Artist Turns Small Items into Custom Shadowboxes, Jewelry

By Judith Kahn

Susan Gould is a talented, self-taught artist who has been creating jewelry and shadow box art since 1989.

Her fascination with shadowboxes began at six years of age when her parents took her to the Museum of Science in Boston. She was captivated by the variety of dioramas and shadow boxes and said to herself: "If this is a job, I want it."

Gould has been a collector of unique objects ever since she was a child. She would find objects on the street, in a flea market or in a junk shop and would proceed to make collages from the items. Everything she makes is three dimensional.

Gould attributes a great deal of her creativity to the fact that when she was a child they did not have a lot of art supplies around the house - her father would bring home graph paper and pencils - but these were the only art supplies she had.

"If I wanted to make something, I had to try to figure out how to make it out of objects that I had found," she said.

She remembers making ribbons out of shoelaces from an old pair of sneakers by putting stripes on the shoelaces with a black magic market. From a creative point of view, it is important "to look at things upside down and inside out," she said.

Gould hails from Boston and majored in English at the University of Connecticut. Upon graduating, she took a job as a typographer with a publication, where she learned typesetting from the bottom up before working her way into the paste-up department.

In 1981, although her life was quite comfortable back East, Gould decided to head for San Francisco.

"I desired to do something more honest and more meaningful with my life," she said. She began a new career as a freelance graphic artist, working for the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and various packaging companies. In 1989, she decided it was time for yet another change because she had a desire for more control over her life and held a belief that "life grows where you plant it."

Gould decided to strike out on her own, by becoming her own boss as the owner of Shadowbox.

What makes Gould's art unusual is the materials she uses to create them.

For example, she has always had a fascination with dice of different kinds. To create them she uses recycled lead-free foil from the neck of a wine bottle, wraps it around a solid wood block and fastens it together with superior quality upholstery tacks. Some of the other materials she uses to create her art are: watch dials, pieces of jewelry, old tickets, buttons, parts of an old camera and post cards, old dolls ... the list is endless.

Upon walking into Gould's apartment, one is immediately struck by a solid wall of cabinets which goes from the ceiling to the floor. Each drawer is stuffed with different materials - truly a child's treasure chest.

Her art is as dynamic as her personality. It is eclectic but has one commonality - it is all playful - be it a pair of cuff links, a bracelet, decorated box, bookmark, shadow box or a tack. Her jewelry can be purchased in silver or gold and her bracelets feature handmade picture buttons magnified under glass crystal domes separated by glass jewels.

Gould uses a variety of images to produce her art, including animals, well-known buildings, such as the Eiffel Tower, and characters from the Wizard of Oz. Prices range from $30 to $60. Custom images are available in any design from a photograph or scanned image for a nominal charge.

For example, customers can send her a photo of a family member, a friend or any other image and she will design any type of art piece using the desired image.

Gould remarked that she is inspired by curios and images from the past, and the too often overlooked spirit of play. One of her favorite items she offers is a jar full of different materials - her hope is that the person buying the jar will learn that art can be made out of anything; the materials used need not be expensive, such as diamonds.

Gould says materials to make her art are "everywhere."

"I have always been a pack-rat and collector. It is my good fortune to spend hours in junk stores as part of my job description," she said.

Gould said that after a period of time an artist's eye gets trained and they learn to look a little bit deeper. For her, the challenge is to take things out of context and to evoke emotions from the art. Many of her happiest moments are spent in this pursuit of treasure.

"The satisfaction and flood of ideas that come with the find are, to me, pretty much what it's all about," she said.

For more information, go to the Web site at or call Gould at (415) 221-6086 or e-mail her at [email protected].