Nostalgia Under Glass

Message in a jar: Polk County library sponsors a community project.

Message in a jar: Polk County library sponsors a community project.

In August 1939, when scary world politics were shadowing America’s recovery from the Great Depression, a time capsule was displayed at the World’s Fair in New York City. Scheduled to be opened 5,000 years from its inception date — that would be 6939 — it contains a 35mm camera and a slide rule, among other innovations of the day.

The Memory Jar project, sponsored by the Polk County library system, exhibits a kind of time-capsule theme, although its gestation is more fleeting, and its motive less universal. But the project certainly doesn’t skimp on emotional resonance.

“The question we are asking our patrons is, ‘What takes you back in time?’” says Jen Pace Dickenson, the county’s youth-services librarian. The library bought 144 quart jars for the community art project. “We recruited individuals, families, and groups,” says Dickenson, who credits library director Rishara Finsel for suggesting the project. Since the Memory Jar initiative is a first for the library, six staffers made their own jars as examples.

Dickenson, a film buff, filled hers with movie-ticket stubs. Another librarian, Wanangwa Hartwell, chose items for her jar that represented all her family members — “measuring spoons for her mom who likes to cook, a pen for her grandfather who was a poet,” explains Dickenson. Ocean lover Rita Owens filled hers with sand and fulgurite (bits of fused quartz found on beaches).

Each jar bears a tag with a brief description of the contents from the person or group who created it. The glints of ephemera, including bits of important papers and sprigs of fir, look even more nostalgic with the glass effect — glazed and skewed, oddly emphasized, the way memories themselves tend to work.

“The idea goes with one of the five service priorities of the library’s five-year strategic plan, ‘Explore & Know Our Community,’” says Dickenson. “One of the goals is: ‘People of all ages will have opportunities to build and strengthen connections with each other to foster community engagement.’”

Memory Jars will be displayed at the Saluda (44 West Main St.) and Columbus (1289 West Mills St.) libraries through March 27. For more information, call 828-894-8721, ext. 227, or e-mail jdickenson@polklibrary.org.

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