Sarah Carlson with her work Correa Leaves Collar. Her work was awarded in the Waterhouse Youth Art Prize as part of the Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize, which is now on exhibition at the National Archives.

Sarah Carlson with her work Correa Leaves Collar. Her work was awarded in the Waterhouse Youth Art Prize as part of the Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize, which is now on exhibition at the National Archives. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize is an exhibition where the exquisite and thought-provoking collide.

Each piece celebrates the beauty and fragility of nature. And they are captivating.

Feathers fashioned from corrugated iron as a comment on development encroaching on green space and birdlife. The weeping face of a Tasmanian Devil to highlight the facial tumour disease afflicting the iconic animal. A chair that has grown beautiful pink anenome. A necklace that resembles correa leaves and celebrates Australian flora.

The art prize, now the richest of its kind in Australia, was started 10 years ago by the South Australian Museum.

Thirty-two of the entries from the 2012 competition including major winners go on display to the public from tomorrow at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra.

South Australian Museum manager of temporary exhibitions Tim Gilchrist said the competition allowed each artist to celebrate nature in any medium.

The competition is named after the museum's first curator from the 1850s , Frederick George Waterhouse, who was also a leading naturalist.

"Our head of public programs had the idea to start a competition to look at nature and build a connection between science and art," he said.

"As a natural history museum, we're science-focused but there's obviously a lot of art throughout history connected with science and nature."

The competition has a prize pool of $114,500 including a $50,000 first prize which this year went to a painting, Anatye (Bush Potato) by indigenous artist Margaret Loy Pula.

"I think the judges liked the intricacy, the incredible delicacy of the work. I think the judges were quite amazed how you were drawn into the work and the closer you got, the more you saw," he said.

Two Canberra artists are included in the exhibition. Jenni Kemarre Martinello was highly commended for her how blown glass piece, Rushes Eel Trap, in the sculpture and objects category.

Sarah Carlson, 22, was the second place winner in the Waterhouse Youth Art Prize for her Cor-rea Leaves Collar in 18ct yellow gold and copper.

Carlson, who studied gold and silversmithing at the Australian National University School of Art, spent more than 200 hours making the piece.

"I'm just very passionate about Australian botanics. I think they're incredibly beautiful and I hope to draw people's attention to them and for people to even have a brief encounter with them and experience their beauty," she said.

The artworks are for sale.

The exhibition will be on at the National Archives from tomorrow to November 11. Entry is free.