Stamp collecting become a popular hobby in the mid 19th century after the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, was created in Great Britain in 1840. It was a rites of passage past-time most children went through, some even continuing into adulthood. But nowadays, one might well ask, does anyone collect stamps anymore?
While true philatelists may be a dying breed, it is creative people like UK-born, Bondi-based Helen who are reviving the art of philately in a most unique and inventive way. Describing herself as ‘a designer, philatelist and lover of all things colourful, historical and illustrative’, Helen of ‘Postcards from Aloysius’ creates jewellery and accessories from new and used postage stamps from around the world.
Come and find out how a non-stamp collector can now boast a collection of more than 50,000 stamps.
Tell us about yourself and your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today.
My background is originally in textiles. I studied printed textiles and surface pattern design at Leeds Art & Design College in England. It was there my love for colour, texture and pattern was born. For a while I was an interiors textile designer and separation artist, which was technically very challenging. When I came to Australia I tried my hand in the world of fashion but it wasn’t long until I craved to do something different. That’s when I stumbled upon a collection of postage stamps. The rest is history as they say.
Why stamps? Did you used to collect them and where do you source your stamps from?
I never collected stamps when I was young nor did anyone in my family that I know of so I was never around them. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon an old collection here in Sydney that I fell in love. I’ve always been fascinated by anything miniature. Stamp collecting used to be the biggest hobby in the world but it is soon to be a thing of the past as modern technology is now such a big distraction.
Stamps are tiny artworks celebrating the history and culture of every country in the world. The variety of styles is endless, celebrating and commemorating everything under the sun. I really believe there is a stamp out there for everyone.
My stamp collection comes from many sources. Sometimes I’ve discovered a collection in an op shop; I always keep an eye open for a little treasure. I have also been fortunate enough to have postage stamp collections donated from customers and admirers of my work. They have come in their thousands and I estimate I have more than 50,000 stamps from all over the world.
It’s nice to know that the collections have been hand-selected and carefully looked after by their collectors, many of them have travelled with postal marks visible and giving clues to their journeys.
You create commissioned pieces as well. Have you had any unusual or difficult requests?
I love doing commissions for people – it’s my favourite part of my jewel-making as I get all sorts of bizarre requests. Some customers want direction and suggestions, where others know exactly what they want down to the finest detail. I design many jewels commemorating birth years, using countries of interest or themes as a starting point.
What was the most specific request I’ve had from a customer? I once had a lady ask for a necklace composition to be in the style she had seen in a film. She sent me a screen shot of the character wearing the necklace. The pendants were to be in Scandinavian colour ways and the designs Art Deco. I enjoy a challenge and that certainly topped the bill.
Who or what inspires you?
The postage stamps themselves inspire me. I’m a very visual person so the illustrations and colour palettes really stand out. I’m also constantly inspired by my environment. I come from a country town in England where the sun is not a regular visitor, so now living in a tropical country by the sea I’m always astounded by the striking beauty of the landscape and flora and fauna.
How do you like to work best? What are your ideal working conditions and environment?
I’m fortunate that my studio is in my apartment so I’m surrounded by home comforts. I have a large desk which holds everything I need and once I’ve sat down and have some music playing the hours fly by as I get lost in my jewel making.
Upcycling is clearly important to you. Tell us how you ensure you follow these principles in your work, work practices and home life?
This is something that is very important to me, yes. I believe we should leave the world a better place than when we entered it and we should be mindful of our consumption and waste. I up-cycle and re-cycle wherever possible right down to my packaging, which I make from salvaged books from a local cafe that turfs a select few onto the street every few weeks. My waste is minimal, both in my work and day to day life. As mentioned, stamp collecting used to be the biggest hobby in the world so there are countless collections that have been inherited and kept in an old shoe box, album, on a shelf or in the attic, never to be looked at. I think they deserve to be adorned and appreciated for all the world to see.
What is or has been the hardest or most challenging part of what you do and setting up your business?
Setting up a business was always going to be challenging but I have the most wonderful partner who supports me wholeheartedly. Without him I would be nowhere. When you have a bad day/week/month and your confidence is low, for whatever reason, it’s important to be able to brush it off and get back on your feet.
What’s some advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?
Don’t give up. If you have a dream you want to pursue then give it your all. If you don’t try then you’ll always be left wondering. If you can create your own opportunity to make a career out of what you love doing then it’s worth the hard work and risk.
I’m currently working on …
I have just finished making a pair of Winnie the Pooh cufflinks as a present from a son to his father for his 80th birthday – very sweet.
It’s not very cool, but I really like … stamps! They have a bad rap as being very geeky. It always makes me smile when people visit one of my market stalls and ‘confess’ that they too collect stamps, usually under their breath so their friends won’t hear. I think these miniature artworks are wonderful and I want everyone to appreciate them.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
I’m originally from a small town near Manchester in the U.K so ‘who’d have thought’ I’d be living in Bondi living the life of a crazy stamp lady!
Thanks Helen for an insight into the creative life of a ‘crazy stamp lady’.