©AMNH/D. Finnin

It's rare to get a peek at where artists get their inspiration. It's not always easy to pin down, and it's really easy to feel like a jerk for asking persistent questions about inspiration that may be unanswerable since it can come from any and everywhere.

Etsy recently invited some of their wholesale artists to the American Museum of Natural History and then sent them home to create an original line of products based on whatever inspiration they found. They teamed up with 22 different Etsy designers to create more than 140 items. It's the first time Etsy has collaborated with any museum to create new products, and the results are a stunning collection of jewelry, decorations, and clothing currently available in the AMNH gift store. I was lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at the collection last week, talk to some of the artists, and see the inspiration for the pieces they created.

Jessica Kertis Ulrich

Handprinted leather pouch, Jessica Kertis Ulrich. ©AMNH/D. Finnin

New York artist Jessica Kertis Ulrich of Kertis was inspired by the conical pyriform eggs found in the museum's ornithology collection. She told Etsy:

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.

Curator Paul Sweet holding one of the unique eggs. ©Danielle Henderson

Paul Sweet, an AMNH ornithologist, told us that artists sometimes contact him to take a peek at their collection and showed us nests, lithographs, and specimens used to inspire over the ages.

I loved the color pattern of these birds and thought about using a similar colorway to knit my next scarf. © Danielle Henderson

Leah Ball

Leah Ball's ocean-inspired jewelry. ©AMNH/D. Finnin

Chicago-based Leah Ball was inspired by the Hall of Ocean Life. Her process involves marveling porcelain, and the metalsmith and ceramicist uses organic shapes and textures in her work.

“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!”

Tom Baione, the Harold Boeschenstein Director in the Department of Library Services, showed us some of the incredibly old books that were part of the Leah's inspiration, including this 1575 book by Conrad Gessner, the first scientist who attempted to categorize every animal on earth.

Director Tom Baione showing us an enhanced, hand-drawn lobster claw in Gessner's 1575 book. ©AMNH/D. Finnin

He also showed us an image of this whale, which artist and former AMNH librarian Amanda Bielskas told me she used to get the dimensions for her beautiful whale pendant:

Big 'ol whale. ©AMNH/D. Finnin
Amanda Bielskas' Hall of Ocean Life-inspired pendant with accurate dimensions. ©AMNH/D. Finnin

Amy Hamley

Amy Hamley's painted porcelain ©AMNH/D. Finnin

Ceramicist Amy Hamley of Redraven Studios was inspired by the Nature's Fury exhibit:

“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.”

The collection includes a cool 3D dinosaur card, felt dinosaur coats for little friends, bath salts, banners, and more. It's a cool collaboration and well worth the visit.

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Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.