For years, I've repurposed old, metal lunchboxes. A Rambo lunchbox became a lunchbox dedicated to Great Women of Literature. Another honored Great Writers of the South. More recently, I've dedicated a lunchbox to The Donner Party. For a long time, though, I've had it in my head to create the ultimate Superhero Lunchbox...not a lunchbox featuring Batman or Wonder Woman, but a box honoring my real-life heroes.

I posed this challenge to a wide circle of friends: get your hands on a metal lunchbox, and put some thought into who or what your heroes are, and why. And then get to work making the Superhero Lunchbox of your dreams.

This online exhibit is the result of that challenge. I hope visitors to this site will find it fun and interesting, and maybe even inspiring. Lunchboxes are such useful things, and so many of us have fond memories of toting tuna sandwiches to school in our Partridge Family or Six Million Dollar Man lunchboxes. There seems to me to be no reason for us to outgrow this tradition of toting around our meals in metal boxes that say something about who we are, what we like, and what our values are. I know I've never outgrown it.

Start here, because it's what started it all for me, and work your way up. Enjoy. Leave some feedback. Make a lunchbox.

For a more detailed view, click on the individual images.

If you're moved to make a lunchbox of your own, and have it included in this exhibit, submissions are welcome. Get your hands on a metal lunchbox (no plastic, please) - you can buy a blank one from or repurpose an old one. Go to town. Choose your superhero, and and run with it. Photograph your finished lunchbox, write a few words about your subject, and send the photos and text to me at, with the words "Superhero Lunchbox" in the subject box.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gerard Holmes

Why Andy Warhol?  What kind of superhero is that? 

I was always more of a Marvel Comics than a DC kid.  The typical Marvel hero was just more interesting.  Poor Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and takes on the characteristics of a spider.  He can’t actually spin webs, so he puts his mind to it and invents a web-spinner he can attach to his wrist.  The Thing, alternating between laughter and rage at his misfortune: his scaly skin making it impossible to be close to the woman he loves.  The Silver Surfer, whose omniscient perspective – literally looking down on the folly of humans – fills him with pity and ultimately makes him good.  Cigar-smoking Howard the Duck, “trapped in a world he never made.”  Dr. Strange.  I could go on.  The point is, these characters, two dimensional as they are, are born out of struggle, and – at least during Marvel’s heyday, the 1960s and early 1970s – they didn’t take the easy way out.  They continued to struggle.  Bruce Banner, nuclear scientist – staggeringly intelligent, considerate, even meek – never made peace with the roiling anger that inevitably, without fail, turned him into The Incredible Hulk. 

Much more interesting than a Man who’s, you know, Super, because he fell out of the sky from another planet.  Or a rich guy who likes to dress up like a bat.

Reasonable people may differ.  If DC made you happy as a kid, I’m happy for you.  I do know that in my later life I’ve always been drawn to people who are complicated, maybe a little mixed-up, not exactly who they seem to be at first.  I like people who surprise me.  I like people who struggle.  I want my friends to be happy, but I can relate to the need to keep working, trying, figuring it out.  I admire people who can do this with style, with grace.  I especially admire people who can do this in public, maybe because I’m private.

Andy Warhol was one of those people.  And that’s why he’s a superhero. 

Warhol – stop me if you’ve heard this – was the son of dirt-poor Polish immigrants in Pittsburgh, perhaps the most unpromising place in the United States to grow up with artistic tendencies in the 1930s.  He was gay.  His face was scarred with acne.  He was shy and sunken-chested, didn’t say much.

He made the world see the world his way.

I’m not talking about rising to the top of New York’s social life, or the silly Factory bullshit, or the gnomic statements.  I mean his art was new and fresh and consistently strong enough, for long enough, that it made us see differently.  Andy Warhol revolutionized painting, photography, film, design, even parties.  Together with the Velvet Underground and some of his cronies, he created, in a hole-in-the-wall on St. Mark’s Place, the lightshow that bands were STILL using when I started gong to concerts in the early 1980s, and a kind of everything-all-at-once music / theater hybrid that was still considered avant-garde when I moved to New York in the 1990s.

Did he eventually rest on his laurels?  Did he let other people tell his story and go along with it, and cater to the rich and stop paying attention at some point?  Yes.  So what?  Picasso had a long, silly, repetitive decline punctuated with occasional, probably accidental greatness, too.  That doesn’t matter.

Maybe it’s that I grew up caring more about music than art per se.  A great band is a band that has a strong five-year run, with maybe three albums you want to listen to for the rest of your life, and two more that are worth holding on to.  The Beatles had a seven- or eight-year run, maybe, as a recording band, depending on how you’re counting.  Then a lot of solo nonsense with occasional flashes of greatness… usually when Ringo was in the room.  But that’s a different ax to grind.

I’ve purposely avoided the Marilyns and soup cans and such here, even though I think they’re great (a new kind of portrait and still life, respectively).  I went with the banana, first because the Velvet Underground’s first record was – probably – the first time I actually sat down and looked intentionally at a work of visual art; second because it freshly struggles with one of the fundamental themes of Western art: the urge to reveal, and simultaneously to hide, sexual passion.  The banana, originally printed as a sticker with “Peel Slowly and See” above its apex, is sexy.  Sexier than Mick Jagger’s crotch on “Sticky Fingers” (though that, with its built-in zipper, was funnier).  I was lucky to find a pic online of the banana – the pink banana – partly unsheathed.

I wanted to include one of the electric chairs.  These are some of the most powerful works of art I know of.  They’re like all of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” at once.  They don’t reproduce well, though.  Instead, I included one of Warhol’s skulls, a take on the momento mori theme that would be obvious if it weren’t so beautifully composed.  Stop and look at how the colors interact, and how unexpected, and probably garish, each of them would be if they were used, individually, on a silkscreen of a skull.  Together – somehow, I don’t know why – they support each other.  It’s hideous and terrifying and hilarious and electrifying.

Andy himself appears on the top and bottom.

And inside, because – after all – it’s a lunchbox, a reminder of where your roast-beef sandwich came from.

There’s a lot more to say.  In his best work Warhol drew from the things everyone was looking at but not seeing, tweaked them, put them up on the wall (or on the floor, or just filled up the room with them), and made everyone see: not only the representation, which is enough, but the original, differently.  Leonardo did that with the nude.  Ingres did it with the portrait.  And Warhol did it with the stuff and people all around us, the unavoidable, endlessly repeating people and things that constantly wash up on the pop-culture shore.  He does it funny but generally resists the temptation to slapstick.

Why is there so little on the lunchbox?  I’ve always loved the rectangular silver balloons Warhol designed and let float around at parties, and when my boxes arrived in the mail – each cardboard box stamped “Plain Metal,” the brushed-steel surface of each lunchbox palely reflective, I thought instantly of Warhol and set aside my plans for a Walt Whitman box.  (Maybe that will come later.)  His best art – from the 60s and early 70s, and then the reawakening in the late 1980s – is simple and spare but unfussy about details.  It seemed to me like a Warhol lunchbox should follow the same aesthetic.  So I didn’t try to hide the “brushstrokes” of my adhesive, and I didn’t worry if the ink ran a bit, but I tried to put the right images in the right places.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jennifer Hayes

The lighting in my office is crappy, and I couldn't see all my imperfections as I was working. But the more I see them now, the more it really describes my family. And it gives me a little knot in my throat.

 I created my lunchbox in the same way I do my other projects, in boxes so that the piece has a keepsake feel. 

My super heros are my parents (and my grandma). Both of my parents grew up poor (my mother didn't even have indoor plumbing in her house). So they both worked really hard to give me and my brother everything they couldn't have growing up. 

When I was younger, my dad was in the Army and his position kept him away for long periods of time. My mom had to take care of my brother and me by herself, often in another country where she didn't know anyone or even know the language. She worked office jobs to help pay the bills and save money. We didn't have much, but they loved us, and we always had a roof and food. Even the years when we weren't sure we were even going to have a Christmas tree, my mom worked several jobs to get each of us a little something. I'm glad that they love me unconditionally, tattoos, pink hair and all. 

So I turned my parents into some of my own favorite things... paper dolls. 

My grandmother had seven children, lived through the great Depression and once lived in a tent with her little ones and husband. She passed away when I was 12, but I will always remember her as one of the nicest, strongest women I've ever known. Her laugh was loud and infectious, as was her desire to help others. 

 Thank you, Lana, for this project. It's been very moving working on it.

A note from Jenn: I totally meant to add that the letter wrapped around the box is from when he was stationed in Germany for two years when I was younger, and would write to me. I was terrible about writing back, but I still have his letters. Their wedding photo is also inside as well.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Heidi Moore

My mom, Carol Offield, has led an amazing life as a powerful woman who has performed spectacular feats no one else could have.  I continue to be amazed by her daily.  

She has been a businesswoman, single parent, philanthropist, great friend, kind mother, bridge maven, and now she is a grandmother, too. 
She is unquestionably a phenomenal superheroine: It seems as though she stopped a speeding locomotive well over a hundred times when she interrupted what I was sure was the end of the world.  She soothed me with stories about what happened when she was my age, or about what happened to my grandma, or my dad.  Somehow the world, which had been barreling forward like a rocket at the speed of light at a target of complete destruction, suddenly was sailing uncomplicated in the breeze like a kite.  Then we could just laugh.  She said things like, “Stop worrying when you don’t have all the facts!” and I never listened, until I found myself repeating them to my students, hoping I could be half as smart as her.
It took the super-strength of a superheroine to be a single parent to two spirited children, particularly the demanding, devious, and difficult daughter I know I was.  
It was this super-strength, superheroine wisdom that gave her the good sense to make our childhood richer than any other kids I know: She was superheroine smart for reading aloud Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. books, instead of stuff like Stuart Little. Superheroine smart for letting us take lots of mental health days, so the other kids would have a chance to catch up.  Superheroine smart for going on strike, so we did the grocery shopping in primary school.  That was harder than doing it the standard way….and so much more fun.

Just like a superhero of stage and screen, she leapt tall buildings in a single bound when she solved the insolvable for me.  The superheroine trick that no one else’s mom could figure out was that she never did things for me.  She taught me how to do the tasks myself—beginning in kindergarten. My insolvable problem at the time was that I didn’t believe I belonged in kindergarten and wanted to advance to first grade.  So she set up a meeting for me to discuss it with the principal. Superheroine lessons, I guess. But that meeting (and, I’m sure, a bunch of background phonecalls I didn’t know about) solved an insurmountable problem. What kindergartener can talk her way into first grade? Me, it turned out, but not without her superheroine mom’s help!
My mom’s most amazing superheroine feat of solving the unsolvable and even time traveling occurred as she has cared for me as I have been sick.  The whole process of managing my illness and running a business would have caused someone else to give up.  I am so much work, and I am fully aware and very sorry that I do not always have the sunniest of dispositions.  She managed my difficult demands while living with me for several months while I was the sickest.  That’s a tall building if I ever heard it—running a business, as well as commuting back and forth between two cities.  On some days, that surely involved time travel.
Ultimately, it involved choosing between paying close attention to her business and paying close attention to me, and because I won, her business lost.  I just feel dreadfully guilty about that.  But I feel so, so eternally grateful for the gift I have had of her loving care, and her great company.
Superheroines don’t have much of a reputation for being very much fun to be around. This is one way she is nothing like a superheroine. In fact, she is great fun! We have had so much fun going around here and there and dreaming up schemes.  What a fantastic gift that has been to be with her.  
It is not surprising, then, that so many people in my life have met her and arrived at the same conclusion: Each, individually, has said the same thing:  “She’s an angel!”  So true.  A superheroine angel.  That’s what she is. I hope she is super-mortal because I never want to lose her!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dashiell and Ryder

Dashiell and Ryder are the sons of a friend, who found out about this project, and wanted to take part, even though they didn't have lunchboxes. I'm game, and think they did a great job.

"I, Dashiell chose Curtis Granderson as my box dude/guy because he is a good teammate. He is a 5 tool player, which means he meets all the expectations of baseball: speed, consistency, power, composure, and range.
Curtis Granderson is the centerfielder for the NY Yankees. "

"I Ryder, picked Monopoly Man because he helps me get through rainy days!"

Cappy Sue

When my shared this project it sounded like a ball.  Doing a group project is not something I get to do a lot of and what a neat topic: super heros.  My biggest problem when I sat down to work on this was that so many different people and animals come to mind. For me what makes a super hero is not the ability to save people or fly but the ability to inspire other people in a positive way.  The positive way might not always be what is intended but that is just what I grabbed on to in people so I went with that.

One side has photos of my grandmother and a label for the book portable curmudgeon.  The reason is she was a curmudgeon. She was fantastic and inspiring had a will of iron.  She was the type of woman who grew her own roses and asked for a shotgun for her 80th birthday.  To me, she was a shining example of not letting others chose who you should be.

The flip side is a photo of Jean Harlow. In a whole different way I find her ability to be comfortable in her skin and embrace her bombshell self and get things done very inspiring.

The rest of my lunchbox is pretty much covered in photos of animals because they have a kindness and honesty it is rare to see in people.

Anyhow that is my wide and weird world of heroes.  Oh just for a weird note I filled the inside of the box with bits of paper I found inspiring. Things like a lost mothers day card a small boy had written for his mother that I found in a book I bought.  Another is cards from people who had sent little bits of money to help with a loved one's funeral. In my book, just less well known - but still inspiring - heroes.

Robert Sanchez

Starting the Superhero Lunchbox Challenge was really daunting. Who was I going to choose to depict as a superhero? A group of individuals? Someone in history? Someone I knew? Finally I decided to limit it to one person, and chose a superhero who did something with no thought for longevity or greatness, but has become a symbol for freedom. I chose the man commonly referred to as “Tank Man," the man who stood down a line of four tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 student protests for economic reform and liberalism in China. (I decided to call him “Tank Guy,” Tank Man sounded formal and almost like the actual name of a Marvel comic book character, and I liked the familiarity of calling him “Tank Guy,” just a regular guy who made an extraordinary decision.)

On one side of the lunchbox, I used the famous Associated Press image of the unidentified man in action, “artifying” it in Photoshop in a metallic tint and adding “Tank Guy” in a superhero-esque font. On the opposite side, I used a photo of Tiananmen Square, also artified through Photoshop, with the image of the gentleman in four graduated sizes soaring toward the sky, with “Real Superhero” in the same font as the other side. I also include the phrase “superhero lunchbox” in the bottom left corner, and “Tiananmen Square” in the bottom right corner. I used a clear sealant on both sides to protect the images.

On the narrow sides of the lunchbox, I used dual Chinese symbols for peace and freedom for added decoration. On the bottom, I placed the symbols for righteousness and love.

Lana Nieves - Ma: Tiny, But Mighty

I didn't find this lunchbox - it found me. Walking down towards the ocean, in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district, I found a free-box outside of an organic food co-op. The sign over the box read, "Everything here is free for the taking - recycle, reuse, enjoy!" The free-box contained mostly old, broken toys - lots of Matchbox cars with wheels missing, random Lego bricks, Pokemon cards. Under these, though, lay a small, metal lunchbox. About half the size of a standard lunchbox. The theme was Batman, and it seems to have been part of some card collector set: collect all the new Batman cards, and keep them in this handy, mini lunchbox. I fell in love. The perfect canvas had landed in my lap.

My mother was an extraordinary woman. Funny, smart, opinionated, loving, fiercely loyal, loud, wise, bossy. Some people found her to be a little bit scary, at times. She did not mince words. She had a fiery temper. She had a heart as big as all of Brooklyn, and was extremely generous.  On the other hand, Brooklyn and the Caribbean both coursed through her veins: she knew how to stand up for herself and her loved ones, hold a grudge, tell someone off in two languages, haggle a salesman down to the lowest price, and make her opinion known. I always loved her for her style of parenting, for letting me, as a kid, know that my own actions, and the decisions I made, were of consequence. I never felt like she was controlling what I did, but saying, "Do what you will, but life is all about living with the choices you make. The ball is in your court." I loved her for this. And, really, I liked her so much. I don't just mean love. Every kid loves their mother, in some way, I suppose. I liked her. She was fun to be with. We made each other laugh. She enjoyed motherhood, and she enjoyed developing real friendship with her children. When I was a kid, she loved to play with me. When I became a young woman, she loved to get up early on Sunday morning and drink coffee with me, before anyone else was awake. Years later, when I was living half a world away, she loved talking on the phone with me, and exchanging care packages by mail. And she never did anything small or half-assed. A perfect example:

During one of our long phone conversations, I mentioned how much I missed American peanut butter. The peanut butter in New Zealand, I explained, just didn't taste right. I'd kill for just a slice of bread with Jif. A week later, a large box was left on my doorstep by the mail man. Instead of having a meter stamp, the box was covered in $1 postage stamps. Front, back, top, bottom...the box was covered in postage stamps. I laughed, cut open the box and found inside two one-gallon jars of Jif peanut butter. Industrial-sized. Enough to keep me in peanut butter for well over a year. I immediately phoned her, and we shared a laugh over the madness of the just over 100 stamps she'd stuck on the box, on a whim, because she thought it would be funny,  and the massive jars of peanut butter. It was so typical of her, to do something in such a big way. Largesse applied to every aspect of her life. She wasn't just generous, she also loomed large. Her laugh was big. Her voice was big. Her personality was huge. When she entered a room, she filled it up. To me, she was a giant. The single most important person in my life - then, now, forever. 

The irony lies in that my mother was all of 4' 11" tall. People who knew her find this difficult to believe. Even people who knew her for years -people who worked along side her - can't believe this is true. A giant in so many ways yet, physically, so very small. Short enough that her feet never touched the ground on a NYC bus. Being a superhero has nothing to do with height.

When I found this little lunchbox, the phrase "tiny, but mighty" popped into my head, and I knew this was meant to be.