Thursday, January 17, 2019

Where Does All The Paper Go?

The inscription inside that reads "Percival L. Kauffman / from his Papa / "Birth-day" / August 13 1871
If I’m not doing anything responsible or lying on my couch watching movies, I’m usually out looking for bits of paper. I look for them in many different forms. I look for paper to make into things I find at thrift stores. I buy books and random pieces of ephemera. Often I look through trashcans on campus or walking down the street. I take my findings from my car and place it on the steps leading upstairs in my house. Slowly but surely it becomes repurposed. Sometimes it gets scanned and sometimes it’s made into a collages and then mailed somewhere in the world. When it leaves my possession there’s rarely a trace of the thing. I scan all of my collages now but when I see them on other peoples’ blogs or through Facebook I think of them of ghosts…just a representation. 

I always wonder where the collages truly end up going after I mail it to a stranger on the other side of the world.  Seriously, does it end up in protective plastic, behind glass, in a milk carton, or in the trash?  I imagine the real answer is all of the above. An object with little context other than coming from the “mail art network” is confusing enough, but disconnect that context and it’s a complete alien. Imagine the stranger I sent the item to passing all of their stuff to their kid’s years from now. What do they make of this item from a guy named Jon in North Carolina? Can they even pronounce my name? Do they throw it away or keep it forever? Imagine their kids seeing this hypothetical card, or their kids…or some stranger who bought the card in a box of shit at a yard sale. Does it make any sense? Do they pause for just a second to contemplate this mystifying collection of paper and glue?
Every week I go to a local bookstore mostly to rummage through their free books. Mostly the bins are full of old textbooks, books about fad diets, and strange religious pamphlets. I go diving for images. You can’t imagine how happy I am to look through such a selection of free paper. I flip through the oldest of the books with the most excitement. My eye automatically catches the books about the body and health. I like figures in my collages. Every once in a while I’ll find handwritten notes that were stuck into books, sometimes they’re cards from grandkids and sometimes their shopping lists, or boarding cards.  These types of things I always take with me. I eventually glue them into small white covered books.

You can kind of tell how old a book is (within about ten years) based on the cover. Books made in the 19th century always have those deep colors to them, the cover writing almost illegible. I immediately pick those out of the pile. Surprisingly these books are somewhat easy to find considering their value takes a mild amount of work. If you can’t scan it you can’t as easily sell it online, which means it falls through the cracks of most thrift store trolls. If they’re old and they have pictures in them they end up going with me. If they’re in perfect shape I might look to see if they have any value whatsoever, online. They never do. At best they’re worth a few dollars on eBay or some similar site. To help increase their value I usually tear them up, keeping the more interesting images I find. I then scan the best of the best. Often I put the images in collages. I do this over and over again. I have piles and piles of paper waiting to go through the many parts of this process.
The cover of In The Wilds of Africa.
Of course this is a self-serving blog post.  Thankfully to the memory of Percival L. Kauffman, I’m one of those weird people that see something like an inscription in a book and thinks about their own creative mortality. This post is self-serving because I hope other people think about my motivation when they hold something I made. You hope it ends up in an appreciative place, at least some of it but the chances of that happening are slim. Who’s held this book before me? How many houses has it lived in?
One of the many detailed plates inside.

I found this stuck inside the book. I think that's a package price.
When I posted the initial inscription online, “Percival L. Kauffman / from his Papa / “Birth-day” / August 13 1871” more than a few people went to work on it. It seems that I’m not the only person that likes mysteries. Kris B. came up with someone with the same name. How is that possible? John R. posted a few clues but Samb provided some information that “looks right.” The passage about Percival that he found reads, "Their eldest son, Percival C., was born in Mechanicsburg August 13, 1857. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia; studied law in the office of Hon. Wayne MacVeagh; was admitted to the bar in June, 1879, and is now the junior member of the firm of Troutman & Kauffman, attorneys at law, at Hazleton, Luzerne Co., Penn., representing, as counsel, many of the largest individual coal operators and companies in the anthracite region."


sambson said...

Few people know this, but Paid In Money is my rapper name.

Pamela Gerard said...

I am very happy digging through free paper and old books too. We think alike. I like to think my collages and mail art will be in places like The Vintage Paper Fair and future paper lovers will collect Pamela and Jon art like we collect things......

zzzzzzzz said...

@ Samb - that seems about right.

@ Pamela - Thanks so much for responding and thanks so much for getting at my intention of this post. Looking at that signature and trying to think of the person who wrote it, I wondered about my own creations and what will happen to them. Who knows where they'll end up?

Pamela Gerard said...

I'm hoping they will end up in the hands and studios of people like US who will appreciate or maybe repurpose them into even more art.....

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