Ever since I met ephemera collector Frank DeFreitas at The Ephemera Network and learned what he does with his collection, I’ve wanted to do an interview with him. So, here it is.
Frank, what exactly is it that you collect?
I collect ephemera related to the Nobel prize-winning field of holography. A practitioner of holography (called a holographer) creates those magically seductive three-dimensional images known as holograms.
While I do collect (and make) holograms, the biggest part of my collection is paper-based ephemera and memorabilia related to the field: posters, books, advertising art, exhibit catalogs, postcards, brochures, newsletters, patents, documents, letters, magazines, press releases, newspaper articles, announcements, letterheads, envelopes, postage stamps, and many other examples.
Numbering in the thousands of pieces, it is one of the largest collections of its kind (holography) in the world today. However, holography as a topic is a relative newcomer to the field of ephemera, covering the second-half of the 20th Century (my collection ends at the year 2000). Therefore, it is definitely part of what I call the “new wave” of ephemera collecting. Being so recent, I guess the best way to describe it is “contemporary ephemera”.
With holography-related ephemera, if you’re at all geeky / nerdy (even secretly) and think lasers and holograms sound cool, then you’re really going to love this stuff. It runs the spectrum from kitsch to fine art (artists such as Salvador Dali worked with holography over the years).
When did you start collecting — and what inspired you?
I started collecting in 1976 (for comparison, the Ephemera Society of America was founded in 1980), after attending my first art exhibit of holography. It was an exhibit from the Museum of Holography in New York called “Through the Looking Glass”. I kept the ephemera pieces from that show: a poster and various associated paper. After that, I have spent the rest of my life involved in the field of holography, so I obtained my collection piece by piece, year after year: the items from 1976 were added in 1976, 1986 in 1986, 1996 in 1996, and so on, as the history of holography unfolded in real time.
Also, I wrote an article on holography-related ephemera in 1988, calling it “Antiquarian Holographica”. I started my blog, Antiquarian Holographica, in 2008 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that article. So, while somewhat of a new kid on the block in ephemera circles, I’m actually quite an old-timer. I was just off on my own, doing my own thing for nearly the past 30-plus years. But here I am now.
What is the shinning star of your collection?
I would have to say that, taken as a whole, the entire collection itself has to be looked upon as the shining star. As for what may be of most interest to others, I would reply that postcard lovers would really enjoy seeing and hearing the history behind the beautiful artwork postcards; commercial art and printing technology students would love looking at and learning about the ads that incorporate holograms into the design scheme. And so on and so forth. There really is something very interesting and unique for everyone, regardless of their interest in ephemera (or holography), since it is a “thematic” collection.
In the past, I have had selected hologram pieces exhibited at such venues as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. I stepped outdoors after giving a lecture one night, and turned to see the Washington Monument lit up right in front of me. That was certainly a shining star, world-class moment that one never forgets.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone to add a piece of ephemera to your collection?
The pieces in the collection hail from over 42 countries around the world. The majority of them were sent to me via post, rather than me having to find avenues to obtain them, seeking them out. They were sent for the specific purpose of becoming part of the collection, and to this day I am honored to be their guardian.
This continues today, and every so often I still receive a package in the mail. Someone in holography will be cleaning out a desk drawer or a filing cabinet and send me a box of ephemera. It then gets recorded and entered into the collection. My latest box arrived last week. I’m very fortunate in many ways.
You know that I’ve been fascinated ever since I heard of how you use your collection with middle school through high school students — I just love it when collecting can serve a purpose! Tell us all about that.
Through different programs, including the National Science Foundation and the Urban Systemic Initiative (among others), I work with urban, at-risk youth and, as a holographer, I design educational programs to introduce them to careers in lasers, optics and photonics. One of the most successful ways of engaging them is through making holograms. This has proven itself time-and-time again over the years.
However, for my initial orientation, I provide an exhibit of historical ephemera, mostly of what I call “holography in print”.
This gives the students an opportunity to see how holography has been used in real-world applications, and also allows them to make a historical connection to the modern world.
So, ephemera plays a very important role during the most critical part of the program: the beginning. If it fails to engage, then the rest of the program is on shaky ground. So far it has performed its task admirably AND every student knows how to correctly pronounce the word “ephemera”!
What are typical reactions to the educational program — what do you hear from kids then, in the moment?
Since most of the ephemera that I use contains three dimensional holograms, it is usually a reaction of astonishment. “Whoa!” is a usual reaction from the students.
You still seem to have the same reaction yourself — after all these years. *wink*
One day, everyone reading this interview will see images projected into their homes, schools and workplace as three-dimensional holograms. We will leave the “flat” two-dimensional images that we are so accustomed to behind. These holographic images will be so real, that you will want to reach out and touch them… But your hand will pass right through them. I don’t know if I will live long enough to see it, but this is the future of holography, and this is the history — in the making — that I collect.
Your passion for holography is equally matched by your passion for collecting ephemera; tell us about your latest project.
I’ve recently started a podcast centered around ephemera and the people who collect it. I have been broadcasting a similar show for holography online since 1996. I hope to feature two ephemera interviews per month. I’ve seen many interviews take place on web pages with text, but I thought that by hearing people in their own voices, it would make it much more personal. Also I would like to explore other options such as educational modules and events coverage as well.
The show can be streamed online, or it can be downloaded to a portable mp3 device such as an iPod. I hope you visit and listen to a show!
Oh, you know I will — thanks , Frank!
If anyone would like to receive more information on Frank’s holography ephemera collection, and/or the opportunity to have the collection exhibited along with a lecture/presentation at your school, gallery, library, club or organization (Frank makes it available at no cost to regional non-profits in his general area: PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, CT, etc.), please contact him:
815 West Allen Street
Allentown, PA 18102