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QSL Card Exhibit in Maryland through September 15

08/13/2011

HPE 2 WRK U AGN SN: Ephemeral Communiqué 1920-1980, a design exhibit of more than 550 QSL cards, will be on view until September 15, 2011 at the Chesapeake Gallery on the campus of Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland. It is curated by Harford CC Professor of Art and Design Kenneth Jones. Jones will present a talk at the closing reception September 14 from 6-8 PM.

Jones is the grandson of an avid ham. He told the ARRL how the exhibit came about:

“I have a keen interest in materials that are printed. As a graphic designer, I am always evaluating how we use images and words to communicate with one another. QSL cards are an excellent example -- each card is unique, in that it collects specific technical information about a QSO and records it on the card as an original record.

“In many ways, each card is an original work of art, not unlike a painting or drawing or photograph. The symbols and markings operators chose (or had chosen for them), and the combination of these visual marks with data and then many times remarks by the operator, written in his/her own hand combine to make the QSL card a fascinating artifact.

“I started to develop an interest in QSL cards for their unique design qualities. They were great examples of the visual verification of a wireless communication. When I thought about it, not being a ham myself, I wondered about how thrilling it must be to, in fact, confirm the fleeting conversation or code with a very physical and visual memory index.

“The cards from the period of 1920s-1980s follow the development of modernism historically in the West. Moreover, the ‘one-of-a-kind’ primitive cards, either drawn by hand in a folk art style and/or reproduced in small quantities with short-run machinery, combined with other cards that are highly refined and printed with more complex systems and permanent matrices, make for a variable body of work, all similarly sized, that many times also share unique postal markings and cancellations, along with written remarks from one operator to another.

“For me, amateur (person to person) QSLs are a cross between a very graphically designed calling card or ‘cartes de visite,’ a sign and a personal letter. The combination of these elements utilizes the interconnected postal systems to distribute and includes all works from ‘high’ to ‘low’ art. The range of symbols and maps of locations and celebrations of nationalism or more frequently the vernacular qualities of a small town or community give each card an original expressive intent.

“In an age of communicating wirelessly with avatars, tweets and friending through Facebook. QSL cards are sophisticated communication devices that reconnect two people to the past. Today, the pace of communication is so much faster, and the memory of that communication may be stored or in most cases hidden in histories, caches and the recesses of hard drives and servers. The act and art of QSLing is an act of respect, unity and friendship.

“I came to (rediscover) QSL cards from a box in my basement a few years ago. When I opened it, I was overwhelmed by the aroma contained in the contents. The box was full of items from my grandfather (he passed in 1987) and included QSL cards, which transported me to the shack he used which was part of his kitchen. I remembered the big antenna on top of his little home, and how he would let me turn the dial to change its direction. The cards in the box sparked my interest in their design and history, so I began to research and collect them. After collecting about 10,000 of them, I started to think about writing a book about the design history of the cards and applied for a sabbatical, which I was awarded and then took in the Fall of 2010.

“The exhibition, HPE 2 WRK U AGN SN: Ephemeral Communiqué 1920-1980, is part of my overall project. My goal is to have the exhibition tour and siphon in cards from the locales it travels, to link it to the ham communities therein.”



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