Discovering the hectographic world of Mae Strelkov

The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant, Rich Dana

In the 1970s, a remarkable woman from Argentina was an underground art sensation.

While researching the forgotten art of hectographic printing, I discovered the work of Mae Strelkov, a little-known visionary artist from Argentina. This discovery was the sort of experience that illustrates precisely why those of us who frequent special collections libraries love them so much; when I followed the finding aid (M. Horvat Science Fiction Fanzines Collection, MsC0791) and opened the folder, the contents were not just a reproduction or a digital scan of some of her creations, but a nearly-complete collection of her hand-made zines, including post-marked, hand-made envelops and personal notes. 

 

Purple landscape of mountains with tree and owl in foreground
Example of Mae Strelkov’s purple-hued landscapes

Some readers may have never heard of a hectograph. Hectography is a technique for duplicating documents using inks made from aniline dye rather than pigments. The ink is transferred to paper via a rubbery copy pad made of gelatin and glycerine, yielding up to 40 prints before becoming depleted. The hectograph was the precursor to the spirit duplicator, commonly known as a “ditto machine,” remembered for the bright purple text and sweet methyl-ester smell it produced. “Hecto” was used widely by school teachers and churches and in the production of early science fiction fanzines. It fell out of favor as newer copiers became available after WWII, making Mae Strelkov one of a handful of artists still using hectography in the 1970s. 
 
I began to search for more information on Mae Strelkov, and found several articles written by SF fans in the early 1970s. I was also very fortunate to speak with her son, Tony Strelkov, from his home in Argentina via Zoom. Tony explained that his mother was born and raised in China, the child of English missionaries. As a teenager she met his father, Vadim Strelkovwho had fled Russia after the revolution. They married when Mae was 18 and were immediately forced to flee China to escape the Japanese invasion in 1937 

The young refugee couple found a new home in Chile, and then Argentina. In Buenos Aires, Mae worked as a translator and secretary.  In 1960, Vadim was hired to manage an estancia (estate and cattle ranch) in the Cordoba hill-country of Argentina. In these beautiful surroundings, Mae raised their children, wrote and created art. Mae was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and despite the isolation of ranch life, or perhaps in response to it, she became an amateur publisher, trading her zines by mail with other fans in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. She became close friends with Donald A. Wolheim, the legendary science fiction publisher and founder of DAW books. Tony described to me the boxes, packed full of science fiction novels and fanzines, that would regularly arrive from her American friend, Wolheim. 

For Mae, printing options were limited for creating her publications. She settled on the hectograph, making her own printing pads (a fan legend that Tony confirmed) by boiling cow bones to extract the gelatin. Because of the limited ink colors available, her idyllic landscapes are rendered in pinks, purples, and blues, giving them a psychedelic quality. Her writings reflect on her missionary parents’ spiritual traditions, those of her childhood home in rural China, and the Andes’ indigenous people. Her landscapes are fantastical, and her accounts of everyday life on the ranch are infused with a mystical quality. Her missives are also full of observations on linguistics. She created symbols for what she considered universal human sounds– a far-out idea at the time, but one that is now widely studied among language scholars. 

In 1973, Susan Wood (Glicksohn), a Canadian literary scholar/feminist/environmentalist (and SF fan) wrote in her fanzine Aspidistra: 

“SF conventions, for me, exist mainly as places to meet other fannish people whom I only know on paper, people whom I have never met, who are my friends. One of those friends is Mae Strelkov…Mae has lived most of her life in Argentina, where she and her husband Vadim share a ranch with children, cattle, crazy goats, pumas—a whole world she’ll create for you with skill and zest. A talented author and an artist too, Mae is equally at home, and equally fascinating, writing about her lively family—or the world’s problems; about linguistics, and the strange pattern of words and symbols she finds repeating themselves through the oriental, western and Amerindian cultures she knows so well—or the antics of her pet skunk; about the Catholic Church, and its effects on the world as she sees it—or your latest fanzine.” 

Picture of Mae's head on an orange background
From “The Mae Strelkov Trip Report,” 1975

 Susan Wood and Ohio fan Joan Bower mounted a successful “fan fund” (commonly used in fandom to subsidize travel for fans who cannot otherwise afford it) to fly Mae from Argentina to the US, where she would attend the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention in Washington DC (DISCON II) and DeepSouth Con in AtlantaAccording to Con reports, the grandmotherly 57-year-old Strelkov made a splash with the young American con-goers. She also purchased a Greyhound Bus Ameripass and zig-zagged from coast to coast and back, visiting fans, pen-pals, and distant relatives on an epic solo adventure, all of which she recounted in The Mae Strelkov Trip Report. The 35-page report was mimeograph-printed and distributed by one of her biggest fans, NASA engineer and fanzine publisher Ned Brooks. 

No description of Mae Strelkov’s writing and artwork can fully impart the actual documents’ utter uniqueness and magical quality. Unlike the vast majority of fanzines, Mae’s were produced almost entirely outside of the direct influence of American pop culture and fannish activities. For American SF fans in 1974, she must have appeared much like the character Valentine Michael Smith, a fascinating stranger in a strange land. 
 
Mae Strelkov’s zines, as well as those created by Susan Wood and Ned Brooks,  all available in the Michael Horvat Science Fiction Fanzines Collection, Msc0791.  

 

A special thanks to Tony Strelkov for sharing his mother’s story.  

Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life: 1870 health book resonates in the era of protective masks

The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana, who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his collection of concrete and visual poetry. 

Image from 4th edition of Shut Your Mouth 

Among the over 75,000 items in the newly-acquired Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, there are many unique and one-of-a-kind art objects and artists’ books. Along with original artwork, there is an impressive collection of reference material, monographs, and other rare books. Among Dr. Sackner’s favorites is a little-known work written by the 19th-century American painter George Catlin with the alarming title, Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life. Catlin’s book, first published in 1870, was one of the inspirations for the Sackner’s 1992 “Beauty in Breathing” exhibit

Dr. Sackner recalls: “Catlin did all of the illustrations, and there is some very interesting typography in the book… on the last page, “Shut Your Mouth” is printed in very large type. When I was giving tours of the collection, sometimes I would show this book at the end of the tour, and say, “Now I’m going to shut MY mouth!”

Catlin’s take on the two kinds of breathing

Catlin, who is most famous for his many paintings of the indigenous people of the North American plains, penned Shut Your Mouth in response to what he observed as the superior health of the tribes among which he traveled. He came to the conclusion that the key to their vigor was their practice of breathing through the nose, and “…that breathing should be done as Nature designed it, through the nostrils, instead of through the mouth.” Although the book was criticized in medical journals at the time for its lack of scientific rigor and the popular press derided the author as “Indian-loving Catlin,” the little book sparked interest among health-conscious readers, and the volume was widely reprinted.

Despite some common terminology of the era that we may find cringe-worthy today, the book reflects Catlin’s deep passion for improving the health of people of all backgrounds, his profound respect for Native Americans, and in some cases, his sense of humor. The illustrations are sometimes comical and often satiric. To some degree, history has proven Catlin’s theory correct: mouth-breathing has been shown to cause health problems ranging from tooth decay to sleep problems – even abnormal jaw growth in children.

What can we learn today from Catlin’s passion for proper breathing and public health? As many of us are now spending our days working from home, the tendency may be to also be less physically active. Dr. Sackner, a retired pulmonologist, reminds us that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vitally important to protect our lungs. We need to maintain our immune systems by staying physically active, practicing good sleep hygiene, and avoiding smoking, vaping, and other harmful habits.

——–

All images in this blog post come from a 4th edition of George Catlin’s Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life found on Internet Archive. See the full digital copy here.

Click here for CDC’s information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle during COVID-19

For More Information About the Sackner Collection, click here

Alchemy of Breathing

In the shadow of Covid-19, The Sackner Collection shines a light on “The Beauty in Breathing”

The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his exhibit “The Beauty in Breathing.”

An exhibition of works from the newly acquired Ruth and Marvin Sackner Collection of Visual and Concrete Poetry at the Main Library Gallery is one of the countless art events that have been postponed due to the current global health crisis. In some respects, however, the Sackner Collection is more relevant now than ever.

Alchemy of Breathing
Paul Laffoley, The Alchemy of Breathing,1992

Dr. Marvin Sackner is not only one of the world’s foremost collectors of artwork that combines visual elements and text, but he is also an internationally respected pulmonologist. The inventor of several medical devices designed to aid oxygen flow in patients, the 88-year-old former Head of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach is keeping a close eye on the epidemic and is currently completing a paper on potential alternative treatment strategies to address the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on the human respiratory system.

Ruth Laxson, Ride the Dance Down,1991

Visual poetry is, at its most basic level, the depiction of the sounds made by the air moving from our lungs and across our vocal cords. It’s not surprising then that breath is one of the common themes found in the Sackner’s vast collection of artists’ books, framed images, and 3D objects. In 1992, Dr. Sackner created a unique exhibition of work by an international selection of artists entitled “The Beauty in Breathing” as a special event at the annual meeting of The American Lung Association & American Thoracic Society. Some of the works were already part of the Sackner’s collection, but many were commissioned especially for the 3-day event.

It was a scientific meeting,” recalls Sackner. “And in the middle of it, here is this exhibition. A lot of people got exposed to “art and poetry” for the first time. It was really great fun to observe them. A lot of doctors aren’t necessarily art-inclined, but here, over a thousand people got to see this exhibit over a three-day period.”

Tom Phillips, Pneuma,1984

As we come to grips with the devastating effects of COVID-19 on individual lives and on society, Dr. Sackner’s life’s work illustrates the importance of scientific progress and the discovery of new, life-saving treatments. His passion for art reminds us that despite hardship, we must continue to value creative expression, which is such a large part of how we process both the beautiful and terrible in the world around us.

The works included in “The Beauty in Breathing” show, along with copies of the exhibit catalog, original photographs from the event, and Dr. Sackner’s curatorial records are all part of his donation to the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. Until visitors are once again able to visit our reading room, we will do everything we can to share these materials with the public.

 

Issue of Quaranzine

2020: The Year of the QuaranZINE

The following is written by Rich Dana, Olson Graduate Research Assistant for Special Collections. 

As librarians, we are engaged in service to our communities, and that service doesn’t end when the library has to lock its doors to protect its patrons and workers. All of us are faced now with leveraging any tools at our disposal to serve those who need to continue teaching, learning, researching, creating and maintaining some continuity in their lives during the “social distancing” of the current moment.

Issue of Quaranzine
Mark Fischer adds Quaranzine #1 to a Chicago Little Free Library

I was sitting in a comfortable weekend rental apartment above Rago’s Funeral home in Chicago (famous as the location of Al Capones wake) with my family when the reality of the situation really set in. The Art Institute was closing. Concerts were canceled. Visiting a nearly empty Quimby’s bookstore, manager Liz Mason and I discussed the cancellations of all upcoming zine fests, art book and small press events. It occurred to me that zine-makers would be dealing with the quarantine as they do many of life’s struggles; by making zines about it. Liz threw out a title for such efforts, calling them “quaranzines.”

That afternoon I set up a Facebook group as a hub place for collaboration and as a collection point for these quaranzines. By the time I got back to Iowa the next day, cities across the nation were implementing “shelter in place” orders, and well over 200 people had joined the Covid-19 zine group.

From 5 Ways to Keep Busy (when you can’t leave the house) by Kelly Wooten

Members hail from all over the world, reporting on what they are seeing and making, sharing their work. Marc Fischer from Chicago prints a 2-page issue of Quaranzine every day, posting them on light poles and bus stops around the neighborhood. Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam in Siem Reap, Cambodia is asking for people to send artwork and writing for her first issue of QuaranZINE. She is working on it despite the high temperatures and the lack of air conditioning caused by power outages in the village. As I prepare the first issue of my own quaranzine, Dri-Koff Weekly, another zine arrives in my mailbox. 5 Ways to Keep Busy (when you can’t leave the house) by Kelly Wooten in Chapel Hill.

We all hope that quaranzines are a thing of the past soon. Until then- I’ve got another issue to put out.


The Social Distancing Festival

Submissions are open to all, though the organizer is currently prioritizing work that was cancelled/disrupted/delayed due to the need for social distancing and COVID-19.

Submit and learn more about The Social Distancing Festival here

 

Flatlands Press

Flatland Press invites you to submit pieces for Flat Space, a publication that will be created around this period of social distancing.Present themes orbiting around forms of communication, shorten the distance between us, and antiquated tech/dead tech.

Please submit ideas, images, writings at Flatlandspress@gmail.com
Please add: Flat Space to subject headings.

 

THE SPACE BETWEEN: a free PDF coloring/activity book by PS1 & friends

Local Iowa City group, Public Space One brings you Space Between: The PS1 & Friends (never ending) activity book (vol. 2 could be with you!)

Click here if you’d like to submit to the community coloring/activity book.

 

The Quarantine Times:

“This project continues until the crisis ends, at which point all artists’ contributions will be promptly compiled into a publication and released at a celebration. We’ll be together again.”

Check out more about this project here.

 

Quaranzine Fest 2020!

A viral safe-space for your zines!
Quaranzine Fest is simple. Post your work on the platform of your choice April 4th and 5th tagged #quaranzinefest. There’s more info on their website including a funny / awkward tutorial on how to digitize your analog zine with an iPhone!

On April 4th and 5th like, comment, and share the work of others! Be a good samaritan – do more than just browse and passively like. If you can afford it, mail order some zines – after all it’s a zinefest!

 

Quaranzine:

A Daily Riso zine by Marc Fischer is open to publishing work by others:

Copies are posted in public places in his neighborhood in Chicago, left in some Little Free Libraries in the area, shared online on social media, and distributed more formally eventually when it’s safe for people to get together in groups. Get in touch if you are interested.

 

QuaranZINE

From Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam:

If you are fortunate enough to be in (self) quarantine, I would like to create a zine, aptly titled, “QuaranZINE”. In this work, I aim to collectively publish short writing pieces, poems, art, rants, and almost anything that is produced during quarantine.

For more information please contact a.dam@studenti.unisg.it with the subject heading: QuaranZINE.

 

Dri-Koff Weekly:

A one page mimeograph zine available by mail, or as a print-and-fold pdf. Coming out weekly until this is over. Art, writing, comics, helpful hints and observations about living and staying sane during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Send submissions or requests for copies to ricardo.obsolete@gmail.com.

Downloads available soon.

 

Social Distance Quara-zine! Collective zine-making in the age of Covid-19 Facebook Group

Social Distance Quara-zine is an online zinefest.  The world was a lonely enough place before, and now this. While we are all in lock-down mode, maybe we can find a way to get together via pictures and words, to share ideas, make communal art and survive the madness together (while staying at least 3 meters apart.)

 
Daily Schedule by Violet Crandall

Want to learn more about zines, zine-making or the zine collections at the University of Iowa? Check out:

 
And be sure to check out these other great sources as well! 
 

The Remarkable John Giorno

The following comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana

John Giorno, poet and organizer of the Dial-A-Poem project, setting up a reel of recorded poetry at the Architectural League in Manhattan in 1969.
Photo Credit Patrick A. Burns/The New York Times

John Giorno, poet, artist, and activist, passed away Friday, October 12th at the age of 82. Although readers may not be familiar with his name, Giorno was one of the most influential American artists of the post-war 20th century. He blurred the boundaries between written, visual and performance art, fine art, and pop culture.

A native New Yorker, Giorno grew up among the literary and artistic giants of the early 1960s. He appeared in early Andy Warhol films, and he became a junior member of the beat movement, befriending the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Brion Gysin.

Put your arms around me honey, West Branch, Iowa : Toothpaste Press, 1984
Photo from UIowa Libraries

His fiery and transgressive spoken-word style laid the groundwork for the performance art and slam poetry movements, and his open and unapologetic descriptions of his life as a gay man was thematically revolutionary at the time. His Giorno Poetry Systems “Dial-a-Poem” service in the late 1960s allowed users to call a series on answering machines and hear writers discussing the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, and other politically-charged topics. 

Sources close to Giorno say that the 82-year-old artist was in good health and was working in his studio at the time of his death. Readers can find out more about Giorno in the New York Times obituary.

Special Collections holds several of Giorno’s works, which are available to view any time in the reading room.