Jeffrey Schneider of ‘Jeffrey Terrariums’ creates beautiful and minimal real-life nature scenes and landscapes inside glass vessels. He meticulously designs and makes these terrariums that are mostly built to suit the personal aesthetic of his customers. An art director in fashion for over 12 years, Jeff left his job to focus on modern industrial design and interior decoration. His interest in plants and gardening led him to develop skills to create modern terrariums that are the ideal representation of nature.
Jeff’s terrariums are self-contained ecosystems. Keeping those delicate plants alive and prosperous in a very restrictive environment is not an easy task. No two terrariums are alike and they vary greatly in design and execution. Creating terrariums is a very laborious work and Jeff himself designs his glass cubes or vessels in peculiar shapes using a glassblower. Putting in a lot care and consideration, Jeff is able to bring out the harmonious elements of nature in a pleasing and meditative way that is truly Zen.
Hello Jeff! Please tell us something about you and things you do and like:
I was born in Buffalo, New York in the United States. I went to college and graduated with a BA in English. I have been an art director in fashion for most of my career and decided to make a change 6 years ago. I wanted to work for myself. I was creating home accessories which involved numerous prototypes and a great deal of time. One home accessory I knew I could create relatively quickly was the terrarium. I had been creating terrariums for years. I decided put some on a website. I received a good response and decided to start creating them to sell. I wasn’t able to find vessels that reflected my aesthetic, so I sketched some shapes and began working with a glassblower to create my own.
When did you develop interest in art? How did you land at creating terrariums?
I’ve sketched and painted all of my life and always had an appreciation for art. My parents wanted me to go to school for art. I thought I was being more practical, going for a more traditional major. My parents were right. Despite a major in English, I ended up becoming an art director in fashion. In my free time, I continued to create art, sculpture, and objects for my home. Eventually, I started creating my own custom terrariums.
My terrariums are about taking something rather banal (i.e., the terrariums of the 70s) and elevating it to a bespoke level… where I create the vessel along with the customer. I create the vessel, the shape, choose the plants… to work together as one cohesive piece.
More than anything, my art is a retreat, a place of peace. In a big city like New York, I need a break from the chaos of the city. A beautiful terrarium that one can gaze into and cultivate is a great way to relieve stress. It’s living art. A combination of nature, home décor, and art. I hope I can bring a bit of this peace to my clients; a beautiful item that will peak their interest in nature; maybe they will explore houseplants, go out hiking, visit a botanical garden, plant a tree.
How much time does it take for you to finish one artwork? How do you create and maintain the organic environment?
From start to finish, the process takes three months. The client and I create a shape together and decide upon a planting scheme. I work with my glassblower to create the shape, plant the terrarium, keep it for a few weeks to learn its habits (i.e., how much water and light it needs), and hand it over to the client with the exact amount of moisture and knowing how much sun it needs. I can therefore give my clients very specific instructions on the terrarium’s care. I will visit the client every week for a month or two to make certain the terrarium is thriving in its new environment.
The terrariums contain charcoal and other materials that keep mold, fungus, toxins, and odors at bay. If the humidity and water are at the proper level, the terrarium only needs to be aired out once a week (or two) for about an hour. As for my tools, I don’t use many materials other than my hands. Sometimes, I will need large tweezers and other objects when the opening of a terrarium is small.
I think I have tapped into a niche that is otherwise considered cutesy, “arts and crafts”; and a bit archaic. I’ve put a modern, upscale twist on the terrarium. I’ve been inspired by artists such as Anish Kapoor and Dale Chihuly who work in organic shapes. I choose true miniature plants in order to create a proper perspective and scale to my work.
What other theme would you like to exploit in your art?
Conservation. I would love to cultivate and propagate rare plants in my terrariums. Terrariums were originally created by the Victorians to keep plants from perish in the dry, cool conditions of England. With our forests dwindling worldwide, I would love to collect and propagate endangered plants. I think doing this as both an art form and conservation effort could help further inform the public on the importance of the medicinal, cultural, and ecological importance of many endangered and yet discovered plants.
I have worked on advertisements for Clinique. I have had terrariums at Clic Gallery in New York City. The majority of my terrariums end up in private homes, offices, and businesses. I work mostly with interior designers and architects. I have been featured in Newsweek, People StyleWatch, The Financial Times, and numerous other publications, blogs and show houses.
What are your views on contemporary art scene?
I love when artist use banal and unexpected materials in new and interesting ways… PVC pipes, found objects, junk, etc.
I love that art is no longer limited to paint and sculpture. I’m really in love with the idea that we constantly have to question “What is art?” I was at an Oscar Murillo exhibit that was a working chocolate factory (along with factory workers) the artist had transplanted from Colombia. The workers get to visit a city they never would have visited; visitors are encouraged to share the chocolate with people they meet throughout New York and discuss their experience on the artist’s website. It was a social experiment involving people from all walks of life connecting all of us. A message I can relate to in my art. Nature as a common denominator. Murillo sold boxes of marshmallow covered chocolates for thousands of dollars. Is it art? Who am I to say? The chocolate was delicious, free, unlimited, available to bring home… so, I’m inclined to say “Yes!”
I have been researching self-sufficient aquariums that have the same natural, minimal beauty as my terrariums. They will have to be simple, modern, and pristine. There are many more variables to consider when working with aquariums. I don’t want to use any mechanicals to filter out animal waste; create oxygen for animals; and nitrogen for plants. I want to create a balanced and self-sufficient ecosystem where little to no human interference is necessary. This is an extremely challenge. Sunlight, food, nitrogen, oxygen, bacteria, algae, nitrites, etc. are critical to an aquarium’s survival. I want to create an aquatic ecosystem that is stunning, elegant, and pristine.
Tell us about your sources of inspiration and motivation:
I am mostly inspired by nature. I love hiking and being outdoors. My goal is to create the truest representation of nature in my work. I’m always visiting art blogs and design websites. Living in New York City, I have and take advantage of access to art galleries and museums.