Finding Art in the Ordinary :: A Guide to Creating Your Own Meaningful Masterpieces

I recently posted a photo on social media of a collection of frames and keepsake shadow boxes I hung in my closet. (Boujee, I know.) There’s a silhouette portrait of my infant son hanging across from the first sonogram we ever had and a sketch my sister gave me on her wedding day of the two of us drawn like fashion models. Not a single photograph there, but countless memories. Things that sat forgotten in storage are now seen and admired every day. How wonderful is that?

Decorating a wall in a closet is possibly the most “extra” thing I’ve ever done, but it brings me immense joy to see all these little happy pieces of my life there on the wall. (And, hey, if I have to go in there to put away the laundry, at least I’ve got something pretty to see while doing it!) People loved seeing it, but what I loved most though was hearing so many people say they were inspired to do something similar themselves.

You Don’t Have to be “Creative” to Create

If you would like to fill your home with “art” that is meaningful to you, I think shadow boxes are an easy place to start. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be arranged as orderly or as freeform as you’d like – plus, they don’t require the time and effort of making a scrapbook. Shadow boxes are easy to add to and update as you wish and, maybe best of all, aren’t confined to holding only one-dimensional objects.

I have several shadow boxes throughout my home and each of them is special to me because it freezes a moment in time in a very tangible way. One of my favorites is the one I made with our wedding invitation and flowers from my bouquet. I have another one filled with other wedding mementos like my garter, handmade with lace from my mom’s wedding gown, and a blue shirt that belonged to my late father. I have a shadow box filled with costume pieces commemorating my half-decade in a fabulous New Orleans dance troupe. I even have one filled with dozens of origami roses – part of my husband’s “paper gift” to me from our first wedding anniversary.

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Been There, Done That

One of the most “interactive” shadow boxes in my home holds nearly every ticket I’ve had since my freshman year of high school. It’s got a slot at the top for me to drop tickets in as I acquire them and sometimes I take it off the wall, shake it up, and put it back to admire the “new” tickets I see. The vacation shadow boxes we have hanging in our office are similar; they’re filled with mementos from our trips and can be shaken to refresh the view. Sure, I have photos from those trips, but there’s something really touching about seeing the fancy drink stirrer from our anniversary trip to Chicago there behind the glass.

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We also have two framed maps, one of the United States and one of just the Hawaiian Islands, where we honeymooned. We place pins on the map as we visit new places together, and each year has a different color pin. Our son will have his own U.S. map so that he can always have a cool record of the places he’s been.

When Handwriting Becomes a Treasure

The most poignant piece of sentimental art that I have is an enlarged cut out of “Love, Daddy” in my dad’s handwriting I had made shortly after he died. I also have a framed Post-It note from my dad that simply says, “Hey kid,s I love you! -Dad.” And one of the best gifts my sister has ever given me was a custom made pillow from Etsy with my dad’s handwriting on it. It sits on the bench in our foyer where I see it daily, a little reminder that my dad is always just a thought away.

Every Child is an Artist

Since the idea here is to surround yourself with things that bring you joy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my son. I’m working on a shadow box of keepsakes from his first year, but one of the coolest ideas I’ve put into practice is a gallery wall of shatterproof frames. The frames currently hold colorful quotes like “Try, try again” but will slowly be replaced by his own artwork. Since the front part of the frame opens like a book, I can easily change the art that is displayed. Right now, there’s only one of his masterpieces: a tiny set of his footprints with the words “From the bottom of my heart… to the tips of my toes!” I’m eager to see what else he’ll bring home from school as he grows.

Life Happens in the Kitchen

In Louisiana, so many of our celebrations revolve around food and the kitchen. A friend recently posted a photo of a collection of wooden spoons hung on her kitchen wall. Her mother had cooked with them over the years and seeing the spoons reminded her of the love, nourishment, and comfort those meals provided throughout her life. My latest sentimental art project is for my kitchen, but I’ve been putting it off for a while because it requires an art form I’ve never tried before: woodburning. My dad passed away just shy of two months before I met my husband, a Colorado man transplanted in Louisiana. Our first spring together, he wanted to learn to boil crawfish, so my mom gave us my dad’s crawfish boiling pot, burner, and paddle. My perfectionist husband now makes the best crawfish I’ve ever had and I’ve since given him his own custom Broncos paddle. I am currently piecing together words and phrases from handwritten notes from my dad to form a specific quote, and then I’ll trace the quote onto my dad’s paddle and burn it into the wood. I’ll hang the finished paddle in my kitchen where I can see it all the time and always be reminded of the two men I’ve loved most in my life who’ve both used it.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Sentimental art makes a wonderful gift, even if you just give them the tools for it. I gave my godchild a frame with a slot at the top to hold tickets when she started high school, and I gave her a gift certificate to have a T-shirt quilt made when she graduated. (I won’t go into them here, but T-shirt quilts are a fabulous way to incorporate keepsakes into everyday life!)

Nowadays, wedding guest books are less likely to be actual books and more likely to be pieces of sentimental art made by their wedding guests. One of my favorite “guest books” was the bowling pin signed by loved ones at our rehearsal dinner at Rock’n’Bowl, which now sits on our bar and serves as a fun conversation piece. A fabulous wedding or anniversary gift could be something including the lyrics from the couple’s first dance song. (Etsy is a great resource for things like this!)

Art is in the Eye of the Beholder

At the end of the day, virtually anything can be art. My best advice is to find something of yours that makes you smile and put it somewhere you see it often. We are living through some of the darkest days of our lifetime and it’s up to us to find the joy and bring it to others.

What sentimental art can you see yourself creating?

Joey Yearous
Joey is a New Orleans native, Dominican alum, and LSU grad who joined the ranks of motherhood in the summer of 2019. She and her Colorado born-and-raised husband, Phil, left their Mid-City apartment for a house on the Northshore about ten days before they welcomed their son, Sam, into the world. A short 19 months later, their daughter Sloane arrived and their caboose Nicholas completed their family 17 months after that. Though she’s always had a passion for writing, it’s her work in whole-home generator sales that pays the bills. Her 3 kiddos keep her busy, but when she’s got a free moment, you can find her cooking, trying new restaurants, and listening to true crime podcasts. A consummate Pinterest fanatic, she’s always looking for her next DIY project or recipe to try. She believes good senses of humor and random acts of kindness make the world go ‘round.


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