Things handmade and handwritten have a special appeal to me — perhaps it’s something about the humanness of their imperfection and scale. Who doesn’t like to find a real letter in the mailbox amidst the stack of bills and solicitations? Postmarked from France, I turned the envelope over in my hands and opened it with curiosity.
Written on stationery imprinted with two pretty leaves in the upper left and a return address from Suzanne Lopez in France, it was dated June 28, 2010, and read as follows:
Dear Ms. Sky Pape,
I am 16 years old and Art is my passion. I’m writing to you to express my admiration and my enthusiasm for your artistic way and for your works, your creations – I find them wonderful.
I would be very happy to have your autograph on the small card I’m sending you, for my ‘imaginary Museum’…
Thank you very much.
Sweet, right? For about a second, I was flattered. It was just that part about putting my “autograph” on the small card, a blank, white index card, that had all my alarms going off in a deafening cacophonous din. I am not saying I don’t have fans — it is a source of great pleasure that I happen to know personally or virtually almost every kind soul who has collected or ever admired my work. Clearly, this was a case for some detective work (i.e., Google), if there ever was one.
In a matter of seconds, I found my answer in an article by Sarah Hall from the Salisbury Post, dated June 27, 2008. Ms. Hall, a composer, had received the same letter, essentially verbatim, from Suzanne Lopez – with the notable exception that back in 2008, Suzy was claiming to be 17, and “music is my passion.” According to Ms. Hall, she heard from people from across the US and Europe who had received the same letter.
Having been a victim of identity theft in the past (a nightmare to be sure!), I had no intention of sending my easily scannable signature to anyone. Still, though this reeked of being a scam, it seemed like a very expensive one, having someone write letters by hand and pay for postage? For what ends? What does a signature even mean anymore? Maybe this “imaginary museum” was just the pet project of some oddball who thought they needed to pass themselves off as a teenage girl in order to get the desired response.
It’s hard for me to imagine what this person would want with my signature. It’s not as if my work is anything that could be easily forged and then have my signature appended to it for authenticity. (Though BEWARE, some work is indeed much easier to rip off — case in point: Lori McNee and the copycat artist.)
I’m no a stranger to fan mail, having been on the sending end more than once. As a kid, I sent George Harrison a flawlessly rendered pencil portrait of him, capturing the soulful gaze of the ‘spiritual’ Beatle. I requested no reply and even though I never heard back from him, surely he treasured it — as sensitive as he was. As a tween, already interested in pursuing art and busy working on honing the skills required for realistic representation of the world, I wrote to one of Canada’s eminent artists at the time, Ken Danby, asking for any advice he might share. He wrote back, offering some encouragement and aphorisms about being an artist. In recent years, I’ve even written to a favorite teacher from junior high school, telling him how his teaching made a lasting impression on my life, only to hear back that when he received my note, he happened to have been carrying a photo of me and a fellow student in his briefcase for weeks, intending to show his current students how kids dressed “back in the day” when he started teaching. There have been other letters sent from time to time. It feels good to let people know that they have meant something to me — that they and their work, ideas, and experience have value and meaning.
In their efforts to shepherd their work into the world, artists tend to be particularly vulnerable to people trying to take financial and personal advantage of them. Many people know I like to do my bit to keep the USPS alive, but like everyone else, my bullshit-detector must always be on. If Suzanne Lopez is a real person, I don’t mean to poke fun at you or be cruel. However, I think I’ll save the postage, and just post my reply online:
Dear Suzanne Lopez,
I’m writing to you to express my appreciation for your ‘admiration and enthusiasm of my artistic way.’ A sincere letter of thanks or admiration can be a wonderful thing, and it’s always meaningful to know when someone has felt a connection with the work. I am sorry, but in this age of crime and identity theft, it seems unwise and against my better judgment to provide you with a copy of my signature.
If you really exist and don’t want people to think you are a con artist or criminal, I’d suggest writing something individualized and sincere to every artist and composer to whom you reach out, refraining from lying about your age or falsifying any other information about yourself, and not asking for anything in return. I hope you develop a passion for truth that exceeds your passion for art and music.
If anyone else has received similar “fan” letters, please feel free to comment below!