Odd letters are an art project


In the past few days Polish Hill residents have received strange letters in the mail.  Some of these letters mentioned familiar names, or upcoming visits.  Many were just nonsense.  The PHCA has gotten numerous calls and emails.  Reaction is varied; some residents are interested and amused, but others were frightened by the letters, some of our older residents especially so.

It turns out that this is an art project, Mysterious Letters.  Here is how the two artists involved explain themselves:

“We intend to write to everyone in the world..

In April 2009, we sent a personal, handwritten letter to each of the 467 households in the small Irish village of Cushendall. We hoped these unsolicited letters would prompt neighbourly discussion, spreading across the town, promoting community curiosity.

In November 2009, we sent another bundle of letters, this time 620, to each home in Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, USA.

The art work consists solely of the discussion between the recipients about what on Earth these letters are, who sent them and why, etc.

Lenka Clayton & Michael Crowe”


There is an interview with more information about the project here.  This sounds like a nice idea, but unfortunately some residents felt targeted and worried enough to call the police.  If you got a letter and want the police to have it, you can bring it to the PHCA office.  And if you want to make a complaint about the letters,  here is the post office contact to do that:
Dennis Melko
Grant Street Post Office
700 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-9998
(412) 642-0769

We will be putting up flyers to get the word out to people who don’t have computer access.  If that includes any of your neighbors, please let them know that this is nothing to worry about.

8 thoughts on “Odd letters are an art project

  1. I got 2 packages from these folks & I loved them! I sent a letter regarding the “Michael & Lenka Mystery” to the Polish Hill Civic Association regarding this & was informed that the mystery is already solved. Here’s what I wrote:

    Yesterday, Tuesday, November 24, 2009, I got 2 packages in the mail
    with no return address. I’m always happy to get something that isn’t
    junk mail or bills so I eagerly opened one of these: a 9X12″ envelope.
    There was 6¢ postage due on this. Inside was a collage made from
    6 pieces of paper of various sizes glued overtop each other
    (in gradually decreasing dimensions) onto a 7th piece of paper.
    On top of all that was a sortof address label with a
    seemingly personal handwritten note:

    love from michael +

    Now both the packages & the notes within them are addressed to “Michael”.
    My given name is Michael but all my friends call me “tENT” so this was a clue
    that whoever sent this package doesn’t actually know me. At any rate,
    I know plenty of “Michael”s but no “Lenka”s that I can think of so I had no idea
    of who this was from.

    I opened the 2nd package, a smaller padded envelope, & found a small saucer
    (of the type a teacup might be placed on) which had handwritten on the top:

    [my given name]
    Everything You’ve
    so far.”

    & on the back:

    “WELL DONE !

    Now, some people might find getting such seemingly personal mail from a stranger
    to be vaguely disturbing or threatening. One might wonder: Am I being stalked?!
    In my case, though, I just found it vaguely interesting. I put the packages down
    on a table & went about my business of the day.

    I should give the explanation that why I was so blasé about this is because
    I’ve been involved in what’s commonly called “Mail Art” since 1978. “Mail Art”, for
    those of you not familiar with it, is, as the name implies, art that’s exchanged through
    the mail. There are tens of thousands of people (if not more) all over much of the world
    who play with this. People have a variety of motives. Many of us use Mail Art as
    a networking tool – we get to know people through it – just as people have done
    with “pen pals” – but in this case, the emphasis is more artistic than writerly.
    There was a time when I corresponded with as many as 1,400 people!
    SO, in Mail Art it’s common to receive mail from people that one doesn’t know
    – especially things like collages. HOWEVER, most of the time, the sender gives
    a return address because they want to get something sent back in exchange.
    But it’s not unheard of for someone to send something ‘anonymously’
    – maybe because they prefer to remain ‘secret admirers’. I just wrote off
    these “Michael & Lenka” mailings as possibly in that latter category.

    THEN, later that night, I met my neighbor Mark outside. We were going to go
    out for food & beers at the Rock Room. He was talking to his other neighbor
    ALSO FROM “Michael & Lenka” WHO THEY ALSO DIDN’T KNOW! When I heard
    about this, I got more interested! Both of the letters they received had postage due.
    All of our mailings had had “Polish Hill” in the address. It was becoming obvious
    that this was some sort of mass mailing, with every one being different & with
    everyone being handwritten. We all found it interesting & I enjoyed talking with my
    neighbors, who I don’t necessarily talk with that much, about it.

    Walking to the bar, Mark & I stopped & asked 2 young women that we don’t know
    whether they’d gotten the letters. They said that they hadn’t but they were excited about it
    because they’d heard about it from some of the other neighbors. They were disappointed
    that they hadn’t gotten them – but they thought they might’ve missed them or that they
    might get them the next day.

    We got to the Rock Room & I asked another neighbor if he’d gotten one. He said
    he didn’t think so but he wasn’t sure. Then ANOTHER neighbor joined Mark & myself
    & he said he’d gotten TWO & that he’d heard from his neighbor that she’d gotten one.
    YET ANOTHER NEIGHBOR appeared & she described the one she’d gotten: hers
    was something like a paperclip with a piece of string attached & a claim ticket (or some such)
    also attached that had a message like “Can you fix this?” – signed, once more, by
    “Michael & Lenka”. This made at least 6 Polish Hill people other than myself who’d
    gotten these things. None of them had any idea who “Michael & Lenka” are.

    Various speculations about motives, etc, were put forth. It seems reasonable to
    deduce that “Michael & Lenka” may not really be 2 people & that that might not be
    their ‘real names’. It also seems reasonable that they may’ve looked on the Allegheny
    County Real Estate website & just gotten our names & addresses from there.
    One of my neighbors had gotten his addressed not to his name but to the name of
    the person who owns the house he lives in. It seems reasonable that they probably
    just put all the mail in a mailbox instead of going to the Post Office. That would explain
    the “postage due”. By my standards, this was an an expensive business: just my
    packages alone had $2.20 in postage. We tentatively concluded that this isn’t some
    sort of advertising or proselytizing act & that it’s friendly. While some of the messages
    implied a seemingly personal relationship – such as “We’ll be back Wednesday”
    (or some such) – implying that the recipient has some sort of closeness, none of the
    messages seemed actually intrusive to me.

    This could be some sort of art project or eccentric social study or experiment.
    I vote for either/or. I’ve always been a proponent of what I call “Mystery Catalysts”.
    A “Mystery Catalyst” is something that’s mysterious to whoever interacts with it
    & that catalyzes some sort of reaction – such as by being thought-provoking.
    I’ve experimented extensively along these lines. I do want to inform people, though,
    that I had nothing to do with this & am just as mystified as everyone else.
    I do find these “Michael & Lenka” mailings to be a great Mystery Catalyst – even if
    that isn’t the sender’s intention. The mail was definitely mysterious & it catalyzed me
    into talking to neighbors that I might not usually talk to much in a friendly & pleasant way.

    All in all, a great experience! & I give my whole-hearted thanks to “Michael & Lenka”

    Thank you,


  2. I also had a similar experience to tENT. It was so wonderful and mysterious. My only regret is that my entire apartment building only got one letter, so we’ve been arguing about who gets to keep the letter. Our letter was very plain (with no added postage due). It was yellow paper in a simple yellow envelope. Inside, it said, “to everyone at 3117” and had what appeared to be either a tic tac toe board with one x in the upper left corner, or a drawing of an intersection with an x marking our building as being on a corner. Then at the end, of course, was signed by Michael and Lenka. When I went to Gooski’s that night, I found out that others had received letters too and was really excited to find out who was behind such a thing and where they were from. I hope that anyone who feared these letters will rethink it from a more childlike perspective. Sending letters to everyone in the world surely cannot do any harm.

    Thank you for choosing Polish Hill!


  3. These letters are so cute! The idea that people are afraid of them indicates to me that we live in a society where people are discouraged from being friendly and kind to each other and I think that is very sad.

    Polish Hill being the sweet little urban village that it is should of all neighorhoods encourage open and kind discourse amongst its residents as well as outsiders. This should teach us all a lesson about kindness, about compassion and maybe encourage us all to shut off the boob tube and walk around the neighborhood and say hi to each other, give each other a hug, write each other a kind note, or do something kind for our neighbor (whether we know them or not). What an inspiration this is!

    I am so excited for the neighborhood and grateful to Michael and Lenka for their kindness and love. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

    Love (your neighbor), Erica

  4. these two clowns clearly have nothing better to do with their time. my letter involved death…get a job you terrorists

  5. In looking at their letters, both from Cushendall, I have seen nothing that inappropriate or threatening. Most of them seem to generally be encouraging. If you actually got a letter that is frightening or threatening in some way, why not post a picture, or at least reproduce the text? Seems fishy…

  6. from all of the things I have read and heard about Michael and Lenka I am sure it was never their intention to make you (or anyone) feel threatened or fearful. as a community we have been discussing (including at the phca meeting on tuesday) creating a project to write them letters back or maybe have a showing of all of the letters. this might be a great forum for you to express your fears. i am sure an update with information about this event or project will be shared soon.

  7. I am glad not to live in your neighbourhood. Just because it is kooky and handwritten doesn’t make it any more welcome than flyers or spam. I am surprised people are allowing the postcards up on the internet with their name and address there for every other lunatic to start sending goofy mail. This stunt is no better than balloon boy. Send heartfelt messages to people who actually care about you – otherwise, take out an ad in the paper.

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