Katie Goldman Macdonald thinks of her work as "painting with plants." Wearing gloves and brandishing extralong tweezers or chopsticks, she uses "ship-in-a-bottle precision" to make dreamlike miniature landscapes of succulent, desert-friendly greenery inside glass orbs handblown by West Oakland, California, artist Evan Kolker. Her terrariums—which range from softball-size "little hanging possums" to larger "armadillos"—overflow with pink-tipped echeveria rosettes, powdery silver moonstone plants, and hardy green kalanchoe. "Each stem and blossom is magnified by the curve of the glass," explains Macdonald, who includes tweezers and an instruction manual with each terrarium (they require only indirect light and watering every three weeks). That way, owners can "give it a makeover once in a while," she says.
Macdonald—a designer for the clothing brand Old Navy who spent her childhood going on wildflower classification walks with her father, a musician and mushroom expert—was transfixed when a friend gave her a book about terrariums a few years ago. Published in 1974, the book recounted terrariums' resurgence as a type of artful, DIY home decor of that era, and inspired Macdonald to experiment with thrift-store fishbowls and the succulents she kept in her apartment. Soon she enlisted Kolker to blow elegant glass spheres, giving her creations an airy, luminescent feel. At an Old Navy employee craft fair last December, Macdonald's terrariums were a hit. She now sells them at stores around San Francisco (and accepts local commissions at botanyfactory.com).
Macdonald works at night and on the weekends out of her sunny apartment, which has become "an operating room for plants," she says—stocked with mason jars full of soil and the charcoal she uses for homespun drainage. Next she hopes to collaborate with other artists on a table with a built-in terrarium and possibly a terrarium lamp; she also teaches a Bluegrass & Botany class at a local store with her father (he plays the banjo, she talks cacti and organic soil). "We live in high-rise apartments; we work a million hours," she says. "People want a connection to the natural world. Terrariums are a way to bring it inside." —Brook Wilkinson
Photo: Brian Fong