The Short Answer
Callithump! was conceived as magazine of arts and literature distributed through toy capsule vending machines. An issue is distributed across multiple capsules. Each capsule contains an “article,” which might be a poem, a series of photographs, a small sculpture… really any sort of creativity that can fit inside a capsule!
Callithump is an archaic English word. A callithump is a parade that anyone can join. A time and location would be announced and everyone who wanted to be part of it would show up wearing whatever costumes they wanted and bringing musical instruments to play or pots and pans to bang together. A callithump is also a burlesque serenade.
The Secret Origin
In the late 1990s Matt LeClair traveled to Portland, Oregon, looking for love. Instead he found Gumball Poetry. Gumball Poetry dispensed poems out of toy capsule vending machines. It struck him at the time that this was one of the most inspired ways of publishing poetry ever devised. A big problem with poetry is that it’s only read by other poets and by English majors when really, it should be enjoyed by everyone. The poetry vending machines put poems in easily accessible places, places where one wouldn’t normally expect to find poetry. It also provided a way of approaching poetry that seemed right. Toy capsule vending is gambling. You put your coins in, turn the knob and hope you get the prize you wanted. More often than not, you don’t, but that’s part of the fun. You put more money in until you get something you like. Likewise, a poem may not resonate with you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like poetry. Try a different poem, until you find one you like. The toy capsule is inviting in ways that poetry books and readings can’t be.
Returning back East, Matt resolved to start his own creative vending project. To differentiate it from Gumball Poetry, he would vend art instead of poetry. When he excitedly told others about this plan, he was met with, “You mean like Art*o*Mat®?” Dejected that the idea wasn’t all that original or innovative, he abandoned the idea.
Almost a decade later, Matt suddenly awoke to two facts. 1) He’d become so entrenched in digital art that if something wasn’t on the Internet it didn’t exist to him, and if it couldn’t be expressed on the Internet it wasn’t worth creating. 2) That he was taking the whole art thing way too seriously. He remembered his toy capsule vending idea, and said, “Screw it if it’s been done before. I’ll do it my own way.” That way was Callithump!, a magazine of encapsulated creativity sold from capsule toy vending machines.
The medium turned out to be perfect. The small, hands-on format lends itself to experimentation and exploring the possibilities for art that can only exist away from the Internet. It’s also impossible to be pretentious when everything you create has to fit inside a 2-inch capsule sold for 50 cents. The project succeeded in getting Matt’s creativity back and returned the playfulness to his creative endeavors, all while providing unique art objects to an unknown number of others.
With the help of his lovely and talented wife Jess, Matt continued publishing Callithump! for several years in several locations in Maine and New Hampshire.
Unfortunately, life intervened, and we were forced to put Callithump! on hiatus. A few machines existed on life support for a while, but by the end of 2011, only one active machine remained in the entryway of Lord Hall on the University of Maine campus in Orono.
Callithump! has been updated sporadically in recent years. It’s a fun experiment and we wholeheartedly recommend starting a vended art project of your own. The birth of our daughter in 2013 refocused our creative energies in a different direction, leaving little time for side projects! However, we have continued the toy capsule vending machine projects as sponsors for other artists, providing machines and materials for their own creative encapsulation endeavors.