Arts & Culture

Postcards mark sights and stories of city

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, February 3, 2012

Brunonians looking to soak in the spirit of Providence now do not have to venture far from College Hill. The Postcard Project, currently on display on small shelves lining two walls in the lower level of the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, is a collection of postcards featuring Providence residents’ recollections of areas around Providence.

The project is the brainchild of Betsey Biggs, a postdoctoral fellow, who put together the exhibit of 1,000 postcards featuring 100 photographs of areas around Providence. On the back of the postcards are letters written by Providence residents about memories or moments that took place at the locations shown on the front. 

“I was interested in the ways that memories and stories circulate from generation to generation,” wrote Biggs, a Providence and New York-based artist, in an email to The Herald. “I was thinking about the way that the postal system puts this kind of circulation into physical or material form.”

Rather than hoping to project a certain message, Biggs wrote that she acted as a listener while compiling the project and took in the memories from places across Providence. 

One intention of the Postcard Project is to explore personal memories and “show how the collective accumulation of these stories can sometimes create more potent effect and social importance than any historical monument,” wrote Ian Alden Russell, curator of the David Winton Bell Gallery in the List Art Center, in an email to The Herald.

The process through which Biggs chose the 100 places she photographed reflects the amount of time that went into the project. After finding a list of all the neighborhoods in Providence, Biggs drove, bused or biked to each neighborhood, asking people about important places in their town. 

Biggs distributed the postcards with the help of the librarians at the Providence Community Library. She also distributed them at youth organizations and retirement homes, hoping to reach all age groups. Biggs added that there are still blank cards on display in the exhibit in the Granoff Center, and she encourages students to record their memories. 

Russell, Biggs and project coordinator Jess Unger GS chose to display the exhibit in the Granoff Center because “it was important to use the exhibition of the postcards on Brown’s campus as a way of inviting the local communities of Providence to Brown and hopefully heal some of the separations … that are experienced between Brown and the rest of the city,” Russell wrote.

The Granoff Center is a great location for the exhibit because it will help students further understand the city in which they live, wrote Steven Lubar, professor of American civilization, in an email to The Herald.

“It’s easy for the Brown community to forget how isolated we can be from the rest of the city,” Biggs wrote. 

The exhibit is interactive — viewers can pick up each postcard and read the letter on the back. According to Lubar, the ability to interact with the exhibit is key. “It allows for story-telling between people,” he wrote. “The writer is talking to the reader.”

“If there’s any message I have, it’s simply that our personal lives are important,” Biggs wrote, adding that history is made from “small personal bursts of narrative such as first kisses, favorite meals and daily rituals.”

The exhibit will be displayed in the Granoff Center until Feb. 24.