LOVE LETTERS A DYING ART
Texts and emails don’t replace grand gestures
Derek Sandbeck is certain the love letter may be one of the most grandiose romantic gestures ever. That’s because it’s a dying art. No one writes mash notes anymore, at least not the way they used to, he says.
Love letters have become a piece of nostalgia going the way of the dinosaur, the typewriter and film photography. The language of passion, it seems, has changed dramatically.
“Love letters are texts now,” Sandbeck sighs.
“As much as that sucks to admit, it’s where they’ve gone. It’s immediate and easy now. We email, text or talk love through a computer.”
That’s why a year ago he, along with Saskatoon art collective BAM (the Bridges Art Movement), attempted to get Saskatonians off their phones and onto pen and paper. The group unveiled an interactive installation based on nostalgia at the final LUGO fundraiser for the Mendel Art Gallery.
The piece, dubbed Yours Truly, urged partygoers to write love letters to random other attendees. The interactive element had the writers delivering those messages to a stranger.
For the most part, the woo-pitching project was successful. Hundreds of letters were written with typewriters, markers and calligraphy pens. Many people adorned their papers with stickers. Some of the more adventurous signed their notes with lipstick.
“I saw you here tonight, but you didn’t recognize me. You are as beautiful in person as you are in your photos,” reads one letter.
“You are the most captivating person in the room,” reads another. “Maybe in the whole world.”
Unfortunately, many of the letters are undelivered. Some are still unread, sealed in numbered envelopes.
These are words no one cared enough to take home with them, even just for one evening, Sandbeck says.
Call it unrequited romance, but that’s what makes these letters worth holding onto. Sandbeck hopes to see the love note make a return this Valentine’s Day.
“I think people still long for the physical thing, though. Text messages aren’t romantic.”
Pen and pad have been replaced by the ubiquitous phone, a mobile machine built to flirt in real time. Nowadays there’s an app for every aspect of romance, including clandestine meetings and sending glimpses of skin that are only meant to be viewed for a few seconds.
Love may have become instantaneous, and disposable. But for some it’s a practice worth preserving.
Ken Dahl of the City of Saskatoon Archives has worked to catalogue a series of love letters that date back to the Depression. The collection, painstakingly handwritten between Jean and Ralph Foster, helped launch a romance that would last half a century.
Ralph and Jean met, and ultimately fell in love, while he worked for her family on their farm outside Saskatoon. He eventually left the area to start a life for himself and his bride-to-be, but the intention was always that they would eventually return to be together, Dahl says.
The couple wrote once a week, since Ralph likely didn’t have a phone. It’s ultimately what kept the relationship together.
“It’s a practice that certainly seems like a world apart from where we are today,” Dahl said.
While wistful and sweet, the letters between Jean and Ralph have a value that goes far beyond a decades-old romance.
“These types of records are quite rare, which makes them a unique way to study civic history,” Dahl says, adding that the city archives typically keep records on taxes, property and sewers.
Jean and Ralph married in 1936, eventually settling near Meota before starting a family. The couple experienced a lot of things the average family would have gone through, such as drought, war and the ups and downs of the weather. But the tenderness makes the history so much more immediate, Dahl says.
“It gives a sense of strong feelings amid a time that’s so different from our own.”
Sandbeck agrees, and is still hopeful that love letters, and true romance, will make a roaring return.
“When something is about to die, people fight to bring it back. When they see it about to go extinct they dig in and say ‘No,’” he said.
He, along with the BAM collective, he also hopes to see the lost letters reunited with the addressed lovers.
“It would be nice to do another love letter writing exercise again, and hopefully bring more of the juxtaposition between the physical and digital realms,” he said.
“We just want to see more people to interact with one another.”
A collection of love letters makes up the interactive installation Yours Truly, a fundraiser for the Mendel Art Gallery.
Love Letters is a project of the Bridges Art Movement to encourage people to re-embrace the art of putting pen to paper to express our affection.