As I wrote in my previous entry, my earliest boxes were puzzle boxes that were deliberate portraits of people that I knew. To spark ideas for a puzzle box, I would try to think of a friend, the ways that they opened up and ways that they were hidden. I would ask myself, “If they were a box, how would they open?” It wouldn’t take long for a design to develop.

So for example, for a friend who always replied to any question with a funny and disarming quip, I designed a box where every drawer had some unexpected way that it couldn’t hold anything: an inner barrier, a missing floor, another drawer that closed as you opened the first one. For two very stubborn and independent friends who were getting married I made a box with two drawers that could only be opened together, taking turns, an increment at a time, and requiring four hands. For a friend who was very talkative I designed a box that opened right away but then wouldn’t close.

Though these gave me many ideas for how to design other puzzle boxes that were not inspired by specific personalities, they also started me down the road of what I began to call “Portrait Boxes” – boxes designed to symbolize a moment or event that was significant or meaningful to the person commissioning the box.

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For example, a woman who had suffered a traumatic death in her family wanted to commission a wedding box for her brother, who was the first family member to begin to separate from the family since the tragedy. I designed a box with four box components attached to each other, one for each member of the family. A key piece of wood, that itself could not hold anything, locked the four boxes and prevented them from separating and opening. This was the tragedy that had to be extracted and set aside so that the boxes could pull apart and open.

For a coupe celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I designed a monolithic box which pulled apart into two halves that were mirror images of each other. Each half contained a drawer for each member of the family, as well as a hidden compartment for the family secrets.

Another box was commissioned by a father for his idealistic son graduating from college and headed for a teaching job in Africa. The father wanted to convey to his son the advice to “follow your vision, maintain your goal”. The box was a puzzle box, made of African woods, with a series of drawers that needed to be opened in the correct order. Deep inside was a small, simple box meant to accompany the son on his travels.

These Portrait Boxes, and the many others I have designed over the years, are all about the challenge of representing specific ideas in concrete, three-dimensional ways. Perhaps in another entry, I will write about other ways I have tried to think metaphorically in my box-making.