Community, Healing & Art Postcards
This issue is dedicated to the practice of exchanging handmade postcards and how that exchange can produce healing, connection, and community. I interview Caroline Lovell, founder of Traveling Postcard, feature a link to the Create Peace Project, and review Frank Warren’s book PostSecret and Sarah Cress’ two books on Artist Postcards.
May this issue inspire you to communicate in healing ways and rediscover the magic of mailing art.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network
“The idea grew and I intuitively knew that the intimate knowledge women pass down between female relatives, and between close friends, is a wisdom that comes from the heart and has the possibility to heal and transform lives and need not be limited to geographical or cultural boundaries…. I imagined a woman who received a card might keep it in a place in her home, whether in a drawer or on a shelf that would always remind her that she was cared for, and that she was a part of a much larger global community.” ~ Caroline Lovell
Caroline Lovell is the founder of Traveling Postcards, a healing arts project in which women create handmade postcards that are then delivered around the world to other women who are suffering from violence, isolation, or other challenges. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California (USA), Caroline is also a photographic artist, and as she explains, "My life as an artist is about using the creative process as a healing tool for personal growth and community awareness." In January 2012, Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director of the Arts & Healing Network, interviewed Caroline about Traveling Postcards – its origins, growth, impact and ability to foster connection and transformation.
Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me about Traveling Postcards. How does the process work?
Caroline Lovell: Traveling Postcards is a humanitarian organization founded on the premise that art has the ability to heal, feed and transform our lives. Hundreds of unique, hand-made art postcards, containing words of compassion and solidarity are hand-delivered to individuals and communities all over the world, bringing awareness, hope, visibility and voice to women and girls whose lives have suffered from isolation, violence or repression.
We offer workshops both locally and internationally that are easily accessible and offer anyone an opportunity to discover their unique voice through simple, intuitive art making. You do not need to be an "artist" to make a postcard, but each participant is surprised and delighted by their creativity and to see that their cards contain colors, words and images that reflect their strongest selves. Our cards are then hand-delivered to individuals who will benefit from the knowledge that they are not alone, and they too can add their voices to the growing collection of wisdom across borders.
Thus far Traveling Postcards has collected over 700 handmade cards carrying voices to and from the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Costa Rica, Niger, Namibia, America, Haiti and Afghanistan. Traveling Postcards are never mailed and instead are carried in suitcases, backpacks and on foot to communities of women who are given hope that their struggles are not going unnoticed. Our grassroots campaign involves all ages from middle schoolers to seniors. This year we have our first Traveling Postcards High School club!
Mary Daniel: What inspired you to start Traveling Postcards?
Caroline: A colleague was taking a group of women with her to Malawi to hold writing workshops and to record women’s stories. She asked me to come, and I was eager to photograph the women and possibly record their personal stories. It was a huge opportunity for me as I was finally beginning to realize a dream of combining my interest in art with my interest in working with women. In order to go on the trip I was faced with having to raise $5,000. I was terrified but committed and thought about having a community fundraiser. The only thing I felt competent to offer was a photographic portrait, and that is when the idea of Traveling Postcards occurred.
As a photographer I was already interested in the beauty of old postcards and the stories they held. I thought of making postcards that contained portraits of women from my home and included a written story on the back of the card. I thought of the old fashioned sewing circles where women used to gather to make something beautiful for someone else in the community. I saw it as a way for all of us to "travel" without leaving home. The idea grew and I intuitively knew that the intimate knowledge women pass down between female relatives, and between close friends, is a wisdom that comes from the heart and has the possibility to heal and transform lives and need not be limited to geographical or cultural boundaries.
I asked each participant to share her hard earned wisdom on the card, and not to worry about what their personal photograph looked like so much. Each woman was being offered an opportunity to speak about an important knowing that would be shared with a woman they would most likely never meet, but could still impact with their story. I found that we hold some of our most precious wisdom close to our hearts and by engaging with creativity it frees our fears about letting go and we are able to share our knowledge. This was not a pen pal exchange, but an exchange of heart - a giving of yourself without expecting anything back in return.
Later I learned that even without a photographic picture on the card, portraits of individual resiliency and compassion were being created anyway. Each card was a piece of art in my mind. I imagined a woman who received a card might keep it in a place in her home, whether in a drawer or on a shelf that would always remind her that she was cared for, and that she was a part of a much larger global community. I feel that art is able to translate beyond language and communicate a much larger vision of personal connection.
Mary Daniel: What attracted you to using postcards as the format?
Caroline: I have always found refuge in thrift stores, estate sales, and anywhere that old items are left behind and contain essences of the past. One day when I was returning from dropping my son off at college, and feeling a little sad, I pulled off the road to explore an old town. I stopped at an antique store and started looking at the images on old postcards which were 50 to 100 years old. I found it amazing that by just reading the back of a card, I had access into a life that had long since past. I think my favorite part was filling in the blanks... being given small clues such as the state, a date, a person’s name or even their handwriting. I was drawn into a life that I was not present for, but was here staring me in the face! My imagination could then extrapolate and create whatever else I could imagine. It felt like the beginning of a story that I could add to, imprint on, and change for a moment in time.
Mary Daniel: I am so impressed by how global this project is. How did you connect up with other women in countries like Costa Rica, Haiti, Afghanistan, etc.?
Caroline: I mentioned that I was invited to go to Malawi... well that never happened! Life has the ability to change quickly and instead of going, the cards traveled for me. I personally have not traveled as much as I would like, but it seems easy for the cards! So I seek out other organizations that are already working in some of the worst areas of the world to be a woman and ask for their help. I attended a lecture about Afghanistan and later asked if Traveling Postcards could be a part of their next trip. A project in Haiti came to me through word of mouth. Sometimes women just ask me if they can bring postcards with them on a trip as a way to more deeply connect with women they meet.
Mary Daniel: Could you share a story about the positive impact of Traveling Postcards?
Caroline: This fall I held several Traveling Postcards workshops with the STAND! community - an organization with a holistic, client-centered approach to keeping women and families free from violence. They provide treatment programs, intervention and a large array of legal and educational benefits to the community they serve. I was lucky enough to meet the CEO of STAND! in the women’s bathroom at the East Bay Women’s Conference and asked if I could bring Traveling Postcards to the women who live in their transitional housing center.
She agreed, and I met with one group of women over a six month period. We made cards for women in Afghanistan and for women in other local shelters in Antioch and in Marin County, California (USA). I saw over and over again how resilient they were, and how willing they were to share their pain and joy on their cards. They told me that no one had ever brought them such an abundance of art materials before. They always had the much needed lessons about budgeting, childcare, etc. - but they enjoyed a different type of learning that creativity afforded. We talked about their children, their dreams, their suffering and the suffering of women around the world, but mostly we were silent and engaged in a quiet process of choosing colors, shapes and textures that told our stories. Afterwards one woman told me that she had not felt anything for so long, and that today she felt happy.
They were excited to give their cards away, and I asked them to write: "If you could hear what the woman who receives your postcard is thinking, what would she say?" So many women spoke of wanting her to feel peaceful, safe, happy or inspired. One woman wrote, "This card represents what I have to do for myself, my family, my future. Everything is going to be okay. There is hope." I also asked, "After seeing your card, how can you imagine using your voice to effect change in your family, or in your local or global community?" One woman wrote, "I hope this card will have beyond my understanding an effect on a beautiful person and make them realize that they are special and unique and loved."
Mary Daniel: Collaboration seems to be such a big component to this project -- collaborating with other women to make the postcards, and deliver them by hand, and also collaboration with non-profits. Could you talk a little about how you found your collaborators?
Caroline: Sometimes I find them, sometimes they find me! It is always a collaboration made with a mutual intention of bringing voice and visibility to women and to women’s issues and a knowledge that art making has the ability to help make that connection.
For example, I am an Admissions Counselor at John F. Kennedy University, and I meet and talk to many different people all day long. One day I met a woman from Uganda who was interested in our Transformative Arts Program. We soon learned that we shared many interests, and she immediately wanted to participate in the Traveling Postcards project. She knew of an organization in Uganda called In Movement, Art for Social Change and asked if she could make cards with the children in their community. She is a wonderful artist and teacher and made a big commitment to move to California to attend school. One day she came into my office carrying all the beautiful Traveling Postcards that were made, all still covered in glitter and wrapped in newspaper!
Sometimes it is difficult for me to get the attention of larger NGOs [non-governmental organizations] working in some of the areas I am interested in facilitating card-making workshops. So often, the arts are not seen as necessary in our results driven world. But I find that most projects that are based in integrity, wisdom, compassion and creativity are the ones that work out the best for everyone!
Mary Daniel: Do you believe art can be a catalyst for healing and if so, how?
Caroline: Absolutely! Creativity is a bridge to our authentic wisdom and to our ability to heal ourselves. It is available to everyone. It is a universal language that cannot be restricted due to ethnicity, education, or economics. Art provides a much needed opportunity to see that we are not limited by our immediate circumstances and that by accessing and seeing our unique wisdom, we can choose to be fully expressed in our own communities and create a better life for ourselves and for those around us. I see art as a healing tool not to "fix" someone but to engage with them clearly and without judgment as they walk in their own process. Our stories can become guidance and wisdom for one another as we are faced with new challenges. Often I see a letting go process that stops self-blame and instead engages us in the present and to what is possible.
Mary Daniel: What excites you most about work right now?
Caroline: I am really excited about the possibility of tracking postcards that have already been made and finding out what has happened to them! Where do people keep them and what lasting effect have they had? I would like to start recording voices and adding them to the website. I imagine clicking on a card and then hearing a woman read or talk about her postcard. I would like to deepen the personal connection of our postcards and have the universality of our experiences be available for all to learn from.
I am excited about the possibility of traveling to Peru and holding workshops with women who live in a very remote part of the Sacred Valley. My son is living and working there now, and I have just recently met an artist who is working within this community teaching the children art and making a documentary about tourism and the effect it has on indigenous cultures. I am excited to collaborate!
Mary Daniel: What have been the biggest challenges?
The challenge I have right now is how to grow Traveling Postcards so that it is a sustainable organization on all levels and maintains a core commitment to creativity and integrity. I have had to become quite adept at business, marketing and repeatedly asking for what I want... a necessary part of my work that is sometimes a personal challenge as I would rather focus on the creative aspects of the project! I need facilitators on the ground who are willing to take on Traveling Postcards and add the workshops to their existing programs, and I need an intern here at home! I scan and archive all the cards that are made before they travel to their destinations and I need help with that and a lot more!
I am hoping to create additional leadership curriculum that educates through art and I would like to make an educational video about Traveling Postcards, art and human rights. I would love to collaborate with other artists who are doing creative work in the women’s movement and of course I would love to keep photographing women’s stories.
Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for others who would like to do artwork for collective healing?
Caroline: I encourage you to follow your instincts, find people who are doing similar work and learn all you can. Don’t give up on your vision and don’t be afraid of failing. Please know that it is the small things we do with great commitment and love that can make lasting positive change for both you and your community.
Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Caroline: First of all, you can make a postcard! Traveling Postcards workshops are easy and fun for everyone. Anyone can become a facilitator and host a workshop in their community, and we encourage everyone to get involved - men too! We have directions and guidelines on the website and lots of good ideas about art materials and how to get started. We also love individual cards that our "artists" make, sometimes anonymously, that often just arrive, beautifully wrapped in the mail!
All the cards we receive are scanned and archived and placed in our virtual galleries. We often see that once you make a card, you fall in love with it and it is hard to give it away. But it is the act of service that is so powerful and we will always keep a record of your card so that it will continue its magic even after it has traveled on to another woman.
Please tell your friends and "like" us on Facebook. The more people who know about Traveling Postcards the better! Please join our Forum online and add your voice to the conversation. Tell us what you are doing to make positive change in your community.
We are also funding very special after school art classes in Afghanistan through our partnership with Trust in Education. We know that creativity and freedom of expression go a long way in educating children to be tolerant and open minded. We must raise $ 1,000 to keep our classes going for another year. I am passionate about helping women and girls in Afghanistan to be fully independent and self expressed, and I am looking for opportunities to bring a Traveling Postcards workshop to women who are currently living in Afghan shelters. If you want to support Afghan women and girls, make a Traveling Postcard and send it to us.
Lastly, take time for yourself, slow down if you can and open your heart to share your wonderful wisdom with the world! We need you.
To learn more about Traveling Postcards, please visit www.travelingpostcards.com, find Traveling Postcards on Facebook, and connect with Traveling Postcards on Twitter.
PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
By Frank Warren
Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson
"I believe that each of us has the ability to discover, share, and grow our dark secrets into something meaningful and beautiful." ~ Frank Warren
In 2004, Frank Warren began inviting people to mail him a postcard with a secret written on it – a secret never told to anyone else. The project took off and continues to this day. PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives is the first of several books published featuring a selection of the handmade cards that Frank has received. Some secrets are light and even humorous - "I used to fertilize a ring in our lawn every time I mowed it. My parents still think it was Aliens." – while others are quite dark – "Sometimes I hope the drugs will take me away before the loneliness ever gets its chance." Presented all together in the pages of this book, the postcards feel like a collective confessional. The reader can almost hear the postcard author’s sigh of relief from sharing what had been held so tightly inside.
Frank emphasizes the transformational power of this project in his introduction as well as in divider pages, which are black with quotes in large white letters. For example, one of these pages reads, "Sometimes just the act of sharing a painful secret can relieve some of the pain." And on another page is written, "Dear Frank, After I created my postcard, I didn’t want to be the person with the secret any longer. I ripped up the postcard and I decided it was time to start making some changes in my life." One of my favorites reads, "Dear Frank, I have made six postcards with secrets that I was afraid to tell the one person I tell everything to, my boyfriend. This morning I planned to mail them, but instead I left them on the pillow next to his head while he was sleeping. Ten minutes ago he arrived at my office and asked me to marry him. I said yes." The book concludes with an invitation to mail your secret, as well as this message from Frank: "I like to believe that whenever a painful secret ends its trip to my mailbox, a much longer personal journey of healing is beginning – for all of us."
Published by William Morrow in 2005, this hardback book has 288 pages. Click here to order a copy.
Frank Warren has also created a blog where he adds postcards as they come to him. It’s a great way to get a sense of the wide array of secrets being shared. Pictured here is a card he posted on February 18, 2012. You can also follow him on Twitter at @postsecret and join him on Facebook.
Two Books by Sarah Cress
Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson
High school photography teacher Sarah Cress was struck by her students’ predominant use of online social networks. This inspired her to offer something more tactile, the postcard, as a tool for slowing down in today’s fast paced world and creating something of meaning by hand intended for someone her students did not know. Based in Streamwood, Illinois (USA), Cress partnered with another school teacher in Illinois, and the students began to create and send each other cards. As she explains, "my students learned about themselves, the process of communication, and the power of the visual image."
The success of this project inspired Cress to create a curriculum guide, which took the form of two self-published books - Artist Postcards: Creating & Communicating Through the Arts (2008), and Artist Postcards: The Continuation of an Artistic Adventure (2009). Both books offer an introductory story of how the project began, followed by a curriculum outline. Cress then provides detailed descriptions of specific postcard-making assignments, using photographic processes including everything from digital to cyanotypes and exploring themes such as "photographic montage," "loneliness," and "reflections." This is followed by examples of postcards made by Cress and her students. The second book expands upon the first by offering more postcard-making assignments and a fresh set of postcard reproductions. One or the other would be enough to get started on using this curriculum. As self-published books, they are a little rough in terms of design, but the content is useful for anyone wanting to explore the power of postcards as a medium for working with teenagers.
To learn more or to order one of these books, please visit, sarahcressphotography.com.
by the Create Peace Project
The Peace Exchange is a cross-cultural exchange of "peacecards" – artworks created on 6 x 8 inch cards by students around the world. This year the Peace Exchange hopes to exchange 24,000 cards promoting the practices of peace and inspiring creativity. The project is carried out through classroom settings. Once cards are created, they are given to the Create Peace Project to be distributed to classrooms around the world. The vision is to create connection, foster self expression, and demonstrate how the power of being peaceful and sharing oneself with another can create a ripple of kindness, love, and possibility felt by young people around the world.
Teachers of children 8-18 years old who are interested in participating are invited to contact Ross Holzmann by e-mail or visit the Create Peace Project web site for more information, including an inspiring slide show of peacecards already created.
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