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Joseph Cornell

Working with found objects, pages from old books, and dime-store trinkets, self-taught artist Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) transformed everyday materials into extraordinary universes. By collecting and carefully juxtaposing his treasures in small, glass-front boxes, this pioneering artist invented visual poems exploring themes as varied as the constellations, the romantic ballet, historic figures, glamorous movie stars, sheet music, and bird habitats.

Joseph Cornell Box Design Elements

Joseph Cornell was not a sculptor, a draftsman, or a painter. This internationally renowned modern artist never had professional training. He was first and foremost a collector. He loved to scour old book shops and secondhand stores of new York looking for souvenirs, theatrical memorabilia, old prints and photographs, and French literature. He was a kind of magician, turning everyday objects into mysterious treasures.

The Joseph Cornell Box

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Cornell’s shadow boxes were nostalgic, strange, thought-provoking and mesmerizing. He roamed New York City’s second-hand stores and five-&-dime stores to purchase his materials. You can easily make your own mixed media display using everyday items such as empty spools, tiny plastic toys, bottle tops, stamps, exposed film, corks, twigs, driftwood, acorns, buttons, marbles, beads, feathers, string, and yarn. Honestly, any accoutrement will do as long as it is imbued with purpose by placement.

The Joseph Cornell Box Book

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You can also try your hand at crafting a masterful vignette through The Joseph Cornell Box book. Neal Benezra, Director of SFMOMA says, “For anyone who is as enchanted as I am with the work of Joseph Cornell, this book is an absolute must…” and Jonathan Safran Foer explains, “Give this book to someone you love. Give it to yourself. Its magic will work on anyone.”