March Guest Artists: Robert Nehus and Jonee Nehus

By Bella Erakko

What is it about a box that so attracts us? Even dating back to the Egyptian pharaohs who were buried with sacred boxes, we seem to love these beautiful, sometimes secret, enclosed spaces.

Robert and Jonee Nehus take us into a delightful world of boxes and cabinets, as the featured Alliance Art Gallery’s artists for March. Their foray into box-beauty actually started with designing and building two houses. Their current Louisiana dwelling provides a perfect example of the beauty of a box: three floors, each 32’ square, that accomodate separated studio and living spaces.

Professionally, Bob has pursued a musical career, teaching violin and orchestra in Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, and St. Louis. Jonee pursued art, both as recognized watercolorist—being featured in several books on watercolor—and teacher.

The box allure started when they moved to Missouri in the 1980s. Bob got seduced when reading an article about box making in a fine woodworking magazine. Miter in hand, he sought native woods: oak, walnut, sugar maple, and sycamore.

Jonee says their style is influenced by Danish modern, or Shaker, for the purity and simplicity of design. Really, the main “actor” in their boxes is the wood. Every effort is made to draw the viewer into the beauty of the grain, the color, the finish. Many who see their boxes find themselves awed by Jonee’s finishing touches. The finish has an almost transparent clarity to it.

And often, boxes need handles. Jonee found herself collecting branches from their fruit trees that had handle appeal. Removing the bark, she actually sculpts them to fit naturally into the hand. “The problem for me,” Bob admits, “is attaching it so it never comes off.”

Their boxes range from wall-hanging cabinets with glass shelves, interior lighting, and framed glass doors opening either right or left, to table top boxes with decorative corners, single or double opening lids, removable dividers or trays, and plush fabric liners. If you ever loved a wooden treasure-holding box or wall cabinet, come to enjoy Jonee and Bob Nehus’ world.

An opening reception will be held on Saturday, March 10 from 5 until 8:00 pm.