About the Collection
The Oberlin College Mail Art Collection, housed in The Clarence Ward Art Library, contains The Reid Wood State of Being Mail Art Archive and The Harley – Terra Candella Mail Art Archive.
Together they contain over 20,000 pieces by 1,800+ artists in 70 countries and created over a period of 45 years. Approximately 300 artists have been processed and are available for viewing by individuals or classes. The Mail Art Imagebase contains images for about 60% of the artists available for viewing.
Oberlin’s collection demonstrates the wide range of sometimes unexpected materials used by mail artists. Many works use collage, found objects, recycled images & objects, drawings, paintings, individual or sheets of “artistamps” (unofficial postal stamps produced by artists), rubber stamps, stickers, metal, confetti, foil, photographs, as well as a wide variety of printing technologies (fax machines, photocopies, various computer printing techniques, digital media, etc.). Objects may be simple (doodles on a postcard) or elaborate (mailing an industrial size tomato can covered with stamps and filled with origami mail art).
“I am, above all else, a passionate and lifelong student of Art.”
– Harley October 15, 1940 – January 10, 2017
If they happened to be taking a late-night walk during the late ’70s, Oberlin residents might glimpse a bearded figure with a cigar jutting from his mouth, moving about in the brightly lit, second floor art studio above the stores flanking one side of the town square. On a hot summer’s night one might, drawing closer, hear the faint strains of Italian opera. The studio, filled with ceramics, drawings, paintings, collage, jungle-like plants and a neatly assembled jumble of old yet functional odds and ends, was a temple of sorts, perfumed with the incense of cigar smoke, and inhabited by that oddity of human society, an artist with no vocation other than art, no trust fund and no day job.
Harley’s art was never sold widely in famous galleries, though his extensive participation in the mail art movement made him known internationally; he survived through skillfully cultivating and maintaining a far-flung community of friends and acquaintances who would be invited to the house for dinner or a birthday party and who might leave with a painting or set of drawings that had begun to speak to them, perhaps forcefully or, as Harley loved to say, sotto voce.
Remembering Oberlin Artist Harley, Founder of Terra Candella (Oberlin Review)
In 1975, American artist Harley (no last name), drawing inspiration from his childhood hobby of philately, created his own postal service, calling it the Tristan Local Post, and began issuing postage stamps in support of it. That same year, he heard about the exhibition organized by Felter the previous year, and sent him several of his new postal creations. As the show traveled to Europe and the United States, Felter added new works, including those of Harley. "It was included in the exhibit. And, since my name and address were on those envelopes, I started getting contacted by other artists throughout the world. They began sending me mail art and I started sending it to them, and we developed this wonderful communication.” Mail Art had, by this time, grown from a small circle of Ray Johnson’s friends to a worldwide network of artists.
In 1978, Harley closed his Tristan Local Post and created his very own independent state with its own postage stamps. He named this imaginary land Terra Candella; loose Latin for "Land of Light." "Terra Candella is a spirit," Harley notes. "It's a sense of freedom, a celebration of the innate human capacity everyone has to explore their own truth and individuality." In addition to the postage stamps created for Terra Candella, Harley drew on his childhood stamp collecting background to create cancellation marks, first day covers, and other philatelic items.
Together these archives contain well over 25,000 works created from mid-1970's to the present, by over 1,800 mail artists from 60 countries. Of that number approximately 300 artists are available for viewing by appointment.
The Mail Art Imagebase contains a handful of images for most of the artists.
Contact us with questions or to report a problem with the Mail Art Imagebase.