We’ve all seen them, incredibly creative, often whimsical, always fun – the mailboxes of Bainbridge Island, and as a writer and lover of this artistic community, I’ve always thought it would be great fun to write about them. Clearly, I wasn’t alone. Denise Stoughton, who is an interior designer, artist and writer herself, recently created a Facebook Group called Uniquely Bainbridge/Fabulous Mailboxes and Other Interesting Totems, which celebrates these fabulous mailboxes and tells the stories behind them.
While out walking her dogs, Denise noticed and admired these curious mailboxes, “I’d look at an unusual box and think wow, someone put a ton of effort into creating that, why? Who would do that?” she told me. “Plus, there are just so many, I wondered, is it a ‘thing’ on the island?”
When it comes to creativity, Denise is an obsessive observationalist and the mailboxes had captured her attention and imagination. One random Sunday afternoon, she decided to start a project revolving around the mailboxes and the people and stories that brought them to life. In addition to the Facebook page, Denise has plans to create a book “to give these fabulous mailboxes a well-deserved moment in the sun.”
To get her project started, she kicked off her search with a post on the Bainbridge Islanders Facebook page, which immediately garnered more than 20 leads. In addition, she drove around the island locating the boxes, photographing them, and noting the address for later interviews with the owners.
“I want everyone to know I’m in a white VW Beetle, don’t call 911,” she joked. On a more serious note, she loves the process of driving and discovery. Exploring the island for the project has allowed her to familiarize herself with every nook and cranny of Bainbridge and meet some amazing people.
“The common denominator amongst the mailbox creators is personality, passion, humor, craftiness and enthusiasm to share their stories with me,” Denise explained. “Sometimes it feels like they were just waiting for me to knock on the door so they could have someone to chat about their mailbox with – not dissimilar to proud parents!”
She went on to explain, “In many cases what you see at the end of the driveway is just the tip of the iceberg, like in the case of the Bob’s Big Boy Mailbox. After speaking with nearly every member of the Strom family, I found out Bob took quite the trip across the country and the family provided photos of him on top of a Ford Excursion in about eight different states! They also spoke about their long history on the island and proffered a 1940’s hand written receipt for the purchase of their property.”
“As exciting as that find was, I was equally deflated when after days of believing I might actually get a PDF of the blueprints for the Sinking Ferry mailbox, the owner ultimately couldn’t locate them. Also, I was tickled when the owners of the Dinosaur Mailbox on Battle Point Road spent a weekend spiffing it up before I came to take pictures and I’ve noticed others are feeling compelled to up their mailbox game knowing I’m lurking about with a camera!”
While the Uniquely Bainbridge Facebook page is a fun “jumping off” point, the ultimate goal is the creation of her book. The working title for the book is “The Fabulous Mailboxes of Bainbridge Island” and will feature a series of photographs and essays “highlighting the history, culture, community and artistry found on Bainbridge, underscoring the notion that creativity connects us during a time when communities feel disconnected.” Denise is considering enhanced ideas for the book, such as maps of several short walking tours in neighborhoods that have enough interesting mailboxes to make it worthwhile. She’d also like to use the images to create gift items such as notecards, puzzles and t-shirts. And while her photos work great for the Facebook page, she’s collaborating with professional commercial director, videographer and photographer, Ron Stewart on the book photographs.
Denise is also planning to showcase “other totems” like the dinosaur on High School Road, which gets decorated for the holidays, and the mini Space Needle on Battle Point Road (she hasn’t spoken to the owners of these totems yet, but feel free to reach out to her).
“My coolest find so far is the secret ‘Frog Hollow Post Office’ – a yard art totem made of nearly thirty mailboxes on a post, each containing unique frog figurines. It’s so fantastical and I definitely want to highlight these curiosities as much as I want to highlight the mailboxes,” she said.
Denise made her way to the Pacific Northwest four years ago from New York City (with a five year stop in Dallas). She was immediately drawn to the creative community of Bainbridge Island and has immersed herself in all Bainbridge has to offer.
She studied (and later, taught) at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC and is an accomplished interior designer, home products creator and free-lance writer and blogger. You can find Denise’s articles on mo-minski.com, bainbridgecurrents.com and the Bainbridge Review. She writes impassioned (and often humorous) articles on design, public art, community and human interest.
If you own a unique mailbox or totem or know someone that does, contact Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org
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