Until I met Craig Cantrell, my favorite trading cards were Garbage Pail Kids. With no disrespect to Gassy Garret and Skid Mark, my new favorites are artist trading cards (ATCs).
When I first heard of them, I thought ATCs would be like baseball cards, featuring local artists such as Kat Tudor of Smokebrush. I imagined a photo on one side and stats on the other, perhaps a list of shows.
But unlike baseball cards, ATCs are tiny pieces of art. Forget snapshots and accomplishments; unless they're cut up and arranged in an artful manner, you get neither.
Cantrell runs a trading-card workshop, in which locals engage in what's become an international phenomenon. They get together monthly and paint, collage or decorate 2-by-3-inch cards.
An MFA isn't mandatory; just the ability to push the paint, or glue, or pencil, or whatever. According to Cantrell, the BAC provides the space, and FutureSelf (an organization bringing art to underserved youth) provides materials. But, he adds, anyone can bring and share their sequins, old boas, ancient birthday cards, or anything else that can be used as material. At the end of a workshop and trading session, he often finds himself pulling scrap supplies out of the garbage.
Cantrell discovered ATCs during a "sister-city trip" he took with local puppeteer Patty Smithsonian, funded by local nonprofit Concrete Couch in March 2006. They went to Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico, to teach art to children, while artists from there came to Colorado Springs.
Cantrell, who also creates assemblages (three-dimensional sculptures made of found art), and Smithsonian were searching out a new project to do with the children when they stumbled across ATCs.
When Cantrell brought ATCs back to Colorado, he found international trading groups in Denver and groups that organize trades online, such as artist-trading-cards.ch. A guy named Vanci Stirnemann brainstormed the concept in 1997 in Switzerland, and it soon ballooned into an international movement.
While the ATC movement began with the intention of building communities via face-to-face trading, ATCs now get traded online. A search of eBay last week turned up more than 40 cards. And an ATC group on Yahoo! will return four ATC cards in the mail for every five sent in.
A worksheet on "Dada Movement and ATCs," which BAC artist and teacher Ramona Lapsley provides her students, reads: "'L'Indifference' is that happiness and inner tranquility based on the absence of judgment. When artists get together to trade ATCs the focus is not on judging ... but in the interaction of the trade itself."
In that spirit, Cantrell hopes to solidify a local community of ATC enthusiasts.
"Art can save the world," he says. "You just got to get people to try a little of it."
Artist trading card session
Business of Art Center, 515 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Aug. 18 and third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Trading begins at 2 p.m.
Call 685-1861 or visit thebac.org for more.