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The Origins of M.A.N.
(Mail Art Network)
Bill "Picasso" Gaglione
By: Christine Cox

Stampland Stamp
Art Gallery

All stamp images in this article are from Stampland

One April day in 2000 Bill Gaglione and I met up at the Rubberama stamping convention in San Jose, California. Bill was there with his wife, Darlene Domel and their demo artist, Barbara De Lap, representing Stampland, the company they started in 1998. You may know of Bill from his previous company, Stamp Francisco. I had been told that Bill was the one to ask if I was curious about the beginnings of the mail art movement.

The mail art network really started with the Dada movement in 1916 in Zürich by anti-establishment artists and writers. Apparently the term "dada," the French word for hobbyhorse, was selected at random from a dictionary by the Romanian-born poet, essayist, and editor Tristan Tzara. The Dadaists were the counter-culture of their day and would write manifestos and create artistic works which were deliberately incomprehensible to the public at large. Since many of them were from other countries and they sometimes had to move to take refuge from the war, the Dadaists quite often maintained their network by mail. It was a way for them to stay in touch in those dark times.

To illustrate how "dada lives" Bill gave me a book chronicling a show in Paris in which he participated. The entire book is made up of pages of single, red shapes. Bill stamped each page with items he found in the streets. The point of the exhibition was not to be aesthetically pleasing in any way. Quite the opposite, the point was to make the viewer reevaluate her points of reference and consider as art something that she might not have considered previously.

"Anything can be art. Anybody can be an artist, a musician or a poet." -- Bill Gaglione

Although Dadaism had declined since the 1920s, there was a revival in the 1960s with the Fluxus group in New York City. In the mid '60s Bill was influenced by a Dadaist art professor named Joseph Raphael at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Bill and several friends including Mae Wilson and Ray Johnson started the New York Correspondence School, which wasn't a school at all but a group of hundreds of mail art social activists from countries as far flung as Czechoslovakia, South America, Italy, Hungary, Brazil and more, how dada-esque. Bill has remained true to his dada beginnings and continues to espouse the anti-establishment mentality and the belief in the goodness of humanity that epitomizes the movement. His work has been shown at many shows all over the world (most decidedly not mainstream).

"Bill started the stamping industry, is a well respected and very nice guy."  -- Beth Wilts

Bill's love of stamping actually started a long time before ideas about anti-establishment, incomprehensible art and social ethics were part of his belief system. When he was a kid his mother gave him a Stewart Superior set of 5 Popeye stamps. He still has it to this day and it's in his extensive collection of stamp sets and memorabilia.

Rubber Stamps, Stamping, Rubber Stamp Art, Mail ArtTo display part of that collection, Bill, Charles Chickadel and John Held, Jr. have started a virtual museum on the Internet which includes a gift shop, gallery showings from artists in 20 countries, a display of about 100 boxed sets (including Bill's beloved Popeye set),  a commercial gallery containing items such as antique bottles of ink, a stamp art gallery and several articles and books written through the years by people in the mail art and stamping communities.

As you roam around the museum you will find that, while stamps and other things are available for purchase (and currently offered at a discount), that really isn't the point of the site. The museum directors love art for art's sake and want to share that love with the world.

"Bill Gaglione is the "Grand Da Da" of the rubber stamping world!  He was cool before stamping was.  Bill has turned-on thousands of people to the world of stamping, 'zines and performance art and is one of the most generous souls I have had the pleasure of knowing." -- Janet Hofacker

As much as anyone can be in a group of anarchists, Bill is a major force in the mail art network and has an extensive list of artists all over the world with whom he corresponds. A tour through their house is a treat for the eyes as well as an education in the history of the mail art movement. Even though Bill and Darlene are moving to Chicago in June, I'm quite sure that the people whose lives they've touched will happily update their address books. After the move they are planning to open a gallery/store/factory based on Stempelplaat in Amsterdam. Bill is also working on a book about the history of rubber stamping which he hopes will be done in 2001. True to the dada spirit it will be comprised of hand-written and photocopied pages and will be presented on the Internet.

You can reach Stampland at 773.728.8425