On January 3, 2003, I had a good idea. I would do a “performance art” project in which I would send my mother a postcard every day for the year. Wasn’t it a bit late to start a daily art project on January 3, you might ask? Well, yes, except when you make up projects you get to make up the rules. I had been in Virginia to see my mother for the holidays and had just gotten home, so my rules were that I didn’t have to send a card on a day that I had seen her in person.
The project turned out to be a big hit both with Mom and with me. I enjoyed finding cards that I thought she would like, and she liked getting a lot of mail! The cards didn’t say anything really memorable –one from an uneventful day might report on the weather, what was happening in the garden, and what we had for dinner. But it was a way to keep in touch, and the cards were permanent; Mom could go through them as often as she wanted, reread the messages and look at the photos.
When it got close to Christmas Mom started dropping hints that she was sure going to miss the postcards when the year was over, and it became apparent to me that my one-year performance art project was going to be a lifetime endeavor. I sent her a card every day I didn’t see her for almost six years, until she died in December 2008.
At the beginning of the project I thought maybe I would make fancy cards, along the lines of the fabric postcards that some fiber artists send. But it didn’t take long for that idea to hit the skids. For one thing, it took too long to make. For another, it cost more to send anything thicker than card weight, or with loose embellishments. And most important: Mom really liked plain old commercial tourist picture postcards the best. She and my father had traveled widely in the day, and many of the cards showed places she had been.
Sometimes I would cut out an interesting photo or clipping from the newspaper and paste it to the card. Often I sent cards from art exhibits. After I got a small photo printer for a birthday present, I could print out my own pictures onto 4 x 6 index cards, the perfect size for mailing. I bought postcards voraciously whenever we traveled, and haunted flea markets, particularly one in Floyd VA where I could buy vintage cards for 25 cents (cheaper than I could get a lot of new postcards). Best of all, many of my friends helped feed my postcard habit, sending me cards from their collections or purchased on their own vacations.
Sometimes we had themes, like a week of birds or a week of flowers. Once we had a full month of cards from New Zealand; several times I cut up old Christmas cards to postcard size and sent them in December.
When Mom died I discovered that not only did I miss her terribly but I missed sending the postcard every day. There were only a couple of weeks left in the year but that was long enough for me to realize that I wasn’t ready to give up the performance art project. So on January 1, 2009 I started the Viola Arnold Memorial Postcard Project, which lasted a year. While the original postcard project was totally loose, the Memorial Project had more structure. I’ll write about that in a subsequent message.
Mom kept all the cards over the years. At the start of the project I made her a couple of fabric boxes in which to keep the cards, but they were soon outgrown. I have all the cards now but haven’t been able to go through them yet. Eventually I should be able to reconstruct six years of my own life in excruciatingly boring detail!
This was a particularly beautiful bowl of soup that made a nice postcard.