‘Zines’ reminiscent of Gardner collection: Finding parallels between past & present

By Deborah Brancic

On the first Saturday in October, guests of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum were invited to take part in a studio event, run by artist Anna Mudd, to learn about the similarities between ‘zines’ — a mini-magazine, similar to a word/picture diary, about a particular subject found interesting to the author — and albums in the Garder collection. People trickled into the studio throughout the day, and were encouraged to create a page for a compilation collection the museum plans to display in-house.

“We’re learning about the history of zines and the origin of zines and we’re also looking at materials from Mrs. Gardner’s archives: from her travel albums, from her guest books, from her letters. We’re finding parallels,” Kate Bullen said. “They really are very similar. People write travel zines and she kept these beautiful travel albums… it’s almost like a similar setting.”

Bullen is the studio educator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and was responsible for organizing “The Art of the Zine with Guest Artist Anna Mudd” in the Education Studio, where free zine instruction was offered to visitors. The purpose was to educate attendees on the modern art form, and display the similarities between the mini-publications and the collections of scrapbooks contained in Mrs. Gardner’s archives.  Bullen encouraged visitors to try and draw “a parallel between this more contemporary art form, and then what she was doing way back in the early 1900s.”

Fifty-nine people found their way to the Studio on the first floor of the museum to participate in the activity, stopping in throughout the day in small groups. Mudd, artist and volunteer librarian for the Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, greeted attendees as they entered. She had originally intended to give a presentation on the background and history of zines, but due to the tendency of people to trickle in in small numbers, she decided to altered her approach, focusing one-on-one with each visitor.

On the tables in the Studio were samples of Mrs. Gardner’s travel books and albums, along with art supplies such as paper, glue, water colors, pens, picture magazines, and other essentials for the contemporary artist. Attendees were urged to create their own artwork, which the museum intended to bind together in a collaborative zine, to be displayed in-house. “The original we’re gonna keep here, and probably give a copy to the library in Cambridge,” Bullen said.

Sample page of zine artwork created at the "Art of the Zine" workshop. Artist: Deborah Brancic

Sample page of zine artwork created
at the “Art of the Zine” workshop.
Artist: Deborah Brancic

As museum visitors worked on their individual pieces, Mudd spoke about the history of zines, which she believed to be a modern trend. Zines are usually small, non-commercial publications, similar to magazines but with little to no ads.

What Mudd found interesting about the art form was its striking similarity to what Mrs. Gardner had created around the turn of the 19th century. Mudd outlined several characteristics of a zine: they are independently printed, often homemade, usually specialized on a certain topic and have a small circulation. While Mrs. Gardner’s albums were not in distribution and were kept merely as personal records, they very closely resemble contemporary zines.

“This was all her personal stuff. So we’re looking at the things that are similar and sort of what’s different, and basically inspired off of [Gardner’s] making,” Bullen said, explaining what the session was meant to accomplish. She said visitors were being encouraged to create “sort of their own art so people can have their own experience at the Gardner in their time here together. It’s like a modern interpretation of what she’s doing I suppose.”

Mudd brought a few examples of zines from the Papercut Library, spread out on the tables for visitors to peruse. Some zines focused on the female biker culture in Boston, some were collections of letters about family, while others were diaries and recommendations of activities to try out.

“We have 15,000 zines,” Mudd said, most of which were contributed to the library from members wishing for their publications to be made available to the public. The zines could range in topic from history to politics, from sports to a collection of jokes, etc. The library is housed inside the Lorem Ipsum Bookstore. “We have a Facebook page as well, but yeah the website has a blog,” Mudd said, encouraging those who were interested to visit the online social media sites, and ‘like’ their page.

Bullen urged attendees to take home a flyer of “Open Studio” events before leaving the museum. The next workshop scheduled to take place in the Education Studio is on October 13, entitled “The 1 Page Book.” The Studio hosts creative events each week on Saturdays and Sundays from 11-4pm.

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