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Midlife discovery: I'm a brother in collage with Satchmo

A writer caught up in the calm of an ancient art form finds kinship with Louis Armstrong, whose other instruments were scissors and tape.

Brothers in collage: Rafael Alvarez (right), a Baltimore screenwriter, developed a passion for making collage (above) in middle age. Besides grief from his kids, he gets validation in the discovery that Louis Armstrong couldn’t put the scissors down either. The trumpeter’s collages are kept in the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College in Flushing, N.Y.

Anna Santana

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Baltimore

Often, we don’t figure out that our obsessions are not as peculiar as feared until someone else comes along – particularly someone admired – who shares the same eccentricities.
Imagine my satisfaction upon leafing through the Paris Review not long ago to discover that I and the great Louis Armstrong – the immortal Satchmo – are brothers in collage.

While gigging between the four corners of the world, the great trumpeter cooled out between shows by decorating reel-to-reel tape boxes with pictures cut from newspapers, magazines, and personal correspondence. The results – presentations of bright, floating color often depicting the man and his horn – are preserved in the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College in Flushing, NY.

Armstrong cut up personal invitations to the Vatican, taking the honorific “His Holiness” and placing it before his own name. I go to pierogi dinners in East Baltimore and cut the fliers into ribbons to decorate photocopied pictures of my Polish grandmother.

As a fellow artist, what especially interests me is that Armstrong created collage to relax from his main form of expression; that few people knew about it and he didn’t have to worry about being good at it – all he had to do was enjoy it.

According to the illustrated feature in Issue No. 184 of the Paris Review, Louis apparently wasn’t good enough at it for his wife to let him hang the work in their home, thus his move to tape boxes.

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