Resident Artist Spotlight- Phyllis Toback The SelfHelp Home

Resident Artist Spotlight: Phyllis Toback

Collage with Toilet Paper Rolls: A Current and Favorite Hobby
By Phyllis Toback

I have always been intrigued by “found”, recycled, or repurposed objects. My dad Roy was an engineer, who loved finding things as he walked around. As a child, living in poverty, he and his twin brother Abe used to search through empty lots for treasures. He often spoke of how he and Abe shared ONE SKATE that they had found. He and my mom often recycled pieces of paper or envelopes that still had available writing surfaces. Some of my “treasures” are a punch card from an early computer course that my father took, and envelopes that my father reused from the professional stationery of relatives.

My grandfather, who performed weddings, saved a small notebook from a wedding dress store in which he recorded the birth dates of his children on the blank back pages. My parents loved to “teach” by clipping stories from newspapers and magazines for me. They even sent some to Europe via American Express offices when my husband Gary and I were traveling there on our honeymoon. I still save my journals from the 1950s and letters that I have exchanged with friends and relatives. It’s my way of savoring the past, my history, and my current relationships. When I speak with relatives and friends on the phone, I record important points in our conversations. Lately, I have arranged these notes in chronological order in looseleaf notebooks.

I’ve always enjoyed art, though not with the passion that Gary did. I’ve been attracted to Outsider Art, creations by people who were not trained artists. I’ve seen some in museums— constructions made of soda pop bottle caps, toothpicks, or matchboxes. An aunt of mine had a collection of matchbooks and matchboxes from her world travels. I’ve seen front yards of houses filled with primitive sculptures of various sizes.

I’ve been attracted to the art of Joseph Cornell. I particularly liked the way he created boxes of scavenged miscellaneous objects and photographs of movie stars. As a child, I inherited a love of stamp collecting from my dad, who collected them as an adult when he worked for a travel agency. He gave me his collection and actively assisted me in building it. I remember how it helped me have an eye for detail and also an interest in geography.

A number of years ago I developed an interest in the security linings of envelopes, which come in great variety. I collected several cartons of them, not yet knowing what I would do with them. I found a book written by a man who had a similar interest, and he displayed postage stamp samples of them on his pages.

Resident Artist Spotlight- Phyllis Toback 2
Resident Artist Spotlight- Phyllis Toback 2

For years I collected toilet paper and paper towel rolls and donated them to the schools of my young children and grandchildren for their craft projects. Our home in South Shore, Chicago, had a Blue Bin Garbage pail for recyclables. In the last five years, living at Selfhelp Home I have had strong feelings about recycling paper, which I can only do in their cardboard recycling bins. Savoring the toilet paper rolls I accumulated, I decided to try and paste some of the security envelope liners onto the rolls and then paste on top small illustrations from newspapers, magazines, or mailings that caught my eye.

In the last few years, I have increasingly enjoyed this as a hobby and meditation. I’ve saved pictures that catch my eyes, such as an endearing photo of a child, or a catchy slogan in attractive fonts, like “Free is not Free!” The collection reflects my pleasure in choosing backgrounds, similar to the experience I have had in going to a picture-framing store and selecting a matte to enhance a picture. It also reflects my interest in creating mementos of news items that have become important to me, such as the January 6 storming of Congress. I have a lovely drawing of the face of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest Supreme Court Justice. I’ve also created rolls from Jewish calendars which have striking works of art accompanying the dates of holidays.

My more than 75 rolls are visibly displayed on the edges of bookshelves and I enjoy their unpredictable variety. I have no goals for a more complex display. I love the availability of materials, the small scale of the individual items, and the satisfaction of completing them quickly. I also ponder their transient nature. Paper and glue will not last forever. Neither will the people I live with.

Thank you for sharing your incredible talents and creativity with us, Phyllis. Your art has truly been an inspiration in our home, we love to see what you create!
Here’s more of Phyllis’ work…
Resident Artist Spotlight: Phyllis Toback
Resident Artist Spotlight- Phyllis Toback 2
Resident Artist Spotlight- Phyllis Toback 2
Resident Artist Spotlight- Phyllis Toback 2
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