Crafting from the Collections: Fingerprint Animals

It's always fun to blog about the unexpected finds in our collections so when I came across a whole series of craft activities, I felt like I had just found some buried treasure. The activities are features in Paw Prints which ran from approximately 1975 through at least 1984.

Instructions for fingerprint animals from the Friend of the National Zoo publications, Paw Prints, V

Paw Prints (Accession 12-090) was published bimonthly by the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) as an educational publication for junior members, schools, and libraries. FONZ is the dedicated non-profit partner of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and helps the Zoo fulfill its goal of excellence in animal care, science, sustainability, and education. The Zoo also reprints articles and activities from Paw Prints upon occasion in its Smithsonian Zoogoer publication. Instructions for fingerprint animals (Volume 4, Issue 1) caught my attention as I had recently seen something similar at a festival. The artwork was selling for $35–$40, more if framed. Yet the instructions in Paw Prints seemed amazingly simple:


Fingerprint Animals

Use your "paws" and your imagination to make all sorts of interesting animals.

You will need:

  • a stamp pad or watercolor marker
  • paper
  • a pencil or pen
  • your fingers
  1. Cover your finger tip with stamp pad or marker ink.
  2. Press your inky finger on the paper to make a finger print.
  3. Draw legs, eyes, a head, or fins to make your own zoo animal.

Your zoo animals can decorate stationary, wrapping paper, teeshirts [sic], and greeting cards. Can you think of other places to use your zoo animals?


Lesley Parilla begins a fingerprint animal. Courtesy of Jennifer Wright.

Five of our staff got together on a recent morning to try our hand at the activity. We used colored index cards instead of paper, and supplemented the materials listed above with crayons and colored pencils. A wide variety of colored stamp pads were gathered from scrapbooking supplies. In about half an hour, we created thirteen unique designs, ranging from insects to large mammals, real to imaginary, and lone animals to entire menageries full of creatures.

Mitch Toda puts the finishing touches on a fingerprint butterfly. Courtesy of Jennifer Wright.

So from the Archives to you—the gift of creative inspiration from our collections (and staff) for a rainy day activity, some new refrigerator art, or a last minute holiday gift for the grandparents. Happy holidays!

A fingerprint animal zoo by Kira Cherrix, Lesley Parilla, Marguerite Roby, Mitch Toda, and Jennifer

Special thanks to Digitization Specialist Kira Cherrix, Field Book Project Cataloger Lesley Parilla, Photo Archivist Marguerite Roby, and Assistant Archivist Mitch Toda for their creativity and artistic skills.

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