In the right hand corner of the Spring Hill library’s lobby, there is a display of mail surrounding a picture of a man in an Army uniform. A closer look will show the envelopes are fully illustrated. This is mail art by Harry E. Hahn, the man in uniform, and this is just a peak into his work.
Mail art was a creative movement started in the 50’s with pioneers like Ray Johnson wanting to test the postal service and escape the formality of traditional galleries. Hahn’s daughter, Charlotte Mason, shared a portion of her father’s work with the Spring Hill Library in the wake of the pandemic.
Sheryl Fell, the library experience coordinator, asked Mason to share some of the collection to kick off the covid cautious campaign.
Fell explains “During the pandemic we were scrambling for ideas on how to reconnect with the public…This is something you can do safely and still connect and display artwork.”
Harry E. Hahn was a husband, father, and a World War II veteran. He was also an artist with an extensive collection of works that could fit on an envelope.
Mason said, “It was probably the biggest part of his life. This is what he did, he was an artist.”
Hahn found comfort in drawing from a young age, doodling on a tablet during church services starting at four years old. Pencil on paper turned to pen and colored pencils, even paint on the walls of their family home.
“When he was in the service he started sending these letters to my grandma,” Mason explained.
Apart from providing a creative outlet during his time overseas, Hahn found mail art a great way to keep in touch with friends and family. From birthdays to the purchase of a new car, Hahn drew a scene to commemorate the occasion. He would pull inspiration from pop culture, politics, nature, and the rising price of postage. The variety of subjects, styles, and commentary is overwhelming in the best way.
“He had eyes to see things that most people don’t, can’t or won’t. Things they just don’t open up their mind to,” Mason ruminated. She explained how her fathers attention to detail and the joy his letters brought to others taught her to cherish the little things in life.
Hahn’s creations showed how much he cared about the world and people around him.
“He was really for people. He was just for others. If you told him a story he would listen. If you showed him something he would remember it,” Mason said after showing an envelope her father had sent to congratulate her on her new car. It was a realistic portrait of her yellow Subaru which he had only seen once before.
Hahn’s work and the revival of mail art reminds us that art can exist for its own sake. The creative process, and whatever is produced by it, holds significance apart from monetary value. It can also enrich many lives without being hung in a museum. Sometimes, priceless memories will arrive with a postage stamp.