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Etlinger (Amelia) collection

The Amelia Etlinger Collection consists primarily of approximately 100 pieces of concrete poetry packet poems. About 80 of these pieces were donated by Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert] and are from both Helinka’s personal collection and Mike Belt’s. The other pieces were donated from the personal collection of Mirella Bentivoglio or sent directly to various curators of the Poetry Collection from Etlinger in the 1970s and 1980s. Other material in the collection includes correspondence, exhibition catalogs, announcements, interviews, newspaper clippings, photographs, and articles written by various correspondents of Etlinger’s. Of particular note is a DVD of Paula Claire opening, reading, and interpreting the pieces that Etlinger sent to Paula Claire’s Archive; and a binder that Etlinger compiled from her correspondence with artist Mike Belt. The Belt binder is a plastic 3-ring binder that has been covered with butcher paper packaging that was mailed to Belt from Amelia containing letters, mail art, and photographs sent back and forth between Etlinger and Belt from roughly 1975-1979.

The art objects/mail art/concrete poetry series has been arranged by correspondent by volume and within each correspondent by size for ease of storage and safety of the work. Being able to view multiple correspondents’ collections spanning two decades gives the viewer the opportunity to see both the similarities and unique personal qualities of Etlinger’s work as her poetry evolves. This is most evident in the largest bodies of work sent to Belt and Helinka. While she did create the same concrete poem for multiple recipients, Etlinger, on almost every occasion, used pieces of correspondence, artwork, and anything else sent to her by her correspondents, including fabric and seeds, collaged into her work to send back to the individual to whom it originally belonged. Signatures and names from letters, drawings, logos, and poems are often ripped and tied to frayed and delicate fabrics making each piece unique to the recipient.

Etlinger’s work in this collection ranges in size from 4 foot by 5 foot tapestries to 2 inch bundles of lint, paper, and thread. The most common formats found include “packet poems,” which consist of department store boxes with the poem inside and sometimes out, and book-like structures created from manipulated paper and fabric sent in manila mailer envelopes. In addition to personal fragments associated with each recipient, common material includes frayed chiffon, organza, jacquard, Japanese tissue papers, facial tissue, colored cellophane, different weight thread, yarn, and cord, and always natural material. The most prevalent natural material are rose petals, but Etlinger also uses other flower petals, ferns, leaves, dried berries and seeds, and delicate dandelion seeds usually found at the center of her work. She frays the edges of almost every piece of woven fabric, and the frayed warps and wefts are also incorporated into her work and often tied or bundled and nested around other material. Tin foil and wax paper are often found wrapped around the department store box poems, and pieces in the boxes are often wrapped in multiple layers of tissue. Most of the pieces have been stored wrapped in archival tissue for preservation and also identification. Any added tissue is identified with the title and box, folder number written in a visible spot. The art objects/mail art/concrete poetry and the Mike Belt binder must be opened by Poetry Collection staff and some access is restricted due to the fragile nature of the work and its rapid deterioration. Please contact the Poetry Collection for further information.

The Research and Correspondence series contains correspondence between Etlinger and Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert], Mike Belt, Mirella Bentivoglio, and the Poetry Collection curators. It also contains correspondence between the correspondents pertaining to Etlinger, as well as some correspondence between Helinka and Louis Etlinger, Amelia’s husband. Research consists of clippings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, photographs, collaborative projects, interviews with Etlinger, and also criticism written about Etlinger’s work, both published and unpublished. This series is arranged by correspondent in the same order as the art objects, with Paula Claire’s DVD and descriptions and Gloria F. Orenstein’s critical essay in Lady Unique at the end of the series after Bentivoglio. Of particular note is the large amount of correspondence with little or no collage elements between Etlinger and Mirella Bentivoglio, donated by Bentivoglio, which often mentions Etlinger’s exhibitions in Italy.

Etlinger’s tapestries make up the smallest series and include 5 outlines sent to Belt, Helinka, the Poetry Collection, and 2 to Bentivoglio. Helinka has donated 4 tapestries that were sent to both her and Mike Belt, all roughly 4 foot by 4 foot. Special handling is required to view the tapestries.