There are certain things I always look for in antiques stores–rose-colored glassware, books with cryptic inscriptions, skeleton keys, teal-colored anything. I don’t usually buy these items, but I like to discover them. I feel a strange comfort knowing they exist in the world somewhere, even if that somewhere is a dusty shelf under a burned-out light bulb.
What I like most about picking over the objects in antiques stores is wondering about the stories each one could tell. Who drank from this coffee cup? Did someone give those earrings as a gift? Where are they now? Who are the people in these unmarked photos and what would they think about their picture being sold for a dollar in a town where no one knows their name? Follow these questions too far and they become a little depressing. Or maybe, they simply offer us perspective.
My preoccupation with an object’s history often thwarts my craft aspirations. These days, everything is being reused and repurposed as home decor: old canning jars, barnwood, rusty garden rakes, wine crates, miscellaneous gears from Great Lakes’ shipwrecks (well, probably). One particular trend I once wanted to try was reusing old book pages for artwork. A couple of years ago I came across a book called The Repurposed Library. (Oddly enough, yes, there are books about what to do with books.) The author had created some beautiful art. It inspired me to find my own book to tear up.
My search led to an antiques store that specialized in books. By “specialized” I mean that most of the store was filled with books. Not old, rare books. Or even old, expensive books. Just books. Yet even there, I ran into a problem. Every time I pulled a yellowed volume off the shelf and pictured myself ripping its pages from the binding, I winced and put it back. Finally I found one I thought I could use. I flipped through its musty pages and looked at the copyright. It was old. It had survived decade after decade and yet was in excellent condition. My thoughts turned wistful. Someone wrote this book. The author probably sat at a typewriter for months, maybe years, to make this book happen. Then I come along and thoughtlessly tear out the pages so I have something trendy to hang on my wall? You’d think someone was suggesting I make a craft out of a puppy, the way I felt just then. Maybe it’s the writer and reader in me. Maybe if it was an old tuba I wouldn’t think twice about breaking it into pieces and turning it into wall art. But a book?
Despite that experience, I didn’t give up on my plan to create art from book pages. I started wondering if someone sold fake books. Fake books with pages that have nonsense on them or maybe “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” over and over in Times New Roman. It turns out that I didn’t need one. In December, I found a 99-cent paperback at a thrift store.
When I saw the book, my first thought was, “How does a book published in the ’80s have both a young Robert Redford and Angelina Jolie on the cover?” My second thought was, “I think I can feel okay about using this book’s pages.”
In the end, I used only a few pages anyway. The Christmas decoration I attempted to make required too much effort and I got bored. But at least I learned something. For me, books are for reading.