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A calling reduced to tatters

Kristina Contes was widely known in scrapbook circles for her avant-garde designs. But with one mistake, her world turned on her.

January 12, 2008|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. — They called her "labelwhore," this 28-year-old rising star in the world of scrapbooking, with a silver stud in her lip and a tattoo in Latin on her left forearm: "Art is long, life is short."

Before the Internet bullies bashed her and judges revoked her title in the scrapbooking Hall of Fame, Kristina Contes basked in a reputation built on making pages dedicated to her designer handbags, her Converse sneakers and the word "dude." She showcased her avant-garde designs on websites like ScrapInStyleTV.com, traveled the country teaching classes, and turned down offers to go to Paris, London and Norway.

"It's kind of like being a rock star," Contes said. "It's not what you think scrapbooking is."

A growing legion of 20-something scrapbookers -- with Contes as their pinup -- discovered one another online and bonded over pages that immortalized Coldplay lyrics and honored the Heineken bottle.

The edgier scrapbookers thought of it as an outlet -- much like keeping a diary -- in which they expressed political views, decorated pages of their poetry or paid tribute to television shows like "Project Runway," using torn and faded materials not guaranteed to last long enough for their grandchildren to see.

The new generation stuck out its tongue at traditional scrappers, who cultivated the hobby for decades -- creating folios devoted to baby's first Christmas, their granddaughter's wedding or Sunday's church service -- but rarely featured themselves or their feelings. Conventional scrapbookers, who liked layouts with teddy bear stamps, snowflake stencils and photos of birthday cupcakes, intended for their pages to outlast them.

"They're from the Stepford wife kind of mind-set," Contes said. "You're doing something different, you must be evil."

As popularity soared, scrapbooking -- in all its forms -- exploded into a $2.6-billion industry where enthusiasts young and old, conservative and radical, grudgingly put aside differences to compete in national contests, attend global conventions, build blogs, join chat rooms, create online portfolios, and view YouTube and other online instructional videos.

In that world, Contes stood out.

She created textures with vinyl and made patterns by dabbing bubble wrap in paint. She turned playing cards into mini-scrap pages, cut out curse words from cardboard, and laid out distressed fonts and fisheye photos. She started a blog, co-wrote a book and championed the world of scrapbookers -- until it turned on her.

"Has KC ever done a layout that didn't feature a photograph of herself?"

"My 4 y.o. does better with stickers."

"After you have viewed her work you know she has no class."

"I just want to . . . slap her!"

The trouble in the land of foam stickers and glossy glitter glue all started in February, after Contes won a contest sponsored by one of the industry's most popular magazines, Creating Keepsakes. Her winning pages featured photos of her feet and her hairless terrier, Chloe. Her name went into the magazine's Hall of Fame and her work was published in a book of the top 2007 entries.

But Contes -- inadvertently -- had cheated.

Someone else had taken pictures that ended up in her portfolio. When Contes called Creating Keepsakes to request that her friend receive a photo credit, the staff member approved it without realizing she had broken an entry rule: Submissions had to be solely the contestant's work. The book came out in October with both names published -- to the dismay of thousands.

Disgruntled scrapbookers besieged the Creating Keepsakes chat room threatening to cancel subscriptions, boycott and sue. Scrapbooking bloggers called it "Hall of Fame-Gate," naming it the top scrapbooking scandal of 2007. They compared it to the performance-enhancing-drug controversies involving major league baseball player Barry Bonds and Olympic track star Marion Jones. Someone wrote that Contes was as polarizing a figure as Martha Stewart.

At first, Contes found the uproar amusingly absurd. She replied on her blog: "Apparently, many lives have been destroyed by this catastrophe. The devastation will surely go on for many years to come, and this tragedy will not soon be forgotten."

Her post prompted a barrage of responses on message boards on sites such as Scrap Smack and Two Peas in a Bucket. One message string about her received more than 1,250 comments.

"I guess her response is 'dignified' if you live in the same trailer park as she does."

She "doesn't have a moral bone in her body."

Mortified and hurt, Contes stopped scrapbooking.

"I, seriously, was like the Lindsay Lohan of scrapbooking," Contes said. "I didn't just sign a million-dollar movie contract. I'm not on a billboard on the side of the road. I'm just a scrapbooker."

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