Last weekend, our family took a day trip to visit some friends in Cincinnati. I brought the Cincinnati postcards. Of the 18 cards, only 6 had writing on them. The earliest card was printed in 1909 and the latest, 1964. There are several series of prints in the collection, including a group of five cards from 1940-1942. Three were printed by the same company, Cincinnati Postal Views Distributors, and two by Kraemer Art Company in Cincinnati. They all are "views," offset print, and part of the Linen Era (1930-1950) of postcards. What caught my attention, however, was not the image on the front, but rather the line of communication on the back.
:The other four cards offer a peculiar insight into relationship and travel:
When I first read these cards, I was struck by the similarity between the messages on these cards and the way that we use text to update family and friends of our travels - how they're going, any changes, well wishes. I was intrigued by the time stamps on the cards, and that Bess wrote separate cards at the same time to two people living at the same residence. As if they wouldn't see the back of the card, unlike a letter, sealed and secret only to the opener. And also that these cards were all written and sent within a 24 hour span. Instant updates, days later. Although, my mom pointed out, the mail service was probably more reliable than it is now. These are all things we now accomplish by text. Even sending a personal experience with the "view" on the other side, like the fountain on the card to my grandma, is accomplished with picture text. Go somewhere beautiful? Take a picture, text it or post it to Facebook with a short response. Instantaneous shared memory.
What is different about the act of purchasing and writing a postcard?
Making versus Buying Memory
Although I purchased a postcard of the exterior of the Museum Center (not much has changed in that view since the previous card), it is not the "view" that captures my memories. Yes, I can document what happened during our visit on this card. But, when I think about and remember this visit, it is captured in a pattern of primary colors. Sitting down a week later to put image to this impression, I returned to a memory of Aida playing with a series of brightly colored, plastic toys at the water table in the Children's Museum. Between the shapes, I could see our friends and Jonah and his dad playing on the opposite side of the water. It brings back the din of children's voices and the smell of the chlorinated water, All these things - the color, the pattern, the smell, the sound - elicit memories not only of this particular day, but a string of memories associated with our friends: visiting Ali Baba's between classes, cooking and eating together, serving tea, our introduction to the rituals of gift giving, Jonah starting to ask what things are called in Arabic, walking alongside our friends as they speak Arabic with Marc, taking wedding pictures by the pond in front of Noor... There is a personal history, yet none but me would know.
Buying a postcard is a way to share what we did, but creating my own is a way to mark the making of memories. Will I send this image to someone? Probably not.
Coming up soon:
-exploring collections and what it means to inherit and subsume a collection not my own
-postcards of Columbus, following an upcoming trip
-curating my own collection and Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte's Postcards from Home series.
Ruth M. Smith
Community arts educator and researcher. Drinking coffee. Home educating. Making art. Listening intentionally.