JOHN M. KELLY LIBRARY
The Golden Age of Glitter: Memory-Making Through Material Culture
Upon pulling this postcard out of its envelope, I was immediately enamoured with it. It is beautiful, messy, endearing and exactly like something I would make. The glitter-on-glue writing and affixed golden pins resonate with my own experience of making Christmas and birthday cards. Another aspect of the card that I find intriguing was that there is no evidence that it was meant to be sent; rather, the card seems to be something Olive made for herself. My instinct was to ask ‘what is the nature of a postcard un-posted,’ but I have also bought and kept postcards for myself. Each card that decorates the walls in my house comes with its own anecdote, so I wanted to know the story behind Olive’s postcard creation.
A postcard decorated by Olive Plowman, including two gold buffalo pins and glitter cursive which reads: “Olive C. P. July 13, 1910”. Source: The Plowman Family Postcard Collection, Special Collections, John M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michaels College.
Who was Olive Plowman?
Born in Toronto in 1882, Olive Plowman was the only child of Charles and Ellen Plowman. Most of what I learned about Olive comes from information in postcards, both sent and received by her in the Plowman Family Postcard Collection. Her correspondence with friends and family suggests that she was very independent. A card that Olive sent to her parents in 1909 includes an update from a canoe trip she went on through Parry Sound in Northern Ontario. Postcards addressed to Olive in 1917 show that she spent some time living in California, moving from Long Beach to Santa Barbara to San Francisco. The collection also indicates that Olive had a close relationship with her Uncle Samuel, who lived in Buffalo. The two sent postcards to each other through most of Olive’s adult life and as this card would indicate, also visited each other.
The Rise of Arts and Crafts
Olive’s postcard coincides with the American Arts and Crafts Movement(1890-1910), which was an artisan-led backlash against the industrial revolution and mass production of commercial goods. The Arts and Crafts movement was social and political in nature with widespread effects that influenced the popularization of handmade and personal objects. By the end of the Arts and Crafts movement, decorative crafts had started to take advantage of mass produced goods. Using pre-fabricated materials and decorative items (like the glitter and pins on this postcard), homemade handicrafts became a product of leisure and self-expression and so disassociated itself from the political and social environment that led to its popularization.
A close up of the buffalo pins on Olive’s postcard. Source; the Plowman Family Postcard Collection, Special Collections, John M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michaels College.
Memory Making Through Material Culture
While the term ‘scrapbook’ is not exactly accurate for Olive’s postcard, her creative additions to the card exhibit characteristics that were common to scrapbooking in the early 20th century. During this time, scrapbooks were a creative means to commemorate important events or experiences in someone’s life. What was unique to scrapbooking was how their creators incorporated daily ephemera into the books and imbued personal meaning to mundane objects. In Olive’s case, it’s not the decorations that make her postcard special, but the time and effort she put into assembling the pieces into a whole. Through a postcard, some pins, and some glitter, Olive created a tangible memento to document an intangible moment in her life.
Erin Beaubien holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from University of King’s College in Halifax where she studied Early Modern philosophy and theology, as well as history and Chinese. After her first visit to China, Erin was inspired to learn Mandarin and has since had several opportunities to practice her language skills while visiting family in Beijing and Shanghai. Erin is in her first year at University of Toronto’s Master of Museum studies program.