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Finding aid for the Bern Porter mail art collection, 1953-1992 (bulk 1978-1992)
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Bern Porter mail art collection
    Date (inclusive): 1953-1992 (bulk 1978-1992)
    Number: 900270
    Creator/Collector: Porter, Bern, 1911-2004
    Physical Description: 19.25 linear feet (39 boxes, 1 flat file folder)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: American physicist, poet, publisher, editor of artists' books, illustrator and mail artist. Collection consists of five collections of mail art preserved by Porter from his own accumulation and those of fellow mail artists John Pyros, Carlo Pittore (née Charles Stanley), Robert Saunders, and Jay Yager.
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    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Bern Porter was born Bernard Harden Porter on February 14, 1911 in Porter Settlement, Maine. Schooled in physics, Porter contributed to the Manhattan Project until 1945 when he quit shortly after he published Henry Miller's Murder the Murderer, an anti-war tract. Disillusioned by the misapplication of scientific potential, Porter began to express himself through a fusion of science and art. In 1959, he established the Institute for Advanced Thinking to encourage freelance physicists to develop ideas that combine physics and the humanities.
    Porter is one of the founders of the mail art network, sending visual poetry, letters, one-of-a-kind postcards and altered images to international correspondents as early as the 1950s. He has participated in many mail art exhibitions and also maintains an extensive literary career. To date he has written over 80 books and published over 400.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Bern Porter mail art collection 1953-1992 (bulk 978-1992), Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 900270.

    Acquisition Information

    Received 1990 (accn no. 900270), 1993 (accn. no. 930011), 1997 (accn. no. 970070).

    Processing History

    Ladislay Pugel, Special Collections Intern from October 1990-June 1991, processed and cataloged the first shipment. Materials from the Pittore, Yager and Saunders collections were separated from the archive. All three collections received an accession-level catalog record, but were not processed. Rebecca Markman alphabetized some items from the 1993 supplement, which comprises the bulk of the archive. From April to September 1998, Lynda Bunting reintegrated the Pittore, Yager and Saunders collections, reprocessed the entire collection and wrote the finding aid.

    Related Material

    There is very little of Porter's own work within this archive. More of his mail art collection dated from 1978 to 1984 is in the following collections.
    Jean Brown papers, 1916-1995, bulk 1958-1985. Getty Research Insitute, Research Library, Accession no. 890164. Bern Porter papers, 1935-1983 . 105 boxes, University of California, Los Angeles. Bern Porter collection of contemporary letters, 1935-ca.1989 . 15 linear feet. Colby College Library, Waterville, Maine.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Five collections of mail art are gathered in this archive by Bern Porter from his own collection (sometimes sent c/o his Institute for Advanced Thinking) and those of fellow mail artists John Pyros (c/o the Epistolary Stud Farm), Carlo Pittore (né Charles Stanley), Robert Saunders and Jay Yager. Highlights of the collection are the original contributions sent to Pryos, Saunders and Yager for inclusion in mail art exhibitions they curated. Also noteworthy are letters sent to Pittore, Pyros and Saunders, which often mention the mail art network and the work and personal life of the corresponding artist.
    Each series is arranged alphabetically by artist with folders of notices and invitations to participate in mail art exhibitions and projects filed chronologically at the end. Many of the corresponding artists, who hail from countries throughout the world, are located in more than one series. Artists represented include Reed Altemus, Vittore Baroni, Mark Bloch, Monte Cantsin, David Cole, Peter M. Craigie, Eric Finlay, John Held, Jürgen Olbrich, Steve Random, Lon Spiegelman, Michael VooDoo, Chuck Welch and Chris Winkler.

    Arrangement note

    The collection is organized in six series: Series I. Bern Porter collection, 1973-1992; Series II. Carlo Pittore collection, 1969-1992; Series III. John Pyros collection, 1953-1992; Series IV. Robert Saunders collection, 1976-1991; Series V. Jay Yager collection, 1982; Series VI. Unidentified addressee, 1969-1992

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Copy art

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Alternative publications
    Mail art
    Rubber stamp art


    Altemus, Reed
    Baroni, Vittore
    Bloch, Mark, 1956-
    Cantsin, Monty
    Cole, David
    Craigie, Peter M.
    Finlay, Eric
    Held, John, 1947-
    Olbrich, Jürgen O.
    Pittore, Carlo
    Porter, Bern, 1911-2004
    Pyros, John
    Random, S. (Steven), 1954-
    Saunders, Robert, 1940-
    Spiegelman, Lon
    VooDoo, Michael
    Welch, Chuck, 1948-
    Winkler, Chris
    Yager, Jay