“Visible upon the Invisible”: A Postcard and George Inness

Beauty depends upon the unseen – the visible upon the invisible.

– George Inness [1]

I joined Postcrossing, a postcard exchange site that allows you to send and receive postcards from random people around the world, on November 11, 2021. Looking back at my photo album, I was reminiscing about the last glimpses of fall. My first year at Colby. Having asked everyone I met if the rumors were true about Maine’s horrendous winter, I was both scared and excited. 

Postcrossing got me through that rough winter. Through it, I have refound my passion for writing, art, and conducting psychoanalysis based on users’ biographies and card preferences. On a day that I had no motivation to leave my room, I told myself that I needed to be a responsible Postcrosser who mails her cards out the next day. 

“Dropping off postcard” leads to taking a short walk, grabbing food, going to class on time.

At the end of my fall semester, I wandered into the SPA. They had tabling for the Museum’s end of the year sale. I thought the boxed postcards were perfect to tell people about my school, my curatorial internship with Marisa, and Colby’s art collection. So I chose a deck of cards in a sealed plastic box, the first one being a beautiful and ethereal landscape painting. “It was such a steal,” I thought to myself- “10 postcards, $5.” I scurried back to my dorm with excitement. It turned out to be 10 holiday cards of the same painting, which I later found out was George Inness’s Winter Evening. I hid it in the deepest part of my drawer and once again began regretting my introverted-ness that hinders me from asking for clarification, and jumping to assumptions. 

In February of 2022, Sandy from Hong Kong’s profile popped up. She liked “old towns,” and “illustration/water painting of landmarks/local life.” Memory of this deck of holiday cards began to surface, so I ripped it in half, threw away the “happy holiday” bottom, and mailed out the painting top, where the deckle edge resembles both my embarrassment and amusement.

Sandy uploaded the picture of my “postcard.”

Same with Julia, who wanted “art cards”, and Alison from Sydney, who is inspired by “scenes of nature, like mountains or forests.” After receiving the card, Alison marked it as one of her favorites and messaged me “Hi Karen, thanks for your art postcard and message. I do like the painting, thanks for sending something representative of your area. I liked all the old stamps, too.” 

Through Postcrossing, the Inness holiday card was redefined. It was no longer a regret hidden in the drawer, but a piece representative of my identity as a student studying in New England. It was no longer an ontological object, but the epistemological landscape viewed through the eyes of George Inness, me, and the recipients. Perhaps, it was the sunset strolls he took in the 1860s in Medfield, Massachusetts that inspired him to remember the visibility of such beauty through the form of art. Or maybe, there were greater and more imaginative invisible abstractions that he wanted to express. Could he be thinking about the turmoil the nation was in, and his failed physical examination that stopped him from fighting for his abolitionist beliefs? Was he like me in March, wondering when spring would arrive, when I would get to see the squirrels or smell the flowers? 

In April, I facilitated an Art Break on this painting, where I had the chance to share my personal story, and hear community members’ thoughts on this work. The opportunity pushed me to learn more about who George Inness was, and what he believed in. Through my research on his theological and artistic philosophy, everything came full circle.

Karen Shi ’25 facilitating an Art Break at the Colby Museum on George Inness’s Winter Evening. Photograph by Amanda Mao ’26.

“Never put anything on your canvas that isn’t of any use; never use a detail unless it means something. You can only achieve something if you have an ambition so powerful as to forget yourself. A picture without passion has no meaning and it would be far better had it never been painted.”

He always thought of the objects as a manifestation of something, most of the time his religious belief. Reality perceived by individuals comes from a subjective point of view that can only be “suggested,” but never “shown.” 

George Inness, Winter Evening, c. 1864-65. Oil on canvas, 10 in. x 16 in. (25.4 cm x 40.64 cm). The Lunder Collection, 2013.158.

“Nothing is as simple as it seems” I can hear his voice ringing when I stand before Winter Evening.

There is always the invisible that lies beneath the visible, waiting to be interpreted. Like Adrienne Baxter Bell so accurately portrayed, “[Inness’s works] vacillate between the physical and the ephemeral, the seen and the unseen, the known and the mysterious” (77). [1]

To me, Winter Evening is a representation of one of the many facets of my identity. A student who studies in New England, and is genuinely fond of foliage walks, always looking forward to color change and season change. It evokes a certain emotion of admiring the epicness of nature, clouds painted purple and pink, the last brush stroke of twilight before being fully devoured by darkness. Hundreds of sunset pictures in my photo album, and not a second of hesitation to take another dozen the next day, and days after that. 

Winter Evening is a traveling memory. It’s an adapted postcard that traveled from Maine to California, to Sydney and Hong Kong. It sits in someone’s photo album, and might be passed down to their children, who will see my handwritten message on the back explaining how I encountered this card, and what it means to me. 

Winter Evening is my bond with the Colby Art Museum. How in awe I was the first time visiting, seeing a brink of light penetrating through Joseph Mozier’s Undine. Becoming a curatorial intern for Marisa, we worked together to make this museum a better place. Facilitating an Art Break for the community, and hearing about insights into Inness’s work in connection to their own New England lifestyles. 

Winter Evening is a new lens of looking at the world: seeing the visible upon the invisible. 

Karen in Hagia Sophia, Turkey.


[1] Bell, Adrienne Baxter, and George Inness. George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy. G. Braziller, 2006.