretty considerable holding. Artistamps are my primary focus as far as mail art is concerned and it is the area I pursued the most. Then, there are over 1,300 posters, prints, photos, and other works of art by artists from all over the world. The Terra Candella part of the Archive consists of over 500 stamps, stamp sheets, and covers from Terra Candella. These document the Terra Candella Royal Tours, the trips to Europe I've talked about, frequently involving collaborative work, collaborative covers, collaborative stamps with the artists I mentioned I met during these trips to Europe. (top)

Another very important aspect: Terra Candella interconnecting with philatelic exhibitions, which I would attend both in this country, Canada, and Europe, where I would create a lot of covers based upon philatelic practices but integrating artistamps and mail art with philately. (top)

 

   

So what does all this mean? You asked me to tell you the story of Terra Candella, and I have given you the facts about how it sort of progressed from when I was a little boy and became totally addicted to postage stamps. I can spot a stamp-like item at fifty paces; all the different phases it went through, the local post, being unaware of any other people working in this format artistically, then becoming miraculously connected with some of the major people working in the field -- Higgins, and Bidner, and Dog Fish, just to name a very few. This was a very, very important part of my life. And, most of it transpired in Oberlin. Again, it was a way of expanding my world. It was a way of just opening doors. It was certainly wonderful when I would go to Europe because I was never "outside." I always knew people no matter where I went. So, I immediately felt like I was seeing something other than the surface. Also, I think one of the primary things it has done for me-- it's the only sense in which I feel I've found a peer group. I have made some wonderful, wonderful friends all over the world. Interestingly enough, I've given you some of the names of people that I met face to face, but some of the most important people to me, I have never been able to meet, like Edgardo-Antonio Vigo in Argentina or Pawel Petasz in Poland. And I've had many, many wonderful communications, exchanges with these artists. (top)

 

I'm very, very happy that the Archive is intact. I think it tells many more stories, much more richly being kept intact. At this point in time, much of the material is garnering commercial value, so some of my friends have told me about being approached. There are even some full-time dealers in mail art, in artistamps. Some of my friends have told me about being approached and people wanting to skim their archives, skim their collections to pick out the juicy pieces for commercial recycling. So, I'm very happy that we found this way to keep my Archive intact. It has much more meaning and will give people in the future, students, anyone interested, a much better idea of what the activity was about and a much better idea of the kind of people who were involved in this activity. (top)

 

   

Like I said, it's December 17, 1996. Since I sold the archive in 1995, I immediately launched Harley Terra Candella Archive No. 2 and my files are fast filling up. I don't correspond nearly as much as I did at certain periods in the past, but I'm constantly discovering new artists and new work that I find stimulating and exciting. So, that's the story of Terra Candella to date... (top)

HARLEY of TERRA CANDELLA - HISTORY OF MY ARCHIVE
Fragment of video tape made by Harley 12.17.96
Transcribed for the pamphlet accompanying the Harley Terra Candella Stamp Art Show at the Kaliningrad State Art Gallery, February-March 2000.

 

© 2003- Harley All rights reserved.