With or without words

Items of all types document
the meanings of society
Sunday, December 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:41 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The world of found items looms larger than notes and photographs. It includes mismatched gloves, broken headlights, animal skeletons, “lost pet” posters and mattress tags. The things around us are transient documents of human life, says Ron Stegall of the Ephemera Society of America.

They are a window to the people who made them and the time when they were produced. The society is a gathering of people, most of whom don’t scour sidewalks for “finds.” They are collectors who buy at auctions or antiques stores to complete an inventory of old transit system maps, Victorian Valentines, early newspapers or shipping invoices. The society holds annual gatherings and has published books on collecting.

Mike Odette, who works at Booche’s on Ninth Street, is a finder and a collector. He keeps his collection of grocery lists, which he has been working on for 10 years, in a beige folder. He’s up to a few hundred. Odette says he likes the lists because they are items created for one-time use and a single pair of eyes. They also speak to his fascination with food culture.

Artists such as Curtis Erlinger, a master’s student at MU, use found objects in their work.

Putting finds into an art piece is different from the Found magazine concept, where notes are printed exactly as they are found. When you take an object out of context and put it in something like an art piece, Erlinger says, two worlds meet. The object takes on new life and new meaning. Recently, Erlinger has been fascinated by skeletons of dead birds, which he finds on the street and later casts in wax and incorporates into art projects.

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