This lovely book gives us a child’s-eye glimpse of the process that folk artist Joseph Cornell followed in creating his assembled boxes. Winter builds the story around a special exhibition especially for children that Cornell set up at the end of his life. In addition to examining the magical boxes, hung at a child’s eye level, the children got to eat brownies and drink soda pop. (The back matter has wonderful photos of that exhibition and of Cornell talking to kids at it).
The narrator is appropriately childlike–no “Joseph” or “Cornell” here but a respectful “Mr. Cornell”–and while a few biographical details emerge in the telling (for example, Cornell cared for his disabled brother), the book is mostly a celebration of how an artist creates. In many ways, it’s much closer in spirit to Viva Frida and The Iridescence of Birds than it is to a traditional artist biography. It’s even written in the subjunctive tense, like The Iridescence of Birds:
If you had lived on Utopia Parkway not so long ago…
The story is haunting and dreamlike, and the language is always clear and economical. Probably much like Cornell’s boxes!
Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane: 2014.