Memory Craft, Domestic Technology, and Memory Archive

Monday, February 3, 2014

by Tammy Powley

Vacuuming, washing dishes, dusting, and other examples of housework are all common forms of domestic technology. This “home” work falls under the same category of domestic science defined in the nineteenth-century by women such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (in her book The American Woman’s Home) and Lydia Child (in The American Frugal Housewife). Stowe and Child view housewifery as a profession that requires training and skill. While “domesticity is proposed as a gendered knowledge” (McHugh 26) by both women, additionally it is viewed as a “domestic profession” for women who “were not content to become supernumerary, but saw themselves as professionals, stateswomen, and beacons of charitable practices and informed womanhood” (Tonkovich xx).

Memory-craft, which includes the practice of memory-craft construction, such as scrapbooks, altered books, and art journals, is also a type of domestic technology. Though procedures of typical housework may seem removed from the production of memory-craft, they are both most often practiced by women and share many of the same methods of recycling and economy:

The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time as well as materials. Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use might be (Child 3).

The American housekeeper of the nineteenth-century is a frugal manager of the home who does her best to avoid consumerism and “instead makes an art out of gathering together all that would otherwise be lost” (McHugh 20). Much as memory-craft requires collecting scraps to reuse in archiving memories of the home, housekeeping is also an art, finding uses for leftover fragments that would normally be discarded. Following Michel de Certeau’s philosophy of the everyday, the housekeeper performs “everyday practices that produce without capitalizing” (xx). Old swatches of material, perhaps once a dress for a young girl or a shirt belonging to a husband, are turned into quilts and reused again by family members in a different configuration. Stockings are mended by hand rather than thrown away. Hand-crafts are generally prized over purchased goods: “The value of making do, of getting by, seems here to overshadow the very question of necessity itself” (McHugh21).

Laurie Smith Keller examines the models of technology and its origins, viewing hand-crafts as types of technologies. She explains the connections between craft, technology, and domesticity:

Many of these basic concerns for food, shelter, health and communication are […] domestic and therefore commonly fall into the sphere of women’s work [… and] technology is about designing and making. […] The craft model of technology most closely characterizes the older technologies such as potting, hand-weaving, wood-working, cookery and so on; it is the ‘master-apprentice model’ of technology (24-25).

Women, in particular as keepers of the home and caregivers of the family, are the primary engineers of domestic technology, both in the traditional sense of housework and in the craft-related, amateur sphere of memory archiving. Naomi Schor points out that much like housework “the detail is gendered [,…] bounded on the one side by the ornamental, with its traditional connotations of effeminacy and decadence, and on the other, by the everyday, whose “prosiness” is rooted in the domestic sphere of social life presided over by women” (4).

In this study, I begin by looking more closely at the notion that memory-craft, in the form of scrapbooks and journals, is both a form of domestic technology and is at the same time constructed through techniques of domestic technology. I also focus on contemporary methods of domestic technology which are now accessible due to the availability of electronic equipment in the home and discuss how old and newer forms of technology are mixed to create memory-craft. Finally, I try to determine how methods used to create memory-craft pass down and record memory.

Though not a twenty-first century memory-crafter, Emily Dickinson provides an early example of the use of domestic technology to craft text, which itself becomes a form of domestic technology. The poet assembled a number of her own hand-stitched booklets and decorated her poetry and letters with bits and pieces of ephemera, thus sharing many of the same techniques as contemporary altered book crafters. She provided her own source text for alteration, and “as reader and writer at play/work, Dickinson drew upon a pool of […] textual clippings,” her own private collection of clip art, which she “valued […] as part of her poetic production” (Holland 150). These clippings and other paper pieces were sometimes used in a collage affect to connect to a poem’s content, making “connections between image and poem” (146). Jeanne Holland refers to Dickinson’s use of making small booklets and embellishing her letters with bits of ribbon and other scraps as a way for the poet to “progressively [refine] her own domestic technologies of publication” (141).

Much the same way Dickinson used the materials she collected from her domestic sphere to publish her work, so do contemporary memory-crafters when they assemble scrapbooks and art journals. They collect memorabilia from their local environment and assemble them with the purpose of recording personal memories and events in their lives. Today’s memory-crafting is most often conducted by women in the home using a mixture of gathered scraps and items purchased from local craft stores. The domestic space used for crafting is part of the process. They work wherever they can find a spare spot – on the kitchen table, in a spare room, in a corner of the family room. They work on their crafts in the home and among family just as they work at their domestic duties of cooking and cleaning.

An important distinction remains between the home-crafter and the studio artist, as professional book artists attempt to differentiate their work from that of the amateur. Book artist and Robertson Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, Johanna Drucker is concerned that no vocabulary or canon of work exists to clearly divide book art into home-craft and studio-art, and she argues that “our critical apparatus is about as sophisticated as that which exists for needlework, decoupage, and other ‘crafts’ using materials from Michaels.” Drucker is correct about the difference between the two, and I believe it is important to make this distinction. Home-made memory-crafts are usually crafted differently and purposed differently. The home-crafter is not occupied with the idea of “creative work [as] procedural” (Drucker) but is more focused on personal expression and sometimes genealogical preservation. Emily Dickinson circulated her altered-text to a small group of associates, primarily through letter writing. It is not possible to know why she assembled her booklets, but as the poet never aspired to print her work, it is likely that she did not expect her booklets to be displayed to a mass audience. Like the commonplace book or travel journal, the finished piece created by the home-crafter is intended for the eyes of a few select friends and family and not for examination by a museum curator or art critic. Ultimately, the home-produced memory-craft becomes a form of domestic discourse where the book-form is used as an apparatus for housing personal memories.

Through common methods of paper-art procedures, “technology can be carried out as a craft” (Keller 31). Some examples include gluing memorabilia or ephemera onto pages in a book; embellishing covers or pages with decorative fibers; assembling and attaching photographs; and providing small bits of text and journaling next to visual elements throughout the book. All of these methods incorporate materials and tools ordinarily found in the home (paper, paste, scissors, and notions).

In Gwen Diehn’s The Decorated Page: Journals, Scrapbooks, and Albums Made Simply Beautiful, she illustrates various traditional paper techniques and their use in paper arts. One example is the travel journal made by Pamela Lyle Westhaver, entitled Salt Spring 2000. In her journal, Westhaver pastes memorabilia such as movie and cruise ship tickets onto blank pages of a book. Then she hand writes a description of the event she is documenting. On another page, she attaches a clear plastic pocket to the page, journals around it, and inserts a group of photographs into the pocket. Other embellishments in the book include the use of assorted papers, watercolor pencils, and crayon (34).

Electronic forms of technology have begun to encroach on the simple “cut and paste” methods. Flatbed scanners, digital cameras, color printers, and personal computers are commonly found in today’s middle class home. Domestic technology now includes this digital equipment, and the home memory-crafter seamlessly combines these media of hand-craft and digital-craft. Digital pictures are printed at home on glossy paper using a special photograph-friendly color printer that can match the same dots per inch accomplished at the local one-hour photo shop. These digitally created images are then hand-pasted into a hardcopy book and embellished with collected scraps of memorabilia. The final touch is hand-written comments posted around the photographs. Polly Smith, in her crafted book entitled Simon, color photocopied a hospital receiving blanket. Then she added a photograph of the infant, Simon, and used this for the cover of the book (Diehn 49). Smith’s book-cover technique is a typical example of how old and new media are commonly mixed together to become the ingredients of a modern memory-craft item.

A further development in memory-craft media is “digital scrapbooking” also referred to as “computer scrapbooking,” which is becoming increasingly popular. Dozens of hardcopy books and Internet websites exist for memory-crafters who are working entirely via electronic equipment, from digital photographs to typed text. Corel Draw, Adobe Photoshop, and Paintshop Pro are software packages used to digitally assemble scrapbooks. Cutting and pasting are accomplished with a mouse rather than scissors and glue. Instead of a hardcopy version of the finished craft, files are stored electronically, saved to computer disk, or sometimes uploaded to personal websites.

As hardcopy or digitalized, through the use of crafting techniques, memory-crafters store and collect the past. Scraps, photographs, and journals allow the average home-crafter to assemble memories for future generations, and while memory-crafters collect and construct scrapbooks, journals, and altered books, they become stewards of autobiographical information.

My own great aunt, Mamie Veach Dudley, documented her family’s travels and tragedies in a journal, writing when she had time between her domestic duties. In between grinding coffee, peeling potatoes, and nursing a sick child, she felt it important to write down every day events. Some stories, like a family double suicide, are sensational while other comments she includes in her writings are full of mundane details. Even then, these details illustrate a different world to the reader who, so many years later, is removed physically by time. These everyday details can be just as important as sensational stories since they show us how she and her family lived from day to day. From Mamie’s journal titled “Our Trip South 1901” she writes about her husband and another man hunting:

Riley and Milt had bought eleven ducks for decoys. While we were camped above Louisiana, they disappeared. We did not know what had become of them but when we got to Louisiana we found them in the market. Some man found them swimming down the river. He thought they were some ones decoys and drove them into the market. It cost them one dollar to get ten of them (1).

Mamie’s journals and letters provide a body of familial knowledge that might not otherwise exist. Even my own grandmother, Juanita Dudley Goff, did not learned about the double suicide of Amelia and Minnie Dudley, known as “The Brewster Tragedy,” until she was an adult. Growing up, my grandmother knew of a family secret, but it was never spoken of and the adults in her family felt it necessary to continue to keep silent about it. Since she was the youngest of eight children, it is understandable that my grandmother was protected from the truth, but as the years progressed, so did the silence. Fewer and fewer family members knew the story until Mamie’s letter and journal were discovered by a cousin, Roger Dudley, who was conducting family genealogical research. In a letter to her sister, Mamie recounted the tragedy that had happened to her husband’s family.

Minnie Dudley was a late in life child of Amelia and Elijah Dudley, and her mother had determined that Minnie would never marry in order that her last child would stay home with her. Minnie, however, fell in love. The ultimatum given to her by her mother was to refute her lover and stay with her parents or leave with him and Amelia would kill herself. No one in the family had a clear understanding of the mental torture Amelia was inflicting on Minnie. Eventually, an argument between mother and daughter erupted one day, and they both ended up killing themselves.

In 1988, Roger Dudley interviewed one of the last of the Dudleys who was alive during the tragedy, Zola Dudley, daughter of Mamie Veach Dudley. Zola was 16 at the time, and during the 1988 interview, she reluctantly talked about what happened. Other members of the interview include Zola’s daughter, KorDova, and other family members who attempted to urge Zola to speak more about what had happened. However, Roger had to repeatedly ask her for information because of the stigma still attached to this family secret:

Zola: We have clippings about Amelia and Minnie’s death.

About 45 minutes later I brought it up again.

Roger: You mentioned you had the clippings on the deaths of Amelia and Minnie.

KorDova: That is something that mom is not happy to let out, when Norma (White) [from Amelia's family] came seeking information she wouldn't let her see those, but they do have the clippings.

Zola: Ruth and Gladys didn't want it told and wasn't about to say nothing.

KorDova: I'm not sure they knew a great deal about it at that time. But there's truth in it.

Kathryn: Where did Virgil get that?

Wayne: Gladys and Ruth told him I think.

KorDova: Wayne said that someone said they had been suffocated, smothered, (Minnie) but she wasn't.

Wayne: That's what Kathryn (Rogers' wife) told, she said that Rita Fitch told her, she's the one that told them. We were quizzing her, she had never even told Roger, her husband, about it. So we started and she said, that's what I heard.

Zola: We never heard that, maybe it happened that way I don't know.

KorDova: But the mother was so protective of this daughter and didn't want her to marry this boy and they were crazy about each other, they went to church that day and so the mother told her I'm going home and kill myself. It was in that newspaper article.

Roger: Was this the New Canton newspaper?

KorDova: I think so.

Zola: The Barry Adage maybe. The New Canton Press and the Barry Adage was the two papers. Only seven miles distance between the towns.

KorDova: But anyway they just sort of stood outside in the yard and visited for a while Elijah and Andrew, and grandma was still alive and then when they finally broke the door and went in and grandma was still alive and Minnie was dead and she said she couldn't believe it she took the poison before I did, it must have been strychnine. Grandma had taken it quite a while before Minnie did but Minnie died first. But Minnie said I can never live with this so I might as well end it all.

Zola: Kind of makes you sick to think about this,

KorDova: Moma doesn't like to talk about it or anybody else to talk about it. In those days something like that was a disgrace...

Zola: Well it was, such a tragedy too.

KorDova: And I guess when Elijah came out here he would sit and cry all the time.

Zola: I remember that. Loren would have to sleep with him and it was awful. Loren slept with him and he'd be a crying and Loren never did forget it. I can see why.

If not for Mamie’s documentation, Minnie Dudley and her story might have been forgotten, and above all, people such as Minnie deserve to be remembered, especially by her own family. Silence originally intended to protect eventually becomes a way to forget and hide the truth.

Mamie, through her journal that was repurposed a log book, and later Roger, who decided to trace his family history, both documented their domestic lives, something that memory crafters continue to do today, though they usually lean towards documenting happier times. Whatever the intentions may be, they all share the idea of recording family history.

Scraps, most often in the form of paper pieces, are readily available to the home-crafter because they are found in the home in the form of books, newspapers, and periodicals. Dating back to Emily Dickinson’s crafting of her books and correspondence, clippings were a method for recycling and reusing items from her domestic environment. Contemporary memory-crafters follow the same practice, but today, most women of Dickinson’s social class also have the added use of electronic technology available in their homes. This expands the notion of domestic technology so that it now includes computer and peripheral equipment along with paper and glue.

Twenty-first century female memory-crafters may not have the added domestic requirements of doing all the family baking, for example, but it is usually more convenient to work on their crafts in the same general area where they must perform regular domestic chores such as cooking dinner. Thus the home is a critical element of the process, one that becomes much different than that of a professional book artist because their purposes are not the same. The home-crafter is more concerned with preserving her personal and family narrative while a studio-artist is more preoccupied with the creative process.

With affordable and accessible computer equipment combined with a trip to a local craft store, old and new media are easily mixed together in today’s modern take on memory-crafting. Some crafters prefer to use computers and scanners to create personalized ephemeral material that they use in a final hardcopy scrapbook, altered book, or art journal. Others are moving more and more towards techniques which are created and then stored digitally. Both types of crafter share the same purpose of collecting and archiving the past for future generations, who may lose this knowledge if it is not preserved. Women’s journaling as domestic discourse, whether as a scrapbook or diary, provide a means for remembering and for retelling our stories.


Works Cited

Child, Lydia Marie. The American Frugal Housewife. New York: Harper & Row

Publishers, 1972.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall.

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Diehn, Gwen. The Decorated Page: Journals, Scrapbooks and Albums Made

Simply Beautiful. New York: Lark Books, 2002.

Drucker, Johanna. “Critical Issues / Exemplary Works.” The Bonefolder. Vol 1 no.

2 spring 2005.

Dudley, Mamie Veach. Journal. ms. Unpublished, 1901.

Dudley, Roger. “Re: question about the Brewster Tragedy.” E-mail to the author.

1 Feb. 2006.

Holland, Jeanne. “Scraps, Stamps, and Cutouts: Emily Dickinson’s Domestic

Technologies of Publication.” Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning: The Page, the Image and the Body. Ed. Margaret J.M. Ezell and Katherine O’Brian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Keller, Laurie Smith. “Discovering and Doing: Science and Technology, an

Introduction.” Inventing Women: Science, Technology, and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992.

McHugh, Kathleen Anne. American Domesticity: From How-To Manual to Hollywood

Melodrama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Schor, Naomi. Reading the Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine. New York:

Methuen, 1987.

Tonkovich, Nicole. “Introduction.” The American Woman’s Home by Catharine E.

Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.



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