Museum of Motherhood

MamaBlogger365 – On the Road Map with FeMail, by Suzi Banks Baum and Karen Arp-Sandel

This week, Suzi and Karen discuss their travel dialogue from their FeMail Archive:

Why is it that women are the ones who can neatly return an unfolded map to its proper alignment, creases all even and the multiple folds bending in the correct direction? Some men do not need maps nor can they ask for directions. Is this true or just funny? Women seem to have a special relationship with maps, with routes and courses. Maps are a symbol and a tool of navigation. Women, moms in particular, are like sea captains: we navigate the waters of family life.

Here at FeMail, we share a passion for travel. We always pack our travel art kits as neatly and completely as our toiletries (Only heavier!). We are devoted to reuse and upcycling. Our Travel Kits are plastic zippered bags that once held holiday gifts or pillowcases. We need waterproof, tough containers that slip in to our suitcases and can be easily carried in a backpack once we arrive at our destination.

In our Travel Kits, we carry the bare necessities for making art in hotel rooms or other odd places. We always carry glue sticks, sharp scissors and a bone folder. Karen and I both love to draw and watercolor, so we usually have small travel size sets of paints and pen sets to suit the surroundings. We will show you our travel journals some other day. But here is our Mail Art, made on the road, with maps. Sending post cards to each other when traveling is almost like tearing a page from a travel journal and mailing it! It is a new take on the traditional travel post card, yet it always beckons, “Wish YOU were HERE.”

Circus Boy FeMail by Suzi Banks Baum

Circus Boy, front ; Image © Suzi Banks Baum, All Rights Reserved.

Circus Boy, back; Image © Suzi Banks Bauml, All Rights Reserved.

Summer time and Circus Boy beer fueled this card made with a map of the East Burke area of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was traveling there in late August with my family. It also happens that Karen’s son went to college there, so references to the ‘Kingdom’ hold special meaning for her. Do you see the chicken feathers? Well, they hold another story having to do with my award-winning chicken calling. Between the circus ticket, the beer label, the bit of marbled paper we’d made together earlier in the summer, our summertime conversation is rich. The other side of the card is filled with the intense colors of a Cape Cod sunset. That dancing woman is balanced on the tip of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, MA, another family trip for us. There is a tape transfer of a Milton Avery print of the beach from an art gallery guide of P’town. I love to use packing tape when I am on the road for an easy transfer of images or text on to a card.

“Where ever you are is the Entry Point” Kabir FeMail by Karen Arp-Sandel

East-West trip, front; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

East-West trip, back; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

There’s nothing like a cross-country road trip to bring home the meaning of Kabir’s 15c. quotation.

After my son graduated from college, he landed his dream job out west in Lake Tahoe, California. When he extended an invitation to his sister and me to drive cross-country with him, I accepted the adventure with Beginner’s Mind. It was an amazing shared experience during which I learned a lot about how times have changed since I made my East-West trips during my college years. I packed my trusty road atlas and spent a lot of time navigating the miles with maps. In this post card collage, I included as much personal trip memorabilia as I could glue together to tell my story to Suzi.

The front of the post card sports three retro-muses in sunglasses amid a swirl of found papers, National Park logos, map bits, I-80 mileage charts and hand painted papers. The back of the post card charts our route across Iowa with references to Americana, like the birthplace of John Wayne, National Historic trails, Wild Bill, and one of my favorite icons, a compass pointing east-west. We experienced a surprise snowstorm at our destination in Utah, Arches National Park, where we hiked the canyon trails in awe of Mother Nature. I knew that I was on a once-in-a-lifetime experience with my kids, seeing the big US of A through their eyes. Looking at maps brings the whole journey back to life. Using maps in my collage art brings me straight to the Entry Point.

Grand Island and DQ FeMail by Suzi Banks Baum

Grand Island and DQ, front; Image © Suzi Banks Baum, All Rights Reserved.

Grand Island and DQ, back; Image © Suzi Banks Baum, All Rights Reserved.

Here is a card with a trail map of a state park visited by my family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This card was made on the shores of my beloved Lake Superior while on vacation with my sisters, where ice cream stops are on the menu!

Maps help me recall what I did during my stay, like the solo bike ride I took along Grand Island to Waterfall beach where I painted and sketched. The map side is colored with India ink pens and a little watercolor. I love to cut up the guides I pick up at trail heads; they are full of information and images that quickly evoke my travels.

On the other side is a pressed piece of fern over a bit of bark against a Frango mint wrapper moon. This side of the card, painted with acrylics and watercolor convey the beauty of the back roads in the U.P. where chicory and black eyed Susan run wild. The card is edged with the package of licorice my sister brought me. We have a family passion for licorice. I worked on this card, watching the colors of the sunset color the western face of Grand Island where I had painted that afternoon.

Often, in these cards, I just slip in to the zone of making them with out a whole lot of planning. The background gets glued down, and I work in to it with whatever I have picked up that day.

My Ode to France by Karen Arp-Sandel

My Ode to France, front; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

My Ode to France, back; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

When Suzi set off on a vacation to St. Tropez with her husband, I made this Ode to France, extolling the country that holds extra special meaning to me. As a French major in college, I spent a year studying in Brittany that changed me forever.

Since then, I returned to my Francophile roots with my husband and two kids, exploring Paris, Provence, Le Dordogne, and miles of French countryside. Altering existing post cards often provides me with a great jump-start on my FeMail correspondence. The maps of the French Riviera I used set the tone for this message to Suzi. I include my Mona Lisa as encouragement to see her at the Louvre while in Paris. The back of a miniature playing card provides a compass-like mandala. Topless pleasure at St. Tropez on the French Riviera is the hot topic. The map of the Mediterranean coastline with villages that I loved visiting highlighted is the key to une petite histoire, written in French for Suzi to decipher.

Naturally Delicious FeMail by Suzi Banks Baum

Naturally Delicious, front; Image © Suzi Banks Baum, All Rights Reserved.

Naturally Delicious, back; Image © Suzi Banks Baum, All Rights Reserved.

Back in Michigan again, only this time we were on the shores of Lake Michigan. The Upper Peninsula is a fascinating place. I love the names of the streets, evidence of the influence all the immigrant cultures have had on the indigenous, mixing Scandinavian and Eastern European with Native American. The map here shows the border between the U.P. and northern Wisconsin where we explored. The materials for this card are all really simple: a beer label, cut outs from free tourist magazines, and pages from a directory of local streets. We paddled the Peshtigo River with my sisters. This trip, made just months before our mother died, has resonance for me. Canoeing is a long-time family tradition. On this trip we explored a region of northern Wisconsin where my sisters and I had spent many summers as children. We also spent time with our mom in the nursing home where she lived at the time.

Do you see how these cards capture moments that you don’t even realize will be significant? They are just snapshots of our lives, but looking at this card, nearly six months after Mom’s death and I am filled with the tenderness of that summer visit when Mom was still alert and smiling. Though this card has no visible reference to Mom, it is filled with my memories of her.

Authenticity is a Daily Practice FeMail by Karen Arp-Sandel

Authenticity is a Daily Practice, front; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

Authenticity is a Daily Practice, back; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

There I was, teaching a sketching class at the highest point in the state of Massachusetts, Bascom Lodge on Mount Greylock. It was during the approach and arrival of Summer Solstice 2010. What a great adventure!

Each week, the weather at the lofty height of 3,491 feet was different. I painted this post card-sized vista, using my trusty traveling art kit, on location or en plein air on a clear day, where the views from the summit stretch 60-90 miles distant. With a bird’s eye view fueling my imagination, I added the gel transfer image of a turn-of-the-century gal, dancing with determination across the heights.

What I love about gel transfers is their transparency. It allows me to superimpose an image upon a background, as a layer of meaning. Did you know that within the War Memorial Park at the summit of Greylock, there is a No Firearms Zone? Entering this place of peace, climbing the 85 steps to the top of the magnificent granite tower built in 1932, taking in the four-state view, I felt myself absorbed into art and living with no separation. I included a map of this exact location on my post card. My message to Suzi: “Authenticity is a Daily Practice: Make it Your Own.”

Moon Circle at Lake George FeMail by Karen Arp-Sandel

Moon Circle at Lake George, front; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

Moon Circle at Lake George, back; Image © Karen Arp-Sandel, All Rights Reserved.

I learned recently that Lake George is also referred to as Le Lac Saint Sacrament: Queen of American Lakes. Suzi and I both grew up in the Great Lakes so we share a natural affinity for lakes. Our Moon Circle, which is our women’s group dedicated to meeting together on the full moon every month, gathered for a weekend moon retreat.

On this post card I used the New York state map circling the lake and comparing it to a sanctuary. One of our Moon sisters had just lost her husband to prostate cancer and we all grieved with her, the deep sorrow of such an inconceivable, yet real, event. The Goddess is represented in my collage by the Mother Mary with tears flowing down her face and the words Divina Misericordia, Life itself is “Like Breath on Glass”, a phrase I cut and glued above a golden guardian lion symbol from a beer label. Together, as a circle of women, we act up and sing, no matter what life brings us. Circles within circles, painted in watercolor resist, are the motif for the front of this post card. My small Rocket Girl gel transfer boldly bursts out of the box; just like FeMail artists do by this radical act of correspondence from the heart.

The long-standing tradition of Mail Art pledges artists to use our materials irreverently and yet, we pledge to be respectful of the postal system that so dutifully carries our mail art. Each piece of mail art becomes the property of the recipient. Karen and I are bound together, over the miles between our homes, to respond to each other with FeMail, even while we are traveling. Each card is embossed with the experiences we have on the road, the people we are with and the places we see. Every card we send is an Entry Point in to the maps of our daily lives.

Bio: Suzi Banks Baum is an Heirloom Variety Mom living in the hills of western Massachusetts. She is a writer and artist, raising 2 teenagers with her husband. As she writes her book Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Women she blogs on the sacred in daily life at www.laundrylinedivine.com. Visit an online gallery and discussion of my mail art collaboration with Karen Arp-Sandel titled “Fe-Mail” at www.femailart.com.

Karen Arp-Sandel is a woman who wears many hats: artist, educator, yoga teacher, workshop presenter, Mother, wife, aunt, daughter and sister. In her role as a collage artist, she makes art in her home studio and teaches classes at IS183 Art School of the Berkshires, where she is on the faculty of the Painting, Drawing and Collage department. When she is not in her studio or instructing adults, she implements an exciting Learning through Arts programs in the public elementary schools using the skills in her “visual artist toolbox”. You can learn more about her in her professional capacity by visiting KarenArpSandel.com.

Come to FeMailArt.com to view an online gallery and discussion of the mail art collaboration between Karen Arp-Sandel and Suzi Banks Baum. You can also see more about this exhibit at MotherhoodMuseum.org.

MamaBlogger365 needs you! Tell us how you’re re-framing motherhood and help the Museum of Motherhood secure a permanent home in 2011!


About M. Joy Rose

Woman, Mother, Human, Rocker, Educator, Activist Director; Museum of Motherhood President and Founder; MaMaPaLooZa Inc. a company by Women, Promoting (M)others for social, cultural and economic benefit. Dedicated to a more educated, more peaceful, more musical planet.


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