Friday, November 29, 2013

Altered Havens: Shadowboxes and Shrines

 Places of the Heart/Art

Altered art is an umbrella term referring to the transformation of
ordinary, everyday objects into artistic pieces.

Assemblage is the art of constructing a cohesive, sculptural piece from a variety of materials (especially found objects). Diane Maurer-Mathison refers to it as "three-dimensional collage." As a form of freestyle sculpture, it might also be labeled Reconstruction. The parts, most of which are not intended as art materials, are predominantly brought together rather than
painted, drawn, modeled, or carved.
You dismantle things and recombine the pieces in new ways. Thusly you are remaking the meanings of the objects used. It's a way to give new purpose and a second life to castoffs.

found objects, spirit house
Top of my shrine to Ganesh, a Hindu god.

Here's my tutorial, below, on how to create an altered art assemblage,    
be it an altar or shrine or spirit house.  
(Spirit houses are shrines to the protective spirit of a place. Shrines are receptacles for revered artifacts both sacred and secular. They make a visual statement filled with meaning. They can have to do with family, nature, personal growth, healing, protection--their significance is chosen by the creators of the shrines. Shrines can be commemorative, inspirational, meditative, or empowering in some other life-enhancing way, and each one can be made aesthetically appealing.
Like shrines, home altars are places of contemplation and personal devotion. The construction of personal altars is an ancient art--for some, they are holy places, sacred spaces. They have served the spiritual for thousands of years, providing a hub for linking up with one's inner self.)

how to, assemblage
Close-up of the bottom portion of Ganesh, by P. Guhin

       1.     Will the shrine or altar be miniature temple of sorts, a personal space for reflection, a reminder of what you're thankful for, a celebration of an event, perhaps? Or is it to be a memorial to honor someone or something? Your objective might be simply to creatively and freely express yourself.
Tip: The finished piece need not strictly adhere to your original plan.

   2.  There's no single, "right" way to begin such an assemblage, but you could start with a sturdy vessel or a strong framework. Choose a shadowbox, base, deep picture frame, or other receptacle for its good craftsmanship and stability. Bear in mind its size, form, and structure as they relate to your needs. A junked medicine cabinet, desk drawer, wooden box, or old clock case could house the key elements. Other ideas for a reliquary are a vintage train case, a metal cash box, or the shell of an old bathroom scale. Of course this foundation will be transformed as you work, but it is the core of your piece

3. Collect materials and play with their potential. Bring together memorabilia, talismans, and other symbolic objects, including charms and trinkets. Do you have any fetish objects? (A fetish is an inanimate object loved for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit. It is believed to protect or aid its owner.)
Similarly, a totem is also a venerated symbol; a plant, natural object or animal believed by a person or a society to have spiritual significance.

Mindfully gather such meaningful objects as special stones or feathers, seashells, bones, horns, crystals, a figurine. Also assemble pictures, papers, decorative elements, and more. Consider their colors and textures--rich textures, visual or actual, add appeal to an artwork. Soon an idea will gel or a theme will come to mind and you can move forward.

P.Guhin, shrine, altar
Ganesh15" tall, 6" wide, 3.5" deep

4. Cover the work area first. One way to begin is to paint, collage, or embellish the vessel as you wish, before inserting and adhering major parts. (Another method is to assemble the entire piece first, and then paint it, or dispense with the paint altogether!) Be prepared to change your mind as you audition the various components.

Decide whether the assemblage will be grounded or suspended from a wall or both. Add feet if desired, using thread spools, wooden blocks, flat pebbles, or furniture legs. Consider attaching a hanging system. Decorate any unfinished areas (top, sides, back) as desired, making adjustments throughout the process.

More altars and spirit houses: 
See Freedom Flight, with real bird wings, at this link: Shrine,
and a shrine to my mom at Memorial to Ida


  1. I made a shadow box for my mother-in-law many years ago with different articles that she had given my daughter as a baby. It hung in her home till she passed away.
    The shrine memorial of your mother is a work of art and love,

    1. Thanks so much, Barb. I did pour lots of love into that piece, and I am so glad you recognized that!

  2. Years ago I visited Russia, while it was still under Communist rule. Not many souvenirs available. What caught my eye were some packs of very cheap cigarettes because of their graphic design. I was going to save the packaging and throw away the cigs, but as I looked at them sitting there, all neatly lined up, I liked the way they looked. I made a box with the cigs lined up like soldiers, and some other trinkets from the trip. Turned out surprisingly well. Certainly a different sort of assemblage. Anyway, it taught me not to overlook any object for a collage or assemblage. Now I feel the urge to make another. (Christmas looks to be in the way right now, alas.)

    1. Thanks for your lovely thoughts, my dear. If you still have the piece, perhaps you can send a digital image of it!

  3. Beautiful. I have the worst habit in starting altered items and not finishing them. In fact.. i do that alot with all my mixed media/collage projects. Do you happen to have any ideas or words of wisdom for us wannabes who finish ten percent of what we start? Usually i run out of drive or get stuck or plain bored. It sucks putting in so much effort (and money!) And having so lttle to show. Youre my hero

    1. Thanks, Suzy Gee, I just loved hearing from you!
      My suggestion on how to finish after I've run out of steam or become bored? Don't force it if you're bored with something! If you really really loved the idea in the first place, it will come together for you sooner or later. Not much help, I s'pose, but I too end up with a few things I don't finish, likely because I was never too sure of them to begin with. PS: I love being someone's hero!!!


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