Carye Bye as Red Bat, as Carye Bye. It will make more sense
after you read the interview.
Photo by Jonahthan Maus.
Collections. Creations. Caravans.
Each conjure up certain images, to any given reader. The images, in turn, speak to that person's interests, worldview, and how they may choose to spend their time. I will share what the first word suggests for me.
Collections. As anybody who has stepped into an apartment I have lived in would know, I'm a collector. I collect records, postcards, bottle caps, rocks, books. I hold onto other objects and ephemera, too, but this list may give you a sufficient idea--an image--about me. Each object carries its singular history, while relating to the others (in both the space of my room and narrative of my disposition), and ultimately solidifying their collective existence in a subjective and earnest reverence. Friends and acquaintances learn about my fascination for things through conversation, but there's nothing like stepping into a room replete with tangible histories. No doubt, it is not for everyone.
While researching possible fellow conversationalists, I explored the topic of eccentric collections and their collectors. I came across Carye Bye, Portland-based collector, artist, and bike tour guide. After reading about her bathtub postcard collection (and online museum), I sought these other interests and activities of hers. I came to see that she basks in the applications , possibilities, and communities that come along with each persona. Puns intended: she hops into the various realms, and soaks them up quite a bit. The sum is greater than the parts, it seems, but each element of: Carye's collection of cards, production of artwork, or bicycling activities proclaims its singular disposition and placement in the landscape of her daily life.
Since I can't quite hop on a plane to Portland, Oregon and step into that landscape, Carye and I opted for an email interview, which you see below. Enjoy the snapshots that she shares from the collection of her creative and well-crafted caravan of activities.
A brief aside about Carye's personality and persona in Portland:
I work at a crafts gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Earlier today, a woman stepped in the gallery with a unique handbag, which was made from the covers of a hardcover children's book. We spoke a bit, and she explained that she was part of an arts co-op in Portland, Oregon. To entertain the possibility, I asked if she had heard of Carye Bye, the paper artist. She admitted that she did, and raved about her various and exciting projects. Excitedly, she asserted, "Carye's a spitfire!"
My Hobby is Now a Full-Time Job
CE: I first heard about your bathtub postcard collection, and then came to find out that you are busy with other interesting projects. Could you share a bit about them?
CB: I definitely put myself out there. I started the Bathtub Art Museum online in 2003 to show off the bathtub postcard collection. I'm a professional letterpress printer & designer, so I participate in Portland's many art fairs, and have my postcard art in shops around town. I also lead free bicycle tours of small museums and organize the annual Bunny on a Bike Ride. I definitely have three persona in Portland.
CE: How many years have you been busy with these things?
CB: I've been collection postcards, specifically bathtub postcards since 1992.
I started Red Bat Press in 2002.
I've been active in the Portland bike scene since 2004.
CE: Do your endeavors satisfy any childhood or adult passions?
CB: I've always been playful and curious, so all the things I do are about that. I also like meeting interesting people, and through my interests I've met collectors, artists, and self-propelled bicyclists that are all doing amazing things.
CE: In hindsight (and given your mood today), tell me about a project that you're most proud of or content with?
CB: I'd say probably the fact that my hobby of making wood-cut/letterpress postcard art has actually turned into a full-time job.
CE: What would you want to do that you have yet to really engage in or explore?
CB: I keep busy with all my interests-- too busy. I think in five years, I'll be involved in less long-term projects, and be more involved in day to day happenings, such as: waking up, randomly pointing to a map and making a day of exploring, deciding one day to only eat yellow food, laying in the grass and listening for an hour. I've spent so much of my life planning and documenting. I look forward to fleeting moments in the now.
CE: Are you reading any good books these days?
CB: Sadly, it's been a while since I've read anything good. Though not too long ago, I did read a travel book of a fella and his wife who bike around the world, but after the married couple break up on the road, I just lost interest. It was that dynamic that I found interesting, even though, when I picked it up, I thought it was a solo journey.
CE: What is the last song that grabbed you?
CB: I was recently on the road with my Dad and his wife Edna. I was in the back seat of the car. Edna put in a Paul Anka "best of" CD and sang along to all the songs. I'm not sure what it was, but listening to the old 50s tunes about love with the sun pouring in the windows was strangely memorable and meaningful.
CE: What is the last thing that made you laugh or smile?
CB: Our orange cat rolling around on the carpet.
CE: Who moves, surprises, or inspires you the most?
CB: I think I'm inspired by friends around me, who just make things happen. They push me to to do the best. Yet, they can easily convince me to run off and play. It's hard to be disciplined worker, when you work for yourself.
CE: Whom do you miss today?
CB: My grandma. I was looking through her letters from around January. Six months later, she's not able to write anymore as her health and days on earth have declined. I looked at her letters in a new way today, and will miss those letters coming in the mail.
CE:Tell me about a good conversation you've had recently? With whom would you like to reconnect?
CB: The Daniel Family in Florida (my aunt, uncle, and cousin). I hadn't been to visit in 4 years, and it was the first time I really had the chance to speak with each, individually and collectively. I enjoyed getting to know them better, and I think they enjoyed learning about me as well. We live on opposite corners of the US, so visits will be infrequent.
CE: Is your boyfriend an artist, too? How do you inspire each other? Where do the two of you like riding bikes?
CB: He's not an artist professionally like me, but he's creative in building things, and has talent in the arts, but hasn't developed that side of himself. He worked as an engineer for seven years in a cubicle, and is finally free, as of last year.
We like to ride bikes to explore different areas around Portland. We love to go bike-camping. Just pack some food, strap a tent and sleeping bag to the bike, and go. In a week and a half we are biking for 11 days to the Idaho-Canadian border, from Portland.
Smelly was a U2 Fanzine, Kudzu was a Minizine
CE: You have been making zines for quite some time. Tell me about your first zines.
CB: I started making zines in high school. I must have been 15. I'm not sure of my inspiration, but I must have seen others and decided to make my own. I made quite a variety. Smelly was my U2 fanzine -- I completed seven issues. The Bizzare was a joint zine with my friend Erin where we focused on different themes. Issue number four was bathtubs, and that was when I started collecting postcards. I also made mini-zines such as one on kudzu (a vine-like plant from the South), which I sold in the lunchroom for a quarter. I asked each person if they knew what kudzu was, and followed up with: "For a quarter, you can find out."
CE: Do you have at least one copy of all the zines you have made? Have you been making zines lately?
CB: Yes, I do have at least one copy. The Bizzare made it to, I think, 6 issues. Kudzu was a minizine, Rolf Zombie was a one hit wonder I made with a boyfriend. Smelly, my U2 fanzine, had 7 issues. The Nickey Rose tribute zine was my last one. I've been wanting to make a zine of all my letters to the editor, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
CE: You have taught quite a bit,with a range of populations, over the years. What do you enjoy most about teaching? What is the most challenging aspect? Do you have any of your student's work on display in your house?
CB: I've taught off and on. In college, I taught art and photography as a volunteer teacher at a local charter school (ages 10 - 18). I loved my students and enjoyed organizing art shows for them. I've taught a few workshops for adults, but not many. When you teach art, it's a challenge to not judge too much and to realize potential. When I was taking art in high school I was obsessed with the band U2 so much of my art was influenced by them. My art teachers were good: even though my subject manner was not high art, I was not criticized.
CE: It appears that some of your activities (biking, zine making, etc.) are collaboration-heavy. What do you enjoy about collaboration?
CB: Actually, I'm less of a collaborator these days and more of a contributor. Collaboration can be hard with someone like me who has strong opinions and particular expectations. I do better if I think of an idea and mostly bring it to a finished product, but ask for feedback and some collaboration along the way. I work solo mostly, but I contribute to larger events. For example, recently in Portland, we celebrated Pedalpalooza – two-plus weeks of bike fun. I organized three events for the festival.
CE: You seem to relate well to animals on paper. How do you relate to them in person? Do you have affinities to certain animals? Do you own or co-habitat any? My vegan friends call their pets "companion animals" to remove the possessive/speciesist connotation of "my cat," which I always thought was problematic anyway.
CB: Yes, I'm an animal fan, and will go to an animal in the room often before the person. I love cats and lizards. I co-habitat with my boyfriend's cats, Ember and Skie. My cat Scooter passed away just shy of his 19th birthday about three years ago. I had gotten him as a child, and we moved from Minnesota to California to Portland together.
CE: What type of people come to your letterpress demos?
CB: Either people interested in learning letterpress, or people who know nothing about it and who randomly walk by and wonder what this old press is all about.
CE: Have you made a print which was surprisingly popular? Have you made a piece which was poorly received?
CB: My St. Johns Bridge, which has now kicked off another 6 bridges and counting was hugely popular as a calendar, so I made it into a postcard. All my cards eventually have sold; though, I wish Hello Sailor was more popular. The card cracks me up.
Bikes, Haiku, Tours
CE: You have a couple different bike personae. You give various bike tours. You also dress up and do other especially unique things in your local bike scene. How did you get involved in playing dress up and getting on your bike (the Bunny on a Bike Ride, the Red Bat character)?
CB: Well, I live in a unique city, Portland, where the adults enjoy dressing up. There is never just a party. There is always a theme: all red, pirate, the 60s, etc. So, bike culture is the same. In fact, I just lead a ride called The Twin Spin, where 11 pairs of "twins" came dressed alike. My press is Red Bat Press, so somehow I got the idea to make a Red Bat costume of Halloween. My mom helped me make it, and since then I've worn the costume for fun on numerous occasions.
CE: About your bike postcards: are any of these portraits of friends or people you know? How did you come up with the illustration/print style that is evident in these post cards? Are any of the cards especially popular?
CB: I now have 10 art postcards by Red Bat Press with bikes. One of them, "Shift to Bikes," is about a local group of bicyclists that get together for bike fun and activism. All the characters on that card represent someone I know in the bike community. The cow is a friend of mine who has a cow suit he sometimes wears to bike rides. The "Everybody Bike" postcards is popular and the "Bunny on a Bike" (one of my first cards) has been reprinted probably 10 times.
Everybody Bike. As they say in Boston,
as they do in Portland.
as they do in Portland.
CE:Share some of the bike haiku. Who wrote them?
tires sing a sweet song
asphalt played like a cello
I make a set of Bike Haiku Stationery - and there are 4 haiku written by various Portlanders. The haiku are painted on art tiles at co-housing community near where I live.
CE: Your bike tours sound just like the thing I would want to do today. How many people go on an average ride, if there is such a thing? How is your relationship to the museums and art sites which you tour? Share a few fun or favorite stories from this experience. Do riders surprise you with their insights on things which you've seen countless times?
CB: I lead monthly bike tours to small museums in the Portland area. I average between 5 and 20, with usually around 8 – 12 people per ride. I like to do themes. We've done: Trainspotting, Craft Beer, Off Beat Art, Great Collections, Fame & Glamour. I get along very well with many of the small museum directors or collection owners. I've had more difficult times working with businesses. On the Craft Brew tour, I had a hard time finding a small craft brewery to give us a tour on Saturday. The brewers work weekdays and are not interested in working another day just to please a geeky bunch of curious cyclists.
Almost every tour has something that I can only call magical -- some kind of amazing shared experience happens. On one tour we visited the Kidd's Toy Museum. I did not expect the owner of the collection to be around, and he ended up taking us into some secret places that will never be again. The museum was spread out through his automobile business.He was retiring and sold it, and was consolidating the collection into one building. Our group felt very privileged to have the last viewing of Mr. Kidd's secret upstairs toy room.
CE: Have you seen the documentary The Cruise? It's about Timothy "Speed" Levitch, a NYC tour guide. It was directed by Bennett Miller, and only after his film Capote came out did The Cruise become easily available. Anyway, it's one of the most influential films of my life. In it, Levitch talks about whom he would like to give a tour to (essentially, his dream group). Do you have a dream group? He also compares his method and personality as a guide to historical figures. Are there any historical figures, celebrities, or personal acquaintances whose traits you try to embody while giving the tour?
CB: I think I have seen The Cruise, but a while back. As a tour guide, I'm not at all like Timothy. I'm a much better coordinator, and less of an entertaining tour guide. I leave a lot of the tour guide role to the museums or collectors. My favorite kind of group is one that shows a lot of glee and giddiness when we are in presence of amazing artifacts or hearing amazing stories along the tour. I scheduled a tour on the theme of Book Arts on Memorial Day weekend, and only had 3 others show up, but the three were so excited and into the tour. That it is one of my all time favorites. Our group felt like many, even though there were just a few of us. When I give a tour, I'm just myself - a little too honest, into what I do, and hoping to excite others.
CE: You seem to go up to Alberta quite a bit, for your art. Could you compare the art communities you have been a part of in Portland to those you have been a part of in Alberta?
CB: Every last Thursday, there is an art walk on NE Alberta Street in Portland. This is my 6th summer going out there! Hard to believe. I like to go because it's free to do: I just set up my little table display on the sidewalk and the people come. Sometimes, people come just to see me, but mostly I meet new people and see a lot of friends. I have a lot of art friends from Alberta Street. What I don't like so much now is how early I have to set up. The sidewalk space has become so popular that I HAVE to go out early, or I'm afraid I won't have a good space to set up. Alberta St. is part of Portland, not Canada!
CE: Ah. As I heard once in a movie: "How interesting, how bizarre." In other words: woops!
It's a bathtub party! On a card! This reminds me of a
Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt (Tour '96) I used to have.
"Hey, do you want to see my bathtub collection?"
CE: I found you first by way of your Bathtub Art Museum web site, where you showcase your bathtub postcard collection. In your bio, it explains that some showed up in your zine, The Bizzare, when you were in high school. What has led you to collect the postcards, all these years later?
CB: As mentioned before, my friend Erin Howk and I started making our own photocopied magazines and one was called The Bizzarre. Issue #4 happened to be about bathtubs. I started keeping my eye out for anything bathtub, and collected three postcards. Always the collector sort, I felt that once you have three of one thing you have a collection, and I've always liked postcards, so I started to pick up more postcards, and before i knew it (okay 10 years later) I had accumulated 200 bathtub-themed postcards. It was my secret little question (dirty secret)! New friends would come over, and I'd whisper, "Hey, do you want to see my bathtub collection?" Anyway, I decided to created a public online museum in 2003 so I could share it with more people. I called it the Bathtub Art Museum, because it's about Art of the Bathtub.
CE: Share a few stories about when, where, and how certain postcards were found, bought, or received. Are there any that have specifically strong emotional resonance with you?
CB: I have dug through boxes and boxes of postcards in my lifetime, but lately I find a lot of my really great finds on ebay. One postcard I have that I got when I first started collecting was one of 2 women and 2 men in 1 bathtub, with the title "folks are real friendly." This one I got from my friend Erin, who found it in Wisconsin, where she went to college. 10 years later, in the space of about a year, I found four more versions through ebay. In fact, some took some digging and select searching to find, and often I had to buy lots of postcards just to get the one. The five versions are all by different artists, and often highlight a different state, but are all based on the same idea or original drawing.
CE: Do you collect bathtub shards or any other tangible bathtub paraphernalia?
CB: It occurred to me that it would be amazing to have shards for walkways, mosaics, or hedges in this bathtub garden. Yes/No? I do want to someday have a bathtub garden, and then I'll probably actively collect bathtub pieces.For now, I do not. I collect doll house bathtubs, valentines with a bathtub, and for awhile, I collected rubber duckies (but kind of got bored with that one).
CE: Have any of the bathtub public shows of the bathtubs caused controversy? Do you get letters or complaints from parents or "concerned citizens" about the cards?
CB: Never. I only have a few postcards that I consider 18 & over (all found in San Francisco's Castro gay district - go figure!). I always try to keep the Bathtub Art Museum okay for all ages, though a few of the illustrated postcards could be considered a little risque.
CE: Have you ever put a story to any of the cards? Would you make bathtub-related work for Red Bat, or are these passions separate? Forgive me if I overlooked the cards.
CB: My press does have three bathtub themed art postcards: Bathtub Diver, Bunny in a Bath, and Bat Tub Party (halloween).
CE: What is the funniest or most ridiculous positive response to the collection? Any negative response?
CB: Most people find it really fun. I've gotten pretty much only positive feedback.
CE: Do you ever get pop culture theorists, history or art history scholars (or the like) seeking out the museum for research?
CB: I have had students doing research papers use my museum as one of the subjects, and people writing articles on collectors as well have contacted me. One student writing a report was pretty harsh on my museum in the sense that I wasn't doing a lot of things Museums should be -- such as having a good mission statement, and other such things. Truly I'd love to have my museum more official, but right now it's only me, and I have a million other projects dividing my attention.
CE: I really like Clutch McBastards's card. What is your personal or professional relationship with him. If I wanted to look at more of his work, where should I start?
CB: I work with Clutch at the Independent Publishing Resource Center. He's a funny guy and a great cartoonist and zinester. He is the Zine Librarian at the IPRC and draws a daily comic. I'm proud to have made it twice in the illustrated form in his last addition. He runs Tugboat Press, if you want to learn more.
CE: Bathtub cakes: tasty, or better to look at?
CB: I only tried one - these were for the Bathtub Art Museum's third birthday last year. I mostly got photos. The winner of the contest, John Dovydenas, was the one I got to taste, so maybe I was biased after all!
CE: What is the Adult Soap Box about?
CB: The Adult Soap Box derby is an annual event (that I have yet to see) of adults racing their own home-made derby cards down Mt. Tabor (a small, extinct volcano) in the heart of Portland. Last year, some ladies made a bathtub and dressed up in towels, but I guess they badly crashed.
"Rubber Duckie" and other Favorites
CE: Favorite songs about Bathtubs? Favorite songs to sing in the bathtub?
CB: "Rubber Duckie," by Ernie. I hardly ever take a bath, so don't sing.
CE: Dream bathtub and bathroom: what does it look or feel like?
CB: I like the idea of an outdoor bathtub, if you lived in a private forest.
CE: Favorite bathtub scene in a movie? Favorite painting or photograph that includes a bathtub?
CB: There's some great bathtub scenes form old movies. Like The Seven Year Itch, with Marilyn Monroe. She's in the bathtub, while a plumber is working on it. Hilarious! Favorite painting... The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. Mainly because you'd have to be a history or art history major to know that there is a bathtub in the painting. Marat spent most of his life in the tub because of illness, so his desk was built over his tub. One day he was assassinated while in the tub, and the painting is about that.
CE: Favorite songs about art? Favorite song about letter writing?
CB: Art: " Vincent (Starry Starry Night)," by Don McClean (about Vincent Van Gogh). Letter writing: a song by Neil Finn, where he says a line: "He won't write you letters, full of excuses..."
CE: Favorite color?
CB: Muted green, dark red, yellow together.
CE: Favorite songs about bikes?
CB: "Bunny on a Bike," a song by Wes Kempfer about all my little Red Bat Press character cards.
CE: Favorite bike in a movie?
CB: The obvious is Pee Wee's Big Adventure.l
CE: Favorite bike you've ever owned?
CB: I have one bike, a black Puch Mixte. It's been a reliable steed for seven years.
CE: Any new characters or big changes for Red Bat Press on the Horizon?
CB: I 'm still working on finishing the Portland Bridge Series. I want to make a new mermaid, and maybe some dragons and other Chinese characters, but who knows.
CE: Given your mood and schedule today, where would we go in Portland to have this interview (instead of via emails, 3000 miles away)?
CB: Probably by the river, looking at Portland's bridges.