Sally Spiegel was marketing rock bands for Sony Music when she designed her first scrapbook. In the industry lingo the books are called “wrap-ups”–collections of artist’s photos, articles, ads. Spiegel had been in the music business for 15 years but had never created a wrap-up, so she asked a coworker to show her how. She wanted her wrap-ups to be exceptional and decorated them from cover to cover: in one a chain of guitars surrounded the sales figures for Chris Whitley’s first CD; in another the band members of Alice in Chains were ogled by cutout characters from Alice in Wonderland. Periodically Sony handed out awards for the wrap-ups, and Spiegel’s first three books were all winners.

“I got to be the artist,” she recalls. “As much as I’ve always loved music, I don’t play any instruments. When it was my turn to shine I took advantage of it.”

By 1995 she wanted out of music marketing but wasn’t sure what to do instead. “Then I thought of this and went, Wait a minute–I did that for bands, why can’t I do it for the general public?” She could turn the ordinary family scrapbook into something extraordinary, a custom-designed, handmade work of art. She started with friends and family, and her business, Scrap Art, began to blossom through word of mouth. Often a client will ask her to commemorate a special occasion, to put together a wedding album, an anniversary book, a life story for someone’s 21st or 70th birthday. Some clients want career scrapbooks. One woman wanted a book memorializing her grandson, who’d died of cancer; he’d been a magician, so Spiegel decorated the book with cutouts of playing cards, among other things. She has the market pretty much to herself. “I don’t know of anyone else who does this full-time.”

Spiegel meets with a client twice, once to demonstrate the process and again to go over the client’s photos and mementos. “They have to meet with me, and they have to have gone through their photos. So there’s a little bit of a commitment on their part.” She’ll write names and ages on a Post-it note and stick it to the back of the photo for reference. After taking the stuff back to her apartment, Spiegel assembles it into an intimate biography. Background colors accentuate the photographs, which are linked thematically, and the borders are decorated with cutouts or stencils. The unbound books can be expanded with additional pages, but the framing and composition of the pages is permanent. “Once it goes in, it’s in. I use double-sided permanent tape, so if they want to go in there and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t like him anymore,’ well, it’s going to be hard to take it out.” However, when one client asked her to remove photos of an ex-girlfriend, she did. “It looked OK. I don’t think anyone could tell.”

Assembling scrapbooks for family and friends is one thing, but doing it for a stranger is another thing entirely. It’s “like putting a puzzle together…. People will say, ‘You really captured Mark’ or ‘You really captured mom.’ But I really don’t know the person.” Portrait painters do the same thing. “It’s both personal and not personal. You’re trying to capture the essence of a person.” When the project is finished, the client will come back and collect his life again, but some of it stays with Spiegel. “I start out with something that’s completely foreign–I don’t know their history, their likes and dislikes–and by the end I feel a lot closer to them.”

For more information on Scrap Art, call 773-348-6324. –Jeffrey Felshman

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos by Nathan Mandell.