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Emeralds and Diamonds and Crowns, Oh My! The Smithsonian's National Treasures

I am a crow at heart. My eyes (followed promptly by my feet) naturally gravitate toward shiny things. When I was a little girl, my grandmother would give me the key to her mahogany cabinet before taking her siesta (afternoon naps were obligatory in Bulgaria at the time), and I would slowly sift through the costume jewelry with the intense scrutiny of a diamond merchant. I'll never forget those lazy afternoons. The warm living room, saturated with sunlight, utterly silent apart from the distant drone of cars on the boulevard. Holding the small antique key in my hand, turning it in the lock, and opening the "treasure chest." And then... the smell of dusty wood and the feel of each jewel in my hands. 

With this in mind, you can imagine my delight when I visited the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., for the first time last summer and found myself standing face-to-face with this:  












Of course, there is far more to the National Museum of Natural History than shiny jewels. 

There are also shiny crystals. Not only are they beautiful, but they are stunning examples of nature's design creativity - so much inspiration to draw from for color, texture, form.





I am being quite cheeky, of course. Sparkly jewels and crystals aside, the museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution are a true gift to our common culture. Whether you are a design student, a historian, an artist, or simply a lover of beauty, you will find within those walls an endless supply of inspiration. The best part is that nearly all of the museums are free - funding for the Smithsonian comes primarily from its private trust funds and the federal government, but it is facing serious budget shortages that threaten the preservation of many of its historic artifacts. I would encourage you to make whatever donation you can to the museums - even if you can give no more than a couple of dollars - and help keep our historic and cultural heritage alive.

In hindsight, the jewels weren't the most important part of those childhood afternoons spent rifling through my grandmother's cabinet. What really mattered was the sense of mystery and excitement and exploration that I felt. Walking through the National Museum of Natural History brought back a part of that feeling, like opening a treasure chest for the first time, and that's the greatest gift of all. 

Yours truly, one jaw-dropping jewel at a time,

Radina

Smithsonian Link Love:
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More on the history of the Institution
The Mineral Sciences Collections

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