This versatile material, plentiful and freely available, deserves attention. The earliest mention of something that evolved into what we know as cardboard was in China well over 1000 years ago. It was used to make playing cards, on a tree bark material perhaps similar to card stock or paperboard. Card games, and thus cards, made their way to Europe by way of the Silk Road and European trade routes by the 1300’s. The earliest historical mentions in Europe are bans on card playing in Bern, Florence, and England beginning in the late 1300s.
During the industrial revolution, manufacturers in England began to use card stock to make boxes. The process of pleating or crimping corrugating paper stock was patented in the 1850’s in England. The folded material was used to line top hats. A few years later, the corrugated sheet was attached to a smooth sheet on one side. The facing kept the crimped sheet from flattening out when pressed. Around that time, manufacturers in New York City began to use this single-faced material to pack and ship glass lamp chimneys, bottles, and other fragile materials. By the end of the 1870’s the double sided liner with corrugated sheet between had been invented and was in use. From there the next step – scoring the material to fold in pre-planned shapes and sizes – led to cardboard boxes as we’ve known them for over 150 years.
Light weight, inexpensive, highly recyclable (depending on the region, as much as 97% of corrugated fiberboard gets recycled!) cardboard has interested artists throughout the 20th century. Architect Frank Gehry began experimenting in the late 60’s with cardboard that he picked up off the street outside his LA office. He was always interested in the artistic possibilities of common and mundane materials, & his work is still on display at MOMA and other world-class museums.
But enough of the past – look at what these fabulous artists are doing with cardboard today!
Ann Weber sculpts cardboard into large abstract forms. One of her questions is how big can she make a piece before it collapses in on itself? The answer is – pretty big!
Ana Serrano is inspired by the way people alter the exteriors of their structures to create an untraditional but beautiful environment. She says that for what she does, cardboard seems to be the best fit.
Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan create tiny to massive works depicting the experiences of migrants. For them, the cardboard box is partly a symbol of holding on to community despite displacement; of families moving from place to place, or of sending things to a home far-away.
Doesn’t seeing such diverse and creative work make you want to grab a cardboard box and an x-acto knife and some glue? It does me!