This past April, after a month of lockdown, Carolyn Mullin andRafael Perea de la Cabada decided to stir things up a little by sending out collages to their friends in the mail as a way to support the Postal Service, (which projected a major budgetary shortfall due to a decrease in mail volume).

image of two people standing in front of a step and repeat background

What was the idea behind you starting this project?

COVID challenged us all to think about how we wanted to spend our time. This was a great resolution for my creative aims, spending more quality time together as a couple, connecting with folks in a really different way, and most importantly helping the postal service! If even half of American adults bought a 20-stamp book, that would generate $1.5 billion for our beloved mail carriers. So, to support them in their time of need and to stir up some creativity in our household, we decided to send out one-of-a-kind collage art pieces to anyone who wanted one!

(AND…. we’re not watching as much Netflix, which is probably a good thing.)

Have you worked in collage before? 

photo of collage elements, glue and a postcard that says "behind the clouds is the sun still shinning"

Rafael has more experience at this than I, given that he’s an actual working artist. I’m learning so much from him – mostly how to be carefree in what we do.

I’m really only getting into collage now. Every New Year, I have lofty ambitions of what kind of artsy hobby I’ll pick up (sewing, papercutting etc.) but then I never end up doing it.

Collage, however, is so simple. You just use what you have around, and you can start and stop whenever you want. We’ve done a couple of these sessions in the past, but I loved making this a public project.

What’s your process? 

photo of the hands of a person constructing a collage

Most of the time it’s collaborative. I’ll start something, lose my creative streak on a piece, and then hand it off to him. And he’ll do something I would have never thought of. It’s a really fun process in that sense. It’s a surprise for everyone involved (us as creators, our friends as recipients and the mail carriers as the messengers).

Sometimes we work independently; it just depends on our schedules.

What have you gotten out of it?

It’s a great way to spend some time together. To challenge our creativity. And to connect with friends. There’s accountability and a challenge to the public aspect of it, and I guess my personality type needs that sort of structure.

How did you decide who to send to? Was each collage tailored to that person?

photo of a collage that reads "agree I think cats are nice. You think cats are bad. We do not agree about cats"

Some were tailored. My best friend, Joanne, doesn’t like cats so she received one entirely based on our disagreement on the wonderfulness of felines. But most of the time we did our collages with no one in mind and then decided who might appreciate which piece. Our work fell into two camps: the more narrative and the more abstract, which reflect our personalities and approach to art.

What have the responses been?

They’ve been great! I was surprised at all the feedback. One person found out her mom had contracted COVID the day our piece arrived, and she said it brought joy on a day when she needed it most. Others were able to enjoy a momentary laugh or smile. What I personally love is that everyone seems to be keeping their envelopes too! That’s a win in my eyes.

photo of a collage on an orange envelope

Have the recipients reciprocated?

Folks have been inspired to send more mail, which is certainly one of our goals with this project. But we’ve also been the beneficiaries of human kindness. One of my besties sent me a box of plants that she had been propagating (that’s her hobby). Others have provided us additional supplies for collaging, and we’ve been promised everything from vegan soap (who doesn’t need soap, especially now?) to collages!

Any final thoughts?

When we started I wasn’t sure if people would ‘get it’ or appreciate the weirdness of our collages, but they really have. That’s so cool. Successful community engagement is the best (do I sound like an arts administrator?) 🙂

Carolyn Mullin is the Executive Director of the Oxnard Performing Arts Center Corporation. Rafael Perea de la Cabada is a visual artist and Adjunct Faculty Professor in the Art Department at SBCC. Together they have a cozy bungalow home in Ventura that they share with numerous fuzzy friends.