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THE GUEST ROOM SHADOWBOX

In the early 70's my mother-in-law found some ornate frames that looked like carved and gilded wood, but were actually made of some kind of styrofoam. She decided to use one as a shadowbox for a lighted figurine of an old-fashioned couple on a loveseat.

My husband made the box for her, which she papered with flocked contact paper. She used white fake fur as carpet and velvet for curtains and a skirted table. She made a lamp from beads, using a clear straw as a chimney, and made a chandelier by bashing a plastic wedding goblet that she painted with amber glass paint and trimmed with jewelry chain and findings. She was way before her time!

Really pretty figurines that could serve as nightlights were quite popular in the 70s. Of course, I wanted a shadowbox, too, so Ruth made one for me using a figurine I had purchased, a girl in pink curtsying as if she had just finished some kind of performance.


The original piano in my shadowbox was a music box, a special gift from my mother-in-law. "It seems appropriate," she said, as she gave me the music box so long ago, "for this piano to be in it, because the lady is taking a bow. She must've just played this tune."

When you wind it up, it plays:

Beautiful Dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world heard in the day,
Lulled by the moonlight have all passed away...

When my husband was a little boy he saw a movie about a giant gorilla (not King Kong) and never forgot it. Over the years, every time he heard a certain song he would say, "That's Mighty Joe Young's favorite song."

And that's what the music box in my shadowbox plays: Beautiful Dreamer, Mighty Joe Young's favorite song.

Ultimately, my mother-in-law bought more frames, my husband made more boxes, and she made shadowboxes for her daughter, her three sisters and a sister-in-law, and my mother.

In those days, there wasn't much available for the miniatures crafter, at least in El Paso. By the time she made the last one we had become expert at searching through old buttons and jewelry boxes and scouring the town for little doo-dads to use in the shadowboxes. (This was also about the time I was trying to make things for my daughter's dollhouse, too.)

Since they didn't have a cover, by the early 90's the shadowboxes were the worse for wear, damaged after almost 20 years of exposure to desert dryness and dust; lamps had come apart because the glue had dried out, small bits had become lost, etc. Because I had become quite active as a miniaturist in the years since she made them, Ruth asked me if I would redo hers, making her some new tables and plants, etc.

After I refurbished hers I did mine, as well as the one she had made for my mother. On a visit, I also redid the one belonging to her remaining one sister, Maurine, for whom I made the 55th anniversary dome.

For all the shadowboxes I made ferns out of floral tape. The pot here is the lid from AnaisAnais perfume that I was given as a gift more years ago than I care to count.

I also made flower arrangements to coordinate with each shadowbox's color scheme. I used a larger scale brass goblet for this container.

The oval picture over the piano is original to my shadowbox and came from Ruth's stash. It is not as shiny in actuality as it looks here. Images like this were very popular in the 70s, and both my mother-in-law and I had small paintings on silk that hung on wide velvet streamers over our sofas, some of which were these old-fashioned women.

I devised new hanging ribbons for mirrors and pictures.

The clock was some kind of jewelry finding; I muted its bright gold with a stain. I think if I were to do this clock now, I would give it a white face, with either black or gold numbers. Oh well.

I also made the wall sconces.

I made lace curtains to replace the dusty and faded original velvet drapes, and since the frames are rather tall for scale, added a piece of dark molding to help bring the ceilings down visually.

My figurine is from the original shadowbox, although she is no longer used as a nightlight.

I just love her.

Until we rearranged the furniture recently, the shadowbox was over the bed and difficult to reach. Now that we can walk right up to it, I may use the figurine as a nightlight again if I can hide the cord well enough.

My shadowbox still hangs on the wall in our guest bedroom. Ruth passed on in 1993, and every time I look at it I think of all the fun she had when she made those special things for the special people in her life.

This grouping is special for other reasons, too. The chair belonged to my mother. She gave it to me back in the early 90s, saying, "I know you will take care of this and I want to see you enjoying it while I am still living." She lived for almost ten years after that, and always made it a point to peek in at it when she was over for a family get-together.

Those antique pictures with the curved glass fronts hanging on the wall to the right are also very special. In the 60s my in-laws had a cherry orchard on Flathead Lake in Montana. During the summers there were many auctions, estate sales, and yard sales all up and down the lakeshore. Robert's Uncle Ted and Aunt Mabel also had a place on the lakeshore, and had furnished it by going to those sales. Aunt Mabel said, "Always bid on a sight-unseen box that has things wrapped up in old blankets or spreads; they do that to protect something important."

I bid on a box that was covered by an old jacquard bedspread and got it for about $6 or $7. Inside it, along with a bunch of smaller inconsequential things, were these two pictures that have the date 1908 stamped on the back.

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NOTES:

One year when Alice Zinn came through El Paso after the CIMTA show in Las Vegas and saw the shadowbox in the guest room, she got all excited and started rummaging through all the little goodies she had picked up in her shopping on the way to El Paso. "Here!" she said, "Look at this!" It was a tiny plastic woman almost identical to my figurine.

Then I got excited, too. "Hey, guess what! I've already done a miniature of one of these shadowboxes, and I have another little wooden shadow box made by Jack Chasteen. I've been intending to duplicate mine. This little figure will be perfect to go in it!"

Above is the miniature of the refurbished shadowbox that hung in my husband's aunt's entryway. I made it to go in their 55th Anniversary dome scene (see 55th Anniverary Dome ). It measures about two inches square.

Well, unfortunately as often happens with me, after Alice left I got excited about something else and forgot all about the tiny woman and the tiny shadowbox I was going to duplicate for myself. Alice reminded me recently that I have to get that done.

In March of 2009, my daughter was adding old family photos to her blog and lo and behold, there was the original 1970s shadowbox on the wall over the heads of my husband, my mother and me. She apologized for the quality of the picture, saying she was just learning to take pictures when she made it in the 70s. I don't care; I'm just happy that she found it.

Notice the red velvet curtains, the original music box piano, and the green velvet skirted table. She made the hanging lamp from a cut down clear plastic basket that she painted with glass stain (my husband was working on full-size stained glass lamps at that time).

On either side are some of those paintings on silk that I was talking about, too. And gosh weren't we young!

My mother passed away in 2001, and although I did not keep her shadowbox because I already had one, the figurine that sat inside it is now on the shelf of a display cabinet in our living room.

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