“This job is not for anyone who is short on patience or ability to focus,” says Bonnie Scott. “I’m working harder now than I did before I retired!” Since December of 2012, Scott, a retired accountant, has been designing and creating boxes of varying shapes and styles using book-binding materials, Japanese art papers, and marbled papers she has created herself. “I wanted to make use of the materials I already had from various classes I had taken in the past,” she says.
Scott ‘s artistic bent developed at an early age, but in high school when she told her father she was going to take an art class, he said ”Fine, and you can take a physics class also.” That didn’t interest her at all, so she didn’t get to take that art class.
In adulthood, she was able to take a few classes in book-binding, letterpress, papermaking and marbling. Although she loved these pursuits, she knew there was a decision to be made going forward if she wanted to make a living. Art-making was side-lined.
After Scott retired, a close artist friend brought her some beautiful papers and said, “I want you to make boxes with this.” Scott had an ‘aha moment’ realizing this was exactly the kind of art she wanted to make, and now she had the time to do it. Before long she had created seven boxes with that paper, and her friend, who had wanted them for gifts, kept them all and displays them at her house.
As Scott pursued her new artistic venture, she found there was very little information available about box-making. She knew of only two books that briefly covered the subject., and some tutorials on the web. “So it was touch and go, learn as you go,” she says. Scott credits Madelyn Garrett (former curator of rare books at the Marriott Library) with encouraging her in the classes at the University of Utah’s Book Arts department, describing her teaching as brilliant, patient and generous. With that background, Scott felt brave enough to start.
When she got an opportunity to display her work publicly for an event at Art Access in April, she went full bore and made some 30 boxes in about two months. “I worked very hard to get that done,” she says, “but I never disliked it.”
Her process begins with turning on the television. “I need noise for distraction. I couldn’t spend the 6 or 7 hours of work each day without that.” Then she spends a little time just looking at her collection of book cloths and beautiful art papers to help her decide what she wants for the lining of the box, the cover of the box, and what kind of lid and pull. “There’s something so joyful about it, it kicks me into gear,” she says about this initial process. “Sometimes I make mistakes, but generally I have a good eye for what works with what. I try to visualize the finished piece and make adjustments as I go along. I know when something is not going to work, and if that happens I just put it aside. I can find something else to do with it later on.”
Deciding what shape of box comes next, followed by cutting the book-board. Precision is important here. Accuracy needs to be at most within a 32nd of an inch (she laughingly says that repeating geometry class would have been more useful than the physics class her father wanted her to take). Once cut, the pieces are laid out and she begins to connect them with the archival glue her former teacher recommends. When dry, a process that can take from two hours to overnight, the boards can be sanded. “I have to wear a mask while sanding, and am delighted to have a Dremel tool now so that during hot summer days I only have to wear the mask for a couple of minutes, rather than hours of doing it by hand.”
During the drying process Scott cuts out the book cloth and paper, again with strict attention to accuracy, marking the underside for proper alignment on the box. The papers she prefers to use are Japanese, both because of their beauty and the fact that they are archival.
Creating the lid is the most challenging part for her. It needs to support a pull, and liftoff lids need to be flanged so that they fit snugly and don’t slide off. Then there’s the hinging, if she goes in that direction, whether a straightforward along-one-edge type or the more complicated hinges needed for a clam-shell box.
The cost of materials needed for box-making can be hefty. One sheet of paper-thin cork costs $29. Availability is also an issue. The archival glue Scott uses is made in New York, and cannot be shipped during the winter months because freezing breaks the molecules and renders the glue unusable. Scott has made her own lid pulls as well as utilized such diverse objects as old jewelry to polished stones to unusual artifacts friends have given her. Silver Star Hardware has become her favorite commercial source for pulls.
Private events at friends’ homes have been very successful for Scott, so that now most of her work-time is spent fulfilling commissions. “I haven’t done any marketing – I just sit here and make boxes,” she says. “I could put them on Etsy or make them available to the Art Access gift shop. That would help me figure out what sells in what price range. “ She does have a following on Pinterest but sales aren’t part of its set-up. Her plans are to develop beyond the two or three styles of boxes she has designed to date. “ I’d like to create something a little more ‘novel’ and I’m currently playing around with paper that I marbled in the old days.” Whatever she creates and however she markets it, you can be sure she’ll do it ‘full bore’ as she calls it.
Carol Fulton got her degree in radio and television production a long time ago. She was born in Brazil and lived in many countries. Now retired from the airline industry, she dabbles in oil painting and found-object sculpture.