The Bern Porter Collection of Contemporary Letters, housed in Colby’s Special Collections, is an eclectic mix of published and unpublished materials. It reflects the complexity, creativity and humor of Porter himself.

Materials in the collection were received from Porter (Colby Class of 1932) for decades, continuing until his death in 2004.

Published books (approx. 2000 titles) appear in the Colby Libraries web catalog and represent the work of Porter, Henry Miller, the Beat Generation, 20th century Maine authors and other avant-garde writers.

Periodical publications (approx. 70 linear feet) include small press items, artists’ books, mail art and small-circulation newsletters, newspapers and journals. List of periodical titles is pending completion.

Unpublished materials (approx. 70 linear feet) include correspondence between Porter and his contemporaries, scrapbooks and other works “of, by or about” Porter, and manuscripts given to him. There is a small amount of material related to Porter’s childhood in Houlton, Maine.


Porter’s multi-faceted life is rather difficult to summarize. However, Porter collaborator and fellow artist Mark Melnicove has managed a very helpful and concise introduction, quoted here from his (now defunct) site:

Bern Porter (1911–2004) was an artist, writer, philosopher, and scientist who was involved in the development of the cathode ray tube, the Saturn V rocket, and the Manhattan Project, which he renounced upon learning of the bombing of Hiroshima. Also a pioneer in the arts, he is known for his landmark work as an author and publisher. He was an early practitioner of mail art and found and performance poetry and experimented with typography, sculpture, photography, artists’ books, and collage throughout his life. Porter lived and worked in New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, California, Guam, Alabama, and Tasmania. He finally settled in his native Maine, where he ran for governor and established the Institute for Advanced Thinking. In 1979, Porter was given a major retrospective at Franklin Furnace in New York City, and a show of Porter’s work in the Museum of Modern Art Library was shown at MoMA in 2010.

– Mark Melnicove, 2010