Gwen Lowery "Aurora Towers" (detail) 2015

Visual Diary: The 52 Box Project

Every week for one full year, artist and SDA member Ellen Schiffman created a different work of art in a standard size shadow box. Having worked as a fiber artist for over thirty years, Schiffman set out to explore materiality in ways that stretched and redefined not only herself as an artist but her use of fibers as a medium.

“I decided to mark a milestone birthday by filling a 9” x 9” x 3” shadow box each week with a work utilizing fiber and employing both traditional and experimental fiber art techniques.”

52-60 Week-101 - Copy

Ellen Schiffman #1 2014, handmade silk paper, 9″ x 9″ x 3″.

Schiffman allowed herself the freedom of time to experiment and discover in ways she had been unable to before—letting go of expectations of what “is” and “isn’t” allowed in fibers and textiles. What resulted was an exhilarating year of growth—sometimes frustrating, often challenging, but mostly exciting! These mixed emotions about pushing the boundaries of your own practice are visually present in the vast range of styles, materials, and techniques present in The 52 Box Project.

52-60 Week-113

Ellen Schiffman #13 2014, netted beach rocks, felted wool, 9″ x 9″ x 3″.

While using many traditional techniques like embroidery, weaving, knot tying, binding, dying and dyeing, Schiffman also created many of her own techniques for working with fiber. What really makes the work stand out was the inclusion of non-traditional materials like cotton swabs, eggshells, lichens, drinking straws, rusted items, metal washers, and screws to to achieve the results she was after.

Schiffman Week 35 Box Project

Ellen Schiffman #35 2014, cotton, wool, polyester threads, 9″ x 9″ x 3″.

The final 52 boxes created a type of visual diary—marking a year of experiences, emotions, and memories—all from a desire for artistic experimentation, growth and inquiry.

#119 was created the week Ellen’s daughter graduated from college. The picture of her is at Nicks Lake in the Adirondacks, where they spent family time every summer. #146 was created the week of her son’s 18th birthday, and includes photos of him as a baby, as an 18 year old, and other images relating to his life.

52-60 Week-119

Ellen Schiffman #19 2014, photo, thread, 9″ x 9″ x 3″.

52-60 Week-146

Ellen Schiffman #46 2014, photos, silk, collage, 9″ x 9″ x 3″.

The work created for The 52 Box Project has continued to inform Ellen’s work moving forward–acting as samples and material exploration for bigger pieces. She has gone on to create many larger works and series which build on the ideas and methods of the smaller pieces–expanding on the many ideas first explored in the boxes.

“My goal was to explore the wide range of techniques and materials which define fiber art. I wanted to take artistic risks and to explore some of the many ideas which I had yet to try. This adventure broadened my artistic vocabulary, challenged me on an ongoing basis and moved my work forward in exciting and dramatic ways. Plus I had more fun than I could have imagined!”

Schiffman 52 Box Project

Ellen Schiffman The 52 Box Project 2014

The entire 52 Box Project was shown at a solo show at Nylen Gallery in Westport, Connecticut in 2014, and most recently at the Artwalk Gallery in Hartford, Connecticut in 2016. It will be on display at the Fuller Museum of Crafts in Brockton, Massachusetts from March 25th, to July 31st, 2017. Also included in the exhibition are works created by Schiffman that grew out of the boxes.


  • Peggy Dembicer says

    March 15, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    I love Ellen's wonderful box project

  • says

    March 16, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Putting pieces in boxes that are able to be displayed is a wonderful way of remembering all the processes that have been explored and perhaps forgotten along the way . I think it s a method I will begin to use for just that, initially, although I can see the potential as a continuing exercise!

  • Liz Alpert Fay says

    March 18, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Fantastic Ellen!

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