For the many years that I did the craft show circuit, I had a big sign on the back wall of my booth that read “Jay Rogers - UNIQUE BOXES”. As people looked into the booth I would open a few boxes to try to lure them to come in and explore. Over and over again, the first thing they would say was, “Are these boxes?”
It’s true that my boxes have never really looked like boxes, and as they have gotten further and further afield, it has taken more work and planning to find ways for them to open. Sometimes a prospective buyer hoping to lower the cost will ask, “Can you make it the same but just not make it a box?” My answer is always, “But I make boxes.”
So why boxes? To me the question feels like a fork in the road I encountered way back at the beginning of things, and the path I chose then has only led on, never back. When I was a kid I made lots of things – model cars, miniature furniture, small dioramas. One day when I was a teenager I read a story about a man who kept his secrets hiden in a puzzle box. As a kid with lots of secrets, I found the idea intriguing, though I had no idea what a puzzle box might be like.
Then my last year in high school, my best friend got himself into a dilemma with no clear way out. Musing about it one day, I got an image in my mind of a box with multiple drawers, each of which kept the others from opening. But, I thought, there must be a solution; there must be a way for it to open. I got obsessed with trying to design it, and eventually came up with a box with six drawers that could only be opened in a certain order. I bought some balsa wood and an Exacto knife and went to work. The result was a bit flimsy, but it worked, and I was launched. I felt I had discovered something powerfully compelling that I was only at the very beginning of exploring.
Over the many years since then, as I have moved from puzzle boxes to designs based on composite forms and sculptural shapes, through many ideas and sources of inspiration all the way up to the present architecturally inspired constructions, I have had ample opportunities to ask myself, “Why boxes?” It always seems to come back to the same thing: a fascination with what is inside versus what is outside, the idea that what you see is not all there is; that there is more, and you have to find it. And for me, the box is always a metaphor: nothing and no one is ever as simple as it appears, there is always something hidden, something contained. How do we get to it? There is always a way.
My first boxes were puzzle boxes that were deliberately portraits of people I knew. Over time I have had to accept that my boxes are really all self-portraits. They are my way of saying, “Please take a look. There’s more than what you see on the surface. I think it will be worth the work.”