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DIY: A Cabinet of Curiosities

by Katie Workman
Sunday Oct 8, 2017

Digging around in a favorite flea market a couple of years ago, I found a handmade, compartmentalized box that someone had lovingly crafted from wood, probably 100 years ago. It looked like it could have been a tool kit, fishing tackle box or something a builder would use. Undeterred by the fact that I had no need for any of those things, I bought it.

But it looked a little forlorn empty, so I decided to create a "cabinet of curiosities," with autumn as a theme.

I started with a few colorful fall leaves and a polished acorn. Later came a birds' nest that had been vacated earlier that summer from a nook under a woodshed roof. A long, skinny pinecone. A pressed flower that fell out of an old cookbook. Some beautiful stones. A canary yellow squash, a ruddy pomegranate, a seckel pear.

To these natural objects, I added an old recipe booklet from a company called Worcester Ivory Salt (my husband is from Worcester, Massachusetts) and a century-old butter-making paddle. Little cocktail forks. Some old glass bottles with interesting shapes.

The box sits on the counter underneath our living room windows, and every day I look at it and feel a little sigh of pleasure. I love that I know exactly where each item came from, and that the collection is always evolving and will never be "done."

So what exactly IS a cabinet of curiosities?

The idea goes back at least to Renaissance Europe, where "wonder rooms" full of knickknacks and oddities from nature were created for study, inspiration and contemplation. Often these collections were gathered on one's travels, and then displayed. Imagine a Pinterest board of quirky natural objects come to life.

These days, a cabinet of curiosities might include all sorts of collectibles. They can be housed in any kind of box, on shelves, maybe in an actual cabinet with a glass door. The cabinet of curiosities can sit on a counter or be mounted on a wall.

It's a wonderful conversation piece, since many items probably have stories behind them. A stone from a trip to the Hawaii, a peacock feather from a hike in Australia, or just a discarded snake skin from an expedition in the woods behind your house.

Fall is the perfect time to consider creating your own cabinet of curiosities.

How to begin?

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