General 3-26-2007

Pragmatic Art: The Postmaster Era

Aaron Lundstrom sends word from Baudette, a few miles from the border, about expanded ideas of art. Think Joseph Beuys’s social sculpture, or Hans Haake’s ideas of art as a lens for examining the official world.


As the earth turns the sun never fails to sustain life. Nor does it fail to show the reality of the days of the world. The reliability of this revolving cycle gives artists a perfect example of punctual life and enlightenment. The sun never fails, and the earth runs with it.

When identifying societal “beacons of light” one might not consider the United States Postal Service to be fitting the role. After all, mail is mail, a uniformed service in the boxes and rotundas of daily activity. Yet beneath its first-glance banality there is a current and warmth that I was able to experience directly as a substitute mail carrier. I delivered mail three days for the Baudette post office (zip code 56623) over iced gravel roads to rural farms and homes. The open air and independence was great and invigorating. But my delivery was not. I was a blunt and broken promise in the wrong place at the wrong time. I mixed up magazines, I forgot letters, I hit mailboxes with my car, I disrupted schedules, and I ruined lives–temporarily. Fortunately, though, I received help from Paul Mankus, the Baudette Postmaster.

Paul is a man of steps. He takes them sure and forward while rarely going backwards–necessary movement for managing the regular tsunami of mail. Paul’s nature of strict systematics is rounded out by a firm spirituality and a musical elaboration in simple living. These traits are complemented by his wife Sharron and his daughter Sarah. Sharron is a music guru, especially through iTunes, and her affection for animals carries over into a caring affection for people. You see these qualities in the thoughtful taste of her cooking, in the humor she brings to conversation, and in the peaceful nature of the family dog, Rohn.

Sarah transmits her love for horses and words into a spirited involvement in deeper understanding. Her sharing of what she knows and what she cares about is the result of willing participation in a working system of principles, just as our earthly home participates in the principles of physical life.

The care that’s routine for Paul rescued me from a disastrous performance on the mail route. I was so slow my first day that Paul had to leave his ordinary routine and take a drive out to the country to find me and help me finish the route. I really needed this help, and it was there.

Aside from his full-time employment Paul is also a musician. In an original song he wrote—“Two Minus Love and Counting”–Paul tells the story of a man living life in the stars, working in deep space, away from his love living on the earth. The lyrics reveal that after realizing difficulties in their relationship the man begins to question his prized job away from home. The song begins, “I have a job like none found on earth / I fly to the heavens above / but lately I question the job and its worth / ’cause is it worth losing your love? / cause we’re two minus love and counting / as off to the stars I go / counting all the things that I should have said / and I’m blue as the planet below.”

As the Postmaster, Paul is in a position of direction and authority. As an artist he is in a position of feeling and honesty. As a human being he lives in a chosen combination of positions. It was because of this human combination that I was helped when I needed help. In a more worldwide view, when looking at the broader human family and the condition of the earth underneath the varied governmental powers that oversee it, do we see the work of artists as human beings? Or do we see the work of human beings as authorities, missing the reliability and essence of the sun?

The United Nations has proposed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are timed targets for resolving world deficiencies and disease based on the concept of global partnership. The eight goals of this proposal are to be reached by 2015, and are ideal and positive goals. What is the reality of progress according to recent reports? The Worldwatch Institute states: “According to the World Bank, less than one-fifth of all countries are currently on target to reduce child and maternal mortality and provide access to water and sanitation, while even fewer are on course to contain HIV, malaria, and other major diseases slated for reduction… While some countries and regions have made significant gains in poverty reduction and the world as a whole is generally believed to be on track for meeting the MDG targets set for poverty reduction and clean drinking water, the situation is less hopeful for the other goals and targets, including those on hunger, primary education, child mortality, and access to sanitation.”

Further into Paul’s song we hear, “Moon riding cowboy / that’s what they call me up there / but I can’t get over when she tells me / that she thinks that I don’t care.” The concern of apathy and disconnectedness is a strong concern for many in today’s world. Artists, historically, have shown that they feel in a peculiar intensity that incites them to express their feelings through created works. It is therefore natural that many artists, historically, have felt the pain and struggle of others and have expressed their concern by painting elements of the world’s reality with a pushing for fairness and peace.

Still, presently and collectively, we live in a world divided by a cooling distance. We are all affected by world systems that ‘ride the moon’ in the use of power and feeling. Our physical sun puts our systems to shame as it bridges its distance from the earth with a sustaining energy and warmth. It never fails. It covers all of the world. As for what we can do within our frailties, the Mankus family continue to demonstrate a practical love by giving help when help is needed. I was struggling on cold icy roads when someone came to help, without me ever asking. You could say it’s because the earth turns in discipline, and the sun stands with it. This is the pragmatic art of reliability.