Past forward: Heirlooms for the 21st Century

  • Article by: CHRISTY DESMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2013 - 5:29 PM

Old Polaroids, vintage brooches and wilted letters on onion skin paper have a way of acquiring special meaning — because they help us remember those we loved. Don’t relegate these heirlooms to some dusty attic.

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Sisters Mary Protas, Kathy Korsgaden and Suzie Nelson held a favorite family heirloom: their grandmother’s china. Protas recently plucked a cup and a saucer from the set and commissioned Rochester, Minn.-based Susie Meier to create broken china necklaces (top left) for all the women in her family.

Photo: JOEY MCLEISTER • Special to the Star Tribune, ,

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Sure, it’s just stuff.

But old Polaroids, vintage brooches and wilted letters on onion skin paper have a way of acquiring special meaning — because they help us remember those we loved. Don’t relegate these heirlooms to some dusty attic.

Use them to create contemporary keepsakes for children, grandchildren and other family members.

Here are some tasteful ways to turn mementos, hand-me-downs and family records into lasting treasures.

BEYOND SCRAPBOOKING

Shoe boxes full of yellowing photos, family recipes and handwritten letters are always nice. But narrated collections are even nicer. Want to tell the story of your father’s World War II service? Or recreate your grandparents’ wedding album for the extended family? Minneapolis-based Photo Book Press is an excellent resource for the preservation minded. The seven- year-old business does print-on-demand books with beautiful bindings, fancy end papers and embossed leather covers — not unlike a fine press book, which is designed to last hundreds of years.

“What we think we did,” said owner and founder Margaret Telfer, “is take the best part about a beautiful handmade book and apply technology to make it accessible.” A librarian by training, Telfer calls herself “fussy about heirloom-quality preservation.” So the company’s products feature archival-quality papers and hand-sewn bindings by local artisans, with prices starting at $150 per book.

The typical client is a “60- or 70-something with a family treasure trove,” said Telfer.

One such customer used the service to design a family cookbook for her niece. Another customer enlisted the company’s staffers to scan and recreate an ancestor’s sketchbook from the 1800s, complete with watercolors and a personal travelogue. “Everyone would love to have this done for their family,” said Telfer. “It used to cost tends of thousands of dollars.” Now the service is within reach for most middle-class customers, but there’s a catch: “First you need to get organized,” stressed Telfer.

Which is where the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) might come handy, since its members specialize in organizing these very projects. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t have the time — but I do have the money’,” observed Beth Gibson Lilja, a personal photo organizer with 17 years of experience. Lilja gets the call when a household’s collection of photos, recipes or other memorabilia is deemed too overwhelming — yet worth preserving for posterity. “A gentleman called me recently and said, ‘I have two boxes of stuff from when I was in the military. If you don’t help me, I’m going to throw it all away.’”

Many APPO members have worked with Telfer on custom photo books. But the APPO’s local ranks are packed with folks who have connections to Creative Memories, that titan of the $2 million scrapbooking industry based in St. Cloud, Minn. Also a Creative Memories sales rep, Lilja loves treating her customers to an old-fashioned scrapbook now and again. “But lately most of my clients lean toward digital formats,” she said.

So Lilja uses the company’s newest products to help clients get organized. “I’m using a software package called Memory Manager from Creative Memories. It helps me eliminate duplicate [photos], plus we can categorize by vacations, by family members, even by the dog,” she said. She likes another Creative Memories program called StoryBook because its autofill pages simplify the process of creating custom books. “We even have a special book for recipes,” she added.

WEARABLE HEIRLOOMS

 

“It started with a pin of my grandmother’s,” said Micaela Clark, a Minneapolis-based jewelry artist known to layer vintage and contemporary pieces for a glamorous look. “She had this beautiful flower pin, but I’m not much of a pin girl. So I reworked it into a beautiful necklace.”

In exchange for creative license (and a service fee — starting at $200), Clark helps clients reinvent their most meaningful but otherwise unwearable jewelry items. Most customers will drop off a single locket or pendant, which Clark then incorporates into a more contemporary piece. “It’s a process where you add things to people’s jewelry, ” she explained. The bravest customers “drop off a whole bag of stuff,” entrusting the artist to revive multiple heirlooms and hand-me-downs. “That’s the dream,” said Clark.

On the more delicate end of the jewelry spectrum, Rochester, Minn.-based Susie Meier specializes in a genre known as broken china jewelry. For a modest price (in the $20 range), Meier will happily apply her glass cutter to your mother’s dinnerware and more. “Pottery, vases — I’ll cut anything up,” she boasted. Most of her clients want their mother’s or grandmother’s finest plates to become pendants for themselves and their female relatives. (Meier also makes bottle-stoppers, key chains and tie tacks for the fellows.)

“This was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given,” said Mary Protas of Coon Rapids, who ordered a set of six necklaces for her nieces, sisters, mother and aunt for Christmas. Meier used a 1930s-era plate and saucer that once belonged to Protas’ grandmother, who used to host the family’s holiday dinners.

“My grandma has been gone for 10 years now,” said Protas. “This is like carrying a piece of her with us.” □











 

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  • This 1963 photo shows Mary Protas (left) and her siblings eating Thankgsiving dinner on their grandmother’s china.

  • Three of the broken china pendants Mary Protas commissioned are displayed on pieces of her grandmother's china. ] Joey McLeister,Special to the Star Tribune,Coon Rapids,MN January 23,2013

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