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Fun for kids: make a box like Cornell

Published 1 September 2015

We invited families to create their own shadow boxes inspired by the work of Cornell. Here’s how to do it…

  • In his own practice, artist educator Andy Malone works with found objects to create stories in matchboxes. Remind you of anyone? Malone recently led a Cornell-inspired Family Studio using retro stamps, driftwood, paper cuttings, maps and more to fashion box creations like those of the American master – who made modest, glass-fronted cases filled with poetic assemblages of tiny items collected during his explorations around New York City. Here’s how to create your own boxed treasures with your family at home…

    • Cornell family studio: box

      1. So, get a box...

      You can create your own Cornell-inspired treasure box at home. It’s a fun and simple challenge if you have a shoebox or an old picture frame (or any other box with a transparent lid) lying around at home. An A6 or A5-size box is ideal – though you can use square boxes, too.

    • Cornell family studio: papers

      2. Choose a background

      To create the background for your treasure box, you could use a piece of patterned wrapping paper, an old map, or a page from a magazine.

    • Cornell family studio: materials

      3. Gather items to tell your story

      Now it’s time to create your own personal story. Gather small objects that mean or symbolize something to you. Cornell filled his shadow boxes with feathers, pipes, shells and marbles. You could include things like passport photos, puzzle pieces, scrabble letters, old stamps, photos, or clippings from magazines and newspapers.

    • Cornell family studio: a finished shadow box

      4. Consider your tools

      You will need glue and scissors or a craft knife to cut out fine details. To raise things up in the box to create a sense of depth, use a layer of cardboard underneath the image or objects. To hang objects from the top of the box, use wire or string.

    • Cornell family studio: three finished shadow boxes

      5. Arrange and secure your items

      Arrange your objects and images in an interesting and quirky way. Take a look at Cornell’s shadow boxes, which often told stories or captured the feel of a distant time or a faraway place.

    • Joseph Cornell, A Parrot for Juan Gris

      Joseph Cornell, A Parrot for Juan Gris, 1953-54.

      Box construction. 45.1 x 31 x 11.7 cm. The Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman. Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015.

      You're done!

      Here’s Cornell’s version. How did yours go? Tweet us a picture @royalacademy with #JosephCornell.

  • Find out about the next Family Studio event, ‘Building Stories’, where we will explore the beauty of architecture. On Sunday 20 September.