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Balaenoptera Musculus

Hanna Hedman

Look closely at the intricate forms found within this wearable artwork to decipher the story it tells about our planet’s biodiversity. Create your own animal sculpture in this object lesson suitable for all ages.


Part of her “While They Await Extinction” series, Hanna Hedman’s necklace, included in the exhibition 45 Stories in Jewelry: 1947 to Now, is a reflection on the devastating impact of humans on the diversity of life on our planet.

  • What colors, shapes, and textures do you notice?
  • What does its overall form remind you of?
  • Zooming in more, what details do you notice?
  • What materials did the artist use to make this work?
  • What function might it have? 

The jewelry artist Hanna Hedman created this necklace in 2011 and gave it the title Balaenoptera Musculus, the Latin name for the largest known animal in existence, the blue whale.

  • Can you spot a blue whale on the necklace?
  • What other plant or animal shapes do you see?


Hedman’s work is often concerned with opposites, such as life and death, growth and decay, beauty and ugliness.

  • Can you find any opposites when looking at this necklace?
  • Think about the size and scale of the plant and animal fragments depicted. What do you notice?

Like many artists, Hanna Hedman works in series, creating several objects around a shared theme. This necklace is part of a series called “While They Await Extinction,” which features endangered animals, of which the blue whale is one. Learn more about the blue whale.

  • What are some facts you found out?
  • Why is the blue whale endangered?


Hanna Hedman has said of her work, “Humans often have a romantic idea of the natural world and the relationship we have with it, but in reality we are in conflict with nature by having a major negative impact on biodiversity. Our destructive behavior negatively affects the environment and ultimately ourselves.”

  • Discuss this quote by the artist. Do you agree?
  • Can you think of another example of humans having a negative effect on the environment?

Like many artists, Hedland uses creative expression to heighten awareness of issues such as climate change, pollution, and the destructive impact of both on biodiversity. By drawing our attention to nature’s beauty and the precarious balance between human, plant, and animal life she makes a convincing case for humans to step up their efforts to protect the environment. 

  • Having learned more about the background of this piece, how do you think it would feel to wear it?
  • Do you think jewelry is an appropriate medium for telling stories and making a statement about environmental issues? Why or why not?
  • Would you wear this necklace?

Hedman’s work builds on the tradition of memento mori jewelry. Common adornments during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these rings, pendants, and brooches were intimate works of art that prompted its wearers to “remember you will die,” and to make the best out of the fleetingness of human existence by leading a good life. 


Identify an endangered animal you are interested in learning more about.

  • Why is the animal you chose endangered?
  • What can humans do to protect it?

Using paper, cardboard, plastic, and any other materials you find around the house, create a sculpture of your chosen animal that celebrates and commemorates its importance to you.   

Hanna Hedman, Sweden, b. 1980
Balaenoptera Musculus (from the "While They Await Extinction" series), 2011
Oxidized silver, powder-coated copper and paint
12.6 x 6.7 x 2.6 in. (32 x 17 x 6.5 cm)
Museum of Arts and Design; purchase with funds provided by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, 2014

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