Botanical Surprise Balls - Anandamayi Arnold

Perhaps you saw a paper kumquat branch featured in Martha Stewart Living magazine a year or so ago... it was made by Anandamayi Arnold, who has been creating botanical surprise balls from crepe paper since the 1990s when she was just a teen.


Believe it or not, each piece of realistic fruit you see here is actually a vehicle for tiny hidden treasures.


As a child, Anandmayi became intrigued by the notion of surprise balls when her mother told her about them. So began the making of these extraordinary versions which, I think it's safe to say, are far more lovely than the typical surprise balls you'll find in a Google search.


A problem arises though... how does one have the heart to break into such beauties? Not unless someone assured me the prize is a diamond ring would I tear one apart!


Perhaps Anandamayi would consider hiding a teeny window under a leaf ... no, actually that wouldn't be helpful as her process of incorporating items is more complicated than just wrapping a cluster of mini-gifts all at once. Instead, she attaches them one by one to streamer ends throughout the rolling process.


Alice Hoffman Erb, one of the owners of Tail of the Yak in Berkeley, California where the balls are sold, explained the opening of a surprise ball in this excellent SFGate article... Things come out slowly and sequentially. Each package contains secreted within it, almost organically, a precise selection of three stickers, three pieces of candy and four toys, one surprise at the end of each crepe streamer. They are chosen with care, some on Arnold's travels to Indonesia and Europe.


I asked Anandamayi about the customer experience - to open or not. She replied... I find some people are mystified that anyone would open them and others are equally mystified that anyone would not. I'm glad that there are some of each, so some balls are kept intact and others get to reveal their treats. I feel either can be the right thing to do, but the giver of a surprise ball should let the recipient decide which it will be. No pressuring. Overall, I'd say the very young and the very old are more likely to open them. 

I've always thought a ring would be fun, but no one has asked. The proposer would have to know the recipient would be the opening type, as a fight over whether to open or not would be a bad way to start off! I have put a Georgian necklace in a Christmas cracker and diamond studs in a surprise ball for a young girl who was being surprised with getting to have her ears pierced, which was fun!
Anandamayi refers to botanical illustration books and natural specimens to create fruits, vegetables and flowers, and has created about 100 varieties to date.


In an interview on the Martha Stewart blog, she said a bird's nest with a flowering branch may have been the surprise ball project that has taken the longest to make so far - about eight hours. Even the nest is paper.


Anandamayi uses a wide variety of scissors, tweezers, an air brush and inks, pliers, and Tacky Glue to create the balls that are as realistically accurate as she can make them.


She also creates papier mache masks, and historical dresses, hats, and life-size animals from paper. I was interested to read she sometimes collaborates with Aimée Baldwin to paint murals and signs, and is inspired by the life and art of Mary Delany, both of whom were featured here previously.


See the latest surprise balls as they arrive at Tail of the Yak [edit: permanently closed] on the shop's Facebook page... it is the only location where they are sold.



Stay up to date with Anandamayi on Instagram, @lynxandtelescope.

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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  1. I'm with you Ann, I couldn't bring myself to open one.

  2. These are amazing! Thanks for sharing all the info and beautiful photos, Ann! I checked out her facebook and already have the gorgeous Hyacinth on my WANT list! It has 10 items inside but I know I wouldn't open it :) Have a great week!

  3. Huge accolades Anandamayi - your projects are stunning and your precision and accuracy with crepe-paper botanical portrayals is admirable; well done. They're just beautiful - doesn't seem a good enough word to gift you with

  4. Awesome !!!.me too Ann..i would never open such a pretty balls .
    still cant take my eye from those british turnips and apricots ...they are so realistic !!!!


  5. I'm with you. I'll never open it unless it's a ring! Beautiful paper jewels!

  6. I don't know if I would open one even for diamond studs. These are so beautiful and colourful .The bird nest is a heart stealer. So nice to hear her story on the video.

  7. Thanks everyone... I'm so glad these were a hit. I had a feeling they would be!

  8. Anandamayi's work is exceptional...her attention to detail and execution is impeccable. She is truly an inspiration!


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