Box Furniture: Thinking Outside the Box

This post is the fifth in a series featuring student papers from “Material Life in America,” a course taught by WPAMC director Dr. J. Ritchie Garrison. The papers address objects with connections to New York in the collection of the Winterthur Museum. Each student began by closely examining his or her object, and over the course of the semester situated the object in increasingly broad contexts of production and use. For many of the students, these projects were a first foray into the world of material culture and Winterthur’s collections, and yielded surprising and challenging results.

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Box Furniture by Louise Brigham, New York: The Century Co., 1910, Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Library.

Louise Brigham’s Box Furniture is a manual based on the simple concept of disassembling wooden boxes and reassembling them into functional objects for the home. Brigham was a well-travelled and highly-educated designer and reformer who developed box furniture out of practical necessity while visiting a remote island. In her book, the project instructions are clear, the tools are common, and the materials are modest, but the designs reflect growing trends of high-end modern taste. Between 1910 and 1916, Brigham tirelessly promoted Box Furniture through a series of lectures and exhibitions, the founding of programs to teach immigrant and poor children how to make box furniture, and through her own home and writings. The illustrations in her book, drawn by Edward H. Aschermann, reflect the artists’ and author’s tutelage under the Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann, and represent an early introduction of the Viennese Secessionist style to American readers.

Read it here!: Box Furniture: Thinking Outside the Box by Kevin Adkisson, WPAMC class of 2016



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