Triunfador Franck de Las Mercedes

Nicaragua-born artist delivers a fragile message of peace with mail-order art.

— -- One box at a time.

That is how Franck de Las Mercedes is helping inspire people to make the world a better place.

Standing in the middle of his one-bedroom loft apartment in an industrial part of Weehawken, N.J., the 34-year-old abstract painter covers a small brown cardboard box in white acrylic paint and then carefully drips red and hot pink paint on it. He blends the colors together with a small pallet knife and then sets it down on the floor to dry amongst other finished boxes, which are now small works of art.

It's what he does next that has sparked such an outpouring of interest from people across the United States and Latin America. He takes a self-adhesive label that reads, "Frágil. Manéjese Con Cuidado," and slaps it on the brightly colored box near the mailing label. But this box will not be filled with fine china. What it contains is far more valuable. At the bottom of the Fragil label the contents is revealed: "PAZ."

Labels stacked on a nearby table are preprinted with other "contents" waiting to be slapped on boxes and shipped free of charge by Mercedes to people around the world, including, "JUSTICIA," "TRANQUILIDAD," "AMOR."

Growing up in war torn Nicaragua during the 1970s and early 80s, Mercedes knew little of such concepts. Instead, he was surrounded by bombings, kidnappings and murder. "The war really affected me," he says.

But now with his brightly painted little boxes of hope he has found a way to transform that pain into a positive message that is having a profound impact on people around the world.

Mercedes was born into an artistic family. His mother taught folkloric dancing to schoolchildren and was an accomplished embroiderer. Other relatives made traditional arts and crafts and sold them in the marketplace. He and his sister grew up dancing marimba in the family's hometown of Masaya, known as the cradle of Nicaraguan folklore.

His father left the family for another woman when Mercedes was five and it hit him hard. Already a shy child, Mercedes became even more withdrawn and retreated into his own private world where he would sit alone doodling faces, odd figures and little animals for long stretches of time.

"I spent hours thinking of magical worlds and superheroes," recalls Mercedes. "And, most of all, a better life."

For more on Franck de Las Mercedes, visit Selecciones.

Interest in Mercedes' Priority Boxes has also sparked interest in his abstract paintings. He recently sold one for $3,000. For more information on Mercedes' boxes and his other art work, visit his Web site at