Albatross Box

black and white photo of details from the Albatross box - bird skull entwined in thread and wire

I confess that I’ve always wanted to make shadow boxes (AKA assemblages) and so when the Kick-About #10 theme was announced as one of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages called “Romantic Museum” – I decided to seize the day and fulfill the dream (click HERE to see Kick-About #9 and the announcement itself). First, the prompt:

I took a cue from the fact that “Romantic Museum” is housed in a case used for storing scientific specimens. I had an old wooden wine box I’d picked up curbside on trash day a while back: I painted it and used it to house the reconstructed bones of seabirds. NOTE: These bones were all found objects – washed-up on the beach near my home, already skeletonized. They are not from the same bird, and most likely are from local seagulls.

On the back of the box, I transfer printed as much of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I could fit (click HERE to read the entire poem). The imagery of sea birds in this poem is so powerful it has seeped into everyday language as the phrase “an albatross around my neck.” Many seabird species are highly endangered – for instance almost half of all albatross species are threatened by the degradation of fishing stocks and habitat loss. This is in addition to the effects of climate change that intensify storms and disrupts sea bird breeding on remote islands. They are caught in an environmental net of human making. I hoped to convey some of this in my “Albatross Box.”

Since finishing the box a few days ago, I have been struck by how different it looks at different times of day. The shadows draw me in and highlight different phrases and words from Coleridge’s poem. Wiring the bird bones together was unexpectedly emotional for me – I know this box isn’t just about the plight of seabirds or found objects – and in that too it finds kinship with “Romantic Museum.”


  1. Marcy, I am, well, overcome. I studied this poem in a Romantics class and have never forgotten it. And now, paired with these bones. The wires. In a shadow box. It’s powerful. I am particularly taken with the B&W sepia-ish close-up. It feels like such an—to go with the poem—ancient memory that has suddenly surfaced. While the color shots feel much more contemporary and perhaps even more dire because of our current devolving situation.

    Here’s a link to an Atlantic article on the poem:

    I also wanted to tell you that I just received your gorgeous piece, ATOMS, and lovely note! And written on a postcard with a quote from Donne, no less. I am thrilled! THANK YOU!!!! As promised, it’s going in my ME gallery!! Keep pushing the envelope with your art!

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    1. Thank you so much, Jilanne! I keep going back to look at it on my “studio table” (folding card table in corner of spare room) and find it very much alive and changing with the light and hours and its pretty humbling to see. And thank you for the Atlantic article – I’m reading it on my breaks at work today.

      I’m so glad the collage made it! And the ME gallery puts a huge smile on my face every time I think about it 😀

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  2. This is extraordinary, Marcy, and I can myself feel the emotion you describe in the wiring. Bearing witness to this hour on Earth… is not for the faint of heart. Unforgettable imagery.

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    1. Thank you, Sunshine – not at all for the faint of heart. About 20 years ago I went to a beach near San Francisco and there were hundreds upon hundreds of dead sea gulls everywhere – all over the sand and the dunes. It was early internet in those days and so although I tried to search for news of a die-off or something, I never found an answer. But bird die-offs like this portends of something bad coming our way…

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      1. Yes, and that image… This is what keeps me awake at night, the fact that we have all seen these signs. I can’t remember which author first said the saddest two words in the English language are “too late” (and am too tired to Google). The closest thing I have to hope is that enough of us get to this stage of caring that not Everything is lost.

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  3. What a wonderful idea, and repurposing of a useful object that was being thrown away. I absolutely love this and love the Rhyme of the ancient mariner (though I hated studying it at school!) Best wishes and blessings, Charles.

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    1. Hi Charles! Thank you so much! (For some reason, WP marked your comment as spam so I am now just seeing it) – I’m always trying to repurpose objects for art – its the surrealist environmentalist in me!

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      1. Thank you – I don’t tend to use any filters on the photographs of my art anymore, but I thought the bones would look good in B&W and I couldn’t resist posting it.


    1. Thank you so much, Claudia – I was nervous when I started it, because I wasn’t sure I could match what I had in mind. I am always humbled when the idea I had comes to life.

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