Amelia Etlinger collection
Scope and Content Note
Collection consists primarily of over 100 pieces of concrete poetry packet poems. About 80 of these pieces were donated by Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert] and are from both Helinka's personal collection and Mike Belt's. The other pieces were donated from the personal collection of Mirella Bentivoglio or sent directly to various curators of the Poetry Collection from Etlinger in the 1970s and 1980s. Other material in the collection includes correspondence, exhibition catalogs, announcements, interviews, newspaper clippings, photographs, and articles written by various correspondents of Etlinger's. Of particular note is a DVD of Paula Claire opening, reading, and interpreting the pieces that Etlinger sent to Paula Claire's Archive; and a binder that Etlinger compiled from her correspondence with artist Mike Belt. The Belt binder is a plastic 3-ring binder that has been covered with butcher paper packaging that was mailed to Belt from Amelia containing letters, mail art, and photographs sent back and forth between Etlinger and Belt from roughly 1975-1979.
The art objects/mail art/concrete poetry series has been arranged by correspondent by volume and within each correspondent by size for ease of storage and safety of the work. Being able to view multiple correspondents' collections spanning two decades gives the viewer the opportunity to see both the similarities and unique personal qualities of Etlinger's work as her poetry evolves. This is most evident in the largest bodies of work sent to Belt and Helinka. While she did create the same concrete poem for multiple recipients, Etlinger, on almost every occasion, used pieces of correspondence, artwork, and anything else sent to her by her correspondents, including fabric and seeds, collaged into her work to send back to the individual to whom it originally belonged. Signatures and names from letters, drawings, logos, and poems are often ripped and tied to frayed and delicate fabrics making each piece unique to the recipient.
Etlinger's work in this collection ranges in size from 4 foot by 5 foot tapestries to 2 inch bundles of lint, paper, and thread. The most common formats found include "packet poems," which consist of department store boxes with the poem inside and sometimes out, and book-like structures created from manipulated paper and fabric sent in manila mailer envelopes. In addition to personal fragments associated with each recipient, common material includes frayed chiffon, organza, jacquard, Japanese tissue papers, facial tissue, colored cellophane, different weight thread, yarn, and cord, and always natural material. The most prevalent natural material are rose petals, but Etlinger also uses other flower petals, ferns, leaves, dried berries and seeds, and delicate dandelion seeds usually found at the center of her work. She frays the edges of almost every piece of woven fabric, and the frayed warps and wefts are also incorporated into her work and often tied or bundled and nested around other material. Tin foil and wax paper are often found wrapped around the department store box poems, and pieces in the boxes are often wrapped in multiple layers of tissue. Most of the pieces have been stored wrapped in archival tissue for preservation and also identification. Any added tissue is identified with the title and box, folder number written in a visible spot. The art objects/mail art/concrete poetry and the Mike Belt binder must be opened by Poetry Collection staff and some access is restricted due to the fragile nature of the work and its rapid deterioration. Please contact the Poetry Collection for further information.
The Research and Correspondence series contains correspondence between Etlinger and Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert], Mike Belt, Mirella Bentivoglio, and the Poetry Collection curators. It also contains correspondence between the correspondents pertaining to Etlinger, as well as some correspondence between Helinka and Louis Etlinger, Amelia's husband. Research consists of clippings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, photographs, collaborative projects, interviews with Etlinger, and also criticism written about Etlinger's work, both published and unpublished. This series is arranged by correspondent in the same order as the art objects, with Paula Claire's DVD and descriptions and Gloria F. Orenstein's critical essay in Lady Unique at the end of the series after Bentivoglio. Of particular note is the large amount of correspondence with little or no collage elements between Etlinger and Mirella Bentivoglio, donated by Bentivoglio, which often mentions Etlinger's exhibitions in Italy.
Etlinger's tapestries make up the smallest series and include 5 outlines sent to Belt, Helinka, the Poetry Collection, and 2 to Bentivoglio. Helinka has donated 4 tapestries that were sent to both her and Mike Belt, all roughly 4 foot by 4 foot. Special handling is required to view the tapestries; please contact the Poetry Collection staff.
- Majority of material found within 1976-1986
- Etlinger, Amelia, 1933-1987 (Person)
Language of Materials
Collection material in English and Italian.
Terms of Access and Use
The Amelia Etlinger collection is open for research.
Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Poetry Collection before requesting photocopies and/or publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Once permission is obtained, most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.
Amelia Lucille (Wanderer) Etlinger, 1933-1987, was born in New York City to a mother who was institutionalized when Amelia was 6 months old and an absent father. Amelia and her brother, Leonard, who was 3 years older, were placed in foster care with the Goldberg family in Brooklyn. She had a troubled childhood and only obtained a grammar school education. At the age of 29 she started writing short stories and then, after discovering the poetry of ee cummings, began writing visual poetry. Amelia married Louis Etlinger in her early twenties, had 3 daughters, and moved outside of Albany to Clifton Park, NY, in her early thirties. Over time her visual poetry evolved into elaborate and collaborative works of natural material collected in the woods behind her house as well as fabric, thread, beads, costume jewelry, Japanese papers, and other found material.
By the early 1970s Etlinger was corresponding with Eugene Grominger, Ugo Carrega, Mirella Bentivoglio, Mary Ellen Solt, Emmett Williams, and Paul de Vrees, and her work was being exhibited internationally. In the mid-1970s she was introduced to and started corresponding with Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert] and Mike Belt. Etlinger won the 1976 Fels award through the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for her poems and interview in 13th Moon, which was the only money she ever accepted for her work. She had her first solo exhibition in Italy with the help of Ugo Carrega and Mirella Bentivoglio in October 1976. In 1978 her brother, Leonard Wanderer, took his own life, which greatly affected Amelia. In 1985 and 1986, two collections in which her work is well represented were relinquished to archives: 13th Moon to the New York Public Library and Jean Brown's Fluxus Collection to the Getty. Mike Belt died of AIDS on November 8, 1986, and shortly after on January 1, 1987, Etlinger took her own life.
Amelia Etlinger was relatively unknown in the United States during her lifetime, but her work has been exhibited widely internationally, and most notably in Italy, where it was well received by concrete theorists and the Italian Poesie Vivisa community. Throughout her career, this community of avant-garde artists, curators, and critics including Mirella Bentivoglio, Franca Zoccoli, Betty Danon, Paula Claire, and Ugo Carrega befriended her and supported her work. While she has been critically assessed within the realms of Fluxus, Poesie Vivisa, mail, fiber, book, conceptual, and feminist art, Etlinger was adamant in correspondence and interviews that she was a poet, not an artist, and that "art is the danger to the visual poem." By the 1970s, her poetry had evolved away from words as her primary medium and she began writing her poetry in her language of threads.
The majority of the Amelia Etlinger Collection, consisting of over 100 works, correspondence, and criticism, was donated by Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert], who has been instrumental in preserving Etlinger's legacy. Helinka founded 13th Moon: A Feminist Literary Magazine in 1973, and it was the poems in Ellen's interview with Etlinger that won her the Fels Award in 1976. Helinka and Etlinger maintained their relationship and correspondence up until Amelia's passing in 1987. Helinka was also corresponding with Mike Belt and preserved and donated his collection of Amelia's work to the Poetry Collection along with her personal collection. For more biographical and historical information on Etlinger and her work, please see the Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert] file in the Research and Correspondence series. Other material was donated by Mirella Bentivoglio, with whom Etlinger had both a personal and professional relationship, Paula Claire, and others, and additional items were sent directly by Etlinger to the Poetry Collection curators in the 1970s and 1980s.
45.7 Linear Feet (Original donation (5 manuscript boxes, 24 clamshell manuscript boxes, 6 flat oversize boxes, 2 newspaper boxes, 4 rolled tapestries); Laura Etlinger additions (11 containers); Diane Morrison additions (2 clamshell manuscript boxes).)
The Amelia Etlinger collection, 1971-2014, is primarily a collection of over 100 art objects, mail art, and concrete poetry sent to Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert], Mike Belt, Mirella Bentivoglio, and the University at Buffalo Poetry Collection in the 1970s and 1980s. Additional material includes correspondence between mailart recipients and Etlinger, and correspondence between recipients pertaining to Etlinger; exhibition catalogs, announcements, interviews, newspaper clippings, and photographs; and art criticism in the form of articles, exhibition reviews, descriptions, and a DVD of artist and collector Paula Claire opening and describing her personal collection of Etlinger works.
Arrangement: Collection is arranged into five series: I. Art objects/mail art/concrete poetry; II. Research and correspondence; III. Tapestries; IV. Accrual from Laura Etlinger; and V. Accrual from Diane Morrison. Within the series Art objects, contents are arranged by recipient; within Research and correspondence, contents are arranged by recipient, compiler, or creator. Tapestries are arranged by outline, labeled by recipient, and the physical silk tapestries are numbered 1-4.
Collection donated from the personal collections of Ellen Marie Helinka [Bissert], Mirella Bentivoglio, Paula Claire, Gloria F Orenstein, and Michael Basinski. The curators of the Poetry Collection received some pieces directly from Amelia Etlinger. An accrual from Laura Etlinger was donated in 2018. An accrual from Diane Morrison was donated in 2023.
Accruals and Additions
An accrual from Amelia Etlinger's daughter, Laura Etlinger, has been added as series IV. An accrual from Diane Morrison has been added as series V.
Collection processed by Elliot McNally in 2015. Accrual from Laura Etlinger processed by Marie Elia in 2018. Accrual from Diane Morrison processed by Nicholas Michalski in 2023.
The titles of each piece are taken directly from Etlinger's text or are supplied by the archivist in brackets. In some cases the pieces are obviously titled in multiple places such as envelopes, wrappers, and most often on the tail edge of an outside layer often trifolded around inner layers. In other cases the titles are taken from the first line of the poem, collaged text, or words written on small pieces of paper within the piece.
Etlinger rarely dated her work, with the exception being her New Year poems. Where available, dates have been taken from postmarks on envelopes or dates received written on the works by the recipients.
All measurements are in inches unless otherwise indicated. Work is identified as open, partially opened, or unopened. If pieces have been opened by the Poetry Collection staff, it is stated. Some pieces remain unopened to show the intricacy of Etlinger's packaging. Once her work is opened it is usually impossible to put it back together in the same way. If a work is labeled partially opened some of the layers have been opened, but the smaller, tightly tied fabric bundles in the center remain undisturbed.
- American poetry -- 20th century Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Concrete poetry Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Criticism -- United States Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Fiberwork Subject Source: Lcnaf
- Mail art Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poetry -- Women authors Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Visual poetry Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Finding Aid for the Amelia Etlinger collection
- Finding aid prepared by Elliot McNally.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description