Art Lesson Plan: "Joseph Cornell" Box - Personal Shrine

"Joseph Cornell" Box

Submitted by: Joani Share,
Arcadia High School, Phoenix, Arizona
UNIT: 3-D Design - Sculpture - Assemblage
Grade Level: High School (adaptable to middle school)


Don’t Judge A Box by Its Cover

This purpose of this assignment is to create a personal cabinet or box. Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, or a person by their outward appearance the problem that you must solve in creating this cabinet is for the inside and outside of this cabinet to be different. An object of contrasts!


One of the most famous and noted artists who worked with boxes and the concept of placing images inside a shadow type box was Joseph Cornell. Before you delve further into this assignment, you will be viewing work by Cornell and other artists who use boxes and altars as a means of expression.

Front - back - and inside - Click images for larger views


book box book box book box


Design Considerations:

Doors. You will be using a jigsaw. Curved lines work well. Angular cuts are very difficult to do. As you design the door front, think about the size and shape of the doors - can you actually cut them?


Outside Design, Color, Pattern, etc. What your completed cabinet looks like on the outside must be different from the inside. You can paint, stencil, draw, stamp, carve, and wood burn the outside of the cabinet. Think about adding to/extending top of the box (to make a "shrine" or retablos)


You can add items to the surface of the cabinet on the sides, doors, and top- remember to consider the weight and balance and how added items will contribute to stability.


Look through the two books on Decorative Paint for hints on surface design.


Inside: The inside of the box should be personal and meaningful to you. This is not just a useful box or cabinet, this is being created as a work of art. Use the inside of this box to make a personal, political or other such artistically intriguing message. Everyone will be expected to view the web sites listed on the back of this page.


Legs or No Legs: This is a design decision you must make. You will need to decide this before you actually build the cabinet. If there are legs- what shape, and size? Think about stability. You will be expected to design this box on paper before you begin.


EVERYONE will be expected to view the following sites for ideas:

1) In the space below list some of the ideas you liked from the sites you visited.

2) From these ideas, make another list of themes, messages, or personal statements that will be used inside your cabinet.

3) Generate a third list of items you will need to complete the inside of your box.

4) Using the thumbnail paper- begin designing the outside of the cabinet.

Start from the Inside - Out. Good Luck, Have Fun Creating!



The Joseph Cornell Box: Found Objects, Magical Worlds. - Working with found objects, pages from old books, and dime-store trinkets, self-taught artist Joseph Cornell transformed everyday materials into extraordinary universes.



Work with Industrial technology teacher if you do not have power tools. Have students cut all of your wood pieces. Make the basic boxes all the same size to begin with. Bring in a jig saw for individual work. See Women Beyond Border Exhibit:


If you are on a tight budget, boxes can be made from corrugated cardboard. There are many ways to hinge cardboard doors (masking tape on front and back edge - ribbon pieces - cardboard hinges - for a few). Taping box with wide masking tape hides the edges and will prevent cardboard from warping when painted, Paper Mache. or collaged. Assorted collage materials can be used.



Add to or Comment on this Page:

More To Explore