hunting, gathering and percolating ideas

diorama experiment

I like to think about ideas and where they come from, how they grow, what sticks and what doesn’t. And I find it hugely satisfying to share what I learn. For the past several weeks I’ve been gathering things for my diorama workshop this June and playing with ideas, experimenting in a gentle, open way, thinking about when to hold onto a narrative and when to let it go, exploring the relationships between things.

diorama workshop supplies

And I’ve been working on a way to share some of the experience with people who can’t make it to a workshop or retreat. That idea has been percolating since the makerie workshop last fall. Like the diorama workshop it was very focused on experimenting, thinking and trying stuff. I began the 3 day workshop with a warm up exercise called “a mysterious box”. Students got a small box with a collection of materials and a mini assignment, the assignment was the same for everybody and it is top secret.

mysterious box collage experiments

collage expriment

I had a blast making the little boxes and the experiment was successful beyond my expectations. I’m working on the correspondence version now. Making little boxes and working out a way for people who participate to come together and share what they make.

What do you think?

huge box of old paper

And the hunting and gathering : I hit the ephemera jackpot a couple weeks ago. A huge box of old paper stuff (some of it very old), someone else’s memories and treasures. The things that were precious and carefully kept right up until they weren’t. I spend time looking through it everyday and part of me just wants to keep it all (those halloween treat bags are hugely nostalgic for me). I will not.

ephemera collection - letters

paper treasures

There are lots of newspapers and magazines from around 1880 with magnificent illustrations. Sweet bundles of letters, maps, elaborate certificates and receipts. Wonderful color, text and imagery to play with (you can see more from the box in on instagram).


There aren’t many photos in the box, I love this one. I think this is the one thing I’ll keep. I love the bare trees in the background, the lonely holiday garland on the window, the mood of it all. Long ago Christmas seen through a smokey, scratched lens, the wistfulness magnified by the medium.

The box is full of that feeling and I can’t get enough of it.


  1. Rosemary B

    This is a treasure. Amazing discovery.
    This was a life of someone, a family.

    • annwood

      It is. Many decades of a family. It is fascinating and heartbreaking too.

  2. A brilliant idea, says a soul that lives across the country.
    Ships, moons, black cat, oh my…

    • annwood

      Ships and moons and a black cat – absolutely.

  3. Dorylyn

    I love the little box idea!!! I love the black and white photograph, too!!!

    • annwood

      Thanks so much Dorylyn. I do think it will be fun.

  4. Sharyn Adams

    Little boxes of surprise sound like fun! But that ephemera collection, wow! I love such things and could (and do) spend hours pouring over every word written. A peek into the past The first thing I noticed were the Halloween treat bags.

    I will see you at Squam. Anyone taking your diorama class will be so happy they did.

  5. What a beautiful idea, bringing to life the scraps of previous lives to once again through new eyes…

  6. What a beautiful idea, bringing to life the scraps of previous lives once again through new eyes…

  7. Ruth Hoefert

    What a fun box!! Going through it must be so enjoyable!

  8. I love your idea – please do create a correspondence version! And what a wonderful find. It must be so much fun to look through.

  9. Wow! Earlier this evening I was going thru some clutter to try to let go of a little, and I found a few things I had put together once with a box I bought, with the idea of making a diorama of some sort. I have never made one, but they intrigue me. Now, just hours later, I come to this email and see you discussing dioramas!
    Unfortunately, I can’t make any of the workshops, so I appreciate any other versions of your fun ideas that can be shared! I love them all! Thank you for getting the creative juices flowing!

  10. Cindy Armstrong

    I love the box idea. I can’t go to a workshop, and I would be so excited to be a part of it! My cousin Mary attended your songbird workshop at French General, and will be taking the owl class as well. I am not of an envious nature, but in this instance, I am green with envy!

  11. I love the idea of the little boxes, since I can’t make it to your workshops! Sounds wonderful!

  12. Marilyn

    Oh! I do love old papers and have a small collection myself purchased online. I live in the UK so can’t attend one of your workshops, and would so much appreciate a tutorial on your little box idea!

  13. There is a lady here in England who does project boxes she sends out which reminds me a bit of your idea. Not the same but you might like to look her up. Vicki at the Linen Garden
    It is like receiving a hug in a box so much care has gone into it.
    Also I love the idea of being able to take part in your projects from my home in England. I have looked enviously at your workshops but I can’t get to NY or California just now. With warm wishes.

  14. Denise Hingley

    Just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying making your beautiful boats.I have finished the large one and have started another for my grandaughter.I love it. I am in the process of making 2 of the small ships one is for my Niece I know she will love it as I am making the sails out of beautiful silk backed with old embroidered doyleys which belonged to my mother who passed away a year ago .They are bringing such joy. I live in Australia so can’t attend your workshops but would love to. I look forward to anything you can teach on line Your botanical flowers look wonderful Thank you again so much

  15. Kim Mullen-Kuehl

    I both love these finds and are saddened by them. What gets to me the most are unfinished stitching projects that I find in antique or consignment shops. I feel like the poor woman would feel terrible to see her needlework for sale. I usually end up bringing it home. I will do something with it, just not sure what.

  16. Oh Ann! I love this idea and would certainly love to play along! What a box of treasure! Great find and I would say the treasures found the perfect person (heart emoji).

  17. Oh, a mystery box! Sounds intriguing. I would definitely consider participating in that!

  18. Amazing memorabilia to work with. That trailer house photo is perfect. It needs an old brownie camera to prop it up. I so wish I lived close enough to attend one of your classes.

  19. I have a box with many Valentines from the forties. My mom was a teacher and the cards are from her students. I would be pleased to send it to you if you would provide your address (in a private email of course).

  20. Jenny Rolfe

    The correspondence idea is great. I’d love to be in on that. Hope you get it off the ground!

  21. I love that idea – you are so inspiring thank you for everything

  22. Lynn Hall

    I would love to take part. You have some wonderful ideas and are very inspiring x

  23. Belinda Paterson

    I don’t think I’d be able to use them as they are too beautiful..I still am enjoying my tiny doll. Thank you so much. Am collecting templates to make things. Of late the hat.

  24. That would be SO awesome Ann!! I’ve followed your work for years now and would so dearly love to attend one of your live classes but most probably will never be able to (living in Greece)… So the correspondence version would be wonderful!!

  25. Ann, I remember that beautiful fall Makerie weekend so fondly! I loved the mystery box adventure, and having you as a guide through the process made it really extra-specially magical. A correspondence version sounds fun too. Who doesn’t love receiving a little package of whimsy and magic delivered to her door??? I’m so grateful for your blog and how your voice comes through so clearly. It’s almost like you’re here in my living room sharing a cup of tea. Because of your blog, I dream of fox weddings on occasion too. 🙂

  26. Cynthia

    Your lovely idea is mysteriously wonderful. And the box of the remnants of strangers lives? Yes, it is heartbreaking, perhaps because we will never know these people and be able to help them a little or smile at them or just share a moment in time, memorable or not. A treasure.

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