Boxes for Books: Working with an Artist

When I moved to Wisconsin, I was lucky to have landed in the midst of a group of rather creative people. A few of them were involved with an unfamiliar art form: letterpress printing. They were not satisfied to stop at the printing; they made their own paper as well. Many of them have since moved away, a keenly felt loss among those of us abandoned here among the pines. First among equals of this cadre was Caren Heft, book artist, vegetable roaster and dominoes tyrant of Racine, Wisconsin.

When one goes through all the trouble setting up to print a book, the usual practice (it seems) is to print a run of them. This makes sense when you watch all of the labor involved to set up each page. When finally finished and assembled, many of these works are then individually placed in fitted boxed made of stiff board. Caren had undertaken a project that involved a very particular subject and the finished book would have an accompanying DVD. The box would also need to reflect the subject it housed by its appearance, so a distinct surface decoration was called for. This is just the sort of tedious work that I enjoy, and the wily Caren knew that I was quite tractable with my appetite sated. After a well-laid supper, copious desserts and ill-advised draughts of Limoncello, I found myself engaged to build and decorate 50 boxes.

Caren had chosen for her subject Capt. Don Leslie (1937 – 2007) a carnival entertainer who could turn his hand (and head) to a surprisingly risky number of acts while earning a living, one of these skills was fire-eating. The resulting book is engaging on a number of levels with color, form, texture and subject bound together in an apt reflection of Captain Don’s career. This book is available at:

Caren arcadian-HumanVolcano-L 3
Captain Don Leslie, The Human Volcano, a midway artist of diverse talents

The boxes consisted of a painted inner tray with an area relieved to hold the DVD and a ribbon attached to secure the book. The lid slid over the tray and was to be decorated with an appearance suggestive of fire. After a few finish experiments, and a little groveling, Caren decreed herself satisfied. Each box consisted of ten parts (eleven if you count the ribbon) to be routed, assembled, fit together and edge detailed. The surface was then decorated with a careful, multi-layered process using four paints to achieve the desired effect, and the nature of the process meant each lid design was unique in pattern.

Caren Book Box 2
In process, about half of the completed boxes.

Caren was an excellent client, complained much less than I expected and lashed me only twice as I recall. I was certainly happy to have the work, and honored that Caren entrusted me to share in her vision…I still had to play Rummikub though.

© 2019 All Content: Joseph Hoover. Sticks and Glue. All Rights Reserved.








































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