The Grateful Box Story


"Up on the Blue Ridge mountain, there I'll take my stand."

~ I've Been All Around This World, The Grateful Dead

Grateful Box Studio is the work & art of Caroline Spitzer.


Detail from "Sailing on Sunshine"

Standing in front of one of my large-format collages, 40” square on a sheet of triple-thick plywood, you get a real sense of the organic energy of collage art, the incredibly detailed fusion of small bits of colorful paper coming together to give dimension and texture to each piece. The process can be laborious, but it is ultimately rewarding. When the gluing is done, the real treat is turning a board upright for the first time and seeing the pattern come alive with color. Or seeing someone's eyes light up when they discover a Grateful Box that seems as if it was made just for them.


Early collage art featuring Spuds MacKenzie (top right)

I create collage and decoupage art made entirely by hand with a good ol' fashioned pair of scissors. Collaging since I was a kid, my early works included pictures cut out of Seventeen and Heavy Metal magazines glued on everything from school books to bedroom walls. Pop art collage masterpieces composed of metal band posters and Thrasher magazine photos.


I've always loved books, but I didn't start cutting them up until much later in life. Growing up in Raleigh, NC, I frequented independent bookstores in the Triangle area (shout-out to Quail Ridge Books) and before long, had a good book collection going. I studied books in school, earning an English degree from Appalachian State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and then went on to make an early career publishing them. After moving to Montepelier, Vermont, I founded the college’s first literary and arts journal, Hunger Mountain. As the journal’s publisher,  I traveled to writer’s conferences around the country, filling my suitcase with more books, and my collection continued to grow. 


The making of "Sailing on Sunshine"

I landed in Asheville, NC in 2008, happy to be back in WNC. While teaching writing at Warren Wilson College, pushing revolutionary books on unsuspecting freshman, I visited a quilt show at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a fateful day that planted the seed for my latest series, paper collages designed in traditional quilt patterns. Dozens of colorful quilts lined the walls of the Folk Art Center three stories high, all the way up to the skylights in the vaulted ceilings. I studied them, making note of patterns, contrasting elements, sizes, borders, and the stories on the wall plaques that accompanied each one. I was most drawn to the “old timey” arrangements -- the seeming complexity of traditional patterns that were brought to America on slave ships. The next day, I went to the North Asheville library and checked out The Standard Book of Quilt Making and Collecting, a rarified volume that's now out of print. Then something clicked for me, an artistic vision, and I sat down with a pattern and a book of black and white photography. That was my first book victim; many coffee table books have since become source material, and I never lose the childlike fascination of discovering each of their colorful pages.


A barn quilt near Zionville, NC

Driving the backroads that wander off into the Smoky Mountain valleys surrounding Asheville, you'll discover quilt blocks mounted on the side of old barns, some as part of the Western North Carolina Quilt Trails project. The bright colors and sharp angles of the square paintings contrast perfectly against the weathered wood of these often leaning structures that have survived for decades to offer shelter and storage. I bring this inspiration to my art studio, selecting patterns from vintage quilting books and transforming them into forms to fit a collage. Using patterns from traditional quilts has given my collage work a definitive form and a link to a historical fine art "craft," one that has been championed by creative women. Once the pattern pieces are measured and cut, I comb through my ever-growing library, laying the books open on the floor to create a giant drawing board until subject and color themes emerge, and then I spend weeks, sometimes months, carefully cutting a collage quilt. 


Process photos of Caroline's collage quilts
Caroline at her Grateful Box vending table, 2011

Grateful Box got its start in 2011 when I began making Grateful Dead-themed decoupage boxes and selling them to fans of their music at concert venues. The boxes, which are upcycled from thrift stores and estate sales, are each one-of-a-kind works of art, each with a special theme that pays tribute to something Grateful Dead-related, such as a song (like the Bertha Box, Deal Box, Loose Lucy Box...), a band member (like the Jerry in Red Box, Box of Phil, She Lays on Me This Rose Bobby Box, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 Brent Box...), an artist (like Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Alex Grey, or Mike DuBois), or a photographer (Jay Blakesburg, Herb Greene, Susana Millman). Each box offers a new perspective on familiar images, helping people to rediscover the joy of these images by providing an unexpected encounter. The experience is similar to listening to a Grateful Dead show where you know every song but still find it delightfully surprising in the unique context of a specific show. Every Grateful Box is a unique piece of art that will never be reproduced, is signed, and has its own signature title.


Becoming a Grateful Box

The art of collage and decoupage utilizes printed images and illustrations mined mostly from books and calendars. My favorite books as source material are vintage; the printing quality is unmatchable compared to the modern press. The soft muted tones, blurred edges, and musty smells are reminiscent, the paper is thick and extra glossy, and the spines are carefully folded and stitched together, a rare treat in the modern world of mass production printing. I use only original source material, which is to say that out of respect for the original artists, photographers, and publishers, I never make photocopies, or reproduce any images from books, or print anything from online. The hope is that folks will delight in seeing a new art form evolve from an original creative expression. The result is always stunning enough that I can’t wait to start working on the next one. 


Check Out More of Caroline's Projects - Links Here


All contents and images at are created by Caroline Mercurio Spitzer. 


"I purchased the box as a gift for my fiance, and I think he will be very pleased with it. The pictures do not do it justice! The box is just beautiful! I will most certainly be purchasing a box for my father as well as myself in the future. These are a must for every Deadhead's collection!" --Heather from Vermont 



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"The pictures do not do it justice! The box is just beautiful! These are a must for every Deadhead's collection!"

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