Christopher Wilcox believes there are two kinds of people in the world: those who, if given the choice, would jump forward in time, and those who would go back. “I’m someone who would go back,” he says, in a precise Cornish accent. Wilcox, 38, has made a career out of his obsession with the past. He is the founder of Natural Curiosities, a wildly successful Los Angeles studio that produces artwork for interior designers, hotels and boutiques. The signature look might be described as post-modern antiquarian. Wilcox owns more than 75,000 natural history prints, paintings and artifacts from the 16th century up to the present; using the tools of digital design, he scans and manipulates them into prints. Out of their original contexts, the images take on surprising new life. Among Wilcox’s favorites is an engraving of Noah’s Ark from an old Dutch Bible: He enlarged it to a giant 84-by-30-inch print and hand-colored the animals. To Wilcox, the Ark is a moving example of nature’s mystique. “The notion of the animals being saved is so romantic,” he says.
Wilcox’s idol is 17th-century apothecary Basilius Besler, whom he regards as the original urban farmer, and whose Hortus Eystettensis, an atlas of plant engravings, is often credited with inventing the genre of botanical artwork. Like Besler, Wilcox’s latest project is inspired by his own urban farm: This spring, he and his partner, Sera Pelle, will launch an online retail venture called Tertius (tertiushome.com) to bring their neo-agrarian aesthetic directly to the public. Along with art, Tertius will offer kitchenware, furniture, toys, dry goods and vintage accessories, all designed or sourced by Pelle and Wilcox: a wooden bench shaped like a broad bean, rustic wire baskets, a metal herb planter on wheels. Wilcox will also sell art he creates by pulling taproots from crops, scanning them at ultra-high resolution and enlarging the images. “There’s a world of work to be done with roots,” he says.
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Roots figure into Wilcox and Pelle’s lives, both literally and metaphorically. The couple, who met three years ago, live in a midcentury house high in the Hollywood hills, on a narrow, dead-end lane that’s practically unfindable without GPS. Their one-acre plot, now in its second season, stretches into a neighboring lot that Pelle and Wilcox rent from its owners for the price of an occasional basket of produce.