Make A Treasure Box

Boxes or containers are an important part of our everyday lives, but they're so common we don't pay much attention to them. We're all familiar with boxes used to hold items such as recipes, school supplies, mail, and toys, but have you ever thought of containers as art?

Limoges boxes, which are made from a type of ceramic called porcelain, are good examples of such containers. These famous hinged boxes are named for Limoges, France where they were manufactured in the late 1700s. While the containers served to hold common items such as sewing needles and hairpins, they were popular with the elite ladies and gentlemen of King Louis XV's court, too. In the 18th and 19th centuries, servants delivered messages in the small containers across crowded ballrooms and at social gatherings. Today Limoges boxes are manufactured in many forms and

Faberge eggs are jeweled containers known worldwide for their beauty, creativity and craftsmanship. Made of applied enamel, precious metals, and natural, semi-precious or precious stones, they were designed in the shop of Peter Carl Faberge, a Russian of French heritage. His father was a jeweler, and after studying goldsmithing, Faberge inherited his family's St. Petersburg business in 1870.

In 1884, the artist was commissioned by the Czar of Russia to make a jeweled container in the form of an Easter egg for his wife, the Czarina Maria. While Faberge did not personally create them, he oversaw the crafting of eleven more Easter eggs and dozens of others for the czar. Each original work of art, such as this Coronation Egg, held a surprise. The egg is five inches in height and features a tiny coach.

While Faberge's craftsmen used precious metals and jewels to make his containers, today's artists stretch the limits and use a variety of materials including glass, plastic, wood, stone, paper, fibers, and clay in their creations. Folk artists the world over use whatever they can find to make boxes, and environmental artists recycle materials to make containers. You, too, can help save landfill space and natural resources by recycling to make a treasure box. The container will be just the right size to hold spare change, keys, or those important tickets to the ball game or concert.

You will need:

  • Foam board
  • Mat board
  • Newspapers
  • Wax paper
  • Masking tape
  • White glue
  • Fabric glue
  • Wallpaper paste
  • Acrylic paints
  • Gesso
  • Felt
  • Pencil
  • Brushes
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands
  • Utility knife
  • Cotton swabs
  • Dowel rod scraps
  • Paste and paint pans

How to:

This box is made of foam board, a paper-covered foam material used in framing pictures. To start, divide a nine-inch square of the board into three-inch squares. It's important to keep the corners at right angles so that the edges of the box will join properly. If you have one available, a T-square or triangle will be helpful.

Lay the square on a stack of newspapers or other protective material, and have an adult use a ruler and utility knife to remove the four corners. Next gently cut through just the top layer of paper and foam on the center square. Carefully bend the sides up on each side to make the box shape. Match the sides, and tape each side joint in several places.

To make the lid, turn the container top down onto another piece of foam board, trace around the form, and cut out the shape. Cut three pieces of mat board smaller than the inside dimensions of the box, and glue them together. Use rubber bands to hold the pieces in place till they dry. Remove the bands and glue the pieces to the inside center of the lid. This built-up area will help keep the lid in place.

Mix the wallpaper paste according to the manufacturer's directions. Tear newspapers into squares or short strips, and working on wax paper, begin pasting the box starting at the seams. Cover all the corners and the seam around the bottom. Use the handle of an artist's paint brush to help push the paper into the indented areas. Now cover the bottom and the sides, extending the layer about 1/2" over the top and into the box.

After the box is completed, papier mache the lid, including the bottom. While it's not necessary, you can make a knob by attaching a large bottle cap to the box top. Tape it to the lid, then cover and paste it to the form using small strips and the papier mache mixture. Apply an extra layer or so at the joint.

When the box is dry, you're ready to paint the surface decoration. Apply one coat of gesso (primer) to the container. After this dries, paint the box a background color, and then apply dot designs with short dowel rods and cotton swabs. Another option is to use craft paints in "squeeze bottles" to apply dots, squiggles, and other shapes, as shown in the example above.

We drew designs with white glue on the box shown here. After it dried, we applied gesso and then painted the box and lid black. Finally, we dry brushed a light coating of silver over the surface. Dry brushing is a technique in which only a small amount of paint is applied to the surface, so that the background color still shows through. On both examples, we painted short dowels and glued them in place to make the knob for the lid.

You'll need two pieces of felt for the box lining, one for the bottom and another to go around the inside. Measure the bottom, the distance around, and the height of the inside to determine how much felt to cut. Subtract about 1/4" from the height to allow the lid to fit properly. Use fabric glue to fasten the material into the box. When you're finished, sign your name and the year on the back or the bottom.

Tips and Tricks:

Visit your local picture frame store for scraps of mat and foam board. The sizes the framer discards are too small for his or her use, but they'll be just right for this project. These materials are not recyclable, so making art from them will help save landfill space, natural resources, and the energy required to make new goods.

To make the box heavier, cut about three squares of mat board and glue them into the bottom. The container requires only one layer of papier mache, but two or more layers added to the box itself will make it sturdier. There's no need to add extra layers to the lid. To help keep track of layers, alternate the news section with comics.

Substitute white latex house paint for the gesso primer. Also, apply a coat of acrylic gloss varnish to the finished box to make it more durable and attractive.

Give the treasure box to your dad or other important man in your life for Father's Day, and visit Father's Day on the Net for more ways to help you celebrate this special occasion.

© 1997 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 7 No. 2

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