Artist puts toothbrushes in her studio limelight

Maryly Snow believes the toothbrush has been ignored long enough.

"These are very intimate objects that we all use, but we never talk about them," said Snow, an Oakland artist who is leading a one-woman campaign to honor the toothbrush as art.

Snow, a toothbrush collector who also spends time making prints and working as a librarian at U.C. Berkeley, is one of nearly 50 artists who have invite the public into their workshops for the annual Pro Arts East Bay Open Studios Tour this weekend and June 18 and 19.

Snow said she started collecting toothbrushes in 1979 out of curiosity. As part of an art installation, she asked artists in her Filbert Street complex in Oakland to retire their toothbrushes to her collection. Each time they brought one to her, she would tag the brush with historical information.

"I thought it was really bizarre that in every case, the person could tell me exactly when they got the toothbrush and what was going on in their lives at the time."

Since then Snow's interest in toothbrushes has shifted from used to new to unusual from all over the world. This weekend, she will show about half of her collection of 500.

I am not really sure that this is art," she admitted, "but they show the incredible inventiveness of the human spirit."

Some of her favorites include doggie toothbrushes that fit on the end of a finger, much as a thimble would; a toothbrush from West Germany that folds up into a matchbook-sized box; and a neon, corkscrew-shaped brush for kids.

She said she hopes that her collection, which she mounts on plain dry wall in rows and rainbow designs, helps people to "look at everyday things a little differently."

Snow, whose serious artwork consists of monoprints and etchings inspired by physics an flowers, said she doesn't expect she will be focusing on toothbrushes much longer.

"Some days, I look at them and think, 'How disgusting!' I realize that some people think my fascination with toothbrushes is really odd. I hope I don't go down in history as the lady with the toothbrush collection."

Friday, June 10, 1994
The Oakland Tribune
By Jolene Thym