Be the Artist: The Box Bags of Enid Collins

Be the Artist DIY
The Collins “box bag” was a favorite accessory in the ’60s. What if she had a booth a today’s comic conventions featuring themes like ‘Tomb Raider’? Image: Lisa Tate

The Artist: Enid Collins

Enid Collins may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of some of most influential artists of the 20th century, but her creations are iconic pieces of fashion history still widely collected today.

Collins is the name behind the “Collins Bag,” the colorful wooden box bags and canvas bags that were in-demand pieces throughout the United States in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s.

Collins grew up in San Antonio and majored in fashion design at Texas Woman’s University in the 1940s. She married a sculptor named Frederic and they purchased a ranch in the small town of Medina. They made their living designing leather purses, but realized they were too expensive for many people.

According to one piece written by Mimi Schwartz for Texas Monthly in the 1980s, Collins came up with the idea of a “box bag” in 1963. This was a simple, decorated wooden box that sold for around $10, and by 1968 she was selling around a 1,000 of them a week. She recruited wives of neighboring rangers to help out with the silk-screen process. They were being sold from Los Angeles to New York, including in the style Mecca of Neiman Marcus.

The bags were adorned with mid-century mod paintings and embellished with colorful jewels. She did everything from zodiac signs to animals and plants to scenes depicting different cities. Owls, cats, and the word “LOVE” were also favorites. Each design was given a title written on the front (“Bird Brain, ” “Round Up Time,” “Sophistikit”) and signed with her “ec” signature.

A quick search of Pinterest will reveal hundreds of images like these featuring Enid Collins’s original box bags and accessories.

Her original designs can nearly always be found on sites like Pinterest, Etsy, and eBay, and will fetch a couple of hundred dollars from avid collectors.

Collins of Texas was sold to the Tandy Leather Corporation in 1970, but today the company is owned by a private family working to keep the original style and feel of the Collins of Texas intact. They continue to carry new items based on Enid’s “classic” designs.

The original factory store is still in Medina, but, according to the company site, is currently being “reorganized” to serve as a Collins gallery.

A suitable future for a designer many consider a significant American folk artist.

Image: Lisa Tate

The Project: Enid’s Comic Convention “Exclusives”

Enid Collins was not only an innovative artist and designer, but she knew how to run a business. This meant knowing where and how to show her product. What if Collins decided to set up an expo booth at a high-profile pop culture event like San Diego Comic-Con, Wizard World, or a similar event? There would certainly be some in-demand “exclusive” designs.

For this project, we’re going to make some design prototypes for box bags she might sell at a comic convention.

For the purse itself, you can make it easy on yourself by using a blank, unpainted wooden box or purse found at craft stores, or use a simple cardboard box like a shoe or cigar box.

Wooden or cardboard boxes can be adorned with craft store jewels for some “box”. Image: Lisa Tate

Paint the box a solid color (if it isn’t already) with acrylic craft or spray paint.

Think of a theme that would be the perfect con exclusive. What movies or shows are coming out this year? What is the big event going on in a favorite comic book? Are there any new video game releases that are getting attention?

Draw a simple design in pencil on the box, or draw it on paper and cut it out to make a stencil. Use bright acrylic craft paint to create the image. Give the finished image a little extra protection once it dries by spraying some clear coating over the design. A thin painted-on layer of decoupage glue also works.

To finish it off, give it some “Collins Bag” sparkle. Glue on rhinestones, jewels, gold or silver cord or chain, or other embellishments. Make it stand out. These bags are meant to be noticed.

Paint or stencil a design on a wooden cardboard box, and add some jewels or rhinestones for a fashionable “box bag.” Images: Lisa Tate

If using a cardboard box, make a handle by punching two holes in the top of the box, and running a heavy cord through them. Add wooden or plastic beads to the cord for a more decorative handle.

Even those who aren’t the “purse type” can still make these as fun works of folk art for a wall or shelf.

Some “box bag” creations inspired by some DC Comics’s ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Batman & Robin.’ Image: Lisa Tate.

Some may see Collins Bag’s early designs as tacky or kitschy, but they weren’t supposed to be subtle. Neither are geek girls with a sense of adventure.

Schwartz said her own Collins Bag in the 1960s had a “boldness and restlessness” to it. She remembered the rattling noise her own bag made from the coins or pencils hitting the wood while she walked.

“That was the secret of the Collins purse: Enid Collins drew us into a clever conspiracy,” Schwartz wrote. “She urged us to make a ruckus, to show off—which, as it turns out, is just what those of us who were girls in the sixties grew up to do.”

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