Little boxes

I've mentioned before that one of my superpowers is getting artists to sell me works of art that they don't actually want to sell.

It's not as though I'm some mercenary art trafficker, stealing art-babies from their sad parents just for kicks (which makes it sound as though the LAST thing that any working artist would like to do is — horrors! — sell a piece of work). It's more that I seem to hone in, coincidentally or not, on the pieces that resonate with their creators. I prefer to think it's not coincidental, that I am in fact some kind of artist-whisperer who can tell, just tell, when an artist is truly in love with something they've made and then earns their trust enough to let me give their work a new home.

All of which is by way of saying that Kathleen Baleja did not want to sell this little series of nested glass boxes to me. And yet, here they are:

I bought these pieces when Rowan was a baby. Kathleen was participating in a cross-border studio tour featuring Thunder Bay and Northern Minnesota artists, and we packed the baby into the car and went for a drive to see pretty things, counting on him to be fairly placid in the car and to fall asleep on the drive back. Which he was, and did, and it's nice to have memories of when babies did sleep as well as all the memories of when they didn't. I remember, vaguely, singing lots of "If you're happy and you know it" on that little road trip, and popping in and out of studios to see whether Rowan was still asleep in his carseat. It was during that stage of babyhood where I could leave him for 45 seconds to, say, pee, and he would grin and coo and clap his hands when I came back into the room. EXACTLY like he does now. Except silently, in his head, while reading a Big Nate book.

BOXES! Sorry.

I've always had a thing for tiny treasure boxes, vials, wee lidded ceramic jars, what have you — they hold the possibility for endless potential, for surprises every time. Isaac has a similar fetish: his room is littered in layers of mason jars; fish tackle boxes filled with beads and Rainbow Loom elastics, sparkly rocks, coins pressed into clay, sand, glitter, Valentines, metal curtain brackets.

And these stained-glass boxes take the concept to an entirely new level: one inside the other like rainbow-hued Russian Matryoshka dolls (also totally fascinating and evocative to me as a child — and check out these ones), until you get to the red one (the size of my thumbnail!), which holds a tiny feather. Kathleen said that she was experimenting to see just how small she could go to create a functional container, and that was it.

Both kids adore the glass boxes, and will frequently ask to look at them. Sometimes I say yes, when I can handle the thought of a child’s fingers opening and closing delicate glass lids, sliding one highly breakable tiny glass box into another. Sometimes I tell them I'm simply not up for the stress. I want the boys to get as much tactile and visceral pleasure from the work as I do, but I also want to work to survive. So, mostly, they sit quietly on my desk, and sometimes when I'm working, I un-nest them and line them up next to me on my desk (they are lined up just so right now), and I open and shut their hinged lids just like Isaac and Rowan do, and I check that the feather is still there (it is). And I stack them one on top of the other, and I, eventually, put each one back inside its sisters, and I took them gently away in my little desktop altar of things that inspire.