Crafting the Archives Way!

Snowflake Study, between 1890-1903, Wilson A. Bentley, Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 31 Box 1

I’ve been inspired by the snowflakes Wilson A. Bentley photographed through a microscope in the late 1800's ever since I first saw them in the Archives. Bentley donated 500 of his photographs to the Smithsonian in 1903 (you can read more about them in a post by Archives colleague, Courtney Esposito). The images capture nature at its most creative, mathematical, and elegant. I can’t help but think Bentley was taken by their beauty, as well as by the science.

When I look at their patterns, they remind me of a spot on Sesame Street I loved as a kid—the cameraman would zoom into a plant in Bert and Ernie’s window box, and lo-and-behold; a world of tiny creatures (the twiddlebugs) dwelled with their paperclip swing and matchbox car.  The tiny worlds that inhabit these snowflakes inspire cloud-gazing associations as well. I love the tulips that encircle the center of this one:

Snowflake Study, between 1890-1903, William A. Bentley, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID#S

I was drawn in by the beauty of these images, and I was feeling crafty. Plus, I needed something to crown our “tabletop” tree that was sparsely covered by the dozen or so ornaments we’ve collected over the years. So, my colleague, Marguerite Roby, and I secured some supplies and sat down this past Sunday to make a tree-topper for my tree, and decorations for the upcoming Archives Holiday party based on Bentley snowflakes in our collection. Below are some “loose” instructions (disclaimer: I'm not a crafting professional) as well as some free templates I made. I encourage you to download the templates and images, and let the shapes inspire you. If you do end up using them, please leave a comment and share some pictures. Happy snow-crafting!


<p>Everything you need to craft Bentley-inspired snowflakes.</p>

  • Scissors
  • Craft Knife
  • Craft cutting board (I happen to have one, but you can also use cardboard or one of those flexible plastic kitchen cutting boards)
  • Paper for printing the template and the final snowflake
  • Glitter glue
  • Rubber Cement (for attaching a tree topper base)

How to

  1. Download one of the templates below (click on the image to the get large size, right-click, and "save image") and print them on paper.  You can shrink or enlarge it with a copying machine to get the size you want.
  2. Cut out the template. Feel free to add your own details.
  3. <p>Smithsonian Archives employee, Marguerite Roby, showing off her snowflake template.</p>

  4. Trace the pattern on the final paper for your snowflake (Don't forget snowflakes are symmetrical!) You can save time by cutting or folding your template in half) and tracing half of the template onto your final folded piece of paper (see below).
  5. <p>Smithsonian Archives employee, Effie Kapsalis, tracing a Bentley-inspired snowflake.</p>

  6. Cut out the final snowflake.
  7. Cutting out the inner decorations of snowflake, which appear in black, with a craft knife. For littl

  8. Leave as is or decorate with glitter glue.
  9. <p>Decorating tree-topper snowflake with glue glitter. </p>

  10. If you are making an ornament, punch a hole for string or an ornament hanger. Alternatively, if you want a tree-topper, roll a cone with your leftover paper. Glue the cone together with rubber cement and let it dry. When the cone and ornament have dried, glue the cone to the ornament. Voilà!

<p>Christmas Tree with Its New Topper</p>

You can learn more about "Snowflake Bentley" here.

Enjoy a new set of snow-themed photographs on the Smithsonian's Flickr Commons set.

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