a Dollar Goes
Springfield Artist's $20,000 search for "paint"
by Bob McEowen
|Dean Bracy wrote
his return address and a brief message on 20,000 dollar bills in an
effort to collect postcards for a photo mosaic. He says all the cards
and letters he's received show the "beauty of humanity."
a dollar go? Send me a postcard. ddB, Rte. 1, Box 282, Highlandville,
MO 65669. Have a great day!"
What would you
do if you saw this note written on the back of a dollar bill? Would you
respond, like the note asks, with a postcard to "ddB"?
So far, some
3,500 people have answered Dean Bracy's question about a dollar's travels.
They've not only sent postcards but letters, photographs, mementos, catalogs,
business cards, religious tracts and even a seed packet.
One person, an
attorney, offered to defend Bracy for defacing currency.
Many of the notes
recount travels, experiences and other personal details of the sender's
life. It's more than Bracy expected.
"It's the beauty
of humanity," he says. "All they know is that they found a dollar with
a note on it. Somehow that dollar touched them."
into the latest stack of mail and selects an envelope with a California
"Look at this
beautiful card. And they sent the dollar back! I guarantee what she wrote
is as pure and sincere as the day is long," Bracy says as he begins to
read the card: "You asked where a dollar goes and now you know. I am returning
your dollar to you. I hope you enjoy sending it again," the card reads.
"Now that is
beautiful," Bracy says. "That humbles me. It just shows how insignificant
my part is."
Bracy never intended
for people to send the money back. Instead, he wants the dollars
20,000 in all to travel far and wide and touch as many people as
artist first wrote a note on a small batch of dollar bills in the late
1980s. After people responded he began looking for a way to use the concept
in his art, which has included stained glass, iron sculpture and wood
in the past.
Two years ago,
while attending a photo mosaic exhibit in Seattle, his plan came together.
"I'm there 30 seconds and I
knew what to do," he says. "I was going to take postcards and paint with
to arrange postcards so that when viewed from a distance they would create
a larger image. He won't reveal what his final mosaic will look like but
says it will measure 16 feet by 20 feet.
He's going to
need a lot of postcards at least 4,000 he estimates.
with the Treasury Department to make sure writing in the margins of currency
is not illegal (it isn't) he persuaded a friend to loan him $10,000. In
the fall of 1999 Bracy, who was then living in Arizona, ordered 10 bundles
of uncirculated bills and began writing. His message included a Post Office
box in Highlandville, Mo., where he has family.
|Dean Bracy wrote
his message in the margins of dollar bills he deposited in a Springfield
Two and a half
months later he finished. He boarded an airplane with a box of money under
his arm and moved back home to Springfield.
"I went down
to Empire Bank and opened an account with 10,000 dollar bills. As soon
as that posted I wrote a check for $10,000 and sent it to my friend,"
"I can not express
enough the shock of this lady I opened the account with. I'm not sure
she was too pleased."
Now all Bracy
had to do was wait for the postcards to arrive. He waited longer than
expected while the money sat in a Treasury Department warehouse for six
"I figured something
had gone wrong. I just wrote it off," Bracy says. "I said to myself, 'Well,
On May 11, 2000,
he went to the Post Office and found 32 replies. The next day brought
19 more. The following day 37. The cards and letters have not stopped
entered the "rivers of commerce" at San Francisco and Denver but the money
has traveled far from those cities. He has received mail from every state
but Delaware. He also has postmarks from Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa
and the Middle East.
The Treasury says
the life span of a dollar bill is about 18 months. To keep postcards coming
Bracy prepared and deposited another $10,000. That money, which appeared
first in Atlanta and St. Louis, is reaping results now.
It's a process
that Bracy says he does not fully understand. "Why would people take the
time and effort?" he asks. He does have a theory, though.
"I wrote 'Have
a great day!' 20,000 times and I meant it. I was very sincere about that
and I just think somehow that came through when people read the message."
All the heart-felt
cards and letters which fill 21 thick binders divided into categories
mean more than the material Bracy needs to create art.
"My initial motivation
was to get paint. Well, the written text itself is far more beautiful
than any picture I could ever do," he says. "My hope as an artist is that
I can keep up with the caliber of the written text."
Bracy thinks he'll
have enough postcards to begin the mosaic in about a year. Then he plans
to create a traveling exhibit of both his art and the cards and letters.
He says he hopes the project will earn a spot in the Smithsonian Institution.
"I've got something
the world needs to see," he says. "If you take the time to sit down and
read through these you see the beauty. It's blatant."