RONKONKOMA, N.Y. - Kristina Contes was a 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, 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 each other online and bonded over pages that immortalized Coldplay and honored the
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 created folios devoted to baby's first Christmas, their granddaughter's wedding, or Sunday's church service, but rarely featured themselves or their feelings.
"They're from the Stepford wife kind of mindset," Contes said.
As its 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 fish-eye photos. She started a blog, co-wrote a book, and championed scrapbookers - until they turned on her.
Trouble in the land of foam stickers and glitter glue started last 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 compared it to the performance-enhancing drug controversies of 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 and deflected blame.
Her post prompted a barrage of responses on message boards. One message string about her received more than 1,255 comments.
Mortified and hurt, Contes stopped scrapbooking.
Before she had stumbled upon scrapbooking, the fashion addict couldn't figure out what to do with her life. She had dropped out of jewelry-making school and given up on a career in interior design.
After getting married in 2004, Contes decided to put together a wedding album, and began researching online. She found traditional scrapbook layouts - pink ribbon sashes, buttons, heart jewels, fabric flowers, tags printed with "love" and "yours forever."
Then she came across a community of avant-garde scrapbookers in their 20s and 30s who expressed their loneliness, narcissism, and rage on their pages. That's when Contes realized she had found her calling.
Many of the people she encountered online were caught in a quarter-life crisis, pondering whether to have children, whether they were ready to let go of their youth, or why they had not found the perfect career or ideal man.
Some called their style "life art," setting themselves apart from traditional scrappers.
"Scrapbooking," Contes said she realized, "can be whatever the hell you want it to be. It can be messy, it can be angry, it can be angsty, it can be just you."
On Oct. 20, eight months after Contes won, Creating Keepsakes issued a news release in response to the protests: She had been disqualified from its Hall of Fame.
"We are painfully aware that our error has deeply upset many of you, our cherished readers and scrapbooking partners," wrote editor in chief Brian Tippetts.
For weeks, Contes did not want to look at a scrapbook or talk to another scrapbooker. Her husband told her to focus instead on their restaurant, where she works as a waitress and bartender. She made her blog private, partly to avoid the "hordes of evil stalking" scrappers, and she limited her readers to about 20 friends.
Then one afternoon, sitting in her apartment, Contes felt a familiar feeling.
She started picking through fonts and photos. She pulled out a sheet of binder paper, laid down yellow, olive green, and aqua letters to spell "hot date." She glued pictures of herself and a friend, and attached typewritten letters about rum and Coke, vodka, a bartender, a night out with friends.