This is an irregular holiday-spirited announcement of a small, joyful effort to subvert the forces of consumerism (which none of us can fully escape, inhabiting the region of spacetime that we do) and channel them instead toward beauty, delight, and the conservation of this irreplaceable Pale Blue Dot we share.
This is how it happened: Last year, while escaping lockdown by time-travel, reading and writing about centuries-old natural history, botany, and astronomy works, I found myself thinking that the illustrations, diagrams, and maps in them would make unusual and wondrous face masks. And so, on a whim, I restored some and had them made using society6 — a lovely platform I had previously used for art prints, which had just launched a face mask printing service.
To honor the values and passions of the long-dead artists and scientists behind these works, I decided to donate my share of the proceeds to The Nature Conservancy.
To my astonishment, this whim-project raised thousands of dollars for the stewardship of the very plants, animals, and natural phenomena depicted on the masks.
And now a joyous turn of events: Moved by the response, the folks at society6 offered to match my donation if I curated a gift guide of other things they make — prints, puzzles, pillows, coasters, placemats, cutting boards, stationery cards, fanny packs (!) — featuring these antique artworks of science.
And so here we are, with an offering of unusual gifts for your most beloved human animals — get your paws on them here as we steward this beautiful planet together for generations of living things to come.
- a handsome framed art print of the Solar System quilt the 19th-century Iowan Ella Harding Baker spent seven years embroidering to teach women astronomy in an era before they had access to formal education, and a face mask version
- a cutting board featuring a sweet sleepy octopus from the world’s first illustrated encyclopedia of deep-sea cephalopods, which upended our millennia-deep hubris that this blue world is lifeless below 300 fathoms
- stationery cards and a face mask featuring the glorious red poppy from Elizabeth Blackwell’s unexampled illustrated encyclopedia of medicinal plants, which this young mother made in 1737 after teaching herself art and botany to feed her small child and get her husband out of debtor’s prison
- coasters featuring art from Thomas Wright’s visionary 1750 theory of the universe, the first to describe the spiral shape of the Milky Way and imagine the existence of other galaxies
- a yoga mat (which I myself have and love and just used) featuring the blues from Abraham Gottlob Werner’s pioneering 19th-century nomenclature of color that Darwin carried aboard the Beagle
- a thermos bottle (which I also have and love and use daily) emblazoned with the November meteor showers from Étienne Léopold Trouvelot’s stunning 19th-century astronomical drawings
- a fanny pack (the first of these things I made, originally for myself, which has now traveled many a forest mile) featuring the phases of Venus and Saturn by the self-taught 17th-century astronomer and artist Maria Clara Eimmart
- a bath mat featuring one of the otherworldly jellyfish Ernst Haeckel, who coined the term ecology, studied and painted to salve the heartbreak of his life
…and many, many other wearable, washable, wallable, giftable wonders.