Monday, August 30, 2010

Collect the Friendly Skies

Oh, the luxury of sky travel.  The in-flight meals, the free TV, the pampering, the leg room....

Okay, I've never experienced this kind of air travel.  My first flight was to Rochester, NY when I was 18 - my best friend Jacq and I went to visit her sister, who was a grad student at the Eastman School of Music.  My ticket was $181 - and that was 23 years ago.

Let's think about this for a minute!  Is it any wonder that there are no perks left on flights, considering that Web sites like and Expedia will help you find tickets that cost about the same as my flight did - in 1987?  I can't believe people complain about ticket prices.  Adjusting for inflation and fuel prices a ticket to Rochester, NY (from Chicago) should cost $347.36, according to this inflation calculator (I just now checked Expedia and discovered that I can get a round-trip, non-stop flight from Chicago to Rochester for $250!).  We forget sometimes how great we really have it here in the States.

You've heard the 50s and 60s referred to as the "Golden Age of Air Travel" before - and yes, that's probably right.  Back then, flying was a HUGE deal!  You were either rich or a businessman if you hopped a flight.  And the airlines certainly did cater to men - there's a reason the "sexy stu" stereotype existed.  These young women had to be at or below a certain weight, had to be attractive, wear skimpy (but tasteful!) outfits, and were there to serve with a smile.  They were also booted out of the industry when they got old, married or pregnant.  That would tarnish the notion that you actually had a shot with these ladies!

No doubt about it, air travel was more glamorous back then.  You did actually get full meals, gratis, and not just in First Class (but remember that your ticket was far more expensive, relatively speaking!).  You were treated like a guest, and not a nuisance. And because the passengers weren't packed in like cattle, they were probably less likely to be rude and/or filled with rage.  And remember - these were the days before security checks.  If you're interested in the way things used to be there's a great book called, "Airline: Identity, Design and Culture" by Keith Lovegrove (teNeues, 2000).  It's a little sad that this was probably one of the last books written about the industry before 9/11.

I love airports and traveling by air!  I travel this way rarely enough that it's still a thrill.  I hope I always feel this way, rather than entitled somehow.  And because I love air travel, I love collecting vintage air travel ephemera (see the above photo).  And of course, that vintage ephemera always finds a way into my artwork as well. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

High on Life

High on Life, indeed.

It was almost exactly one year ago that I gorged myself on Life(s).  Of course I'm referring to the now-defunct weekly magazine that was, in its time, the most popular magazine in America.

The gorging occured at Paul Auctions in Kewaskum.  I saw this huge lot of Lifes and just assumed that they'd separate them in piles of ten or fifteen.  No such luck (happily!).

I got to the auction at about 4 p.m. and waited until the lot came up, which was at about 9 p.m.  The bidding started at $10.  My hand went up and so did someone else's.  We got into a bidding war, but I was bound and determined to get these dang magazines, especially after waiting 5 hours for them.  Sure enough, the other guy eventually ducked out.  So I walked away with close to 70 Lifes (with a couple of Look and Collier's thrown in for good measure) for an insanely cheap price.

I got that "I'm on crack" feeling when I got these magazines, the same feeling I get when I walk into a too-good-to-be-true estate sale or antique store.  I really did gorge myself on these magazines, making plans for collages using all of the beautifully inked graphics in the vintage ads.  Poor Brian - when he saw the backseat of the car I'm sure his first thought was, "Where are we going to store these?" followed closely by, "How many hundreds of dollars did this set us back?" (Answer?  Not even close!)

And to me, one of the coolest things in the world is a full-color vintage ad, especially between the years 1948-1962 (I've looked at hundreds of magazines and to me this is the "golden age").  Because we're talking about ads between 62 and 48 years old, there is going to be natural aging and discoloring of the pages, and the ink that was used is nothing like the ink used now (I think it has to do with lithography vs. offset printing, but I'm no expert.  Anyone know?).  It's a flatter color and very "Technicolor-y", if that makes sense.  And there were very few photos used; illustration ruled this age, which is just another reason why I love them.

There may be dispute as to whether magazines are technically "ephemera"; the way I look at it, Life was a weekly news magazine - like newspapers, they normally weren't saved unless there was something personal in a particular issue (I don't save my "Entertainment Weekly" issues every week, either).  I have no idea why all of these issues were saved, but wow, am I ever glad they were!

After my giant Life purchase, you'd think that would've held me for a while.  Oh, no.  I found a bunch of 1954 Better Homes & Gardens at the Kewaskum antique mall for super cheap.  I found early 60s Good Housekeepings for a buck apiece at our own antique mall here in Fondy.  Also, my friend/Brian's cousin Sherry is my vintage mag connection - whenever she sees any at rummage sales, I'll find them on my doorstep (how awesome is that?!?).  I doubt my insatiable appetite will ever be sated for these amazing links to our past, but I sure have fun collecting/using them.

I have made so many collages with these magazines, I'd run out of room posting them.  So here are my favorites:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ephemera or Souvenir?

This past weekend Brian and I, along with my wonderful nieces Natalie and Mia visited Chicago - it was their first trip to the big city.  What a fantastic time we all had!  We took in the Field Museum, the Art Institute (so they could see the "Ferris Bueller" artworks), Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue - all of those fun Chicago things.

At the end of the first night, my niece Mia and I were going through all of our collected ephemera of the day:  ticket stubs, receipts, flyers, etc.  Apparently she takes after her Auntie in this regard - she saved one of everything (and at the end of the trip, she even saved her key card!).  I saved all of my stuff too, of course.

As we were walkng along Michigan Avenue on Sunday morning I happened across a used parking valet stub (it's in the above photo in the lower right-hand corner); it was probably only a day or two old but it already had that wonderful weather-worn look to it.  So naturally I picked it up and put it in my pocket.  Mia and Nat both asked me what it was and I showed it to them, and they each gave me a knowing glance.  The three of us have been creating art together for so long when they come to the house that they know full well how the ticket stub is going to be used.

But this got me thinking - is there a line between Souvenir and ephemera ("Souvenir" being capitalized from here on out due to its importance.  :D)?  Should there be, and if so, where is that line?  To me (and now Mia too, apparently!), anything can be a Souvenir.  But is there a hard-and-fast rule in Ephemera Land that delineates?  Does a "true" Souvenir have to be something that's paid for, like a keepsake program from an event?  Do ticket stubs automatically qualify as Souvenirs or is the beauty of that ticket in the eye of the beholder (or rabid collector)?

My oldest "Souvenir" ticket is from a Depeche Mode concert in Milwaukee, circa 1990.  I was 21 and really into DP at the time.  It wasn't the best concert I've ever been to but the fact that I've kept it this long - well, I just can't use it in my artwork.  That one's staying in the Permanent Collection.  I also have a stub from when my sister Jen and I went to see this wonderful Monet Exhibit at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis in 1998.  Poor Jen was very ill that day, but she didn't want to miss it so we went anyway.  The sheer fact that I attended the event with my sister excludes its use in my art, too.  It's too sentimental to use.

Maybe the only difference between ephemera and a Souvenir is the emotion one feels when looking at the piece.  The ticket stub on the ground holds no meaning for me, so I can use it (but if it's in an artwork of mine I'll always remember the moment I picked it up and the conversation it created between the girls and me).  My Field Museum ticket?  That counts as a Souvenir.

Such a dilemma, this categorizing!  I have made some ATCs with Souvenirs (or is it just plain ephemera?) and had no problem trading them.  I guess for me it all depends on the mood I'm in when I make the artwork - I'd better stay away from my studio on the days I'm not particularly sentimental or my entire stash will be fair game!

(This Chicago card was made from ephemera collected during a 2008 stay. The Paris stubs are from a trip my Grammie took in 1984 - don't worry!  I have TONS more ephemera from that trip!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Spreading the Word

I'm a "tipper" - when I find something I like, I let everyone know!  Whether it's a You Tube video, new fragrance or fantastic restaurant, I like spreading the word.  Of course, this also goes for my passions or hobbies (or hobby that became a passion that became a career!) - for example, my ATC (artist trading card) and vintage ephemera obsessions.  Or more narrowly, my all-consuming obsession with vintage ephemera and how it can be used to make ATCs and other artworks.

And because I like talking about things I like (and as you've probably gathered, talking in general), this sometimes translates into speaking gigs.  I stumbled upon this completely by accident; Carolyn Brady, the founder of our Milwaukee ATC group, was contacted by Kewaskum Public Library about doing a demo on ATCs.  Well, Carolyn lives south of Milwaukee so this would've translated to a two-hour trip for her, one way.  So she asked if I would like to do it.  I wanted to help out Carolyn, but YIKES - did I really know what I was doing enough to talk about it and demo it?!

I guess I did know enough.  That first class in May of '09 had seven or eight people, which was perfect for my first workshop.  Steev Baker, the head librarian at the Kewaskum Public Library, also attended the class.  He had a good time and liked me enough to ask me back; I wound up teaching another workshop last November.  And I'm on the schedule to teach again this coming November!

From this gig came others - I taught a half-day workshop at Greendale Public Library last September, which was in conjunction with our regular ATC meeting for that month.  That class had 17 people (eep) and was very well-received.  Gary Warren Niebuhr, who's the head librarian of GPL, also took the class and had a great time (his ATCs from that class are here).  I also gave this same talk at our local Artists' Association meeting this past May.  They needed a speaker, and I introduced about 20 people to ATCs that night. 

That's the best part about the whole workshop thing - getting more and more people excited about learning something new!  It makes me feel great when I hear from someone that they're now addicted to making ATCs (hey, it happens to the best of us!).

Back in the early part of this year Lori Franklin, whom I had met on a trip to Duluth three years ago at her wonderful shop Peasantworks, contacted me to see if I'd like to teach with her and her friend Teresa Kolar in October.  Would I!  What an opportunity!  I love Duluth.  And it's yet another opportunity to recruit more people into the wonderful world of art-making.  If I can pass along the feeling I get by being creative to others, then I've done my job right.  In the process, I also get them hooked on the joys of using vintage ephemera in their artworks!

P.S.  If you're interested in the Duluth retreat, let me know in the comments below and I'll give more info!  :D

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I have always loved envelopes (or as my dad pronounced it, ON-velopes). For Christmas of 1972, when I was four and my sister Jen was three my parents got off cheap that year - an Easy-Bake Oven and a box of #10 business-sized envelopes.

Why on earth did we want a plain box of envelopes? Well, Jen really liked the "senders" that came in magazines and the Sunday newspaper - "senders" are the tiny record label stamps that you used to order your "8 Records for $1!". I loved them also but I'm giving credit to Jen, since she coined the word. :D

I remember one trek to various rummage sales to find us both purses that would double as mail bags - once again, I believe it was Jen that played "postman" and the rest of us received the mail (with the "senders" as postage, of course!). She had a much more fertile imagination that I; I was content to just collect the stuff.

So my love for any kind of envelope has been with me since I can remember, but my fondness for logo envelopes probably came about around 1986, when I finally found a book that I could call my bible: "Symbols of America", by Hal Morgan. I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and I was killing time before my mom, who was a senior that year majoring in Social Work, was done with class. I found the 4th Floor of the library (reference books, natch) and once I discovered that book I would grab it off the shelf every chance I got. I think I memorized it (and yes, I got it for my birthday that year and I still own it!)! If you're not familiar with it but love famous logos and their histories, it truly is a must-read.

It's amazing how many vintage envelopes still exist - but I suppose there's always that last box that no one uses sitting in stockrooms all over our country (and - *SWOON* - other countries as well!).  I received a huge lot of 60s envelopes from all over South America in a swap (a trader's husband used to work for Master Lock), and the Italian envelope (above) with no postmark belonged to my Grammie - she also collected every little scrap she could from her travels and this was probably from her European/Israel trip in 1979.  The rest are just envelopes that I've bought at various antique stores or online shops.  I love that some of them are nearly 80 years old!

By now you've probably noticed that I'm really not concerned with the appearance or condition of these envelopes - I just love the fact that they exist.  My apathy for their worth also helps immensely when I cut them up to use in my artwork!  Here are a couple samples: