Often when I am helping my clients with their spaces, we are re-organizing, as well as repainting. Disconcertingly we find layers of family photos on every available table top and surface. They sprout like mushrooms, in mismatched frames, and every one of them absolutely precious.
If reclaiming the surfaces and decluttering is a goal, one solution I offer is to make groupings of family photos and hang them up. Sometimes we trail them down stairways, or they pop up in a dining room. Grouped this way they tell a compelling story, invite perusal, gladden the heart to see your family gathered around you.
The family photos I have grouped in my dining room around the oval mirror feature Olive Van Vliet at the top, my business’ namesake. She has now been in various movies and TV shows, as the prop folks seem to like the arrangement when they use my house for film.
I have a client who has vintage photos from her girlhood in Cuba, I like to keep the black and white vintage photos in their own groupings, when possible. She had so many, and many of them were already framed, so we just went with the flow and kept the eclectic mix of frames.
But often the myriad pictures are just the tip of the iceberg! Lurking in the back of the closet — or right under the couch — are boxes and boxes of photos. What to do with all of them, how to corral them, make sense of them, preserve the memories? I met a woman who does just that, Martie McNabb from “Memories Out of the Box”.
In her own words, Martie who is a member of the Association of Personal Historians, organizes and curates family photos and documents to tell the story of her client’s lives. She calls it “preserving their past and telling their story”, a story she learns from sifting through what’s often boxes and bags full of old documents and photographs. The intimate lens through which she sees her clients’ lives, the objects they deemed important enough to hold on to over years and sometimes decades, allows her to build their story.
Most clients ask that Martie compile their archives into a book. She says that 95% of the time, she does ends up making a physical book, but also creates multimedia displays shown on flat screen televisions or in digital frames. Each project she works on presents different challenges. She put together a book for one of her client’s sons, representing his life from birth through college graduation. His archive contained some of his early ”books” written in school, a tooth, airplane boarding passes and his father’s college id among other memorabilia.
Another client asked Martie to archive her grandfather’s story. A man who lost his legs and sight in World War II, the client’s grandfather managed to come back from the war impossibly positive and raised enough money for his family to survive. Everyone in the client’s family wanted the book Martie created, so she scanned it, made seven copies and took the original to a book conservator. At times, instead of creating new books, Martie works on things that are already made but in such bad shape that people can’t even touch them.
It is a fine thing to have personal historians among us, if not to personally curate for us, to remind us of our relationship to the past. I feel inspired by Martie, and am glad to recommend her to my clients yearning to break out of the box(es).