matchbox art

i have a penchant for making art in boxes – always have. i most especially love wooden cigar boxes, but in my final semester of my art therapy masters program at naropa university, i was introduced to matchbox art.

matchbox given to me, 2005, image from NCAS-I

two of my amazing art therapy mentors, sue and merryl, created matchbox altars as gifts for each student in my cohort prior to our graduation. each matchbox was so personal and so special – mine (shown above) still lives on my personal altar today, holding the energy of their support and wisdom.

cohort of matchboxes, spring 2005

while i was in grad school, i served as a mentor at naropa’s communty art studio (NCAS). this is a student-run art studio with this purpose: “the guiding vision behind this long-term project has been to provide a safe place for various members of the boulder community to gather and create art together… attract[ing] people who are often marginalized and unlikely to have contact with the humanizing practice of engaging in creative, artistic behavior in community.”  (quoted from link above)

recently, sue contacted me regarding a wonderful project NCAS is heading up called “small resources=big possibilities.” with this project, participants are provided with “one matchbox, bits of paper and trinkets. then artists use the matchbox, items included in the bag, and anything else to make the expression complete.”


oh, the possibilities

the matchbox may be altered in any way as long as it is still a part of the final piece. size limit 6” x 6.” after completion, NCAS will be auctioning off the boxes at a fundraiser gala show, where the proceeds will benefit the naropa community art studio. the money will specifically be used to send naropa art therapy students on “international trips to create of sustainable relationships with social justice organizations in other countries, and, through the application of art therapy processes, to the populations those organizations serve.” what a great cause!!! i was sold.

when i began to work on my creation, i remembered my first day at naropa’s orientation, where the president of the school read to the incoming students what is now one of my favorite poems – mary oliver’s the summer day:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

i immediately wanted to make a matchbox inspired by this poem.

when my matchbox was complete, i filled out the artist submission form and sent it in with my donation (suggested: $10 per box.)

i loved this whole process and the cause is very close to my heart. if you want to become involved, check out the blog for NCAS and contact them for info. i also wanted to present this art form as an idea for your own projects, groups, fundraisers, or personal art. as for the kiddos, i think it would be a nice project for older kids (perhaps 7+) who may like to work in a small scale.

there are some great slideshows displaying matchboxes made at the kick-off party. check them out here for inspiration on your own matchbox art!


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  • Love love love this! Yours is perfect and I love the slideshow on Naropa’s blog. I’m not an artist, but feel this inspires me to create. Thank you!

    Also, didn’t know you went to Naropa–I live in Boulder in CU Family Housing, right next to Naropa!

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful work.


  • this is beautiful, jen! i saw a mary oliver reading in sf a couple years ago, and it was incredible. that poem is so inspiring, and i’m happy to have it in my mind as i begin the day. and i also love teeny tiny things — they force us to get up close and investigate, making us pay close attention to things we may have otherwise missed.

  • Sue Wallingford

    Thanks Jen for your support, your kind words and your beautiful little matchbox masterpiece! What a truly joyful experience this project has proved to be. We are blessed in the art therapy program at Naropa to have such creative and dedicated students. It has really born true that Big Possibilities can come from Small Resources and we have only just begun!