Jill W Holder

Boxes:  what are they, why do we keep them and what do we keep in them?


We all have boxes.  We save chocolate boxes, biscuit tins, cigar boxes, and then we fill them with stuff: letters, trinkets, screws, elastic bands, beetles and secrets. We buy purpose-built boxes for jewellery, wedding cake, property deeds.


Some of us collect boxes for their own sake, treasuring the evocative brand names – Bolivar, Harrods, Huntley and Palmer – for their prestige, or their age and their faded colours and designs.


A box may represent safety from harm – papers in a dry environment, jewels in a locked case,  or a trap – a bug in a matchbox.  Maybe it contains things you want to remember – your first baby’s first shoes, or conversely, things you wish to forget – your divorce papers.  It will hold some things together, or keep others apart.  


Many boxes are private, ‘for eyes only’, but occasionally, on the death of a loved one, on a stall at a boot fair or courtesy of a close friend, we get to peep inside a box we do not own.  It is like a glimpse into a lighted window from the dark outside, or maybe an invitation to dine à la famille with a family we hardly know – it’s a chance to peer inside another life.  Full of excitement and promise, no matter that nine times out of ten the contents are quite ordinary, the same but different somehow.  Sometimes it is the juxtaposition that is alien, the placing together of disparate objects in a confined space, not the way that we would do it, or maybe just because it is exactly as we would do it.   The contents may conjure up memories, fill us with delight or nostalgia; or they may invoke sadness, even horror.


As a child I saved boxes and arranged bits inside them.  It was just after the war and we simply did not have the huge choice of toys available now.  I had an adored teddy bear (he’s in the toy box here), colouring books, scrap paper and pencils, and farm animals.  Daddy made things for us and we made things for ourselves.

Open The Box


These are habits I never lost.  I still make things and I still keep boxes. Some of those you see here and their contents are exactly as they were when I acquired them, some are careful replicas of boxes I have been shown.  Some are just as they should be, some are definitely not.  Some contain works I have created; some are simply an homage to our fascination with, and need for, boxes.  Many of them refer to my childhood.  I hope they will all amuse and give pause for thought.

Click on any thumbnail to view photos

Part of the collection for the

'Open the Box' exhibition 2011


© Jill W Holder 2011


Living in the Box © Jill W Holder 2011