Bridgewater couple publish book of valley mailboxes
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
It's known as snail mail in this day and age, but when delivered to a mailbox dressed to look like a fish or a corncob or decorated with the bright plumage of a flamingo, it's anything but boring.
Tyre and Jane Yancey of Broadway were not looking to chronicle the Shenandoah Valley's plethora of interesting looking mailboxes, but that's exactly what they did after realizing what treasures were hidden along nearby back roads.
"We started about 12 years ago, but not necessarily with mailboxes," Yancey said. He and his wife started photographing silos and barns, then 18th century churches, steeples and bell towers.
It was through their journeys along the lesser-traveled country roads that they discovered a wealth of unique mailboxes.
"When we got up to 450 we decided it was time to do something with them," he said.
Their first book, "RFD Folk Art: A Tour of Shenandoah Valley Mailboxes," came out in January.
They still hope to make a book from the photos of other architectural wonders, his wife said, but that intention will have to wait for now.
"We just started noticing these and decided this was interesting," Mrs. Yancey said.
Both are retired -- him from farming and her from teaching -- so they had no trouble taking to the roads in search of fun photos to amass for their collection.
"We do a little bit of the history of RFD [Rural Free Delivery]," Yancey said.
At the beginning of the book is a photo of a line of ordinary-looking mailboxes along a stretch of road.
"This was the first standard mailbox ... and it's what they're supposed to look like," Yancey said.
That page serves as the control for what follows, which is anything but ordinary.
When it comes to the type of mailbox supports the couple saw along their travels, "Milk cans are the most popular," Yancey said. Machine parts also are used for posts.
"We just started seeing them and once you get hooked on them..." Yancey said, letting the thought trail off for emphasis.
Other mailboxes featured in the book use old machine parts purely for decoration.
"And then all sorts of ways of using wheels," he said. "And then all sorts of ways of using stone."
"Some people let them [the mailboxes] get overgrown to where you can hardly find them," he said. "And then a lot of them are just one of a kind."
It's "people just being creative," Mrs. Yancey said.
"Water parts are another popular support," her husband said. "Cistern pumps, cream separators. Farm machinery finds a final resting place as a mailbox holder."
The couple covered an expanse from about Winchester to Roanoke, a majority of their findings sprouting from Shenandoah County.
"When we say the Shenandoah Valley, we mean 'and surrounding areas,'" Yancey said.
One of their favorite mailboxes featured in the book shows fake bullet holes on the side, and another is shaped like a buzz saw.
Popular themes they encountered are sports, motor vehicles and animals.
"That's near Winchester. It's like a cow's leg," Mrs. Yancey said.
Atop a barn featured in the book is a sign that says "Air mail."
"And then these are the boxes themselves," Yancey said, indicating one with spikes welded to the top, presumably to keep off mischievous neighborhood children.
"And then," he said, "this is various artwork:" A podiatrist's mailbox with a bare foot painted on the side, or a taxidermist's box embellished with faux deer tracks.
One of the more impressive examples of art is a mural of Massanutten Peak painted on a mailbox, a replica of the actual mountain rising from the earth behind it.
And another? A mailbox for a resident named Williams, with his address and the assurance that "This Guy is awesome $DJ$."
"RFD Folk Art: A Tour of the Shenandoah Valley Mailboxes," which hit area stores in January, was published by Lot's Wife Publishing in Staunton.
"RFD Folk Art" is available locally at the following locations:
• Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester
• Winchester Book Gallery in Winchester
• Ben's Diner in Woodstock
• The Woodstock Cafe and Shoppes
• The Farmhouse in Woodstock
• Edinburg Mill
• Shenandoah County Historical Society in Edinburg
• Yellow Barn at Shenandoah Caverns
• Gingham Cottage in New Market
It's available online at www.yanceyphotography.wordpress.com.