A Trunk That Packs Artistic Punch


January 14, 1996|By Beth Smith

As soon as Lauri and Jeff Zell saw Steven Shapiro's treasure chest at a silent auction for charity, they knew it belonged in their home. Crafted as a fantasy art piece, the trunk had a sophisticated funkiness and a unique style the Zells loved. They had no doubt about their choice. It would fit perfectly in their family room.

Describing her taste in decorating as "eclectic," Mrs. Zell adds that she and her husband "always keep our eyes open for things that we think will punch up the design of our home." The trunk, sitting among 100 others at a benefit for Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, immediately drew their attention. They put in the winning bid.

Although architect/artist Steven Shapiro is pleased that his work found a home so perfectly suited to its design, he knows it was pure happenstance. One of several local artists who had volunteered to take a standard, inexpensive storage trunk and turn it into a piece of art for the benefit, he had no idea who would buy his work or where it would go. He was concentrating on one thing -- creating a piece of art that would speak in some way of children.

"I really didn't know what I was going to do," he recalls. "Then one day my wife and I were sitting in a beautiful old church on Charles Street listening to a friend sing in a choral program when suddenly I had this vision to create an urban landscape with buildings and houses and to somehow make children part of the scene."

Working with this basic concept, he changed and expanded his ideas. Several sketches and several weeks later, he finished his fantasy trunk -- an assemblage of four shadow boxes containing photographic images of pre-World War II Polish children and architectural forms, hand-carved from blocks of wood.

"People might open this trunk expecting to find one big space," says the artist. "Instead, they find this collection of three-dimensional spaces. I like this element of surprise."

Today the fantasy trunk sits serenely between an Italian contemporary chair and large sectional sofa in the Zells' family room. It is a perfect complement to the brightly colored abstract rug and the Ligne Roset glass coffee table. When guests come into the room, they are not sure which came first -- the trunk or the interior-design plan.

"Actually the room was done before we found the trunk," says Mrs. Zell.

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