The collages pictured here are the first in a series that takes inspiration from eleven letters written by my hometown friend Eric Canuteson. He wrote the first one in 1986, and the last one I received arrived in 2002 before e-mail took over as our means of correspondence.
Last December, I was devastated to learn that Eric suffered an untimely death at age 43. I had trouble believing that the teenager I had passed notes to during Greek and Roman History could be gone. His friendship meant a great deal to me, and I wanted to honor his memory with an art project that incorporated actual text from the letters and images, people, and places he described.
Preserving examples of Eric’s handwriting feels crucial. Messy, scratchy, sprawling – I love the way he always signed his name in really huge letters. He also was a great one for circling or putting boxes around important phrases and doodling in the margins. They are the letters of a busy, dedicated person who has taken the time to share his thoughts with a friend. I’ll always be grateful to Eric for that.
Before I started this project, I photocopied the letters because I couldn’t bear to tear up the originals. I also gathered up as many images as I could that seemed relevant to the letters’ context.
The next collage, “Eric’s Excellent Intellectual Adventure,” takes its theme from the first letter Eric ever sent me. He had just started his freshman year at Colorado College and I was in my last year in high school. Postmarked September 24, 1986, it describes his classes, first term paper, and grades. He also asked me to pass on some messages to his former teachers, including a tongue-in-cheek summary of his political views.
I used the actual postmark from the envelope for this collage. The postmark and the political figures Eric mentions place our friendship in historical context, for his letters are both cherished personal souvenirs and valuable documents that give us a snapshot of an era. It seems an obvious point, but it still astonishes me that Eric’s first letter existed in a world before South African apartheid ended, before the Berlin Wall fell, before Clinton (sandwiched between the elder and junior George Bush), before 9/11, and before Obama.
I am a Liberal and always have been one.
Rehnquist Sucks (Rightquest)
Death to Fascism.
Daniel Monion is a joke. (It took me awhile to figure out that Eric was referring to Daniel Moynihan. It didn’t help that I didn’t remember who he was).
Support the ANC!
I hate Republican business majors.
There aren’t any here, thank God.
I really like how he put the title “Mr.” in quotation marks next to his name. At age 18, maybe he didn’t comfortably inhabit the title Mr. Eric Canuteson, so he left the “Mr.” outside the box he drew around his new contact details.
The same letter of September 24, 1986 testifies to Eric’s academic success in his crucial first year of college. With Eric’s ambitious spirit and fierce intelligence, he laid a strong foundation to later complete his Ph.D.
I was impressed by Eric’s go-getter attitude in all the years I knew him, but that’s not to say he couldn’t be laid back, too. I loved the part in the letter where he admits he put off writing his paper to watch an Eagles versus Bears football game.
I got a B+ on my very first college paper (I wrote it in a very short time because I was watching football.)
An arrow starting from the letter “a” in football points to the words “Eagles v. Bears” floating in the space above the first line of the letter.
The letter goes on to describe how he received an A on his final test.
I got the highest grade in the class — there were only two A’s. By the way, My class is SATIRE AND CARICATURE.
I’m taking Russian (7 hours of it, no less) in the 5th and 6th blocks. (Colorado College’s block program allows its students to focus intensely on one class at a time in a series of eight blocks a year).