Satisfy your curiosity with a 19th century inspired cabinet

As an artist and naturalist, I’m an inveterate collector of dead things cast off by the living. Many of life’s most beautiful objects were once alive and are just as beautiful and intriguing when not. My home is like one big 19th century Victorian cabinet of curiosities.

Such ‘cabinets’ or rooms were dedicated to displaying natural history collections gleaned during the great European age of exploration when wild and unique treasures were being discovered in both the new and old worlds at a fantastic pace.


A recent inventory of my Cabinet of Curiosity

I am forever on the lookout for intriguing objects to collect so that I’ll have a ready stash of inspiring things to draw and teach from. Whether it’s a vial of sand from Hawaii, a pressed flower from a garden or a dead bird gifted by a neighbor, my cabinet is always growing in size and complexity. Here are just a few items (which of these do you have?) I hope this list will inspire you to start your own collection for study and enjoyment!

  • Rattlesnake rattle and a shed snake skin
  • Dried butterflies
  • Natural sea sponge, sea urchins and dried corals from tropical seas I’ve snorkeled in
  • Abalone and 100’s of other seashells


  • Dried miniature seahorse and scorpion
  • A pair of earrings made from the iridescent elytra of a tropical beetle
  • Feathers of every size and color
  • Coffee can of owl pellets and the complete skeletons of voles, mice, and moles encased within them and dissected out of them


  • Rock, minerals, and crystals from sedimentary, metamorphic and volcanic outcroppings
  • Fossil shark teeth and a  trilobite I proudly collected in the White Mountains
  • Stonefly exoskeletons and boxes of dried and preserved insects from past research projects

  • A jumping cholla cactus skeleton from the Mojave Desert
  • Mushroom spore prints kept flat in journal pages


  • Vials of black, white, pink and purple sand from beaches I’ve walked
  • Dead birds in the freezer that I use as teaching specimens in my sketching classes including a kestrel, hummers, crossbill, western wood pee-wee


  • A lucky rabbit’s foot  (who didn’t have one of these if you grew up in the ‘70s?)
  • Fur clippings from my golden retrievers who’ve crossed the rainbow bridge
  • Pressed flowers, aromatic herbs and autumn leaves; in every hue of gold, rust, orange, crimson, brown
  • Seedpods of the devil’s claw, acorns and pine cones from many species
  • A sage smudge stick I made from blossoming branches in the Great Basin desert
  • Part of a paper wasp nest
  • Square nails and blue glass bottles found on my property that were likely used during the Gold Rush
  • Boxes of bones: deer, elk, coyote, bobcat, and a complete vertebral column of a snake


  • A robin’s nest and bits of its blue shelled eggs I collected after, sadly, a predator got in the nest
  • Native American arrowheads and obsidian flakes

What do you have in your cabinet of curiosities? Do tell!  And if you haven’t started one yet, I hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration to create your own!