What to do With the Report Cards?

I never knew Hazel Watson, but I have her report cards. The first one is dated 1901, when Hazel took Reading, Numbers, Writing in New Sharon, Iowa. Her grades were 4, 5, and 3, respectively.  The last one is dated 1912, and she took English, American History, General History, Music, Geography, Bookkeeping, and Algebra. Her grades varied from 70 (General History) to 88 (Music).  They are the real cards, not some printed piece of ephemera.

Ten years of reports cards from Hazel Watson.

The question, of course, is, do I use them in a journal, adding ink or paint? Or, do I use them without altering them?

I’d love to use them as postcards–most of them are blank on the back, except for the parent’s signature. A few have “explanations to parents” on the back. They would make a great postcard series of events of the years they span.

If I put ink or paint on them, I’ll take away part of the history, and they will lose something. If I leave them alone, they don’t become art, just some old report cards. The one thing I am not interested in is photographing them or scanning them and using the image, which has no spirit and no soul. I either have to alter them or leave them untouched. If it makes a difference, there is no relationship between her family and mine, I purchased the cards in a bundle of “stuff.”

What would you do with Hazel’s report cards? Alter them? Leave them untouched? Let me know in the comments.

24 thoughts on “What to do With the Report Cards?

  1. I have had a great time reading all of the ideas and imagining each of them being done. I suppose you could choose a few projects to do with them since you have several of the cards! I’m eager to find out what you end up doing. I know it will be awesome!

    • I do have a small pile of cards. Some of them will become postcards, which will leave them usable and more interesting. I know they will become a journal, just don’t know how yet. While I respect the people who suggested returning them to an archive, I would do that if I were a historian. But I’m an artist and must be true to that.

  2. I’m not sure what size they are but they would make great covers (front and back) for a journal. Use a two hole punch and then a couple of rings and you can add your own paper for an artist’s sketch book or some lined paper. This way you can see both sides of the report. If the paper is too soft you can add a clear plastic cover.

  3. If it were me, I’d probably arrange them all on some beautiful paper and frame the whole thing to hang on a wall. Maybe embellish the paper around them somehow…..there’s certainly some food for thought there about how we judge people at such a young age by arbitrary measurements decided by people who don’t really know us that well.

    • Hadn’t thought of framing them, either. Lots of good ideas, here. What I’m starting to resonate with, though, is the futility of seeing the girls’ whole story by looking at her grades. Or trying to know her, by guessing that her deportment slipped when two different names appeared on the signature line of her report card. It’s art in waiting.

  4. So glad everyone is so open to using the report cards for art. We do hang on to old things, I guess for the memories, but if you didn’t even know the woman. No reason. Making art would honor her academic endeavors ever so much more than keeping them saved and sterile. Most things like that get dumped in the trash, you making art would be a tribute in a way.

    Wonder what her grades were in art and music and drama? Now THOSE might have been worth a different sort of response.

    • Yes, it’s just a knee jerk reaction not to “ruin” something old and printed. A long-formed habit of mine, taught strictly at a young age. She was always best in music, and that makes me smile.

  5. Well what I would do — and keep in mind I’m about as far from an artist as it’s possible to be — would be to think about the data. Plot Hazel’s progress and results against what else was going on in those years. See if Hazel’s results actually presage, in some weird quantum way, the financial results of the Witch Hazel company exactly 42 years later. Or what do the data sound like? (I bet you don’t have to ask why I picked 42 years…)

    • And my twist on “artifacts as data” is to reflect on what my experiences and interests were when I was at Hazel’s age as the report cord represents. How alike or dissimilar are we, as expressed in what we were learning and how well we were doing at it? Those “notes to parents” sound particularly intriguing. Where was she breaking out the box her society put her in and did I have to struggle with those same issues? The results could indeed become the root of what to record on those postcards.

  6. Make art with them Quinn and give the reportcards new meaning.

    I would plastify them to keep the cards in tact.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to use e.g. products from Inventables.com as well to make the connection between the beginning of learning and the final results of intensive studies/learning?

    Just some freefloating thinking from The Netherlands.

  7. Hi again Quinn,
    It occurred to me after reading all the comments and your replies, to address that feeling of possibly mucking up something irreplaceable by attempting to Make Art out of it.

    That very well can happen – ask me about my Kindergarten tempera paintings! – and fear certainly unsteadies the hand and mind!

    Both well-founded preciousness and free-floating unworthiness deserve a bit of respect, which I sense you have.

    That said, all I know is that when I worked with those German bonds, I was looking and feeling beyond both of those, completely engaged in my concept and excited to see it unfolding…..more concerned with the art-making than the Art-Getting.

    Yet I was also guided by my very clear sense of the finished work. Maybe you can explain this with words better than I am, but I remember working with ease and joy, feeling like I was honoring the material – and that somehow seems essential to the whole business.

    • You know me so well, Liz! I don’t want to muck up these cards, and I love the phrase “free-floating unworthiness” that demands respect. Indeed, it does. I think the answer may be to sink into art-making and trust the process. What wise words!

  8. I was going to say something similar to Jill. I would make them pages in a journal along with blank pages, maybe made from notebook paper and make up a kind of diary for her and perhaps find some vintage photos of young girls to add to it.

  9. I would make a flag book, with vintage postcards in between the report cards, with a “channeled” journal of what Hazel was doing on her vacations from school. She was clearly a well-rounded girl that may have gone to music camp in the Azores.
    Look forward to seeing your project!

    • Jill, this makes me feel brave to step forward with imagination, instead of foolish. And that’s it, isn’t it, imagination is a powerful way to honor a story. Thanks for permission to be daring–I needed that!

  10. Alter them. Give them new soul and new life. If you want to save a couple as is “just because” then do that. But only my doing something sith them can you add your own touch and make them come alive again.

    • Thanks for the wonderful phrase, “make them come alive again.” I think part of this was a feeling of “My art isn’t good enough to honor them.” That clever inner critic is always at work.

  11. Hi Quinn,
    My Grandmother bought German bonds in 1926-7…they were worthless almost immediately due to the awful inter-war inflation there that made them cheaper than firewood to German housewives. When she died in the 1980s, I inherited the bonds and also had her letters of inquiry over the decades as to the “German Government making good” on them. I inherited her search, too, which wasn’t easy. Finally satisfied, I used the bonds and those letters in a mixed media triptych expressing her hope, her doubt, and her defeat by ultimately burning them, this time for for art’s sake.
    What can you do with 11o year old report cards from an anonymous someone? Definitely make ART….change them and add your response, your narrative, your sense of educational excellence and societal/cultural definition, add any anger or sadness you experience, even humor and absurdity.
    Basically I echo TJ’s response, ironically from Germany!
    Thanks for asking about this as it un-precious-ifies a lot .
    Best wishes from California,

    • What a wonderful story. Thanks for telling me about it. I loved the line “I inherited the bonds and . . . her search, too.” We inherit a lot of obligation, as women. I think it’s an old, taught fear that “old is precious just because it’s old.” And I think you are right–making art honors them in a way leaving them alone can’t. I used to have the same trepidation cutting into books.

  12. I have a horrible time deciding in these kinds of matters and have a hard time USING these kinds of amazing and wonderful treasures.

    Since they are cards, I’d be tempted to bind them together as the foundation pages of a journal and then do a school or learning themed project. Maybe a collection of 1st day of school pictures or something.

    Or you could make an accordion book with pockets, one for each report card. That would be more like a growth chart — each section maybe an idea of “what did Hazel become?” Put her in different uniforms based on the grades. You could do a whole project on how people are expected to base their careers on their marks.

    Since they’re so old and beautiful as-is, it would also be cool to make a big quilt… laying them out together and then spelling something meaningful across the cards. Or cutting them up and literally piecing them all back together in an old-fashioned quilt pattern (like a basic pinwheel or something). That would be interesting because you’d literally be “cutting up” her eduction bit-by-bit and then re-assembling it into some kind of overall experience. Sort of representing how we learn life bit by bit and the way we put all that data together is up to us.

    Wow I’m impressed with the idea of NOT scanning them. That was actually my very first response. I always try to “hang on” to the pieces instead of just letting them go and become something new.

    Good luck and please let us know what you do with all of hazel’s grades!!
    Best wishes from germany,

    • Oh, lots of ideas I didn’t think of–piecing them and sewing them would keep them as originals and allow me to still use them. Making pockets for them as an accordion fold is also brilliant. It allows for their use and adding to them at the same time. I don’t know why scanning them seems so repellent to me, but it feels like diluting the art effect somehow. Thanks for sharing your ideas–isn’t it interesting how you start by saying you have a horrible time, and then coming up with wonderful ideas?

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