Joseph Cornell


Assemblage boxes by American artist, collagist, and filmmaker Joseph Cornell.


Tilly Losch
c. 1935

 Construction, 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago


Object (Roses des Vents)

 Construction, 2 5/8 x 21 1/4 x 10 3/8 in; The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Untitled (The Hotel Eden)
c. 1945

 Construction, 15 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 4 3/4 in; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa


Untitled (Medici Prince)
c. 1952

Construction, 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 5 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Shapiro, Oak Park, IL


Toward the Blue Peninsula

Construction, 10 5/8 x 14 15/16 x 3 15/16 in; Collection Daniel Varenne, Geneva


I find Joseph Cornell such an intriguing character.  Self taught, he was one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. I am in love with his sense of symmetry, both in design and colour. There is something very calming about the exactness of these boxes. Everything just fits, it works. Each square is where it is born to be, each shape leads you to the next, creating a great journey for the eye to dream upon. There are stories and surprises in every box, offering small places of contemplation and inspiration that celebrate the unique in the commonplace.

I have always been fascinated by miniature worlds, looking into something and finding a million other little scenes and universes. These give me that feeling, like gazing into a deep rockpool and imagining yourself grown tiny and swimming inside. You cannot help but try to formulate connections between the objects here, to uncover meaning and create stories.

Cornell was a passionate collector – books, prints, postcards, and printed and three-dimensional ephemera all found their way into his life and work. He was also continually keeping notes and diaries, exploring ideas and carrying out “explorations” where he would conduct research, collect material and compile extensive files on individuals or topics of interest to him. These became thought of as artworks in themselves.

There is a fascinating collection of his papers, correspondance and diaries, along with a biography, at the Archives of American Art website here. See some more of his works here.


Illustrated Life



For something a bit different this week, I thought I would share with you some fascinating illustrations that I came across a few weeks ago.

I found “The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration” by J.G. Heck, in a local cafe – they have a whole wall of books to dive into there and this one caught my eye.

First published in 1851, as “The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Science, Literature and Art”, the work was based on one of the finest encyclopedias of its day, the “Bilderatlas” by Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. It contains over 12,000 black and white engravings, illustrating just about everything a Victorian reader could have possibly imagined. It is separated into ten major sections – Mathematics and Astronomy, Natural Sciences, Geography and Planography, History and Ethnology, Military and Naval Sciences, Naval Sciences, Architecture, Mythology and Religious Rites, Fine Arts, and Technology.

Each single item is painstakingly captured – some fall into dreamlike representations of clouds, birds, and creatures, some show the fascinations and inventions of scientific fervour, and the quest for discovery. As well as finding each illustration totally fascinating, I love the language used to describe each one – the beautiful Latin names that roll off your tongue, and the intriguing descriptions which transport you back to a time of mysterious, yet to be discovered worlds.

As well as providing me with a great moment of tea and inspiration, this book has reminded me to always keep looking and noticing – in times where we feel that all is discovered, it is warming and uplifting to be reminded of the curious beauties, oddities and fascinations in the world, and the depth of human endeavour it has taken, and still takes, to discover and record them.

I hope you enjoy my selections! Click the images to see larger representations.


Plate 26: Phenomena of clouds and light.

1-9. Phenomena in clouds

10-12. Rainbows

13. Aurora borealis

14. Midnight sun in the polar regions


Plate 16: Theories of force and gravity; demonstrations of these and other physical laws


4. Parallelopipedon (yep) of forces

14. Illustrating Varignon’s funicular machine

17, 18. Atwood’s machine for demonstrating the freely falling of bodies


Plate 92: Members of the orders Anseriformes, Pelecaniformes, Charadiiformes, and Sphenisciformes


1. Carbo cormoranus, cormorant

7. Anser segetum, bean goose

10. Merges cucullatus, hooded merganser


Plate 228: Gymnasium and acrobatics

Upper division

1-12. The German gymnasium

Lower division

1-8. Acrobatic feats


Maps of the Human Heart

I was led to these illustrations when I was reading Donna Seger’s wonderful blog Streets of Salem. I think they’re fascinating.

Supposedly created by “A Lady”, and published in 1830 by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, they are beautifully drawn, and very much reflect the times in terms of the social perceptions of men and women.

Apparently, the idealised view of “True Womanhood” was very much promoted to middle-class women at the time. Historian Barbara Welter wrote, “The attributes of True Womanhood, by which a woman judged herself and was judged by her husband, her neighbors, and her society, could be divided into four cardinal virtues—piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. … Without them … all was ashes. With them she was promised happiness and power.” 1

I’m intrigued by the outer edges – the “Country of Eligibleness”, and opposite, “The Land of Oblivion”…! (Click to enlarge)



The man’s heart here seems mainly dominated by money, power and “The Dread of Matrimony”

You can see these, and other wonderful lithographs, at the online gallery of the Connecticut Historical Society and Museum.


1. Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood.” American Quarterly 18:2, Part I (Summer 1966), pp. 151-174.