The collector: Krista Charles, art stylist, Albuquerque, NM, US.
The collection: Matchbooks.
The story behind the collection...
For each matchbook I find where the location of the business would be in Google Maps and on the inside cover of the matchbook I make a pencil sketch of whatever is now shown at this location. On average each drawing takes about two hours to complete, so I typically spend more time at these digital locations than I might if I traveled there in person. While travel in Google Maps is virtual, the experience still leaves a memory of the “visit.” Sometimes the places advertised on the matchbooks are still in business even after decades have passed, some businesses have changed names and are under new ownership, and some buildings are empty or have been torn down and replaced by new buildings or parking lots or highway expansion programs and even empty fields.
I unknowingly started my collection with a small bag of matchbooks my grandfather-in-law left behind in his junk drawer when he was downsizing from his house of sixty years. I do now have a significant number of matchbooks because I am using matchbooks as the medium for an art series, but my art series started without the idea or foresight that it would become a collection, has become just that. Perhaps many collections start this way, from some unexpected reason or not intentionally to become a collection, but eventually it reaches some critical point at which the owner realizes they have become a collector.
I do normally work in a repetitive, obsessive manner with my art that ties in with a pattern of collecting and obsession. It does not feel like obsession to me, just an ability to get into an interesting routine and stick to it - for years potentially. The matchbook series has been especially meaningful to me because the matchbooks I have purchased or received have all been other people’s collections, and one person whose collection I purchased on ebay even dated her matchbooks. I assume the date reflects when she and her husband visited these places. My mother and her friend have also sent me matchbook collections of their friends that have passed away. My grandfather-in-law has since passed away as well, so one of the most important aspects of these items was unanticipated, the preciousness of these matchbooks that reflect some small aspect or experience or memory of their previous owners.
It didn’t necessarily have to be matchbooks, at least at first. I would take breaks from work by “wandering around” different places in Google Maps Street View and I started to sketch some of those locations. However, I was dissatisfied by the randomness of the places I was choosing to sketch (simply because I had wandered to a spot that I liked the look of) and the lack of reason for why I selected those places. I thought about that dilemma for a while and eventually, somehow, made a connection to advertising matchbooks that are tied to specific locations and would give me a reason for why I sketched that location. And it appealed to me that matchbooks could not only provide a location, but also the actual “canvas” that I would use.
When did you start the project and how many matchbook drawings have you created to date?
The first matchbook I sketched was for the The Travlers Motel on June 27, 2010. This business has since been renamed the Dakota Winds Motel and is in Kimball, South Dakota. This was one of the few matchbooks I had from my grandfather-in-law Pete who probably stayed there with his wife when they would take their Winnebago across country to visit friends and family. To date, I have sketched 464 matchbooks and I can tell I am still learning how to sketch better with the completion of each one. I intend to keep on with this indefinitely, my interest has only grown over time.
What do you think the collection reveals about you?
My collection most obviously reveals my love of travel and seeing new places, but primarily I think it is a reflection of the type of routine that works well for my creative process. It is repetition to the point of seeming like obsession, but it is also a process that induces a more contemplative state, and the repetition serves a purpose in allowing me to continue to build upon an idea that doesn’t have a natural conclusion or stopping point. For many of the series I do there is no definite way to define a logical conclusion, so typically the process ends more simply when the interest to make the work is no longer present, or I move on to a new idea and at some point realize I have moved past the previous work.
Have you ever visited any of the locations on the matchbooks in person or are all of your visits ‘virtual’?
Coincidentally I did realize that I had driven past one of the locations while on vacation in Florida. It was a distinctive looking building and my husband remembered it as well, but for the most part the only ones I have seen in person are ones from my hometown or the current town I live in, but I would love to take a road trip with the intention of seeing some of the locations I have visited virtually. When I visit family in my hometown, Olympia, Washington, we make a point of going junk shopping to find more local matches because there is a different element of pleasure and nostalgia to sketching the matchbooks of the locations that I know.
Do you think our use of the internet means that current and future generations will store and retrieve memories in a different way?
That's a very interesting question and I would assume (or hope) that people will continue to change and adapt in response to changes in the world around us. I have always been fascinated to think about how the world and people and technology might change, perhaps because my great-grandmother who was born in 1892 would count satellites outside her bedroom window to get to sleep at night when she was older and one of her favourite things was the Monorail in Seattle because she thought it reflected the future. I only saw my great-grandmother excited by the world and people around her (she also taught me the fun of talking to strangers when I was eight – I was already pretty good at it by then myself), and she would have experienced the invention of so many new technologies, so I am excited to see what the future will hold, but I also recognize the future probably won’t reflect what I think it might which makes it all that more exciting.
All images © Krista Charles and used with kind permission.