Downtown Gallery hosts “Wish You Were Here” Postcard Show


Sharon Irwin of Kent, explains the inspiration behind her winning postcard at the “Wish You Were Here” postcard show at the Downtown Gallery Friday. Irwin’s Japanese-style postcard was inspired by her husband, KSU professor John Akamatsu, and visits to Japan. Photo by Hannah Potes.

Amy Cooknick

“Wish You Were Here” exhibit

The Downtown Gallery

141 East Main Street

Wednesday through Friday: noon to 5 p.m.

Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


It is a flat, sturdy, paper rectangle.

It is reassurance to a loved one from a thousand miles away. It is a bragging letter to a neighbor during the best vacation ever. It is a souvenir of that once-in-a-lifetime visit.

It is a conveyor of countless different stories, meaning something different to everyone.

It is a postcard, and it is modern art.

It is also the focus of, “Wish You Were Here,” the National Collage Society’s 15th annual Postcard Show, running at the Downtown Gallery until May 14.

Gretchen Bierbaum, NCS president and founder, was in Kent to see the exhibit’s opening reception on April 8 and talk about the postcard-sized collages.

“It’s a small-format collage exhibit,” Bierbaum said. “It means all of (the collages) are small. They’re mostly all abstract.”

Bierbaum said this is the first time in the exhibit’s history that it has been displayed in Kent.

“This is an annual exhibit,” Bierbaum said. “It was in New York City for four years in the Lincoln Center on Broadway. It’s travelled around, and now that Kent has that beautiful gallery downtown, it’s a good place for us to have a show.”

The show this year features 158 artists, including one from Canada and one from Hungary, with the rest from the United States.

Bierbaum said artists contact her about having work displayed in the exhibit.

“We used to only be in the United States, but now that we have a website, people can find us from all over the world,” Bierbaum said. “It’s much easier than advertising in a magazine like we used to do back in the old days.”

Not that many of the artists featured in the exhibit would be averse to magazines. The postcards line six sections and three walls of the gallery. They are decorated with magazine and newspaper clippings, paint, stickers, tiles, stamps, ribbons, beads, shells, pebbles, film strips, photos, lace, mesh, strings, tickets, credit cards, a Lego or two and possibly a dead fish, to mention just a few adornments.

Some of the cards are abstract, while others have themes like travel, art, politics, celebrities and Taco Bell.

The postcards were all judged on creativity, and the 15 award winners were announced at the reception Friday.

Among the winners were Hungarian artist Pál Csaba for his untitled collage, and the only Kent artist, Sharon Irwin, for her collage, “There’s No Place Like Home.”

Bierbaum said all the winners will be posted on the NCS website for those who missed the reception, but she recommends seeing the full exhibit in person while it’s in town.

Tracy Buckley, Ravenna art teacher and Kent State alumna, brought her family downtown to see the exhibit.

“The show in here is wonderful,” Buckley said. “I think it’s a good, really strong collection of collages. It’s impressive.”

Buckley became a member of NCS in fall 2010, but most of the guests to the Gallery are nonmembers.

“The public loves this show,” Bierbaum said. “Next year it’ll be in Seattle and in 2012, collage will be a hundred years old; the only new fine-art medium of the 21st Century.”

Bierbaum has been collaging for decades. She has written two books on the subject, “Collage in All Dimensions” and “Creating Collage in All Dimensions.”

“Both of my books deal with copyright infringement,” Bierbaum said. “You can’t tear something out of the Kent Stater or a magazine and just glue it in your painting. If somebody recognizes what it is, that’s an infringement on their copyright. My new book’s all about altering techniques. Transferring so that no one can recognize what we’re using out of publications.”

She also teaches collage workshops all over the country, and she has a collage entitled “TANKS” on display in this exhibit. However, Bierbaum began in another medium.

“I was a watercolor artist,” Bierbaum said. “And any time I glued something into one of my paintings, they wouldn’t allow me in any shows because 35 years ago, nobody knew what collage was, even though it was already 70 years old.

“We were discriminated against,” Bierbaum added, laughing.

With the help of Bierbaum and the NCS, collage has become a more respected and appreciated art form.

Part of the history of collage as art can be traced back through the history of Kent State.

Anderson Turner, Director of Galleries at Kent State, said Kent offered the first collage class in the country.

“Martin Ball, our professor, was the first instructor in the country to teach a collage class,” Turner said. “So there’s a lot of things having to do with collage that’s kind of neat.”

Turner said the Downtown Gallery is student-run and has been in Kent for 14 years. Although they have a new exhibit about once a month, Turner said he is excited to host the Postcard Show.

“What’s cool about (NCS) is that it’s based in Hudson,” Turner said. “It’s pretty impressive what they do all over the world and all over the country and they’ve done it for a long time. And it’s local, but it’s also done on an international level, so it’s nice for the School of Art gallery to be able to at least help out and play a role in that history.”

Turner said sometimes artists come to him with ideas for exhibits and sometimes he goes to them. He plans exhibits like the Postcard Show two or three years in advance.

“Basically I just come up with several ideas, and people submit things to me, but also we solicit things from people,” Turner said. “We still have things that take up space on a yearly basis or other yearly basis, but that’s pretty much how it works. I jokingly call what we do in the gallery “Gallery Whack-a-Mole” because we’re doing different things at different times.”

Once an exhibit has been secured for the gallery, interns and staff organize, label and finally hang the show for the public to view.

After this show ends, Bierbaum said NCS is donating its permanent collection to the Kent State Art Department, something Turner said he looks forward to.

“I’m excited about being able to be the home of the collection,” Turner said. “I can’t wait to see how that shapes up over the next few years. That’s just beginning. Those postcards are hot off the presses.”

The “Wish You Were Here” exhibit is free and open to the public noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].