When the Waterfall Arts program committee decided to hold an open-call art show featuring cardboard, little did they know how well that call would be answered. “Corrugation Nation” opened April 6 with works from artists, elementary and high school students, and others from the Belfast area and as far away as Newcastle and Manchester. Their cardboard creations have an even wider range.

“Some is very accomplished and some is very adorable,” said Waterfall Arts’ Lorna Crichton. “Cardboard is so versatile and egalitarian, and people were excited to work with it.”

When Robin Horty of Hope heard about the show, she felt drawn to it in a very distinctive way. Horty’s great-great-uncle was Robert Gair, a Scottish immigrant whose 1879 invention of the folding corrugated cardboard box helped spark a revolution in mass marketing.

“We take something as simple as a folding box or a paper cup for granted,” said Horty a few hours before the reception.

It’s not something Horty takes for granted — it’s in her blood, even though she didn’t know it for many years. Independent at an early age and then marrying young, she had left her family name behind and knew little of its history. When her daughter was born, her father gave her a copy of the Gair family tree. When that daughter, grown, decided to move to Puerto Rico a couple of decades later, Horty’s father mentioned that the family had history there — in fact, Horty’s daughter had landed at the very spot.

“She was living near where his uncle James Gair Beattie II managed a sugar plantation for 35 years; his two daughters, my father’s cousins, were born and raised there, something I had not known until then. I now have a home there with my husband. Talk about walking in your ancestors’ footsteps,” Horty said.

As it turns out, Robert Gair and his wife, Emma, had a cottage by the Rockland Breakwater in the early 1900s,”where I have for decades strolled walking to the lighthouse, not knowing my ancestors had walked there before me,” Horty said.

Horty has been exploring and documenting her family history for going on 20 years now and keeps finding new connections. She began writing a book to gather the stories and photos and other materials, an in-progress book that is on display with her “Corrugation Nation” entry. She returned from a visit to Puerto Rico just before her “The Memory Keeper’s Dress” had to be delivered to Waterfall Arts. The magical fairy dress is made of cardboard but has the delicate look of a fabric gown, thanks to Horty’s many years as a seamstress. That avocation has dovetailed with a lifetime love of gardening, something she physically has difficulty with these days.

“The body doesn’t work the way it worked, but the sewing is a way of gardening with fabric,” she said.

In July 2009, Horty experienced a rare type of spinal aneurysm right below the right-side base of her brain. She was unconscious for three weeks but she was not alone — her husband spent the days reading her Mary Oliver poems and nights sleeping in a bedside chair. The only memories Horty has of that period, however, were being with her ancestors, particularly her grandmother.

“I’m a very different person now. I feel like I have a connection to another place where there is no measure for time — time is different for me,” she said.

When she saw the announcement for “Corrugation Nation,” Horty, who had never exhibited in an arts show or created anything out of cardboard, immediately went into her basement and dug out two large corrugated cardboard containers. She began cutting, bending, molding and then painting cardboard for weeks on end, sometimes into the night.

“When I did the dress, I didn’t think about it — it just came to me,” she said.

As a seamstress, Horty always makes a mockup in muslin to perfect the pattern before beginning a garment. But for “The Memory Keeper’s Dress,” she just dove in and kept going. She said when the bodice emerged she knew where she was heading; the leaves presented themselves, then the flowers and the wings and, finally, the book. She is still rather stunned by the process.

“There were no mistakes, I didn’t skip a beat. When I made the petals for the skirt, there were none left over, it was exactly the right number,” she said.

After that flurry of creation, she took time to rethink some aspects of the dress. Originally, she had planned to line the skirt with family photos and history but then the book began to emerge instead. She ended up making a different set of wings during her Puerto Rican visit, finding the cardboard to have different, more pliable properties in the warm, humid air. The day of the reception, she still wasn’t sure she would attach the wings but said if she didn’t, they would be displayed with the dress. Puerto Rico also influences the three-dimensional flora she created for the book cover, which started out as ivy but ended up looking more like the tropical crotons outside her window there.

Horty said in a way, she doesn’t feel like she made “The Memory Keeper’s Dress,” that it just kind of happened.

“It was so healing and cathartic, a way to focus without thinking,” she said.

She also credits the work as a way for her to honor her family’s history and the ancestors in whose footsteps she feels she is walking more and more.

“In making the cardboard dress, I think I’m taking my name back,” she said. “You think you can part from your family but blood runs deep. Sometimes you have to go back 100 years to find a kindred spirit, but they’re there,” she said.

Horty is dedicating “The Memory Keeper’s Dress” and the memory book to all her ancestors, with special appreciation to Margaret Beattie, whom she calls her family’s Memory Keeper of the past, and Beattie’s son Prescott; and to her Aunt Jean Beattie O’Connell for sharing the Memory Keepers of the present; and to her daughter and her daughters, the Memory Keepers of the future; “and to Robert Gair, for instilling in me by example a sense of anything is possible.”

“Corrugation Nation” is on view in the Clifford Gallery and throughout Waterfall Arts, 256 High St., through May 18. Much of the work is for sale and the remaining pieces will be raffled off at the show’s closing-day party from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information visit waterfallarts.org.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or dernest@villagesoup.com.