Material and spiritual. Light and shadows. Stable and volatile. More and less. These are some of the antagonismes Line Vautrin carved onto a small bronze disc atop one of her coveted boxes. The word pairs, which reveal themselves slowly from a sea of lowercase letters, read like a staccato biography of the French artist, who died in 1997 at the age of 83.

Dubbed the 'poetess of metal' by American Vogue, Vautrin elevated industrial materials to the realm of decoration and, mining inspiration from sources dating back to ancient times, couldn't resist a double entendre. New York gallery Maison Gérard has brought together 67 boxes by the self-taught artist in an exhibition that celebrates the 100th anniversary of her birth.

'Line Vautrin's career started very small and organically,' says Benoist F Drut, a partner in Maison Gérard. 'She offered her creations door-to-door at age 20 before being able to open her own showroom, and finished her career with an atelier on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.' Born into a family of Parisian metalworkers, Vautrin honed her casting, chasing and gilding skills from a young age in her father's foundry workshop. From buttons to jewellery to frivolities (comb-holders, foot-warmers), she progressed to the bronze containers that earned her widespread acclaim.

The silvered and gilt bronze boxes in the exhibition were created between 1942 and 1950 and amassed by a single collector over four decades. Their embellished covers reveal a variety of inspirations, from mythological figures and poetry by Rimbaud and Apollinaire to a Venetian masquerade ball and declarations of love, often concealed in symbolic word puzzles known as rebuses. One titled 'La Foule' (The Crowd) is etched with a cluster of stern, angular faces, save for a lone round one, grinning in the middle. 'Vautrin had a very consistent body of work that was expertly crafted and totally proprietary to her,' says Drut, 'where poetry, romanticism and fantasy meet a great sense of creation and craftsmanship.'

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