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Life in a Box

Last month, during the holidays — as I spent the days with my family — I found myself revisiting much of my life as it used to be. I would go from room to room remembering activities, adventures, moments with my brothers, instants in my mind brought forth by objects. It surprised me to find so much of who and what I am now lingering there, waiting for me.

Throughout the piece you may click on the smaller thumbnails for a larger view.

My first saddle / Life before computers (we didn’t even have electricity for a while) / Learning to make Amate Paper in San Pablito, Puebla

Becoming a big sister / Billiards tournaments with the family / Home movies

The dinning room wall, where every piece is embedded in the wall (and my Mother’s countless hours working out the order) / The key collection gathered by my father from hotels around the world, prior to key cards / The kitchen décor, many more hours scouting for the ideal sizes in markets around the country


I was very lucky growing up. I had the chance to live a dual reality that few children get to experience: Growing up in a) Mexico City (an urban mecca if ever there was one) during the week and b) in a small village (Acatitlán) carved in a mountain during the weekends. Every Friday my parents would pick us up from school and drive us for a couple of hours with lunch and hot tea (yes, hot tea, another story altogether) across the mountains, up a tricky dirt road straight into our heaven. There, we would play in the mud, catch up with our friends from the village and focus on running wild for a couple of days, the duration of any given holiday or for the whole the summer.

It was also here that I was first introduced to “juguetes artesanales” (handcrafted toys, basically, but with an undeniable rustic air of uniqueness). Furthering that funny dual reality by bringing my mass-produced Barbies — as the only girl amind four boys, thank you very much — to the nature-produced tree stump tea-table with hand-crafted clay cups, tin pots, and wooden utensils.


My holidays were also divided. Having spent the first few days in Acatitlán with my family, we then drove back to the city to spend the rest of our vacation with Armin’s family. A strong, 11-months-in-the-making, food craving on my part had the family driving to Coyoacán, a beautiful historic part of the city where we then moseyed into the “Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares” where we discovered a show that touched on a combination of history, perception, devotion, interest and life as captured in an instant. Not by a camera, but by two artists, María Teresa Romero and José Valdés — all in a box.

Each box is roughly 12” to 30” in dimension showing a moment in time as perceived by one individual in one second that transpired along many hours of hard work. Yes, everything inside the boxes is tiny. And I mean tiny.


Most boxes can be identified by including: a title (usually by location), the backdrop, the main stage and the entrance.


While they are capturing a “real-life” moment or situation, these boxes are well known for their hand-made quality, especially in regards to their lettering — from the name of the piece, to the packaged goods in the counters and shelves. You can get a sense of when these pieces were made based on the Kellogg’s packaging, or the Coke can on display. I can’t help but realize just how far our work as designers can reach, as it is transformed into art by different cultures around the world.


There is no rule to say how many walls, or what kind of shape the boxes should be. Yet there are some basic elements that need to be included to make it work, much in the same way our work is defined by certain parameters.


Using a variety of materials — clay, glass, lead, tin, paint, paper, copper, wood, twine, straw — the artists are able to achieve a life-like, mini-me resemblance to its full-scaled original. Did I say these are tiny?


As I walked from piece to piece in the museum, I found myself meshing my childhood with my life today. Finding connections between the corner store, the fish market or the shoe shop with my master type folder, my inspirational-knick-knack-shrine, my resource books and my photography archive. All of the things that I have collected since I focused on graphic design as a life choice that are my daily inspirations and my daily touchpoints with who I am, where I come from and what I am to do.

I observe the world in the same way María Teresa and José do, searching for significant details and cherishing them in boxes (be them literal or in my mind) to be re-discovered later among the clutter— lingering, probably, a good twenty years from now, when I can do this all over again and find the connections.


So, how tiny you ask? The mousetrap on this image is the size of a wasabi pea.

Just some food for thought.

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ARCHIVE ID 2936 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Jan.24.2007 BY bryony
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Bryony, your photos just made me feel homesick for only about the third time in six years. I know that Tucson, AZ is a long way from Mexico City, but real Mexico style (vs. mass-produced southwestern crap) made such a strong impression on me in my teens and twenties.

Also, my favourite restaurant in Tucson is La Parilla Suiza, which opened first in Mexico City.

It was a good homesickness. Thanks!

On Jan.24.2007 at 07:36 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

...beautifully crafted pieces of art

On Jan.25.2007 at 08:49 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

I'm not keen on jumping on the amazing train, but Bryony...this is amazing! Your photographs are beautiful--the craftwork is beautiful. I'm aching for some moments half as rich as this today.

On Jan.25.2007 at 10:18 AM
Armin’s comment is:

One of the things I loved about these boxes was the undying attention to detail. There is no reason to do this or go to these extremes other than having a combination of passion, obsesiveness and determination. The difference between these boxes and a great piece of graphic design is the end result that is born out of these attributes (again, attention to detail, passion, obsesiveness and determination). Makes for a great stew.

On Jan.25.2007 at 10:39 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

There’s something that I find endlessly fascinating about small scale environments. I’ve always loved the work of Chicago artist David Bower, whose tiny environments evoke an entirely different feel than those of Romero and Valdés. What’s similar to the work of Romero and Valdés, however, is how you’re just drawn into another world.

On a real life scale, though, how about that editing job on the dining room wall! And having to compose the layout perpendicular to the floor, no less. Impressive!

On Jan.26.2007 at 08:56 AM
Lou Smith’s comment is:

It always amazes me how much of yourself can be embedded in objects. It's one of the reason I chose to do design in the first place! I loved seeing your own objects.

Lou Smith

On Jan.27.2007 at 10:27 AM
Samuel’s comment is:

Hola Bryony,

Yo soy de Puerto Rico y no hay nada mejor que estar en familia.

Aunque estoy lejos de Mexico, y nunca he visitado tu pais, la esposa de mi hermano es de Mexico. Su casa esta decorada con colores y artes similar a las fotos que has demostrado. Tambien tengo el placer de comer muchas comidas de Mexico cuando visito a mi hermano.

Algo que me hace mucha falta es la playa... el mar y el sol!

Gracias por compartir tus memorias.

On Jan.30.2007 at 04:16 AM
woodie anderson’s comment is:

Thank you for sharing these photos.

It's clear your family is full of creative, talented people. I find it so interesting to see the environments artists and designers grew up in and how it still informs their work.

About 5 years ago I realized my family home was changing so much, many of the little creative details that inspired me as a child were slowly changing, getting covered by new layers of paint/artifacts/etc. I hadn't realized how much those things were a part of me 'till they started to disappear! I set about documenting them franticly (much to my parent's amusement) through photos and interviews w/ siblings. My attachment to the little details of our home like the stairway were each child painted a single tread seems funny to them, but being given that freedom to affect my environment creatively as a child certainly informed my choice become a designer later in life.

This little boxes remind me of my own attempts to capture memories of my past environment. What a wonderful, ecstatic solution to the fact that "we can never go home."

On Jan.30.2007 at 04:35 PM