ode to the victorian naturalists

I’m inspired by the careful way the Victorian naturalists observed the natural world.  Lacking the ability to take photographs of what they saw, they painstakingly rendered it by hand: insect by insect, bird by bird, leaf by leaf.

The detail cameras can capture today is awe-inspiring.  But I also sometimes wish that art and science were still linked together by the act of drawing in the way that they used to be.  Imagine the time those artists spent sitting still, watching until they could make one careful mark on paper, then another.  Something about that fascinates me–that their goal may not have been to create art, but just to observe the smallest elements of their environment.  And yet in doing that, they created art anyway.


This pendant is my tribute to those fastidious Victorian artists.  I drew the yellow-jacket by hand based on an actual Victorian woodcut print, then etched my drawing into the copper.  The insect rests on a subtly-textured sterling silver oval, and a thin rim of silver around the edge frames the insect.  I’ve attached the bale to the pendant with a copper rivet.

The pendant hangs from an unusual sterling silver chain reminiscent of the fine joints of insect legs.  A small, pale green grossularite garnet with copper-colored flecks hangs beside the clasp to rest at the nape of the neck.  I’ve given the necklace and pendant a rich, dark patina to accentuate the details and to give the piece an heirloom look.

More and more, I find value in simple observation.  I try to remind myself that I don’t have to own the things that move me, though that’s my inclination. I try to remind myself that I don’t have to pick the clematis because I love the shape of its bud or the way it climbs.

I know that the Victorians didn’t live by this–by that time, the British had shamelessly colonized much of the world.  And even the naturalists captured and kept collections of natural “specimens,” living things that were often no doubt plucked from their environments, killed, then artfully arranged for display.

cabinet of natural curiosities

I suppose I should hate them for those things. Part of me does. But a person can love selectively, and that’s how I feel about the Victorians–I love one part: their vast curiosity. Though it was linked to greed, still, I love their urge to observe and record, to let what they saw in nature pass through their hands onto paper.

The necklace is available in the shop.

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