Skip to main content

John Held papers relating to mail art, 1947-2018, bulk 1973-2013

More Information

Jean Fitzgerald & Judy Ng
Scope and Contents
The papers of rubberstamp and artistamp artist, performance artist, collector of mail art, and fine arts librarian John Held, Jr. date from 1947-2018, bulk 1973-2013, and measure 12.9 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical material, 18 printed diaries, letters received by Held from mail artists around the world, art work consisting of artistamps designed by miscellaneous mail artists, interview transcripts, writings, project and event files, printed material, and mail art sent for the Gutai Historical Survey Exhibition held at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2013.
Scattered biographical material consists primarily of miscellanous biographical writings and accounts. Eighteen printed diaries provide very brief descriptions of daily activities and more detailed descriptions of art mail events, conferences, and travel experiences.
Letters comprise the largest and most significant series in the collection. Letters received by John Held, Jr. are from an extensive number of national and international mail artists, including Mark Bloch, Hans Braumüller, Jean Brown, William Gaglione (a.k.a. Picasso Gaglione), Dick Higgins, Ray Johnson, Shozo Shimamoto, Ryosuke Cohen, Michael Leigh, Guglielmo Cavellini, and Rod Summers. There are also scattered letters from Carl Andre and Clement Greenberg, typescripts of letters sent by Held, and a file of letters exchanged with Steve Durland.
There are twelve folders of artistamps, non-official or pseudo-postage stamps designed by miscellaneous participants in the international mail art network.
Transcripts are of interviews conducted by John Held, Jr. with some of the more notable artists involved with the mail art movement including Al Ackerman, John Cage, Ray Johnson, and Allan Kaprow. There are also interviews with John Held, Jr., William (Picasso) Gaglione, and Milan Knizak, including an interview with Held conducted by Ruud Janssen.
Extensive writings by John Held, Jr. consist of catalog essays, miscellaneous essays, bibliographies, miscellaneous box set texts, and miscellaneous typescripts. Project and event files concern miscellaneous projects, tours, lectures, and exhibitions with which John Held, Jr. was involved.
Printed material consists primarily of printouts of Bibliozone issues, a newsletter, exhibition catalogs, and press releases concerning mail art.
The Gutai exhibition project files include printed material related to the 2013 Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the mid-Winter Burning Sun: Gutai Historical Survey and Contemporary Response held at the San Francisco Art Institute. The bulk of the series consists of mail art created by over 135 artists who were asked to submit work inspired by Gutai and the artist Shozo Shimamoto.
The Mail Art Study Day Material consists of mostly biographical material regarding John Held, presented by him at the Archives of American Art's Mail Art Study Day on November 9, 2018. This assortment of largely printed material (news clippings, invitations, and programs) as well as select correspondence and photographs, each representing a year in the life of the artist, accompanied by a key for around 450 items dating from 1947-2018. They serve to document his career with regard to creating and disseminating Mail Art.
John Held donated his papers relating to mail art in 1999, 2008, 2013, and 2018.
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Processing Information
The 1999 and 2008 accretions were merged, arranged, and described by Jean Fitzgerald in July 2009. Materials received in 2013 were processed and added to the collection by Judy Ng and the collection was digitized in 2014-2015, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. The 2018 addition was processed by Ryan Evans in 2019.