|Panicum boreale: Panic Grass by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka|
Photograph by Hillel Burger,courtesy The Botanical Museum, Harvard University.
Remember, no matter what your eyes may tell you, they are not real.
They are made of glass. From a taped tour of the Ware Collection
Tucked away in the Natural History Museum at Harvard is a cultural treasure: several thousand exquisite flower specimens, perfectly correct in every detail, blown from glass by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. The story of how these masterpieces of artistic and scientific observation came to be is as fascinating as the pieces themselves. German glass artists Leopold Blaschka (1822-1895) and his son Rudolf (1857-1939) came from a long line of glassblowers. When asked by an incredulous admirer and patron of their work if they had invented specialized tools or new technologies to produce such miracles of craft, Leopold replied:
"Many people think that we have some secret apparatus by which we can squeeze glass suddenly into these forms, but it is not so. We have tact. My son Rudolf has more than I have, because he is my son, and tact increases in every generation. The only way to become a glass modeler of skill, I have often said to people, is to get a good great-grandfather who loved glass; then he is to have a son with like tastes; he is to be your grandfather. He in turn will have a son who must, as your father, be passionately fond of glass. You, as his son, can then try your hand, and it is your own fault if you do not succeed. But, if you do not have such ancestors, it is not your fault. My grandfather was the most widely known glassworker in Bohemia, and he lived to be eighty-three years of age. My father was about as old, and Rudolf hopes my hand will be steady for many years yet. I am now between sixty and seventy and very young; am I not, Rudolf?"(Leopold Blaschka in a letter to Mary Lee Ware, 1889 )
|Echinocereus engelmannii: cactus family by Leopold and|
Rudolf Blaschka. Photo by Hillel Burger, courtesy The Botanical Museum, Harvard University.
The following is excerpted from "The Glass Flowers at Harvard" by Richard Evans Schultes and William A. Davis:
"The truth, then, is that no secret process ever went into the manufacture of the models. All the techniques employed were known to glassworkers of the period. The only difference was the combination in one individual of the meticulous skill unmatched patience, accurate observation, and deep love of the subject that the two Blaschkas brought to all of their work. These models have been described as "an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art – certainly a more apt observation would be difficult to imagine."
|A Blaschka Iris, with buds and faded blooms.|
Photo by Hillel Burger, courtesy The Botanical Museum, Harvard University.
"On April 16, 1890, father and son glass artists Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka signed a ten-year agreement to make plant models exclusively for Harvard University. This relationship with Harvard would ultimately span a half century and culminate in one of the most unique and breathtakingly beautiful collections ever created."
|Malus pumila Emperor Alexander Apple (affected by apple scab disease), 1932. |
Rudolf Blaschka. Photo by Hillel Burger,Courtesy The Botanical Museum, Harvard University.
"The Glass Flowers collection was commissioned by Harvard Botanical Museum Director George Goodale and financed by Boston residents Elizabeth C. and Mary Lee Ware. The Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants, as it is officially known, consists of 4,400 models that replicate the tiniest details of plant anatomy with astounding precision."
| Nepenthes Sanguinea: Flytrap,|
by Rudolf Blaschka. Photo Hillel Burger,
courtesy The Botanical Museum, Harvard University.
These works, so beautifully preserving the ephemeral, have been described as masterpieces, works of art, scientific marvels, and as physical equivalents of Mozart's compositions. The poet Mark Doty described them in this way:
fused layer upon layer, swirled until
what can’t be tasted, won’t yield,
almost satisfies, an art
mouthed to the shape of how soft things are,
how good, before they disappear.
-Mark Doty, “The Ware Collection of Glass Flowers and Fruit, Harvard Museum,” in My Alexandria, 1993
If you'd care to learn more about these fascinating artists and their works, I've included 2 videos here. The first, from the Corning Museum of Glass, concerns the Blaschkas' lives and their work: http://youtu.be/rHOx5H5vNx4
The second video is a YouTube tour of the Ware Collection with close views of many of the specimens. Enjoy! http://youtu.be/RZZffuyUIKQ