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The Art of the Stamp:
A Victoria,BC Love Story

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Behind the Scenes

By MARYSE DE LA GIRODAY
nano@frogheart.ca

The Art of the Stamp:
A Victoria,BC Love Story

Bill Bartlett, Love Letter

Bill Bartlett, Love Letter (2015), pencil and collage, inkjet images


Ignored, treasured or turned into an art form, the paper postage stamp dates back to the 1840s as a means of recovering the costs of delivery. While some would see them confined to the dustbins of history, for others, it’s a passionate love affair.

“We get about 300 to 600 suggestions every year,” says Bill Bartlett of Victoria, BC, visual artist, collector and former Canada Post employee. One of Canada Post’s latest series celebrates the original Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. (Star Trek’s Canadian connections don’t end with?William Shatner [Captain Kirk] and James Doohan [Scottie].)

Bartlett, whose artistic résumé is studded with pioneering efforts, is one of 12 people on Canada’s national Stamp Advisory Committee. He is finishing the sixth and final year of his appointment.

The advisory committee has had historians, artists and collectors as members, but until Bartlett there had never been a former postal employee. He has other unique credentials. While earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, Bartlett participated in the groundbreaking E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) Bell Laboratories project, which brought together artists, engineers and scientists. (Robert Rauschenberg was one of the project’s guiding lights.)

After completing his BFA, Bartlett moved to Victoria, BC where he went on to found the Northwest Coast Institute of the Arts, which later became the Victoria College of Art and also founded the Direct Media Association for artists interested in technology in pre-Internet days.

Now retired from his jobs as a postmaster and trainer, Bartlett has returned to his artistic roots and is exhibiting his life drawings; Bartlett’s show Drawn to Life can be seen at the Victoria Vintage Expo being held Sept 30–Oct 1, 2016.

Since working for the post office, Bartlett has begun to incorporate postal art, also known as mail art or correspondence art, a small-scale art form derived from stamps and envelopes in his work. Victoria-born artist, Anna Banana has been a prominent member of the mail art movement, pioneering the artistamp (postage stamp-sized artworks). Banana was celebrated in a 45-year retrospective show (held Sept. 19, 2015–Jan. 10, 2016) at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, while a second show of Banana’s work was held concurrently (more or less) at Victoria’s Open Space gallery.

She has had exhibitions in the US, most recently (March 3–April 10, 2016) at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and is looking forward to a May 2017 showing in The International Sandwich Festival, Part One and Part Two at the Art Gallery of Windsor in Ontario.

Influenced by Banana’s philosophy of “Keep doing it till it stops being fun,” Bartlett’s mail art pieces also have a trace of whimsicality. He draws on conventions in philately, “I’ve been collecting since the age of eight.” In one piece featuring a female nude, he’s playing with the idea of an envelope and the practice of collecting corner panes from a sheet of stamps. It’s called Love Letter.

Got a Stamp Idea?

Of the stamps Bartlett’s been involved with, the Children’s Literature issue featuring Stella by Marie-Louise Gay (author and illustrator) is particularly close to his heart. “I felt Gay's work was very important in her message, character development and wonderful illustrations.” He adds, “Stella is about kids having fun, dreaming, playing together, doing things outside and the images go around the world, millions of them. When I talked to kids and gave them a Stella souvenir sheet, there was a magic feeling.”

For anyone interested in submitting an idea for a Canadian stamp, there’s a webpage (Stamp Selection Policy) where you can check out the guidelines, make submissions, check out previous issues and more at:
https://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/personal/productsservices/collect/stampselection.jsf#Suggestions

The committee members engage in a three phase process for developing a stamp issue. This is a fluid process rather than a linear progression so what follows is a rough description. The members first review the 300–600 suggestions that have been received and winnow them down to a manageable number, which are passed on to staff for further research. For example, how does this satisfy Canadian content requirements and other criteria for a stamp?

Once the research has been completed, the committee members proceed through the second phase verifying that the proposed stamps meet the criteria. For example, Bartlett had to be convinced that there were enough Canadian connections to warrant a 50th anniversary Star Trek series.

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