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Postcard project looks to capture pandemic-era Laurel for future generations

The year 2020 has been like no other, and the staff at Laurel Historical Society wants future generations to remember why.

In a partnership with the Laurel Arts Council, the society created the Laurel Postcard Project, which asks individuals to send the society a postcard stating how their lives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the protests for racial justice.

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“The idea is to create an exhibit to be part of the historical record. What was an ordinary person thinking? How were individuals responding?” said Melissa Holland, chair of the Laurel Arts Council. “The short responses, though constrained and restricted, do give you an insight of what people are thinking and what is going on.”

Monica Sturdivant, assistant director of the Laurel Historical Society and secretary of the Laurel Arts Council, suggested the project to both groups after hearing about a similar project last year.

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“I thought it was a cool way to get responses from the public about any question,” Sturdivant said. “This is a great time to ask people a question. Let’s do it.”

Pre-addressed postcards with directions and information about the project are available in the Laurel Municipal Center. A postage stamp is needed to mail it, but postcards can also be dropped off in the Laurel Historical Society’s mail slot or in collection boxes available in the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center and the Laurel Armory.

Residents are also encouraged to create their own postcards on a 4-inch-by-6-inch stiff piece of paper.

“One artist put six postcards together in a panel with gorgeous images and thoughts about what is going on in the community,” Holland said. “Other people send in brief reflections or small drawings. It’s been a mix of visual art and literary art.”

Many of the cards are submitted anonymously, Sturdivant said, and she removes names and addresses from those she posts online. Holland believes many of the cards are created by Laurel residents. From people’s comments on the cards, she guesses some of the writers are grandparents, some are people working from home and others are dealing with loss.

She is also surprised by the stamps people have used.

“Sometimes people, maybe unknowningly ... the stamps affixed to the cards have something to do in turn with their reflections,” Holland said. “One was about how inspired they were with Black Lives Matter and they used a Gwen Ifill stamp.”

Ifill, who died in 2016, was a pioneering Black television newscaster.

Members of Cadette Girl Scout Troop 1088 are planning to participate in the postcard project, according to Kristina Flower, mother of member Ryan Flower.

“The project caught my eye as I thought it would be a good way to express their feelings about the current pandemic and unusual new school year,” Flower said. “It’s hard for them to do the online school day. They miss the interaction and being together.”

Flower believes the eight sixth-grade Scouts will be “very creative” with their postcards and follow the Girl Scout law.

“Being Girl Scouts, they focus on kindness and they focus on others. It is part of their law and pledge they say every day,” Flower said. “They will be based on that kind of message.”

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“Sixth graders will be a wonderful perspective,” Holland said, of getting the Girl Scout troop’s participation. “We are translating the cards into Spanish and are hoping to get more Spanish views.”

The postcard project is not the first time the Laurel Historical Society and the Laurel Arts Council have teamed together. Last year, the groups created a tiled bench that was placed at McCullough Field. The tiles featured renderings of buildings and landmarks important to Laurel’s history that were made by Laurel elementary students and the public during workshops sponsored by the arts council.

“The postcard project was a natural follow-up to that,” Holland said. “We couldn’t do workshops, but everybody knows about postcards and how to do them.”

While the plan is to host an exhibit of the postcards in the future at the Laurel Historical Museum, Sturdivant is creating a visual exhibit online, posting a few new postcards every week on the arts council’s Facebook page.

“It’s been nice. People call and ask about it and if they can participate,” Sturdivant said. “We are starting to get more responses now.”

The project, Holland said, has been a nice way for the arts council to reach the community.

“We can’t have events face to face,” Holland said. “This is a way to continue community engagement though we cannot meet with people. I think it has been well received.”

There is no set deadline for the postcards to be sent. Holland imagines the cards will be collected at least through the end of 2020.

“Better days are ahead,” Holland said.

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