Monday, September 26, 2011

Eye Candy: The Curiosity Cabinet

The curiosity cabinet was a 16th century trend that has gained recent notoriety in contemporary culture. The romantic notion of displaying sentimental, natural, and hand-made objects speaks a lot about those who display them. This post is dedicated to all evolutionary forms of the curio cabinet. Enjoy!


Some artists have played with the idea of curiosity cabinets- creating worlds within an object, sometimes more than one organized in a single object. Here are some artists that have played around with the curiosity cabinet:

& close ups...

a steampunk inspired curio box by Jack and Cat Curio

Frans Francken the Younger (can you believe this is from 1620?!)

John Derain

by Andy Paiko, via

by artist Jacques Poirier, via


The traditional curiosity cabinet was used to display natural objects and scientific objects. They became popular in the 16th century. Here's a smathering of traditional and traditionally-inspired images:


Contemporary revival of curiosity cabinets has been growing quickly. In almost all modern cabinets that I have seen, there are lots of animal trinkets and fragile objects. Natural objects are usually altered in some way, but not always. A popular form of display for curio-inspired objects are bell jars/cloches and old typography drawers.

The Buddha in this one really catches my fancy!

A friend of mine recently created a curio cabinet in her home. ART (yes, those are her initials) was kind enough to send me a bunch of photos for this post!. Below is the image of her cabinet, followed by close ups of some of the objects in the cabinet. Each object in her cabinet has a connection to a story about a friend or a family member which makes her cabinet even more special and sentimental.

She found this pencil at artist Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens.
It has a hair on it. We like to imagine that it was Finster's.

Here are some easy to make curio-inspired crafts:

Take a shadowbox and fill it with feathers and eggs.

Create your own jellyfish in a bottle using plastic bags! Tutorial here.

Vacation memory jars. Instructions here.

A scrapbook for all kinds of things that you find over the years. Instructions here.

Glue a stick, some moss, and a fake bird or bug toy into the lid of an empty glass jar.
Screw it into the jar. Turn it upside down. Ta-dah!

Organizing neutral colored buttons into different sized jars creates a beautiful whimsy piece.

Turn tree mushrooms into shelves. Tutorial here.

Here are some images of curio-inspired spaces...

The Art Institute of Chicago has an AMAZING resource for kids- You can create your own curiosity box a la Joseph Cornell on their website! Check it out here!

The Curiosity Shoppe is a store in San Francisco that somehow is linked to curiosity cabinets in my mind. Other than the name, it doesn't have any real connection, but check it out anyway, especially if you love DIY stuff like I do!

Wikipedia has a huge entry on the international history and rise of curiosity cabinets over the past few centuries. You can view it here.

Lastly, I have a Pinterest board called Curiosity Cabinets, Nature Trays, & Whimsy where I post images of all sorts of curio-related objects and DIY projects. Please follow me if you're interested in seeing more whimsy!


  1. These cabinets looks so wonderful!

  2. These cabinets are very compelling. I like the idea of making several designs. These various decors make the cabinets lively. These wood crafts look sturdy as well. I'm pretty sure that they used concrete materials and great hardware to fix these cabinets. Great job!