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Nearness Collage kit: Wisconsin, 1974

Nov. 12, 2020
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Once or twice a year I receive a packet of old photos of my mom. She is usually between twelve and twenty, sun-kissed and bright-eyed, sometimes posing, usually not. The card stock is thin and the images are grainy. There is usually a note included: “Found these of your mom. Love you, Uncle Rick.” 

The most recent batch included a photo of my mom, aged 18, sitting with her knees pulled to her chest in her childhood bedroom with “10/74” scrawled on the back. My mom passed away when I was six, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to imaginatively piece together the narrative of her life through this breadcrumb trail of photos and letters.

It often feels like dipping into a memory that is not my own and trying, blindly, to feel around for its edges. I look at this photo and wonder if those are her natural nails, whether she chose that pink bedding herself, if this picture was taken at the end of her day or the beginning. How did this young woman—in later years a dressmaker, a ballerina, a pharmacist, a mother of two—spend her time in Madison, Wisconsin in 1974? 

This collage kit is my attempt to answer that question. I have combined the real and imagined realities of my mother’s life during this time, from '70s-glam eyeshadow shades and ticket stubs to the Wisconsin Union Theater and potted plants and bassoons. As you collage, I invite you to think through the real and imagined realities of your own family members, those you know and those you never knew. I hope it brings you closer to them, even if just for an afternoon. 

Print these pages out and use good old-fashioned scissors and glue to do some arts and crafts, or download the kit and create something digitally. When you're done, send a photo or scan of your artwork to

Download the first dreamy page here

The second page here

Some fun backgrounds options here

And one more here