During a recent painting class the teacher shared some artistic wisdom with me – draw a box. Draw any box and draw it often. Initially I thought this idea was nuts. But the thought wouldn’t leave me- draw a box. Which caused me to draw a stack of three blocks. Not a box, but a box shape. Close enough. And then I realized this was a simple but important practice for me as an artist.
So, next drawing session I chose a real box, one made from cardboard. Which in turn made me curious about the history of the box and its relationship with art. Did you know the Chinese invented cardboard in the 1600’s? Then some two hundred years later the first commercial folding carton was invented. And that while Charles Henry Foyle is believed to be the inventor of the paper carton, it was Robert Gair (Robert Gair Company, Brooklyn NY) who developed a process for mass producing boxes. So when Nabisco became the first company to use the paper box for its Uneeda biscuits in 1897, one could say the birth of the packaging age began. Today, the Dia:Beacon Art Museum occupies a 300,00 sq. ft. building in Beacon, NY- a former Nabisco box printing factory. Most interesting of all this is that paperboard is a popular art medium. And it has been for a long time. Many artists have used it for both a painting surface and for sculpture. Herbert Wetterauer is a painter, sculptor and writer known for his life size figures made for paperboard. Frederic Edwin Church (Hudson River School) was an American landscape painter, often using paperboard as his canvas. Interestingly, his grandfather, Samuel Church, owned a paper mill in Lee, Massachusetts in the Berkshires. Chris Gilmour is a current day artist using only cardboard and glue for his sculptures. Some wonderful art has been created on or from cardboard.
So I continued drawing boxes. And as I continued, it dawned on me that this was not my first art experience with a box. Growing up we used paper boxes for play houses, dollhouses, sports goals and sometimes just to push each other around in on the carpet! We got inspired and took these boxes to the next level. Adding cutouts and paint to personalize them. Boxes were fun and the creativity flowed. One particular “house” I made when I was about 12 was for my nephew.It had doors, windows and a peaked roof,on the outside I painted all his favorite cartoon characters. I remember how excited and happy he was with his “new” playhouse. Some wonderful memories and art were made using paper boxes. Memories that were almost forgotten, if not for that artistic wisdom sharing moment.
So, the next time you have a delivery, keep the box. Draw it. Paint it. Think outside the box, make some art. I know I will.