Childhood in a box

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Tableaus in shoe boxes come straight out of elementary school. But Roselle Park Sagall’s 36 wooden boxes, most of them about half the depth of a shoe box, on display at Widener University in Chester, come from feelings and memories, not history assignments. They come from childhood with it’s weird feelings of displacement, secrets, discomfort and fear (shown, Child Enthroned).

Sagall uses vintage images of herself–old photos her father had taken of her–and vintage images she herself had taken of the world around her to build her boxes of memories and fantasy.

The scale leaps and shrinks, people growing too large or small for the landscape. The trees shine with tinselly leaves or bark, their shape nearly childlike–but not quite. Dangerous shark fins of broken mirror spike under the floor. The furniture and spaces squeeze in the inhabitants (shown, “Growing up in the Magic House”).

Some of the boxes are faced with glass, which in some cases is etched with words that cast shadows, in some cases scratched, forming a scrim to peer beyond. Some are open.

Although the work is carefully done, including beautiful painting and thought-through perspective, there’s an outsider naivete that connects these pieces to the past and to the weirdness that haunts every family.

Not every piece packs the same punch, but those that hit the mark strike feelings that carry the show and evoke the wonder of a child who is full of her own needs and dreams, in a world filled with adults and other threats. We’ve all been there (shown, “The Little Vacation”).
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