• Steven Heller

The World of Scraps

Next to a diary, a scrapbook captures an individual truth that cannot be found in many other places. A combination of souvenir and confessional, scrapbooks contain lost, found, forgotten and hidden visual reminders of a certain life lived in a certain time and place. Each scrapbook has its own meaning, aesthetic and rationale. Most are random, some appear to be telling a story using other people’s (artists’ and writers’) own expressions.

Jessica Helfand learned this when she tirelessly researched hundreds of scrapbooks from all over the U.S., many of which were published in 2008 in the stunning Scrapbooks: An American History. “The scrapbook,” Helfand writes, “was the original open-source technology, a unique form of self-expression that celebrated visual sampling, culture mixing and the appropriation and redistribution of existing media.”

I was reminded of Helfand’s collection and the joy experienced when she found a scrapbook that, no matter how cryptic, told some kind of personal tale and left some aspect of history behind. I was struck, needless to say, by the bold swastika in its original good-luck incarnation. The title Good Luck Exercises, the property of Edna Gronemeyer in Redbull, Kansas, captured my eye. And the crinkling, glued-in artifacts that fattened the otherwise slim book provided a wonderful tactile sensation.

I have no idea what Edna (age unknown) was trying to say with the juxtaposition of these cutouts, mostly wordless, but I’ve spent hours simply turning the pages, looking for the hidden code. And, of course, how this nearly 100-year-old book (1909) survived so long to find a home in my home.

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