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Catherine Wright: Stamps of approval

August 30, 2013 

Catherine Wright

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    If you go

    The Scrap Exchange’s international mail art show “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is on exhibit through Sept. 14 in the center’s Green Gallery.

    The gallery is open during regular store hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

    The Scrap Exchange is located at 923 Franklin St., Bay 1 in Durham. For more information, visit or call 919-688-6960.

In a recent, too-brief visit with my great-aunt – a philatelist – my daughters came away with a box of canceled postage stamps and a wooden picture frame to serve as their canvas.

I was inspired by the postage-stamp-covered frames in her home when I accepted the gifts. But as we unloaded our car, I started thinking about how we had taken far more stamps than would cover that frame. I thought about passing some on to The Scrap Exchange, a nonprofit creative reuse center in Durham.

And that’s when I found out about the center’s current art exhibit: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” The international mail art show is on display in the center’s Green Gallery just a while longer – through Sept. 14.

It seemed a fitting way to spend our first weekday on the heels of visiting my stamp-loving aunt and a good way to ease back into school.

As some North Carolina schools return to session with a re-emphasis on cursive writing as required by the General Assembly, my girls will return to the handwriting practice I’ve always encouraged, with corrections in spacing, letter uniformity and pencil holding.

While writing may seem to be a lost art, with the increasing ease of email and text messages, it’s never disappeared in our home. Once again, my daughters will be expected to write letters to friends and family and to send handwritten thank-you notes.

In his new book, “Real Talk for Real Teachers,” celebrated elementary teacher Rafe Esquith writes about teaching key themes throughout the year. I was struck by his discussion of the themes in an NPR interview this summer, particularly that Esquith teaches students to be organized, believing organization is a key to success in life.

As my husband and I spent many hours in the car this summer, we discussed some key themes for our homeschool this year. Among them is handwriting. From our expectations for their handwriting, we believe our girls will gain lessons in organization and responsibility.

Already they have a few thank-you notes to write for the fun summer we’ve had with family and friends. I thought The Scrap Exchange’s mail art show might inspire them. It did.

Among the small-scale art from around the world – including Germany, Ireland and Japan – were pieces featuring items we already have on hand: paperboard from cereal boxes, masking tape, stickers that were going to find a new home, handmade paper, magazines and more.

We saw a number of postcards made from recycled paper or paperboard that were drawn on, painted on or featured collage of some kind. My elder daughter particularly was impressed by a collage of woven magazine strips, with the strips apparently taken from two different headshots. I liked the roofing shingle that was painted with an abstract design and turned into a postcard.

The idea is to send the art through the postal service without an envelope so that the mailing process – stamps, cancellation marks, and wear and tear – become part of the work.

We already know who will be the first recipient of our special delivery – my philatelist great-aunt. Maybe she’ll recognize some of those stamps!

Catherine Wright lives in Hillsborough. She and her husband homeschool their two daughters, although her husband could use some practice on his handwriting, too. Write to Catherine at

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