When I arrived in New York in the early 1980s, the city was crazy with street artists making their mark and I wanted to jump in the mix. But, I wanted to do something a little different (the city certainly didn’t need more spray paint). So I decided to make a piece of public art that was also very private; targeted to anyone and everyone, yet only going to a select few; anonymous, but personal.
In May 1983, the city was preparing for the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge. With that as my inspiration, I created a signed, numbered edition of birthday cards.
The front of the card was a b/w print of my very first drawing of the Brooklyn Bridge, a sketch I made on my first walk across the bridge. On the day of the walk I was carrying a felt tip pen, but didn’t have any paper, so I found a shoe box on the bridge footpath and used the bottom of the box as my canvas. The view is looking toward Manhattan, my new home, with the World Trade Center in the background.
Inside, written in gold marker, the card read, “Happy Birthday, BB! Love, John”
I put the card in an envelope that I had partially spray-painted in blue and addressed to “New York City,” again in gold ink. The spray paint allowed me to create a stencil of a stamp outline onto which I glued my own little postage stamp, a tiny hand-colored print of my first WTC drawing, done in 1982.
The stamp was overlaid with a hand drawn cancellation in gold ink that read, “May 24, 1983/New York, NY”
In the return address corner, the envelope was signed in pencil “J Morse” and the edition numbered, one through 25.
On the Saturday before centennial festivities I set out from my apartment in the East Village on my self-appointed postal route. I randomly delivered the cards in the East Village, Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca to spots that were visible to passersby, yet not too obvious (that is, if you looked in that direction, you would see it), and where they would be protected from the elements, like small recesses and nooks and under ledges. I never expected much response (there was no contact information and I didn’t even have a phone back then so there was no white pages listing) and, indeed, got none.
Fast forward to March 2011, when the following email appeared in the Star Dog Studio website’s in-box:
Date: Fri, 18 Mar 2011 22:24:40 -0400
From: Wallis Urmenyhazi <*****@msn.com>
Reply-To: Wallis Urmenyhazi <*****@msn.com >
Subject: Brooklyn Bridge
While putting my house in order, I came across an envelope which brought back fond memories of a day spent in New York.
The date of that memorable day: May 24, 1983.
Occasion: Brooklyn Bridge Birthday
Content of envelope: Picture of the Brooklyn Bridge
Envelope postmarked in gold ink and stamp designed by artist.
My daughters [Christel and Marianne] and I found this envelope leaning against the park wall in Washington Square. It was intriguing, unusual, unexpected. Who was this stranger who had left this envelope for anyone to find on this very special day? What was the meaning? Who was this person and what made him leave this gift for an anonymous finder? I remember vividly to this day raising all these questions and discussing them with my daughters who were then in their teens.
Any day in Washington Square is special. Finding this envelope made the day unforgettable. An envelope had the power to bring magic into our lives. I kept the envelope for 29 years often thinking about that very special day and the stranger that had left it for us to find.
And then came the internet. On a sleepless night, I googled John Morse and found John Morse and his email...
We will always be grateful to the stranger who created that magical moment us.
Do I have the correct John Morse?
Wallis Urmenyhazi, PhD