Introducing Lea from Acumen Aquatics! This woman is a force to be reckoned with, as a practicing scientist, aquarium and terrarium hobbyist, writer and maker. A Rummage regular in Canberra, we caught up with Lea to discuss all things green, leafy, growing and great!
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? Hello! My name is Lea Maddocks, and I’m a plant scientist, long term aquarium and terrarium hobbyist, magazine columnist and writer (Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine, RedFish magazine, RSPCA knowledge base, blogs, assorted forums), SCUBA diver, art-lover, miniature enthusiast, and nerd for all things ecological. Creating miniature living environments, as well as art out of natural items, had been a hobby for many years. My business was born out of a hobby business experiment I began after having my children.
I focus on using vintage, retro, up cycled and recycled planters and bowls to create my own designs, and not only is this great for the environment, but also great to show off these discarded beautiful old items, not to mention supporting local charity shops! I take care to make each piece with a species or plant arrangement which will suit its shape and size, and will grow on well with minimal care. I also make pressed botanicals in re-cycled/vintage frames, jewellery, with tiny preserved terrarium necklaces also on offer. These are made with hand-smashed gemstones, fine gravel, and tiny seeds, flowers, leaves etc not usually noticed amongst bigger nature. These are arranged painstakingly with tweezers, but are such fun to make.
Why do you do what you do? My aim is to provide these items and services so that people of any sort can enjoy nature, living or preserved, wherever they are. Providing instruction and education also helps provide clients with a better appreciation of the environment and small living things they may otherwise not notice or appreciate. It gives me great joy to see children trying to find new baby fish in school aquariums and learn how the plant and fish life are connected; it is a privilege to install aquariums for aged-care where people with special needs, worries or loneliness can come and sit to relax and watch large, slow moving fish as therapy and ever-present calm entertainment. It is rewarding to see tiny children engage with large bright fish in daycare environments, and sometimes even having fish swimming amongst reclaimed toys for novelty installs. I also maintain native turtles in some day-care centers for exotic animal encounters! Sharing knowledge writing for magazines, or troubleshooting client aquariums, ponds and vivariums is also terrific to do, more educated animal owners mean more well cared for, happy animals (and calm, happy clients).
It is also a great thing to see many people at markets find the perfect natural gift for a special occasion, or a personal treat. Or create a custom nailed to budget using charity soured wares. Art for all! Many chats at markets also help people to learn more about plant care and art, so they can propagate their plants themselves – no longer resolved to being a brown thumb!
Who are some other artists, crafters, creatives that you love? And why? I love anyone who gives art a try! I am loving the new hip takes on other ideas, such as the crocheted cacti and mushrooms of The Granny Square Conspiracy. Andy from Resilient Designs makes lovely infinity scarves and jewellery with a story involving her beating a workplace accident – and I love that. I’m a big fan of the crew at The Yak bookshop for bringing great Tibetan wares and art to the city (and tasty tea and food!). Impact comics and Landspeed are great to see as independent institutions in the city, and all of new Braddon can be lumped in here too – they deserve patronage. Too many more to list, but there are a lot of younger folks trying to make Canberra more social and vibrant, and everyone on that mission gets a high five from me!
What excites you? Creating Art through Science; is my business tag-line, and it is an exciting privilege and pleasure to create using the principals of both design and science to make beautiful, ethically sourced, thriving pieces for people to enjoy nature wherever they are. The challenge of always making something new, especially out of something old or broken, or restoring a sick habitat to a thriving slice of nature, is always an exciting prospect for me. It is also a thrill to do a huge pond or tricky marine coral aquarium or planted aquarium, seeing such work come to life is immensely rewarding.
We think of a rummage stall as a mini shopfront, how do you make your rummage stall your own? Setting up picture frames, and both delicate and heavy terrariums, jewellery and art both large and small on the ground is a tricky thing. But I LOVE using the suitcases as both stands and open backdrops to showcase my range of things. I often drape lacy doilies over the cases to make them charming (I love doilies), set up tiny things on these to raise them up. Large items are set on the ground on an ornamental rug (with more doilies). I hang crocheted coat hangers for my terrarium necklaces over open cases, and set framed botanicals against the open case backs for display. Moreover, no tables, so it’s a fun set-up and less in the car. Love the Suitcase Rummage style!
Can you offer any tips on setting up a rummage stall? I think the best advice is to do a dry run at home with your suitcases and see how they sit when open, closed, if they can be propped up, and how they can be easily transported and set up for market. Finding things around the house is useful too, covering a shoebox with a wide scarf or throw makes an instant small table; branches can make good hangers for jewellery or other hanging items. Be creative!
What is the next step for you? I hope to keep developing my art styles and animal husbandry skills across the board, and hope to be able to reach more clients such as schools, hospitals, aged care, hotels, cafes etc for aquarium, pond, insect-arium (it’s a thing!), and plant installs which can relax and engage people and customers. Seeing exotic animals thriving in planted habitats are great for people, be it in school, in therapy, or out and about – I want to bring that to Canberra.
What’s your favourite place or thing to do in your city? The great independent places make this town great. Smiths Alternative, the Street Theatre, the Braddon area, New Acton, local little markets like Suitcase Rummage, City Walk, Honkytonks Night Markets, are great. I also love exploring the new little shops popping up around Civic like The Yak, Barton Flower Bar, The Front Gallery and Cafe etc that are a bit different to the rest keeps the city interesting. It also brings out platforms for new talent and upcoming artists who would otherwise struggle to get their ideas out – and it means variety. Events like Art not Apart, Night Fest etc are also well needed for Canberra, so great to see these happening.
What do you like about attending Suitcase Rummage? I love the scaled-down style and suitcase theme of the Rummages, and that it is truly limited to hand- made, vintage, retro etc so there is a great focus on re-using, old styles, art and craft. Not to mention the food and often fun local entertainment which come out, like the Rat Patrol bikes, local musos, poets, roving weirdos and more! It’s always creative, personal, unusual, and I’;m always surprised with what I find. Great market for all to visit or be a part of!
Where we can we find and follow you? Lots of places! I post a lot to instagram and respond as fast as possible to email and phone. Honestly, as I have my arms in water or dirt often, the website needs updating but has a good catalogue of past work.
Markets: City Walk (1-2 x month), Suitcase Rummage (regular!), Old Bus Depot (few times per yr),
Honkytonks Night Markets (regular!) – and other locals from time to time.