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Fourteen Rings
sculpture, found objects, constructed object, inventive, evocative, mysterious, three-dimensional, box-forms, presence, Baroque influence, viewer participation, curiosity boxes, European travels,architectural, pilgrimage sites, memory, Founding member of CARFAC,transformation,mixed media, culture, place, history , sculpture,wood, box, found material, window

Tony Urquhart began his career as a painter, but he felt the need to prolong the time viewers spent looking at a work of art. During 1963 and 1964 Urquhart traveled in France and Spain, and he describes what he found there: “I had been wanting more of a presence in my  two-dimensionalHaving height and width, but no depth; flat. (  work and that year I saw much three-dimensional work, most of which was not ‘art,’ but nevertheless had the indefinable presence I sought. Such things as scarecrows in Spain or truck scales in France took on an excitement for me that many works in traditional galleries no longer had. I also did a lot of reading and thinking that year. The result was that I returned home as a ‘thing-maker.’” (quoted in Murray, 1987)

In 1956 Urquhart began to make paintings on boxes, which required the viewer to move around to see the whole work. They were tiny cubes six inches high that did not open, and with landscapes painted on all sides. By 1967 some of them had grown to six feet in height, and were essentially three-dimensional paintings.

“In 1967, I went to Europe again,” Urquhart writes. “After this time I began to put things like opening altarpieces,  BaroqueThe art style or art movement of the Counter-Reformation in the seventeenth century. Although some features appear in Dutch art, the Baroque style was limited mainly to Catholic countries. It is a style in which painters, sculptors, and architects sought emotion, movement, and variety in their works. (  cathedrals and vierge ouvrants (‘opening virgins’ – marvelous little hinged sculptures) together with my boxes. This resulted in the opening-box sculptures.” (Murray, 1987)

start quoteAll the works of art I most admire seem to have one thing in common: an " after-image " - something about the painting that lingers in the mind and makes one want to come back to it.end quote -- Tony Urquhart

Urquhart’s opening-box sculptures require not just the viewer’s attention, but also the viewer's participation. Unlike conventional works of art, the boxes are meant to be handled – carefully – by gallery visitors. Made primarily of wood, and using a selection of  foundAn image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé. (  materials that evoke memories or feelings from the past, or produce a reaction in the viewer, the boxes have hinged doors and windows that give viewers access to interiors, along with Urquhart’s brightly painted exteriors.

Who can resist the urge to find out what’s inside a box? With his opening-boxes Urquhart has tapped into people’s natural curiosity. In Fourteen Rings, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, Urquhart presents to us an opening-box with an intriguing title. What are the 14 rings? Where are they, and what do they mean? What happens if you touch them?

Most importantly, Urquhart is reminding us that exploring interior mysteries can be more rewarding than admiring familiar and predictable exteriors. By thinking about what’s inside the box he encourages us to think outside the box.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • With his opening-boxes Urquhart wants viewers to become more involved with the works of art he creates. What is your reaction when you see Fourteen Rings? Why do you react that way?
  • By adding “found art” objects - bits of ceramic, plastic and other materials - to his painted boxes Urquhart goes beyond three-dimensional art to multi-dimensional. What objects that are part of Fourteen Rings evoke memories for you? Why?
  • Urquhart has said that you can put his opening-boxes anywhere: on stairway landings, in corridors or next to admission desks. In other words, his works do not have to be displayed in galleries. What is your reaction to this idea?
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Sites that show Tony Urquhart’s work

See also the work of another artist who worked with boxes

Some of the sources that Tony Urquhart refers to as inspiration

  • Sources of circular motifs in art.
  • Relics and reliquaries in Medieval Christianity at the WebMuseum.
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Build a  virtualExisting not in actual fact or form, but in essence or effect in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination or of illusion. (  curiosity box. 

  • To the box in the drawing window, add on small shapes as decorations.  Use the Shapes button and the Select Shape button to select your decorations.

  • Click to “open” your box.

Follow an interactive art mystery involving mysterious objects in a box, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum:

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How artists transform ideas and experiences into art

Urquhart’s work Fourteen Rings has been described as being about memory.  He uses symbols, themes and motifs which he repeats in different ways in the range of work that he makes, which includes drawing, painting,  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (  and intriguing boxes like this one. In making inventive boxes on pedestals, Urqhuart has found a way to communicate his thoughts about experiences and memories. Parts of this box reminds us of objects we know, but he has transformed all these bits and pieces into an object of imaginative invention!

Create a curiosity box

First, study Urquhart’s artwork:

  • Use the zoom tool to study Urquhart’s work. Look at the outside with the doors closed. Is there a hint of what is inside?
  • Look at the description of the materials used in this piece and observe how they have been used.

Then, make your preparations.
How the artist works

  • Urquart makes hundreds of drawings and sketches of things he sees on his travels before he makes his boxes. He then selects ideas from these sketches. For example, he might make sketches of parts of buildings, wrought iron gates, doors, interiors of churches, graveyard features (even funeral wreathes), garden features, or bones.
  • Gate Door Inside of a church Cemetary Skeletons

Use your own observations to  sketchA rough or unfinished visual composition, usually to assist in the completion of a more elaborate version.  things you see in your daily life.

  • Record as many small sketches as you can for a week or so.
  • Use the objects and shapes you see around you. What objects or places intrigue you?

Select ideas.

  • You may want to select a theme or combine two themes for your box. For example, you might start with wanting to make a box about a landscape and might sketch some tree shapes, or rocks.  But maybe you would like to add something quite different such as a wallpaper pattern from your house, or an interesting door handle in a store.
  • Draw an idea for a box inspired by what you have selected. Make it as inventive and playful as you like. The walls do not have to be equal. You can make holes or add parts to your box. 

Make your box

Here is a list of materials that you might consider using to make your box.

  • cardboard, plywood, MDF board
  • twigs, driftwood, shells, pebbles, hardware handles, hinges
  • found discarded parts of wood furniture such as chair legs (that you can use for a pedestal)
  • an old drawer (that can be used as a box starting shape)
  • fabric, tissue paper, wallpaper, string, rope, paints/markers and other art materials
  • hot glue gun (be careful!)
  • hand tools (for example, hammer/nails/ screwdriver/ stapler/ drill) if needed.

Build a box based on your idea, but add to it or change it as needed.  Think about what the box represents.  For example, is this a “secret” box with doors with something inside?  Think about using materials that truly represent parts of your box.  For example, the trees you sketched might become actual twigs.


Find a box that you can alter.  Cut parts away from it, or add on to the starting  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (  of the box. Consider both the inside and outside treatment of your box. Some of Urquhart’s boxes resemble landscapes on the outside. You might even add items that make sounds.


Author unknown.  ‘Urquhart.’  Canadian Art, January/February, 1961.

Author unknown.  ‘Tony Urquhart.’  Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art.  Retrieved from the Internet on April 16, 2008 from:

Murray, Joan.  The Best Contemporary Canadian Art.  Edmonton, Alberta:  Hurtig Publishers, 1987.

Newlands, Anne.  Canadian Art from its Beginnings to 2000.  Willowdale, Ontario:  Firefly Books, 2000.

Reid, Robert.  ‘Tony’s boxes are popping up.’  Kitchener-Waterloo Record, November 14, 2007.  Retrieved from the Internet on April 16, 2008 from:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning