A Historical Perspective on Scrapbooking

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On colorful patterned paper, Carol Collins arranges her favorite photos from a recent family camping trip. She settles on a design, then reaches for glue, ribbons, My Acrylix stamps, ink pads, paper trimmer, her Cricut Explore and Xyron sticker-making machine to create a keepsake of a summer trip to Branson, Missouri. “It’s a way to relive the memories,” says Carol of Manhattan, Ks., who’s been scrapbooking since she was a young mother, as she rearranges a few photos.

Carol’s 20+ personalized scrapbooks provide a peek into her life and reveal her love for her family. Decorated pages with hand-written passages highlight a young couple in love, many camping and fishing trips with family, activities of children and grandchildren, and fond memories of family lost. She is truly her family’s historian!

A short history of scrapbooking reveals some 23 million Americans keep scrapbooks. Scrapbooking is a hobby rooted in 16th-century “commonplace books,” in which people copied proverbs, quotations, and speeches that they deemed worth remembering, or significant in some way. Modern scrapbooking, however, arose in the 19th century with affordable penny press newspapers. “There was so much wonderful information in print with cheap newspapers,” says scrapbook historian Ellen Gruber-Garvey, author of Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance.

Rather than save piles of newspapers, people cut out news stories, poetry, sermons and tidbits that were meaningful to them and pasted the clippings in scrapbooks.“Scrapbooks are extraordinary bridges to the daily lives and thoughts of our ancestors,” says Ellen, an English professor at New Jersey City University in Jersey City, N.J.

Saving family photos and history in embellished books is the focus of today’s scrapbook keepers, whether they use paper, computers or both to preserve memories. Scrapbook.com founder Jill Davis, 60, of Mesa, Ariz., says scrapbooks reveal much about a person’s life. She’s seen the reactions of her children’s soon- to-be spouses as they thumbed through the pages of family scrapbooks that she compiled.

“It’s a wonderful connection to behold,” Jill says. “The scrapbooks contain feelings, stories, hopes, dreams, highs, lows and chronological information, too.” Davis created her first scrapbook at age 12. Sitting at her grandmother’s kitchen table spread with family photos, she eagerly glued photos of her ancestors on paper pages, listed their birth and death dates, and wrote their stories as related by her grandmother.

In 2001, Jill Davis’ passion became her business when she launched the nation’s largest online scrapbooking store, scrapbook.com. In 2007, she bought Keeping Memories Alive, one of the nation’s earliest scrapbooking stores and website founded by Marielen Christensen in Spanish Fork, Utah. Christensen is credited with sparking the contemporary scrapbooking craze when she displayed her “memory books” at the 1980 World Conference on Records in Salt Lake City.

In her books, Christensen created pages of family photos and mementos, which she slipped into protective plastic covers and a three-ring binder. Protective pages and binders were more of an office supply item at the time. Yet, the idea caught hold and modern scrapbooking went mainstream. Soon, an industry sprang up to provide acid-free and archival-quality papers, inks, glues, and tools to make the heirloom books.

While rescuing family photos from attics and closets often is the goal of scrapbook keepers, the joy is in the creative journey. “It’s cheaper than therapy,” laughs Nancy Nally, 42, of Palm Coast, Fla., founder of scrapbookupdate.com. “I love color and patterns and mixing and matching,” she says. “I’ll spend hours on a single layout. I enjoy fussing with it until my creative mind is happy with what I see.”

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While most traditional scrapbookers prefer creating with paper that they can touch and stamps and inks they can smell, other hobbyists have shifted to computers to create digital albums they can print and email to share. The appeal for some is less clutter and expense, according to Michelle Stelling, 46, founder of the National Association of Digital Scrapbookers in Commerce City, Colo.

“The future is going to be digital and video,” Stelling says. “My students take pictures, but also a 20-second video clip, which we mix in with their memories. It’s not just flat photos on a DVD, or in a computer file.” Whether scrapbook keepers cut and paste with scissors and glue or with the click of a mouse, family memories and history are preserved. Whether you are a gadget girl, or a paper hoarder, scrapbooking truly has something for everyone, and I agree, Scrapbooking is cheaper than therapy!

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