Sunday, November 23, 2008
Recreating, or alluding to, the aesthetic of the Victorian naturalist's parlor has become very much en vogue of late. One has only to peruse any current interior decorating magazine to confirm that exhibiting mineral specimens, bones, shells and any creature preserved by means of taxidermy within the home distinguishes it's inhabitant as a man or woman of a scientific mind; trolling land, sky and sea in a quest for evidence of nature's most dramatic creations. The most delicate or prized specimens are distinguished by their tendency to be enshrined within the protective chamber of the Glass Dome. I can assure you that even a relatively pedestrian display of curios may be greatly enhanced by the act of putting a few choice specimens under glass domes of various sizes. Many chic retailers are now offering glass domes to the aspiring collector at greatly inflated prices:
$40 and $160, base and contents not included.
Without question, the best place for the decorator-on-a-budget to acquire glass domes is the local thrift store. How do such fine display accessories end up in a thrift store, you ask? Well, very often they are seen covering some imported brass-toned "antique" clock like the one below:
Also, In the 1970's, it was not uncommon for crafty folk to compose arrangements of dried weeds and butterflies and display them under glass domes, and these will very often be spied among the bric-a-brac at the local thrift store as well. I recently picked up the dome below at the thrift store for only $3.99. It contains a "real rose, preserved for eternity (by dipping it in red paint!)" Just remember not to let whatever hideous object you see inside color your decision to take it or leave it; $3.99 is a great price for a bell jar, after I ditch the rose and lace and paint the base!
The image below is another fine dome and base found recently for $5.99 at a thrift store. Unfortunately, I had eagerly discarded the most offensive portions of the set before taking this photo, which consisted of a small clock supported by an arch covered in pastel flowers like those around the base. Beneath the arch stood a small plastic bride and groom which, aided by a small battery powered motor in the base, "danced" in lazy circles of wedded bliss.
The arch was easily cut down with a little hand saw, the bride and groom were plucked from the rotating post, and the raised flowery vine encircling the base was easily sanded off with an electric sander. I then applied a few coats of primer and white paint, and ended up with a very nice dome and base that one would never suspect to have been a tacky wedding gift. The dome on the far right of the first image of this posting is the completed project, containing a coral tuft. Should I desire, a suitable curio may be mounted on the left-over rotating post sticking out of the base, adding rotating motion to the display! *Update* On the first morning of the new year I awoke to the sound of breaking glass: my naughty kitty had pushed this dome off the shelf! Im glad I hadn't paid $160 for it! All three of the domes in the title image were purchased from thrift stores, and none cost more than $8.00. Should you find a dome with no base, purchase it and proceed at once to the "woodcraft" aisle of your local Michael's or Crafts, Etc., where you may purchase an appropriately sized round pine plaque with a routed edge for only a few dollars to serve as the base. Now, perhaps you wonder what sort of natural curiosities you might display within your new dome? I beg you spend some time perusing the excellent photographs British artist Lucy Harvey has taken among the Natural History collections of some very fine British museums, including Oxford's trove of curiosa, The Pitt Rivers Museum, which may be further explored by embarking on a virtual tour of their galleries here
Now get out there, You, and start collecting!
addendum: Ok, Ok... if you simply must have a bell jar and something to display within poste haste, allow me to guide you to San Francisco's Paxton Gate, a delightful shop that will surely slake your thirst for the unusual... for now.