Rumble in the Hobby Lobby

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By: Claire Lui | June 1, 2008

The legendary Ali-Frazier bout had nothing on the egos and wounded pride that surfaced in the war between the scrapbookers and the graphic designers on Design Observer in 2005, when Jessica Helfand wrote a scathing post about contemporary scrapbooking, calling the crafters “people whose concept of innovation is measured by novel ways to tie bows.” Well, the decorative-edge scissors came out, and, eventually, comments on the post were shut down. Helfand, realizing she had struck a nerve, took a year off to research Scrapbooks: An American History, out from Yale on November 3. Looking primarily at American scrapbooks from the first half of the 20th century, Helfand unearths some fine examples: Anne Sexton’s scrapbook of her first married year—a motel key taped over a photo of her and her husband, simply captioned “us”—melts the heart of even the most jaded scrapbook-hater. “I wanted to understand why nonvisual people saved visual things of their lives,” Helfand says, adding that the albums document the lives of “ordinary people who survived extraordinary things.” But given her position as a critic at Yale, Helfand remains conflicted. “Most self-respecting designers will not touch scrapbooking with a 10-foot pole,” she says. When asked by a publicist if she’ll do a how-to on TV, Helfand groaned, “Will I become that person on the Martha Stewart show?” CLAIRE LUI