ABBEY TWISS has long had a creative streak which has metamorphosed into different forms. She has painted. She has drawn. She taught herself to knit and crochet.
“I’ll dabble for a while and then when I’ve got that, I’m on to the next thing,” she says of her movement from one creative pursuit to the next.
A few years ago, Abbey’s artistry veered into the garden at the Buderim home she shares with her husband, Gene, and their dog, Shade. Tropical plants absorbed her interest.
“It started off with two or three plants in the house and then I had a lot more, then it was, ‘No, this is too much,’ so my husband built me a shadehouse out the back,” she tells salt.
“During COVID, a lot of people got into plants and I already had a lot of rare plants so I made quite a good living from my plants during 2020-21.
“And then last year, we did the garden, which had just been a barren wasteland. A lot of the plants that were getting too big went in there.
“And then this happened.”
By this, Abbey means her cabinets of curiosity: glass domes and boxes displaying exquisite vignettes of the natural world, with a dash of the fantastical.
Hundreds of years ago, a cabinet of curiosities was the place to store your weird and wonderful finds for “show and tell” or discussion with friends. Natural objects, antiquities, exotic finds from far flung places and more, found their way into these carefully curated personal collections.
Abbey has long been interested in bizarre, eccentric, irregular finds, particularly those of the natural world, and has known of cabinets of curiosity for a long time.
An out-of-the-ordinary find set her on her current artistic path at a time when she really needed something to excite her.
“I have been having like a tough time health wise and it was suggested to me to get back into a hobby because everything had sort of stopped a bit.
“I was just sort of like thinking about what I would want to do, and then one day I was out walking our dog.
“I stopped to talk to a neighbour and there was this beautiful dead butterfly at my feet. It was pretty near perfect and you don’t often see that, so I carried this thing the whole way home in my hand.
“For some reason, I knew you had to set them. I don’t know where I’ve come across that but I googled it and saw on YouTube how to set the wings.”
Abbey set the butterfly on baking paper with some pins in the house and then put it aside in the home office, where it remained for months until a family friend visited one day.
“He said it was beautiful and I should definitely be doing something like that. A couple of days later he rings me and says, ‘I found this amazing dragonfly in my washing. It’s dead. Do you want it?”
“That was how it happened.”
Abbey began setting insects for display in some glass domes she had for plants.
“I’ve seen other artists do this sort of thing and I had a couple of domes I’d bought over the years from other people,” she says. “I got some driftwood and Gene and I did it one day together. We set the dragonfly on driftwood that I’d found.
“I had the shell of cicadas that they grow out of and we made a dome and that’s where it all started.”
Abbey’s day job is medical typing but she has become increasingly consumed by her domes or cabinets since 2021.
Ethically-sourced butterflies, moths and other insects are often the cabinet heroes, carefully perched on wood or sticks and the displays artfully decorated with seed pods, dried flowers or other finds.
Abbey tries to give each dome or cabinet a fantasy feel.
“I’m really into fantasy as in movies, books, other planets that sort of thing. Escape,” she says.
“They have a fantasy, as in other worldly, type of feel to them because I don’t want to highlight the death. I’m not into macabre stuff. I want to highlight the beauty.”
Abbey achieves the fantasy feel by mixing elements that would not normally be seen together in nature.
She always has her eye out for pieces – such as interesting seed pods or pieces of wood – for the cabinets. She says this has contributed to her being more mindful.
“It helps me be more aware of my surroundings. I’m just keenly aware of what’s around me so when I’m out now, whether at the beach or taking the dog for a walk, I’m always looking for something interesting to hoard,” she says.
“And my friends are always bringing me stuff which is really nice.”
Friends encouraged Abbey to take the cabinets to a wider audience but she was wary.
“In the past, I’ve done things before for sale and I lost the joy for it and I was doing this as a mindful thing to help my state of mind so that was more my hesitation,” she says.
“I just wanted to do it on my own terms. I kind of just have an idea in my head but then it just evolves and I don’t like the pressure of making something to order.”
“I’ve been doing more commissions recently just because I feel more comfortable with what I’m doing.”
“I am much happier selling the pieces I create through a supportive gallery.”
Abbey’s work is available to purchase at Art Nuvo, a family-owned gallery in Buderim. Working closely with local and interstate established and emerging artists, the owners are passionate about showcasing a diverse range of mediums and subject matters in a wide scope of genres.
You can also view photos and videos of Abbey’s pieces on Instagram (cabinetofcuriosity).
The videos are often accompanied by clips of inspirational advice or quotes.
“I think in the past when it comes to this side of me, I’ve pushed a lot of it aside in order to be a functioning member of society,” she says.
‘Being artistic and creative, they are seen as not worth pursuing. I want to convey that it’s okay to be that.”