Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.


The Graceful Envelope

With the emergence of e-mail, fax, overnight express, and other methods of immediate written communication, does the art of the stamped and mailed envelope still exist?

The Graceful Envelope celebrates the marriage of calligraphy and philately in an innovative exhibition featuring award-winning artistic envelopes mailed to “The Graceful Envelope,” c/o National Postal Museum. From 1995 through 1999, calligraphers from around the world submitted hundreds of entries to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum’s annual competition. Many incorporated carefully selected stamps into the overall design of the envelope. Dedicated United States Postal Service employees, who were frequently challenged to read the complex addresses encompassed within the art, delivered all of the entries.

The exhibition features 135 stamped, canceled, delivered, juried, and awarded works that are sure to draw interest from stamp enthusiasts and calligraphers alike. A broad range of calligraphic styles are evident, including copperplate, uncial, Roman traditional, and freestyle in ink, gouache, watercolor, acrylic, foil, and gold leaf. Opportunities for visitors of all ages to participate in design contests and other programs abound. The envelopes, matted and framed singly and in themed groups, exhibit artistic play between inspiring technique, the theme of the letter, and the elegance of the written language.

Exhibition Specifications

135 framed envelopes; text panels; labels.


Promotional resources

Participation Fee

$3,500 for an 8-week booking period

Running Feet (Meters)

400 running feet (122 running meters)


5 kg (1,090 lb.)

Weight 495
Category Art



Outgoing; host museum arranges shipping and pays carrier directly

SITES Contacts

Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (Scheduling)

Toured Through



Dates   Host Institution Status
1/26/02 3/24/02 Key West Museum of Art and History, Key West, FL Booked
413/02 6/9/02 William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, Canton, OH Booked
6/29/02 8/25/02 Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg Counties, Charlotte, NC Booked
9/14/02 11/10/02 Florida International Museum, St. Petersburg, FL Booked
11/30/02 1/26/03 Anderson County Arts Council, Anderson, SC Booked
2/15/03 4/13/03 Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, UT Booked
5/3/03 9/14/03 Museum of Southwestern Michigan College, Dowagiac, MI Booked
10/4/03 12/7/03 Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, NM Booked
3/6/04 5/2/04 Teton County Library, Jackson, WY Booked
5/22/04 7/18/04 Hockaday Museum of Art, Kalispell, MT Booked
8/7/04 10/3/04 Perspective Gallery, Blacksburg, VA Booked
10/23/04 12/19/04 Central Florida Community College, Ocala, FL Booked
1/8/05 3/6/05 West Bend Art Museum, West Bend, WI Booked
3/26/05 5/22/05 Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA Booked
6/11/05 9/11/05 National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, CA Booked
10/1/05 11/27/05 Washington County Arts Council, Hagerstown, MD Booked

Press Releases and Features


Envelope Artwork Hits the Road in a New Traveling Exhibition from the Smithsonian

A new traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum reveals that the beauty of a letter is not always confined to the emotional prose or charming sentiments inside. "The Graceful Envelope" presents 135 stamped and canceled envelopes that are artist's canvasses. They are entries from the Postal Museum's Graceful Envelope Contest.

This charming exhibition opens its national tour at the Key West Museum of Art and History in Key West, Fla., on Jan. 26, 2002 and runs until March 24.

"The Graceful Envelope" celebrates the marriage of calligraphy and philately. The contest began in 1995 because the museum wished to mount an informal display of expert calligraphy for museum workshop participants to see. Artists and calligraphers were asked to send their artistic envelopes through the mail, and artfully address them to "The Graceful Envelope," in care of the museum. But what followed was altogether unexpected. The museum received more than 200 stunningly crafted envelopes from around the world. It was immediately apparent that the design and visual appeal of the envelopes was as important and engaging as the calligraphy.

The remarkable assortment of artful covers inspired the museum to offer the program annually and, from each year's best, produce an art exhibition. Samples of past entries can be found on the National Postal Museum's web site.

"Letters once were precious possessions, tied in bundles with silk ribbon and kept safe in a scented drawer," said exhibition curator Esther Washington. "On entries to the Graceful Envelope contest, the words, the illustrations, the colors, the choice and placement of a postage stamp. . . the sheer beauty of the envelope itself is a wonder to behold.

In their various styles and media, the envelopes range from colorfully contemporary to delicately old-fashioned, from whimsical and witty to poignant and sentimental. The stamp is often an integral aspect of the envelope's design whether incorporated directly into the illustration or used simply to accent the artist's theme.

Inspiration has come from the vast series of stamps released by the United States Postal Service as well as those from foreign countries. Entries to "The Graceful Envelope" include stamps celebrating black heritage, the artwork of various artists, American legends, love and nature.

Following its stop in Key West, the exhibition will travel to the McKinley Museum and National Memorial in Canton, Ohio (April 13 to June 9), the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenberg Counties in Charlotte, NC (June 29 to August 25), and the Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg (Sept. 14 through Nov.10). "The Graceful Envelope" will tour until February 2006.

"The Graceful Envelope" is a National Postal Museum exhibition organized and circulated by SITES. The National Postal Museum receives both financial and material support from the United States Postal Service. The Smithsonian Institution gratefully acknowledges the Postal Service's continued support of its mission.

Each year, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) shares the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people beyond Washington, D.C. One of the Smithsonian's four National Programs, SITES makes available a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown not only in museums but wherever people live, work, and play including libraries, science centers, historical societies, community centers, botanical gardens, schools and shopping malls. In 2002, SITES will celebrate 50 years of connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage.



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