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The Minnesota Journal Project 2000—Ten-Year Reunion

November 12, 2010

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Above: some of the journals from the Minnesota Journal Project 2000, sitting outside their custom boxes at the Minnesota Historical Society for the ten-year reunion. That’s Roberta Avidor’s journal down front with a self-portrait of herself sketching. Click on an image to view an enlargement.

As 1999 drew to a close Linda Koutsky, Mark Odegard, and I got together to bind up some journals for the project they had concocted: The Minnesota Journal Project 2000 (MNJP2K). Along with Eloise Klein, who was the fourth coordinator, Linda and Mark wanted to capture some of the year 2000 in journals by Minnesotans. They convinced James Fogerty, head of Documentary Programs at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) to provide a home for the completed journals. We made 50 identical journals, approx 6.5 x 9 inches, with three signatures, sewn on the spine, in a design Linda devised. I missed additional case making meetings so I ended up sewing the signatures in almost all of the journals. (It’s a good thing I like to watch a lot of TV isn’t it!) Then at a meeting in December 1999 the group met to receive their journals so they could start working on January 1, 2000.

PineConeJournal Left: While each participant was given an identical journal with green bookcloth onto which the title of the project had been silk-screened in black, the year of use brought alterations and additions. This image shows one custom made box and its foam insert created to protect a pine-cone addition.

The group’s only common denominator was that we were all Minnesotans. We were a diverse group: poets, writers, playwrights, actors, graphic designers, illustrators, painters, printmakers, librarian, singer/songwriter, sculptor, naturalist…

Many of the participants were set before I came on board as one of the coordinators, but to find the additional numbers to bring us close to 50 (our hoped for goal) Linda and I held open “auditions” at a local coffee shop. Linda used the publicity of a local newspaper story about the project to generate interest. She was even so bold as to list her home phone number. I pre-screened individuals with a phone call. We were looking for people who actually kept journals, for whom it was already a regular practice in their lives. I remember that I caught bronchitis that year and did 130 some phone interviews while hacking my way through coughing fits. The records are packed away now, so I don’t recall how many people we actually met at the coffee shop, but it was at least a third of that. We only had about eight spots to fill.

CurrentJournals Right: One thing you can always count on with journal keepers—if you get together to “talk journaling” there will be a lot of journals left out on the table. Here are journals recently completed by some of the participants.

I remember one young poet leaving his coffee shop interview and Linda and I both looking at each other. I ran out the door, breaking all our “rules” about waiting to invite people only after all the interviews were finished, to tell him he was in. We were impressed with his intensity, and his stack of lined notebooks into which he jotted his life and poetry. (Sadly he was one of only two participants we were not able to locate for the reunion.)

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Above: Ken Avidor sketches participants, while Leon Weins (back to camera) and David Steinlicht (right) catch up.

I also remember the agitated woman who demanded that we come immediately out to her car which she had loaded with hundreds of journals for us to review. Since everyone was told they’d have a 10-minute interview to show a couple representative journals and introduce themselves you won’t be surprised to learn that we declined the trip to the car. We had to keep on our interview schedule. She wasn’t asked to participate. (I actually could see her car outside the coffee shop window and there were more than a couple hundred journals in that car! We’ll never know if she would have been a good addition to the project or not.)

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Above: Some of the participants at the reunion. Our year 2000 journals were lined up on the wall next to which you see people standing. At one end was a large display book Linda and I created for our end-of-project shows. (Each participant was asked to provide several color copies or scans of his or her work, along with an artist statement, to be made up into one or two pages that could then be viewed by visitors to the exhibits [there were two shows for this project]. The books were in cases, which meant only one spread could be viewed. The display books [three were made] sat out on tables in the galleries so that more pages could be viewed.) At the other end of this display is another cart on which the new group journal was displayed. Participants could not only see their own pages, but the new pages of the other 35 members who participated in the group journal. On the opposite wall coffee and cookies and lemonade was available—to be kept away from the journals.

We already had illustrators galore when we did the open call. We weren’t looking for “pretty” journals, though we did see some that were stunning and some of those journal artists were asked to participate. I was elated whenever we found someone who wasn’t angst-ridden or following a “morning pages” approach like that suggested by Julia Cameron in her books. Those approaches can be useful, but we wanted journals that would come out of the individual’s practice of recording his life—not something created as an assignment or exercise externally derived. (I admit to screening as many of these out as possible in the phone interviews.)

Forty seven people began the project; forty five people completed the project. Today you can go to the MNHS and request to read the journals on site. The journals provide an interesting series of views of what life was like at the start of the new milenium. (I’ve always meant to visit the MNHS archives, but still haven’t. Other participants have. One reason for the omission on my part is that since Linda and I collected all the journals at the end of the project I have to admit I had ample time to read most of them, at least in part. What, you didn’t think I would?)

Note: when you read the MNHS listing linked above there will be more than 45 volumes listed. Forty six artists were listed on the show documentation but only 45 turned in journals. The display compilation journal is counted; a couple participants created more than one journal; some spouses shared a single volume.

Throughout 2000 the group met quarterly, usually with a program, such as a tour of MCBA and a paper marbling demo. These were things that Linda and I came up with to provide interest for the group members and also to provide a meeting situation where they could all catch up and share their work. There was also a journaling retreat to Itasca State Park as well as a wrap-up party before the books were finally given to the MNHS.

LeonandBooks Left: Leon Weins gave me the happy news. After the journal project we bumped into each other at Wet Paint. He was bemoaning the lack of books available for him to journal in. I told him he should make his own. I tell everyone this. Well Leon actually did it and brought a couple of his recent journals along.

Several of the people involved in the project are people I see frequenly in my life, but some I rarely see. Over the years, when bumping into people, several have asked if there would be a ten-year reunion. Someone asked again this spring and Linda jumped into organizing a reunion at MNHS where we would also be able to see all our year 2000 journals again.

I wanted to do a group journal and set about asking folks to participate. Those who agreed were sent two pieces of Folio paper and some simple instructions on how to prepare their pages—four if they used both sides of their sheets of paper. I bound the returned sheets into a mammoth group journal, based loosely on the original journals. (I  post about the creation of this journal in a post you can find at this link.)

LeonBinding Left: A close up of the binding of one of Leon Weins’ journals. He uses watercolor paper and has created his own tools to use for binding. It’s a lovely book, totally suited to his needs. I love that someone actually listened to me!

Last Saturday the new group journal was on display with the original journals. It’s now part of the archive and once cataloged, it will also be available for viewing at the MNHS. It was great to catch up with people and talk about journaling. Some still journal, some have given it up for other creative pursuits. Some have seen small incremental changes in their lives, others have experienced catastrophic changes. They remain an interesting and engaged group of people.

This project brought me close to a number of individuals who continually brighten and enliven my life. It was great to have a moment to reflect on that, to catch up with people, and of course, to talk about journaling.

While there were only two original participants we couldn’t locate, we do definitely know we have lost a third. On September 30, 2009 Ruth F. Brin died at the age of 88. Ruth had a rich and varied career as a writer and poet. I encourage you to use Google to find additional information on her life and work. Ruth was one of the journal keepers who braved the snow storm to meet with Linda and me in the coffee shop. We also didn’t hesitate to invite her. We knew right away it was a good decision. She was a valuable addition to the project.

All the participants are extremely grateful to James Fogerty of the Minnesota Historical Society, for his gracious support and continued interest in this project.

Note: Photos in this post are either by me (book photos and Leon’s books) or other participants who asked not to be credited for their snapshots. We were all simply focusing on journals and catching up.

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