Margaret Rizzio: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

Camden, Maine, artist Margaret Rizzio has raised collage to a fine art form, using vintage advertising and printed ephemera for her extraordinary fine art creations. Besides being a longtime collaborator with the Farnsworth for educational and studio programming and being represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine, she is also something of a mail-art champion, creating surprising collaged artwork to mail out to the world. Today, as the idea of sending mail to loved ones as a way of staying in contact while quarantined at home gains momentum, I wanted to ask Margaret about all her mail art whimsy, why she does it, and perhaps some tips for how anyone can enjoy creating mail art at home.

Anneli Skaar: I feel lucky that I am one of the people who enjoy getting a completely surprising card once in a while from you, and it’s a delight every time I get it in the mail. It feels like a gift! I want to ask you: when did you start and what was the inspiration for beginning with this?

Margaret Rizzio: I started sending mail about 15 years ago when I was at Bennington College as a way to send alternative hellos to my mom. After undergrad I used mail as a way to stay in touch with college friends, letting them know I was thinking of them. This continued until after graduate school when I was working at Bennington College in the printmaking shop. There I started an ongoing project called “Fan Mail.” I picked six creative people doing interesting work in the United States and sent them mail art. I wanted these people to know that I thought they were doing compelling things and these pieces of mail were small appreciations of it. Sending mail of admiration reminds us that we are part of a larger artistic community. Creative culture is moved forward by the power of these physical reminders. I also like the idea of people getting something in the mail where they have to slow down, reflect, and take a moment, especially in a screen-obsessed society. I still do this project and have been sending one artist that I really admire mail for more than eight years. The list of people I send mail to always changes and grows. Over the years I have sent hundreds of pieces of mail art and mail objects all over the country to curators, artists, friends, and people making their community a stronger place.

AS: Do you have a schedule for sending things out, or is it driven by mood or by chance? How do you work in your studio?

MR: There are two parts to my practice: my mail artwork and my assemblage. I do Mail on Mondays every Monday. I have a few people who have purchased “mail art subscriptions” so they get mail weekly and the rest is a rotation. I send more mail in the winter than the summer and a lot MORE mail in a social-distancing spring.

AS: What’s the most surprising response or reaction you’ve had to mail that you have sent out? Has your mail ever caused unexpected results?

MR: The best reaction … I had been sending one of my favorite artists in the world mail for two years through her gallery in New York. After two years I got a postcard back with only the artist’s home address and it was signed “the gallery.” People also write nice postcards back but I feel like it really isn’t about the response. It is instead about putting the work out in the world for others to enjoy. It is a way to stay connected to a larger creative community.

AS: If you were to give advice to people, young or old, who would like to make their own cards to send out, do you have any practical advice for them? Are there household resources they may not have thought of for materials now that a lot of stores are closed?

MR: So many boring things are sent through the mail so any handmade mail is MAGIC. My advice would be to investigate some interesting folding techniques and spice up your envelopes with collage or color! It also can be fun to have a mysterious message that you can get from maybe an old magazine or label. I clipped one today that read “And to be satisfied in its eating.” How cool and weird would that be to have on the inside of a uniquely folded card? Just try to think of something unexpected besides a standard “hello.”

AS: How is the current stay-at-home situation affecting you as a fine artist? What are you currently working on?

MR: I feel very grateful to be happy and healthy during this time period. Before the social distancing I tried to spend at least 5-6 hours in my studio Monday through Friday so that part of my life has not changed. As an artist I feel very fortunate to be able to create from an isolated place. I miss interacting with the world, though, and antiquing for vintage ephemera for my mail art and assemblage. I am currently working on a giant project of collaging/assemblaging an entire wall at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. This piece is being created in my studio and will be transferred from my studio to the gallery. I want this artwork to be like you are stepping into my ephemera-filled brain. I want people to get lost in this massive landscape of labels, playing cards, and other glorious vintage papers. It will open this October and I am very excited about that. Other than that I am sending at least four pieces of mail art daily … I have lost track of Mondays.

AS: Thank you so much for talking with us! I know you have a book out of your art, and that you are also taking mail art subscriptions. How can someone contact you about any of that?

MR: People can contact me via email or follow me on Instagram: @rizziorabbit!

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