MCBA is proud to announce the establishment of the world’s most comprehensive working rubber stamp archive.
About this project
Minnesota Center for Book Arts is proud to announce an exciting addition to its Reference and Creative Library Collection: the S. Helmes and W. Gaglione Rubber Stamp Archive.
By uniting the extensive private collections of Scott Helmes and William “Picasso” Gaglione under one roof, the H/G Archive is one of the largest repositories of rubber stamps and stamp-related materials in the world. Comprised of hundreds of commercial and one-of-a-kind boxed sets and over 70,000 individual stamps spanning a period of 120 years, the H/G Archive is both comprehensive and incredibly diverse. In addition to physical stamps, the collection includes original stamp art, artists’ books, limited edition publications, journals, catalogs, reference materials, correspondence art, assemblings, design specifications, posters, and production materials.
The mission of the H/G Archive is to preserve historical, rare and unique tools of artistic expression while maintaining their accessibility to artists wishing to incorporate them into their creative practice. It is a living archive where use by artists and researchers is encouraged.
An exhibition in Open Book’s second floor Literary Commons presents just a few examples of the H/G Archive’s holdings. It offers a rudimentary history primer and demonstrates rubber stamp use by contemporary artists. From Dada and Fluxus practitioners to concrete poets and correspondence artists, rubber stamps facilitate creativity through their inherent immediacy and operative flexibility. They allow artists to simultaneously reference and critique a range of topics from banal day-to-day life to long established social institutions.
The S. Helmes and W. Gaglione Rubber Stamp Archive will officially open to the public in mid-2017 after initial documentation and cataloging has been completed. At that time it will begin fulfilling its mission by providing unique resources for art-making to emerging and established artists; serving as an educational collection that demonstrates history and social change; supporting future exhibitions and workshops; preserving and maintaining a traditional creative practices; and enhancing Minnesota Center for Book Art’s programming.
RUBBER STAMPS: A VERY BRIEF HISTORY
The history of rubber stamps dates to 1851, when Charles Goodyear patented a process that turned the viscous sap of South American rubber trees into the hard red rubber we are familiar with today. He called the process vulcanization, after the Roman god of fire and forge. Soon, dentists across the country had vulcanizing pots in their offices to mold dentures. The first rubber stamps were likely produced in one of these dentist pots.
The earliest sets were sold to businesses for making signs and marking merchandise. They were advertised as cutting-edge technology, replacing hand-lettered signs, stencils and more expensive printing.
By the 1920s, stamps had moved into the schoolhouse and were being used by teachers to create flashcards and worksheets. These became especially popular during the Depression, when few schools had funds for textbooks. Sets like “The Story Printer” contained not only letters and words, but also shapes, mathematical exercises and images of common objects like tractors and chickens.
Rubber stamps also found their way into children’s hands. Beginning in the early 20th Century, youth entertained themselves by stamping scenes with sets of circus animals or trains and ships. There were sets based on early comic book characters, construction equipment and cowboys. Children were also encouraged to become printers through smaller versions of commercial printing outfits.
Use by artists escalated in the 1960s when pop artists working in New York, such as Ray Johnson, used them in “correspondence art.” These anti-establishment artists wanted to break art out of what they saw as the confines of galleries and museum walls. They sent their visual puns and wordplay through the mail to an international network of like-minded people. They also enjoyed appropriating symbols of authority. Correspondence art grew out of two older traditions: Dada and Fluxus.
Today, rubber stamps are still enjoyed by children and used in businesses. While their popularity in the crafting community has waned, they remain vital, versatile, and efficient tools for artists, writers, poets, and others interested in visual language and popular culture.
ABOUT THE FOUNDERS
Scott Helmes is a visual poet who began collecting rubber stamp sets in 1974. His poetry stretches the limits of language, explores the multifaceted concepts of meaning, and encompasses all manners of reading. His work also investigates typographic concepts, printing methods, and alternative letter forms within the modern meaning of communication. Helmes’ poetry is realized through a variety of techniques and materials such as rubber stamps, stencils, and collage. He has exhibited internationally and his work is in the collections of some of the world’s leading institutions, including Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale de France, and Frankfurt’s Museum für Kunsthandwerk.
WILLIAM “PICASSO” GAGLIONE
An avid collector of all things, William “Picasso” Gaglione was the original owner of Stamp Francisco and has been involved with rubber stamp art and rubber stamp manufacturing for decades. He is currently the co-proprietor of Chicago’s Stampland. His artistic influence on the world of rubber stamping has been documented extensively through numerous international exhibitions and publications. As a publisher, he has produced multiple boxed exhibition catalogs and assembling periodicals such as Stampzine. Gaglione has created many aliases and identifications during his long career as a conceptual artist (Picasso, Dadaland, etc.) and he continues to prolifically create and perform as a neo-Dadist, Fluxus practitioner, and correspondence artist.
Risks and challenges
The primary challenge of this project is also its most exciting strength: it has never been done before. There is no exact model for the initiative, but MCBA has the staff capacity, organizational infrastructure, community relationships, and artistic vision to facilitate the successful planning and implementation of the H/G Archive. In 2015, MCBA celebrated 30 years of service following the completion of major renovations to its studios, gallery, and library – renovations that have made the physical framework of the H/G Archive possible. Governed by a 20-member board representing diversity across culture, gender, age, and LGBTQ orientation, MCBA is artistically robust, well-staffed, and recognized for its ability to execute ambitious artistic and educational programming. Coupled with your support, MCBA is positioned to execute this groundbreaking model for public access to an astounding archive of reference materials, artwork, and creative tools.