Artist Spotlight: Joseph Cornell

I love Joseph Cornell because he wasn’t a formally trained artist. He collected little things, beginning with items his father would bring him. He had a natural eye for design and composition and somehow gravitated toward working with shadow boxes as a medium.

Joseph Cornell Box
For Juan Gris #7, c. 1954


Into these boxes he arranged found objects and the way they related to each other really highlighted the importance of each little piece.

Joseph Cornell box
Untitled (Medici Princess) (c. 1948)

We decided to try our hand at a Cornell box, and Christian found an old box he had made years ago and saved in the garage (for just such a project as this). This is my warning to you to never throw anything away because your kids will use it in an art project some day.

You can scour garage sales or thrift stores for treasures. You can hit up your local craft store for things like the eggs, birds and butterflies. Don’t forget to poke around your garage and basement. Here’s a list of ideas:

  • ceramic eggs
  • old flatware
  • nest
  • old book pages/music
  • tickets
  • fake birds or butterflies
  • feathers
  • keys

The Art Institute of Chicago has an incredible site for kids. Fen was on it for over an hour the other day exploring and playing. Check it out and if they want to practice making Cornell boxes before they dive into the real thing, go to PLAY WITH ART and then Cornell Boxes to learn a little bit about him and make with your own Cornell Box online.

If you ever find yourself at the Art Institute, you can check out the world’s largest collection of Joseph Cornell’s work including both boxes and collages. Kids love seeing these in real life.

Joseph Cornell Box
Untitled (The Hotel Eden) (c. 1945)

I think his work appeals greatly to kids because of the playful nature of the little objects in these mysterious boxes. They almost look like games- and they’re not just another boring painting of another boring still life that kids find boring.

Incidentally, his last major exhibition was a show he arranged especially for children, with the boxes displayed at child height and with the opening party serving soft drinks and cake. (from Wikipedia)

Here’s the box Fen made:


Joseph Cornell inspired project from

She started out by Mod Podging ripped pages from an old encyclopedia onto the back, then got some help from Christian with 2-part epoxy for gluing the rest of the objects. She had fun arranging and rearranging until she was satisfied with the placement of everything.

Another beautiful site on Cornell and his work can be found here. Read more about him and get inspired!

What do you think?

Written by Joanne Gonzales

Joanne Gonzales has a passion for getting creative. Whether she is making personalized DIY gifts or taking part in larger arts and crafts projects, she puts her all into making new and beautiful things.

She lives with a group of close friends and believes in the natural way of life. Joanne has built an outdoor arts and crafts gallery that overlooks the countryside in her hometown, which is where all of her creations come to life.

Art started off as a hobby, but over time Joanne has mastered her skills and sold some of her favorite pieces. She works full time as a florist and has done for many years. It helps keep her creative juices flowing and she hopes to one day open her own florist shop with a twist.


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  1. I remember making shadow boxes with my mom so many years ago. They held such special memories, and I still have several which have become part of our family legacy. I’m passing this on to the homeschoolers I know and my creative mom friends. Thanks for bringing back a treasured memory and fun idea to do with my grandkids.

    • Thanks, Susan! I loved doing the shadow box project, and think we’ll be doing lots more- I think it’s such a meaningful project for kids because they’re using familiar objects and they get to showcase them somewhere and keep them safe.

  2. Fen’s box is fantastic and should hang in a museum. Love the Cornell box idea! Even my middle kid who is less inclined to do art would love doing this art project! I guess I better locate some old frames!

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