Secret Lives of Faculty — Ashley Weber, tiny terrarium artist

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

There’s much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see on campus. In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time.

terrarium1

When Ashley Weber, lecturer in English language learners (ELL) composition, wants to relax, she reaches for her glue gun and escapes into a world of itty-bitty terrariums. Using a mixture of miniature materials, she creates scenes in a variety of containers, including those as unique as Altoid boxes and gum ball machines.

“I started making my ‘Wild World Terrariums’ when I was in graduate school and needed a creative outlet,” she said. “I stumbled across Twig Terrariums and was inspired to make my own.”

It is a hobby that harkens back to her youth.

“As a child, I loved to make little houses for squirrels out of sticks, rocks, and other materials I found in the woods, so it’s no surprise that I would be attracted to creating small-scale worlds as an adult.”

Her first terrarium was a scene of a bear chasing a woman through the forest. “Dark, I know,” she said with a laugh.

She found early on that making her terrariums living pieces was not feasible.

“When I first started, I tried to keep them alive like traditional terrariums by watering them,” she said. “It was disaster. They grew mold, and the moss died. I quickly learned that I should consider them mixed-media pieces of art that do not have to be kept alive. The moss dries out a bit, but it still maintains a green shade without watering.”

She started out making them for herself, but now custom-designs them for friends and family and other customers.

Her most unique creation so far?

“I made a series of seven terrariums that, when placed next to each other in sequence, look like one long, winding, connected path,” she said. “They followed a couple through dating, marriage, buying a house, having children, and growing old together. I displayed them at my wedding.”

ashley at wedding

Weber said her miniature masterpieces provide a much-needed mental break.

“Making terrariums calms my mind in a meditative way,” she said. “I like to have complete silence and be alone in my basement workshop while I’m making them. This gives my mind a chance to quiet down, take a break from screens, and exercise the creative part of my brain.”

They also provide her with a little extra income. She sells her artwork for anywhere from $25 to $300 depending on the size and materials involved. Her terrariums have also been exhibited and sold at Erie art galleries, including Glass Growers and Kada Gallery.

She has no pieces at the galleries now, however, as she’s working on her next big masterpiece.

“I’m pregnant with my first child, a daughter, due January 20,” she said.

At Penn State Behrend, you can see Weber’s terrariums on display in the Humanities and Social Sciences Office and in Otto Behrend Annex II. Online, you can see her work on Instagram or at her online shop.   

 

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