Inside the Box: Where Honor and Inspirations are Kept

It was the last thing I expected on that sad December night many years ago–another night that I cried myself to sleep. We had buried our first rabbit a few days before, and the grief was too much to bear. I could never have another bunny in my life. But that remarkable bunny had a habit of proving me wrong, and tonight was no exception.

I drifted off to sleep, with her image clearly in view–calm and serene in a sitting posture, as I had often seen her in the past. But somehow she was not in the past, and to my surprise, she was not alone. Hundreds more bunnies, whom I had never met, were confidently peeking out from the future.

I had long forgotten that I had ever told that dream to anyone, let alone someone who would turn it into a work of art.

Carolyn Long is an instructor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). I met her in 1992. Artists find a way to combine their art with the other things they love in their lives. Carolyn started designing commemorative “boxes” in the summer of 2000. As an HRS educator, she had been focused on answering questions about rabbits and designing fund-raising items to help other needy bunnies. But her own rabbit companions were growing old and dying without having a special piece of work made in their honor. She started the boxes as tributes to each individual rabbit who had lived with her.

The first five boxes were exhibited in the 2000-01 MIAD Faculty Exhibition. Subsequently, Carolyn was granted a sabbatical for the fall 2001 semester. During that time, she continued the “tribute shrines” and expanded the theme to include other rabbits and other issues regarding rabbits and other animals, such as the Alba box (about the Green Fluorescent Protein bunny) and the witness box (rabbits viewing human suspects in a line-up for crimes against animals).

Her explanation of my Herman in her collection is, “Herman always touched me. I frequently would look at her picture and think about her. I could feel her strength and grace and even silliness, although I had never met her. She had such a strong presence that I truly understood how she could motivate you to start HRS.” It was a great honor to receive two boxes as gifts, when I visited Milwaukee, last summer. My second treasured box contains images of our two special girls who never shared physical space in life. In fact they lived in different parts of the country at different times. But at this given special moment in time, within the box, they share space in our memories and will always share the name Phoebe.

Fifteen of the boxes were exhibited as “Sabbatical Work” in the fall of 2002 in one of MIAD’s galleries. The series doesn’t really have a name but can be called “mixed media constructions” or “rabbit boxes.” The point of all of the boxes is to show these animals as individuals in a variety of respectful ways.

As a result of the Sabbatical exhibit, Carolyn Long has been invited to participate in an exhibit at the West Bend Museum of Art (West Bend, WI). Most of her new pieces show a rabbit viewing some type of rabbit image taken from, or heavily influenced by another culture. This interest is connected to a new course she invented and taught at MIAD for the first time last spring (Visual Statement/ Animals in Art, Lore and Fable). “I plan to eventually include more other species in the boxes, ” Carolyn says, “but I haven’t run out of rabbit ideas yet.” HRS is proud to exhibit my two gifts from the collection. If you visit our national headquarters, you can come see them yourself (but only for awhile). These treasures, though on pubic display, are for me so very personal.

Marinell Harriman

House Rabbit Journal Fall 2003: Volume IV, Number 9