The art of box making has it roots in ancient China and has been dated to as far back as sometime in the early Xia Dynasty. It is said that the Xia’s first emperor, Yu the Great was in fact the first of the master box-makers. It was under his rule that box making evolved from a pass-time of the peasant merchant who made boxes only out of necessity and for purposes of work or storage, to an art form of the elite. These elites had no need of boxes for work for they did not have jobs and they had more than enough closet and attic space to easily meet all of their storage needs. Instead they made boxes for the joy of it , because they were things of beauty to admire, and for others to desire.
Great competitions sprung up throughout the lands but the greatest of these took place in the capital city in the western area of Henan Province each Spring. All of the provinces from the four corners of China sent their best and wisest practitioners of “the art” as it came to be known to the capital to compete in a week long contests of skill and daring, creativity and craft. In addition to the competitions, the box makers would meet to share secrets and swap techniques. In addition, the greatest masters were tellers of tall tales and would regale each other and the large crowds of onlookers with tales of their box making exploits.
From those competitions arose a class box making artisans known as the boxists. These philosopher box makers had become so engrained in the art that it had become like a part of themselves. The making of boxes was the guiding force in their lives and so they weaved a philosophy of life and love around it. Many of their wisest sayings have survived the centuries and can still be heard today. Whispered by only a few who still carry a flame within them for the way of the box. The modern day box masters of whom, yours truly, has only recently apprenticed himself.
I know that many labor under the impression that the art of box making is important only for the ancients and the classical world. This is patently false, the box is as relevant as ever. In many ways I feel I have already become something like the masters of the centuries old box form. It was said they could complete a box in under a day, if the tidings were favorable, and the weather fair. But lo, even the greatest of the ancient masters still struggled with the ultimate question of box making, why? Why make a box at all? Alas it is a riddle with no answer but to those who ask I say, why not? The great boxist philosopher Chin Sang Wu once said,
“I do not make boxes. I construct containers for the universe”
He was wise indeed.
Now consider this riddle, can one make a box without corners? Most wold say of course, it could be shaped like a shell or a circle. But is it truly a box, for I did not refer to it as such, I called it a shell or a circle. Only of a square does one refer to it as a box by default. A quirk of language? Or pointing at a deeper truth? The dictionary defines a box as “a container with a flat bottom and one or more sides.” It says nothing about the configuration of these “sides” only that they enclose a space, and that the most common form is rectangular. Yet to have a side one must have a corner, does a circle have a side? And what about a one sided box? I such a thing even possible?
Another of the wisest box makers, Quian Qui of Tibet once said
“for every box that closes, another six shall open.”
Then he died. Those were his last words and they were both profound and box focused, just as he was throughout his long life. He remained focused on the box until the very end. Do you think him mad for his dedication, for his love of the box form? The art has driven men mad and indeed many mad men have driven its development.
Many have heard the tale of Pandora’s box. Few have pondered the box itself, not for its contents, but for itself. Of those who do comment it is only to use the box as a metaphor or analogy, not as a means to deeper box wisdom. And deeper still the fact that it was a box at all. Why not Pandora’s satchel, or Pandora’s wallet, or Pandora’s backpack? Instead it was a box. There is a deeper meaning in that, for those who seek it. Only the true boxists, the boxtastic ones, the boxstacular peoples will see it, will find it.
Though my apprenticeship has been a scant two months in length I have heard many great things. I will close this post by relaying just a few of them for posterity’s sake.
From Master Quia Shian Tao (box master class IV — China)
“Is a box without corners truly a box”
“The box does not define it’s contents, rather it is defined by them”
“The box does not enclose space, It envelops space, hugs it to it’s bosom”
From Master Charles De Veaux (box master class II — France)
“Is it the box which holds its contents, or the contents the box”
“Look into a box deeply and you will see the form of wisdom, the box makes the form, it builds it”
From Master Tim Masterson (box master class IIb — USA)
“Build a big enough box and it will enclose the world”
“I do not make boxes, I sculpt air in the form of a box”
“Some artists work with clay, some with paint, my medium is space, my tools are life, my form is box”
“Every box made is another universe built”