On January 1st 1892, Josefina Oliver starts taking ‘notes’ of her daily life on gridded notebooks. She writes very few pages along the first years, but as from 1898 she reaches a hundred pages, with photos inserted between the texts. She takes over the spur of being a witness and capturing her surroundings wherever she is.
Family, friends, neighbours, markets, shops, clubs, parties, wars and revolutions, fashions, Buenos Aires development, illnesses, medicine, births, abortions, deaths, suicides, school and mates, teachers, trips, outings, theatres, concerts, carnivals...
Over the years and with many written notebooks, she changes the name Notes to Diary, and ends up talking proudly about ’My Collection’: 8440 pages collected in 20 volumes.
In 1921, Josefina suffers from retinal detachment on her left eye. Under her eye doctor’s office there is a printing house, and there she has the edition made with her first seven ‘notebooks’: bounded: her first volume.
In 1922, Josefina and her husband decide to live in Mallorca, Spain. As a consequence, Josefina interrupts this editorial work.
In 1937 the Spanish Civil War brings back Pepe and Josefina with Pedro, their Argentinian son, to Buenos Aires, while his two sisters stay in Palma; Isabel, the eldest, already married.
In Mallorca, on March 1940, Pedrito, their 5-month-old grandson, dies abruptly. Soon after this, Juana, the baby’s mother and Josefina’s youngest daughter, commits suicide. Some months later Pepe, Josefina’s dear husband, dies. Terrible blows Josefina will always keep within.
Nevertheless, in 1943 the artist´s light within her reborns and she resumes her work in response to pain, as in 1921 when she lost her eye.
Within 12 months, she edits 23 notebooks and has them bound in 10 volumes; comprised between 1899 and 1937.
Meanwhile, she goes on writing her everyday life on volume XIV of her Diary. Along the years, she will illustrate the 20 volumes with 1850 of her 9 x 12 cm pictures; 600 of them albumin hand-coloured by her; 200 of her collages made with her photos as well as 322 photos from professional studios; she also adds loose newspaper cuttings, menus, postcards, drawings and poems.
Josefina Oliver has a plain writing style in her Diary, which she controls the most above all. When writing a fair copy on it, she draws a veil over her own and other people’s privacy, avoiding all kinds of gossip. She writes as a prudent and polite person would do in a social gathering; commenting just the appropriate, in a nice tone, in a real Victorian way of what ‘should be’.
Except on some occasions, when she gets angry with somebody and pain overflows a spirit that is strong and unerring.
This frank tone shows up when she writes three autonomous texts on her XV, XVI and XVII volumes. She also turns the pages of her notebooks upside-down to reinforce it. They talk about her mythical personal world, her privacy and they are the most precious themes of her memory.
1 - ‘Granny´s tales’, listened in her childhood from her maternal grandmother; ‘these tales are centuries old’ she adds. They are Majorcan, short and interesting.
2 - The most important, ‘I (some memories)’, is a mini-autobiography. Interspersed by the end of May 1949, composed by 12 sides with jumbled data of people, places and events from her childhood and youth. At the age of 74 and along the years her vivid memories let her pen run free, in a colloquial, picturesque and mordant style; with the same spontaneity and grace that she has in her letters.
3 – The last is ‘Houses I remember’, in which she details where she lived with her family, from her birth to 1952, during 77 years.
From 1948 onwards, she starts making ‘altars’ on her Diary: collage homages with photos dedicated to her loved ones or ancestors. It is the visual form she gives her mythical world. She adds flowers, fresh or hand-coloured, thus intervening her photos. Sometimes she includes herself in these creations.
In 1953, she edits her last two volumes and leaves instructions for their future binding, ‘something I won’t be able to do due to my age and my shattered health’. Diary 19, p.120.
In these volumes she inserts her photos from the beginning of 1900, enlarged by her husband Pepe Salas since 1926, and illuminated (hand-coloured) by her with strength and vanguardism.
Thus she ends up 64 years of vigorous writing, ‘taking notes’ for her ‘Collection’ until two days before her death, on January 23rd 1956.