Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mysterious Scrapbook of Dayton

The other day I finally ventured into the antique mall housed in the county fairgrounds, which is perhaps a mile from home. My plan was to seek lamps, and possibly other useful items of furniture.
Well, there were indeed some tolerable lamps at reasonable prices, and there were some very tempting items of furniture, but it was raining and I didn't have a lot of space in the car, so I put off buying any of those things.
Well, what did I find instead? I found a very odd scrapbook, which I felt strangely compelled to buy.
The compiler of the scrapbook is anonymous, and she (I am sure it was "she") did not divulge her purpose in creating the thing. It is basically a collection of collages of magazine pictures, mostly of babies, but they get older as the series goes on.
Now, those who know me well are aware that I'd rather look at pretty much anything other than baby pictures. Pictures of centipedes, bats, garbage cans, and paramecia will just about always catch my interest above pictures of babies, although I would certainly far rather look at pictures of babies than at pictures of politicians or plutocrats. It's not that I have anything against babies, I just don't care for their appearance, and I prefer to deal with children who can say a few words. (I am, however, fascinated by the mental world of babies. I'd rather see through their eyes than look at them.)
That said, what on earth prompted me to pay for a whole scrapbook of baby pictures?
I'm still trying to figure this out, but it has something to do with the layout. Whoever put this thing together had a good sense of design and page layout. There's also something increasingly odd about it as one pages through. Initially it just seems like a lot of "cute" babies in conjunction with some flowers and animals (mainly doggies, especially poodles). Yet by the end I was being strongly reminded of Hannah Hoch's scrapbooks, which are considerably more mainstream-looking than her other collages. The unknown collagist compiles her images in ways rather like Hoch, and like Hoch, even uses the same pictures in more than one collage.
The images all seem to come from about 1959 to 1969. Some might be earlier but I don't think many can be much later. In fact, I not only recognize some of the sources (Healthtex, Borden, Rice Krispies) but I am just about certain that the artist who drew the pink-cheeked elephants (not shown here) designed one of the baby shower cards my mother received before I appeared in the world.
I'm really curious what the Unknown Collagist was getting at. Did she just want to put together a book of cuteness and not quite succeed? Was it a school assignment of some sort? Was she attempting an Ernstian collage novel about childhood that doesn't quite come off? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. Very very wacky. The eggs running through town up hill and down add a quite surreal touch to the big headed ladies on the lawn!

  2. Yes, that's just what I thought! I'm so glad you picked up on the big-headed oddities with the child-bodies.