Jane Waggoner Deschner

Jane Waggoner Deschner collects discarded memories. Her accumulation of vintage photographs from estate sales and eBay offer a glimpse into the American lifestyle. But Deschner is most interested in what is revealed on the backside of the photo.

“I like to find new ways to look at old snapshots and pictures,” said Deschner, who is a teacher and freelance graphic designer. “People take snapshots of the people they love and the times and places they want to remember. What they write on the back is really interesting.”

A photograph from Jane Waggoner Deschner's book titled “This Picture Was Taken.”
A photograph from Jane Waggoner Deschner’s book titled “This Picture Was Taken.”

Phrases scribbled on each photo’s backside tell the tale of another’s life: “Somebody.” “This is me taken at home. Think I’m heavier?” “7/17 Anita’s first rappel.”

“We all took pictures of the same things: birthday parties, the first day of school, standing in a line, mom holding the baby, dad holding the baby. There is a real universality about them,” Deschner said.

Featuring the backsides of these “found” photographs, Deschner created a book titled “This Picture Was Taken.” Matted on pages taken from a vintage photo album and bound to resemble a family album, Deschner’s book is one of 21 original and never-before published books being auctioned at the Billings Library Foundation’s Illustrate a Story fundraiser, taking place Thursday, November 5.

Each book was designed, written and illustrated by authors, artists and community figures that either live in Billings or have ties to the community and each donated his or her time to create a book. Subjects range from photography to food to art to architecture.

Storybooks take shape

Deschner has been an integral part of the fundraiser since it’s beginning two years ago. She helped curate the collection and facilitated this year’s book designs by providing the flexibility to either create a book from scratch or use a template to make the pages.

Some books have been illustrated; others contain creative elements such as poet Donna Davis’ book “We All Breathe The Same Sky.” The book is a memory box that opens to reveal handwritten poems packaged in various containers, from a stamp dispenser to a band-aid box.

John Rist at Americana BookCraft bound many of the traditional books, though some artists chose to bind their books themselves. Mary Alice Spencer bound her book, “A to Z Visual Abecedary,” in a soft and creamy leather. The imaginative book features calligraphy and pencil drawings of items that reminded her of each letter in the alphabet.

Montana State University instructor Connie Landis created another abecedary. On the pages of handmade paper, each letter of alphabet corresponds with a saying, such as “Knowledge is power” by Francis Bacon.

Deschner’s partner Jon Lodge, a local artist and general manager of ArtCraft Printers, created the largest book in the collection. A hefty white handmade book measuring about 13×13, it features 537 seven-inch smudged graphite lines (one for each page) in varying angles. The book is aptly titled “Five Hundred Thirty-Seven Seven-Inch Lines.” The result is subtle, minimalist, and stark, but the lines exhibit a sense of composition and a randomized system.

Scrumptious inspirations

Tana Hanson, owner of Bleu Dahlia Creative, a graphic design company, had Billings area lovers of fine cuisine respond to questions about what chef and cookbook author Julia Child meant to them.

Hanson began with a direct mail piece to select foodies. She came up with the idea after watching the movie, “Julie & Julia,” a Hollywood take on Child’s influence on the world of cuisine.

“I was really affected by all the seriousness in the world, and ‘Julie & Julia’ was a wonderful movie. It lightened everyone’s disposition and brought people back to what’s important to them: what they do to feed their soul,” Hanson said.

Nine epicures from the Billings area, including Bill Honaker, founder of Walkers, Sandra Schiavon and Joanie Swords, co-founders of Poet Street Market, certified wine professional Stella Fong (who also donated a hand-illustrated Asian cookbook to the fundraiser), and Marie Halone, of the old Tearoom in the Stapleton Building—among others—responded to Hanson’s mailer.

After taking on the project, it blossomed and Hanson brought Schiavon on as a research partner. Schiavon grew up in an Italian family and as a child was surrounded by home-cooked meals. Her grandmother was a renowned chef in Billings.

“I remember laying between rows (of vegetables) while she was picking beans an carrots for her minestrone. That’s what people did then. Cooking feeds the soul, it’s a creative thing, but people have given that job to the drive-through window, and that’s not good; that’s not going to feed your soul.”

The book is heavily influenced by Hanson’s design style: a combination of clean and contemporary design. Graphic elements such as silverware anchor the pages as the interviews unfold in lovely round typeface.

For a good cause

Hanson, who utilized the library as her children were growing up, and the other artists created these books with the sole purpose of benefitting the library.

“Everyone realizes it’s a really valuable asset in our community, so anything we can do to help the library foundation bring any sort of awareness to the library helps,” she said.

The biannual event is only in its second year, but raised $13,000 in 2007 for the library. Funds raised go to the Parmly Billings Library Foundation, whose mission is to raise supplemental financial support for the Parmly Billings Library.

Event chair Evelyn Noennig said the fundraiser helps bring awareness to what the library does for the community.

“The Billings library offers amazing services that the community may not realize they have available,” she said, referencing the many resources the library provides throughout Yellowstone county including book and movie selections, books on tape, a variety of programs for adults and children, the “teen pit” for teenagers only, free internet classes, and meeting spaces.

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