Episode 129: Atelier Jean d’Eaux Postcard Mystery

When a set of postcards started arriving at my house over the course of a week from Atelier Jean d’Eaux, I knew I was in for a mystery. The artist gained notice initially for sending sets of cards cut from record albums to chefs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That set off a series of articles by a food writer in Milwaukee to suss out why the cards were sent. Now I have a set. And I set out to discern what they mean.

I’m joined in this episode by journalist and novelist, Ana Clara Padovani, who helps me unravel some of the clues that came with the set of six postcards from Atelier Jean d’Eaux. We play amateur sleuths and professional journalists. Do we answer all the questions? You can read this article, listen to a podcast, and watch a video to find out. Let’s go. Let’s play detective.


This is beyond exciting. And mystifying.

I got six Atelier Jean d’Eaux postcards. The last one arrived two days ago. Now it’s time to unwind the mystery. And it’s a big mystery that’s been going on for a year. Who is Jean d’Eaux? I want to know.

If you’ve followed the Atelier Jean d’Eaux story in postcard circles, you know getting these postcards imbued with a little edginess and a lot of intrigue. Early recipients of Atelier Jean d’Eaux cards didn’t know what to make of them. And whether they should be delighted or defensive. Lori Fredrich, Senior Writer for On Milwaukee.com, does terrific work explaining reactions to Jean d’Eaux postcards received by Milwaukee-based chefs last year. In Cool or Creepy? Mysterious Postcards Delivered to Local Restaurants, she writes:

The postcards, most of which were mailed out over the past couple of months, had a great deal in common. Each set of six postcards was cut from an album cover (or the backside of an album). All were hand-written…. Most were addressed to the chef at the restaurant…. 

… All feature the German word “verschmelzung” which means “amalgamation” or “fuse together,” a likely reference to the nature of the postcards which, when put together in the proper order, form the image of the album cover. I’m inclined to believe that this means that both the messages and album are somehow connected.

Lori Fredrich, Cool or Creepy? Mysterious Postcards Delivered to Local Restaurants

I’m no chef, but I got mystery postcards, too. All the cards had the title Verschmelzung no. 4 (basically, series number 4) and then what appears a sequence indicator: 43-48/60. The postcards were postmarked in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, starting with the first one on March 8 to and going to March 15. Each of the cards contains the origin phrase, Atelier Jean d’Eaux (phonetically: John Doe).

The Verschmelzung — fusion — makes sense when the six pieces are assembled. As you can see in the photo below, the six pieces are cut from an album called The New Sound of Folk-Dixie. Is there anything to be said of the songs? Maybe La Cucaracha, the Mexican folk song? And is that a reference to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis?

The image side of the assembled cards

So, it’s time to extend our research. As you can hear in the show, Ana and I first examined the cards as a set. Here’s a composite of the message side of the cards.

The message side of the six cards from Atelier Jean d’Eaux

Note the positions of the sequence. This is the picture assembled. Is there anything about the order?

Card 1: Space

Card 1/6 came with a yellow USPS sticker on it that I’m afraid to peel off. It appears this card was forwarded. I don’t know if the ZIP code wasn’t right, but it looks like USPS had to have a person determine where this card should go. (Thank you, diligent postal worker!) The card has a Star Wars Droid Series stamp that’s rotated 90º to the right, so the stamp is horizontal. There’s also a 1962 Czechoslovakian stamp called Man Conquering Space clear taped to the card in the middle-left position. The stamp was cancelled, but I can’t discern where or when. Ana points out the space theme here. Is that the link?

Card 1/6 was posted on 8 March 2022 and cancelled by Postal Machine (PM) 5 with a leading stamp (L) orientation.
Man Conquering Space stamp detail. This was affixed with Scotch tape.

Card 2: 1973 and Badminton

Card 2/6 has a small label with the year 1973. Or is is a year? Is it just a number? The postage stamp is of a badminton shuttlecock from the USPS Backyard Games series. In the podcast, you can hear Ana talk about her research that led to a song from called The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973. There’s the link. And here’s a sampling a lyrics from that song:

To write a cathedral, I’ll need a ball-point pen
It’ll sound like Common People sung by Christopher Wren
On an upright piano with nice, narrow keys
In a Glaswegian chapel or a Parisian library

Hamish Hawk, The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973

The artist used a ball-point pen to write these cards. I also examined these cards under UV and black light to see if there were any hidden messages. There weren’t I also did a rubbing of a couple cards using thin paper and a light pencil to see if there were any impressions written into the material. There weren’t.

Card 2/6 was posted on 8 March 2022 and cancelled by Postal Machine (PM) 5 with a leading stamp (L) orientation.

Card 3: Pink Rose

Card 3/6 features a single pink hybrid tea rose in a tight bud. And I thought about what Gertrude Stein said: Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. In effect, so did the artist from Atelier Jean d’Eaux. (We don’t know the artist’s gender, do we?) Stein’s phrase means oftentimes things are as they seem. I want to analyze this one more. But should I go with Occam’s Razor and say rose is a rose is a rose is a rose?

Again, or is it? The postage stamp is from the USPS Tap Dance series by the Broadway photographer Matthew Murphy. The stamp is a photograph of Michela Marino Lerman. Wanna see her tap dance? Wanna see me tap dance and wonder if rose is a rose is a rose is a rose? I want to look underneath this image.

Card 3/6 was posted on 9 March 2022 and cancelled by Postal Machine (PM) 3 with a leading stamp (L) orientation.

Card 4: Harvest Celebration

I’m laughing at myself as I look at Card 4/6. I misread the cutout letters, and even went so far as to look up “Harve Street.” Um, it says HARVEST, as in Harvest Moon by Neil Young. Or tomato harvest. Or harvest celebration, as Ana points out. The postage stamp is called Let’s Celebrate; it was released on February, 14, 2020. Valentine’s Day.

The artist uses three typefaces on the word HARVEST. The red capital H in Times New Roman. The reversed ARVE in Helvetica. And the St in a variation on the German typeface Fraktur. Unlike any of the other cards in the set, this card has a piece of clear tape along the lower edge in the front. In the image below you can see the bit of tape near my ZIP code. Also, you’ll hear us talk about wondering if there’s anything under the rose. I haven’t yet used an X-ACTO knife to slit along one edge and peer inside. But I think I’m gonna. I’ll let you know.

Card 4/6 was posted on 10 March 2022 and cancelled by Postal Machine (PM) 5 with a leading stamp (L) orientation.

Card 5: Volkswagen

Onto Card 5/6. This one has the word Volkswagen along with four black bars. Also, the artist drew two parallel lines in Quadrant II, which seems to frame the word and…tire tread? This card has a Happy Birthday stamp. Linn’s Stamp News writer Michael Baadke describes the stamp this way:

The letters represent a red and green pinata (H), an orange and yellow striped birthday hat (A), a red piece of frosted cake (P), a green birthday candle (P) and an orange balloon sculpture (Y). “BIRTHDAY” is printed in smaller simple letters below.

Linn Stamp News, U.S. Happy Birthday stamp will be the first at new rate

I will say, this postcard has me the most perplexed. My first car was a Volkswagen Beetle. I have a dream about driving a VW Microbus all over the world on the Peace, Love & Postcards Tour. But what else am I missing?

You’ll hear in the podcast and see on the video that Ana had more in-depth analysis on this one. She points out the word Happy pairs well with the 1990 Volkswagen ad called Fahrvergnügen. That German word, loosely translated, means “the happiness of driving.” And Ana asks if the four parallel lines, that I initially thought were tire tracks, might be a deconstructed VW. Hmmmmm.

Card 5/6 was posted on 11 March 2022 and cancelled by Postal Machine (PM) 3 with a leading stamp (L) orientation.

Card 6: George Washington and the Eye of Providence

And now we’re to Card 6/6. The last in the series from the mystery artist at Atelier Jean d’Eaux. It came with an American flag stamp. And then….hmmm. We have a George Washington one-cent stamp. Which leads to the pyramid and Eye of Providence that’s from the back of the U.S. one-dollar bill. And that leads to George Washington’s face from the front of the U.S. one-dollar bill. (The pyramid and Geo. Washington’s eye seem to be cut from an actual dollar bill.) Wiki describes more about the phrasing around the seal:

At the top of the seal stands a Latin phrase, ANNUIT COEPTIS, meaning “He favors our undertaking.” At the bottom of the seal is a semicircular banner proclaiming NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM meaning “New Order of the Ages” that is a reference to the new American era.

Wikipedia

This one seems all about America. Or, is it more? This is where crowd-sourcing comes in. Leave a comment if you have more thoughts about this one — or any of the cards.

Card 6/6 was posted on 11 March 2022 and cancelled by Postal Machine (PM) 4 with a leading stamp (L) orientation.

What do you think it all means?

So…where does this lead us? What happens when we stand back and look at the piece as a collective? We’re still looking.

Speaking of looking — if you’d like to watch what Ana and I were talking about, we recorded a video that I published on The Postcardist YouTube channel.

Hope to hear more from the artist behind Atelier Jean d’Eaux

Finally, a note to the artist at Atelier Jean d’Eaux. Thank you for this set of cards. And the intrigue. On the podcast, I ask you if we got some of this right. And what we missed. I’d love to hear from you again. But even if I don’t, I hope you’re out there and see this. And know that you added some joy and mystery to a fan of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys and Scooby-Doo.

16 comments on Episode 129: Atelier Jean d’Eaux Postcard Mystery

  1. Joyce says:

    How exciting! The closest thing I ever got to this was a letter written over three postcards. Luckily they all came at once and I was able to read the letter! I would love something like this–but I have no idea what any of it means!

    1. Frank says:

      This is really a big mystery. It’s going to take a lot of unwinding! And yes, it’s very fun.

  2. Ana says:

    This was so much fun!!!! Thank you for making me part of it!

    1. Frank says:

      You synthesized the information. Those finds like the badminton and the VW one…wow. Thank you for thinking this through with me.

  3. Jessica Mand says:

    Oh my gosh I love this! Reminds me of a series books by Nick Bantock, the first book was called Griffin and Sabine… Envelopes and postcards throughout telling a story. You actually got to open the envelopes and slide out cards which lent a very cool tactile element.

    I can’t wait to follow along as this mystery continues to unfold!

    1. Frank says:

      Jess, this really does remind me of Griffin & Sabine. This artist sent cards to chefs in Milwaukee in 2021…and now I’m lucky to be in the mix. Let’s see where this goes!

  4. Teresa says:

    Since the English translation of “verschmelzung” means “merger“ I think you do have to put all the postcards together to get the meaning. I also think you really have to pay attention to the front when they’re all put together. There is actually a flower called “tap dance“. It’s a large bright yellow flower that grows from a bulb in May. Also Volkswagen‘s birthday is in May. I have only looked into this for a few minutes so that’s all I have for now but I will keep mulling this over in my brain and like you say, if we put all of our heads together we might get some thing.

    1. Frank says:

      A flower called Tap Dance? Wow…and VW’s birthday? More to look at. I laughed when Ana said there’s also the possibility it all means nothing. But she was using that to make us step back and really discern the messaging. And look at this!

  5. Teresa Edmunds says:

    OK my husband, son and I had a dinner discussion over this mystery. We have come up with a few new things. On card number five, my husband said that the Volkswagen on a line so check out Volkswagen online website. Their birthday celebration is in May so perhaps on their website you might find a clue (we haven’t yet).

    On postcard number one, the droid is a surgical droid who rebuilt Anakin after his injuries and rebuilt Luke after his injuries. And the translation on the Czeck stamp means “man conquers the universe“. This could refer to your amazing conquering of cancer.

    The placement of the George Washington stamp on postcard six could be significant. There are many different meanings for that placement across the world so perhaps the USA stamp he used to mail the card could mean use the US translation for the placement of the George Washington stamp. One possible meaning of the stamp turned that way that I found was “when will I see you”, which doesn’t exactly fit into an explanation but it does continue the theme of eyes.
    Thank you for giving us some enjoyable family entertainment. We will report back if we come up with anything else.

    1. Frank says:

      Okay, this is getting more exciting by the minute. I really appreciate your family sleuthing. Volkswagen “on a line.” Volkswagen online. Now looking at their website. What did you think of the “tire tracks”?

      Whoa on the Droid who rebuilt Luke. Now this gives me chills. Could this be about PanCan?

      Geo. Washington…stamp placement…looking more…and super hope you keep up the investigation and brainstorming. This is super fun! Thank you!

  6. Georgie Stone says:

    This is a mystery … Some threads maybe?

    The postcards began in to be mailed on March 8th, which is International Woman’s Day.

    The placement of the stamps ? There is so many interpretations – Probably going down a rabbit hole here. But here are some things I found.
    The Language of Stamps – (https://thestampforum.boards.net/thread/3640/language-stamps) = Answer at once
    or The Philatelic Database (http://www.philatelicdatabase.com/nostalgia/the-language-of-stamps/ = When shall I see you?
    Coxd.com (http://www.coxes.com/stamping/fun/position.html) Sideways, head to the right=love & kisses

    Engraving of Postage stamps-from Smithson National Postal Museum -(https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibition/stamps-take-flight-creating-america%E2%80%99s-stamps/classic-engraving)

    Banana taped to the wall with duct tape was done by Maurizio Cattelan and it is called “Comedian”
    https://news.artnet.com/market/maurizio-cattelan-banana-art-basel-miami-beach-1722516

    1. Frank says:

      Looking at those links, Georgie.

      Whoa, March 8…International Women’s Day.

      And the language of stamps. What’s your take? Answer at once? When shall I see you? Seems a bit too early to get love & kisses. Ha!

      Also, now I snorted when I saw your link about the banana taped to the wall.

      This is getting more fun by the minute. Thank you for this!

  7. Betsy Kirichenko says:

    I’ll send my case report later. I have a lot of clues……hehe

  8. bex says:

    I received a 6 pack of cards in December 2021. It was the back cover of a Gershwin album. The last card we received had a postcard taped to the album cover that was sent to our address, and the first 5 had pieces of the same postcard, sent from Harrisburg, PA to our address in Milwaukee in 1949. I have lived in this house for 20+, but had just moved from the upper to the lower in October 2021. Besides the article in onmilwaukee.com, yours is the only reference I have found of this on the internet! I love outsider art and cherish these cards.

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