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, mail art sent for the Gutai Historical Survey Exhibition held at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2013, and a collection of biographical material presented by Held at a Mail Art Study Day held at the Archives of American Art in 2018.
Scope and Content Note:
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.
The collection is arranged as 10 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1990-1999 (5 folders; Box 1)
Series 2: Diaries, 1990-2000 (20 folders; Box 1)
Series 3: Letters, 1973-2008 (7.9 linear feet; Box 1-8, Box 12)
Series 4: Artwork, 1985-2007 (12 folders; Box 8)
Series 5: Interview Transcripts, 1977-1995 (7 folders; Box 8)
Series 6: Writings, 1984-2000 (0.5 linear feet; Box 8)
Series 7: Project and Event Files, 1982-2000 (11 folders; Box 8)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1989-2000 (11 folders; Box 8)
Series 9: Gutai Exhibition Project Files, 2012-2013 (Box 9-11, Box 13, OV 14)
Series 10: Mail Art Study Day Materials, 1947-2018 (Box 15)
John Held, Jr. (1947-) of San Francisco, California, is a rubberstamp and artistamp artist, participant in the international mail art network, activist, performance artist, collector of mail art, and a fine arts librarian.
Jonathan Held was born on April 2, 1947. In the mid-1970s he took the name of the early twentieth century illustrator, John Held, Jr., famous for his images of "flapper girls" in the 1920s. This name change was both in tribute to the older artist as well as an expression of Dada.
Earning a Bachelor's Degree in 1969, Held received a Master of Library Science Degree from Syracuse University School of Information Studies in 1972 and expanded his interests toward participating in the international mail art network and assembling one of the largest archives of mail art in the United States. He was mentored by mail artist Ray Johnson, and Jean Brown, a leading participant in Fluxus, whose interest in the Dada and Surrealism movements promoted emerging art forms including mail art, visual poetry, and artists' books.
From 1981 to 1995, Held was a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. In 1982, he began making artistamps, pseudo-postage stamps used as an art medium, and opened the Modern Realism Gallery and Archive in Dallas, Texas, with his future wife Paula Barber. The gallery sought to preserve the record of contemporary avant-garde cultural activity.
Held published Mail Art: An Annotated Bibliography, a five-hundred page listing of secondary sources on the field in 1991. In 1996, Held moved to San Francisco, California, where he established the Modern Realism Gallery and acted as curator of the Stamp Art Gallery, an exhibition space devoted to rubberstamp and artistamp works.
John Held, Jr. has lectured at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Havana; and at the National School of Art, Prague. He participated in international exhibitions and, since 1986, engaged in international performance work, appearing in Japan, Russia, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia, as well as in the United States. One of Held's more notable performance creations is the Fake Picabia Brothers, in partnership with artist Picasso Gaglione.
John Held, Jr. lives in San Francisco, California.
John Held donated his papers relating to mail art in 1999, 2008, 2013, and 2018.
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Mail artists -- California -- San Francisco Search this
Performance artists -- California -- San Francisco Search this