The ReBookery, an art and business
By day, Gina Johnson teaches middle-school science. Coincidentally, it was her own experience as a self-described “rebellious” 7th grade science student that inspired what many years later became Johnson’s junk journal side business.
In seeing a stack of decades-old textbooks that were headed to the landfill, the 1980s middle-schooler swiped one of the books. She took it home and turned the unfilled spaces on the pages into her diary.
“I liked it because it looked like it was just a science book on my shelf,” Johnson said, “but yet, I would pull it down and I would write in it, my little 13-year-old secret.”
The book is since long gone, and Johnson set aside her junk journaling-related interests for many years – but among her family members, she found herself surrounded by makers, particularly her grandparents.
Both sets of Johnson’s grandparents had a significance influence on her in developing her early interests in vintage. “They were junkers. They would go to – at the time – auctions. They were big-time antique collectors, so I just kind of grew up with that,” Johnson said of her paternal grandparents.
Additionally, her maternal grandmother sewed, while her maternal grandfather was a woodworker. “They were always doing something, making something,” she said, “so it’s just kind of been in my blood.”
A resident of Peculiar MO, Johnson is in her 22nd year of teaching, currently 8th grade science at Summit Lakes Middle School in Lee’s Summit, MO. Over the years, as her children grew up and her own childhood interests expanded, Johnson regularly explored thrift stores and estate sales. She often found herself pulled back in that same direction as she did upon finding the middle-school science textbooks that were so close to being thrown out for good.
“I was just like, ‘There’s got to be something that we can do with books that are no longer in use. There’s just got to be something,’” Johnson said, adding that she often felt drawn toward books in particular that had substantial wtear and tear, but still had some life left in them.
An avid scrapbook hobbyist, Johnson felt the medium was “a little sterile,” and she wanted something with more creativity and freedom of expression. A stack of Little Golden Books ultimately led Johnson to cutting out the pages and using them as her scrapbook. As those pages came together to form the pages of a new book, Johnson’s business, The ReBookery, took form.
The “light-bulb moment” came in 2014 as Johnson and her husband, Brett, were driving back from Springfield, MO, and she contemplated what she was going to do with her thrift-store haul of old farm receipts, cookbooks and sewing patterns.
Her husband suggested a business of some kind, and Johnson instantly felt excitement in combining her passion toward scrapbooking and collecting items once destined for garbage cans. In that same car ride home, Johnson sketched out her first-ever business plan. What started as an Etsy shop has largely expanded into the greater Kansas City craft show circuit, including appearances at Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair and at The Swift Mile in North Kansas City, as well as a loyal following on social media.
The limits of Etsy, Johnson said, were realized when she was unable to explain the elements of a junk journal to her customers. She created an Instagram account for greater detail into both her creative processes and how others could use her products. In January 2017, Johnson launched her YouTube channel, largely due to her positive “Oh, I get it now!” conversations with craft-fair customers. With more than 4,100 channel subscribers, viewers see just her hands, as Johnson moves through her ephemera packs and completed journals. Common materials include wallpaper samples, recipe cards filled with cursive handwriting, trading stamps, greeting cards, stickers, and of course, the spines and covers of old textbooks and cookbooks. Whether it’s a memory of her grandparents’ wallpaper or dishtowels, Johnson’s own 1970s and 1980s childhood nostalgia fuels her creative energy.
“The American Woman’s Cook Book” – fully decorated and repurposed with Johnson’s mixed-media techniques – is among her collection favorites. The book was once falling apart, its spine no longer even connected to the book. She felt instant attraction to it as it was her maternal grandmother’s first cookbook when she got married.
When she gets a new, old book, Johnson immediately removes the stained and molded pages; if she needs to rebuild the spines, recycled cereal boxes go a long way. From there, it’s the mix of the reclaimed bits alongside what remains of the original pages and the incorporation of brand-new scrapbook papers.
Authenticity – above all else – is the key component that Johnson wants to keep at the forefront of her work as an artist and as a businesswoman. Johnson also encourages others to practice their craft and to explore all avenues available to them.
“Sometimes, your failures are more important than the things you succeed at,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of crafting endeavors that I tried at and failed miserably. All of those failures led to this.” ^