Shop Etsy

Inspired by the American Museum of Natural History

Mar 5, 2015

by Allie Andrews handmade and vintage goods

Allie Andrews is an Associate Program Manager for Etsy Wholesale. In her spare time, she dabbles in fashion design and focuses on using up her immense stash of fabric. 

Where do you find inspiration — in the graceful curve of a bird’s wing, the delicate patterns of a speckled egg, or the otherworldly blue-white hue of a glacier? The wonders of the natural world have been driving man’s creative endeavors since the days when the only available canvas was the wall of a cave. Our latest partnership, with the American Museum of Natural History, builds on this timeless tradition.

We recently invited Etsy Wholesale designers to create limited-edition products for the museum’s gift shop, inspired by a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s collections. After the tour, each artist walked away with a sea of inspiration to take back to their studios and think upon as they started on their original designs. We caught up with three of them for a peek into their creative process; read on for photos and insights about the magic that happened from the time the makers toured the museum until the day their collections were stocked in the gift shop.

Inspiration: Minerals and Ice


Amy, center, observes minerals from the museum’s collection.

Ceramicist Amy Hamley of Redraven Studios“My porcelain iceberg pendant necklace was inspired by the Gems and Minerals Hall and the Nature’s Fury exhibit, which is about the science of natural disasters. With this necklace, I hoped to recreate the qualities found in both minerals and ice.”


“Inspiration for my work usually comes in the form of nature and found objects; rock formations, canyons, and minerals are familiar subjects. With this project, however, I strived to push past something we see every day and reflect on how human time and space are insignificant on the scale set by nature.”


“I began by studying the origins and images of icebergs, and I was especially inspired by blue icebergs, which are formed from freshwater snow that has undergone tremendous pressure over immense spans of time. Similar to the way minerals are formed, pressure, impurities, and time reveal familiar facets, colors, and luster.”


“After landing on a concept, I began researching minerals to cast. I was looking for one with similar facets and formations to ice. Citrine, a mineral that is typically cloudy white and amber, stood out as the perfect subject. The next step was making a plaster mold out of the citrine, and then slip casting the form in porcelain.”


“After the porcelain piece went through its first bisque firing, I hand-painted it with four shades of blue underglaze to create depth. The final step was firing it to 2,200 degrees, finishing with touches of platinum luster, and firing it a third time.”


The finished necklace.

“The blue hues and platinum luster that resulted resemble the reflected light that dances on water and ice.”

Inspiration: Speckled Eggs


One of the eggs that sparked Jessica’s creativity.

Leather goods designer Jessica Ulrich of Kertis“Much of my work is inspired by art and natural history. When I started making leather goods, I was fascinated by early naturalists and the illustrations they created to document the plants and animals they discovered. For these pouches, I was primarily inspired by a beautiful selection of speckled eggs from the ornithology collection, along with a Lorenz Oken illustration from the rare book collection at the museum’s library.”


More eggs from the museum’s collection.

“When curator Paul Sweet shared the speckled eggs, I was struck by their color and patterns – they looked as if they’d been hand-painted with black, peach and turquoise droplets. I knew right away that I wanted to recreate that speckled effect, highlighting the colors found naturally on these eggs.”


“With that in mind, I designed a small leather pouch that mirrored the eggs’ rounded shape.”


“The next step was hand-painting each piece of leather with a speckled pattern, which I created using a porous sponge. Painting on leather allows me to explore patterns, colors, and prints – and transfer them to items you can use everyday.”


The finished pouch.

“I like to combine art and craft, and this medium allows me to do just that.”

Inspiration: Prints of Underwater Life


Leah, right, during the museum tour.

Metalsmith and ceramicist Leah Ball of Leah Ball“The ocean has been a source of inspiration for me since probably even before I was born. I grew up on the beach in Carlsbad, California, so anytime I get to explore the force of the magical and mysterious sea, I feel my work is at its best. The catalyst for these earrings, and the marbled mold they are displayed on, was our tour of the museum’s rare book collection. The beautiful prints of underwater life were unlike anything I had ever seen before. When I went to the Hall of Ocean Life, I was equally inspired by the wall of jellyfish and the displays from different ages. The creatures looked like something out of a Salvador Dalí dream!”


“During my time at the museum, I made quick sketches of shapes and forms that I liked. Back at the studio, I began to play with wax and my wax carving tools until I had a bunch of shapes that felt a lot like the shapes I was inspired by.”


“I like the tedium and detail required in metalwork, but also the flexibility and organic nature of carving wax. My goal for the metal stud earring set was to convey the odd wonderment of the images captured by ancient travelers and explorers and to make my pieces playful and dreamlike.”


“Once I had the shapes for the various earrings, I moved to clay and carved shell-like displays to hold the little mix-and-match sets. I pulled a plaster mold from the clay, then created the marbled porcelain pieces. Marbling porcelain is continually surprising; you never know exactly how it will turn out.”


Leah’s finished pieces.

“Working on this project reminded me how important it is to get out there and be inspired by the natural world, rather than being inspired solely by what other people are making — and my work is better for it.”

 How are you inspired by natural history?

Behind-the-scenes tour photos by Marina Robel; all studio and process photos courtesy of the participating artists.


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