Monday, September 16, 2013

Mail Queen 1945 - 2013

Patricia Tavenner passed away on May 10, 2013 in Oakland, California. 
In the 1960's, Tavenner moved from Michigan to Northern California and pursued graduate studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts and University of
California, Berkeley. She was an early participant in the formation of the Women's Caucus for Art, organizing pickets with other feminists at museums in the San Francisco Bay Area and helped form the Northern California Women's Caucus for Art in 1972.
Tavenner was a photo silkscreen artist, a member of the Bay Area Dadaist scene and a well-known mail artist. She defined mail art as anything that comes through the mail, a medium that sidesteps the restrictions of traditional art and expands the definition of Artist. As an active member of the counterculture, Tavenner wrote and published a zine called Mail Order Art in the early 70's and taught classes on "the secret history of women artists." She was a long-time instructor of art at UC Berkeley Extension. 

Tavenner discovered artistamps while searching for new media. She found a shop in Philadelphia that could take any image and make a sheet of gummed and perforated photostamps. She was delighted by the beautiful sheet of perforated images. As an artistamp artist she earned the moniker, "Mail Queen." She was involved in a network of artists who traded stamps as children would baseball cards. Her artistamps were exhibited at the Davidson Gallery in Seattle (1989), Sonoma County Museum (2003), Budapest International Artistamp Show (2006)and featured in books about artistamps. 

I took a photo-silkscreening class from Tavenner nearly a decade ago and learned about her involvement in artistamps and mail art through her class. What she did with mail art fascinated me, but she was a little shy about sharing her techniques. Mail art was a radical, fringe art medium in the height of the Fluxus Movement in the 1970's and even today continues to be practiced in an underground fashion. Mail, in general, seems to be a nearly extinct form of communication in this day of emails Facebook, texting and Instagrams. I hope the fringe practiioners continue to nurture the next generation of eccentrics who enjoy sending a beautiful piece of art through the mail. 

For more info, view this YouTube video: