Thursday, October 16, 2008

SCRAPBOOKS An American History

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."

Thursday, on Shades Of The Departed, will be dedicated to many things,
and nothing in particular.

Many Things Thursday

SCRAPBOOKS An American History
Jessica Helfand

One only has to look at these scrapbooks to realize that history isn't what historians tell us.

~ Jessica Helfand ~

Scrapbooks by Jessica Helfand examines scrapbooks from the nineteenth century to the present, concentrating particularly on the first half of the twentieth century. The book is filled with color photographs from more than 200 scrapbooks; some made by private individuals and others by the famous, including: Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Anne Sexton, Hilda Doolittle and Carl Van Vechten.

This book is so fascinating, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to put it down. I am so taken with the hundreds of examples of yesterday's scrapbooks, their brush with history, their tangible examples of real life. The scrapbooking of yesterday seems so far removed from that of today; they're not a contrived version of history or life. And yes, green!

These scrapbooks of old are filled with the bits and pieces of their authors' lives. Ticket stubs, torn letters, stamps, fabric, string, and a thousand things we throw out on a daily basis.

There are several scrapbooks shown with very inventive themes. I was particularly drawn to the scrapbook of locks of hair. My husband's family has a photo album filled with locks of a cherished child's hair. A child who died young and tragically. Do we still collect locks of hair? I don't know anyone who does. The album of monograms, once a very prevalent part of life, was graphically beautiful.

Modern day scrapbookers can draw on some of the more inventive ideas and incorporate them in today's themes. F. Scott Fitzgerald's mother had a scrapbook page of his signature at different ages, starting at five. What a brilliant idea! I am going to do this for my grandson's.

Of this project the author, Jessica Helfand tells us:

This project percolated in my brain (and my sketchbooks) for years until I realized that scrapbooks were simply visual autobiographies filled with stories waiting to be told. I am fascinated with the degree to which non-visual people felt, for whatever reason, compelled to keep these remarkably visual records of their lives. Its a chapter in American history (and in graphic design history) that has not been told: in my book I call it outsider art with insider knowledge. It's raw and primitive and heartbreaking and real, and if it bears little if any resemblance to contemporary scrapbooking, it's probably because a generation ago, people made things from the detritus of their lives: they rescued things, saved and savored them, and pasted them in the pages of books. And therein lies the scrapbook's particular and enduring magic.

Jessica also authors a blog called The Daily Scrapbook with beautiful examples of some of the scrapbooks she's collected.

This richly illustrated book is the first to focus on the history of American scrapbooks — their origins, their makers, their diverse forms, the reasons for their popularity, and their place in American culture. I loved it!

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Shades gives it:

A four out of four camera rating - Recommended Buy.


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