The Ware Collection of Glass Flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History
The Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants: The “Glass Flowers” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History is always in bloom in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We visited the museum some 15 years ago with our children and delighted in the collection made possible by the generosity of a mother and her daughter, Elizabeth and Mary Lee Ware. “The collection represents 847 plant species painstakingly and accurately crafted in glass by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. The father and son glassmakers in Hosterwitz, near Dresden, Germany were last in a line of family jewelers and glassmakers going back to 15th century Venice. Originally charged with the creation of just a few models, the Blaschkas later signed an exclusive contract with Harvard to make a collection of over 3,000 glass models, working over five decades from 1886 through 1936.
In addition to being highly-skilled craftsmen, the Blaschkas had a remarkable understanding of botany and were able to create specimens that were scientifically accurate. Created before fast image media, when only wax or papier-mache models were available, the life-sized models facilitated the teaching of botany to both students and the public. The models include remarkably accurate anatomical sections and enlarged flower and fruit parts. Since the ‘glass flowers’ are always in bloom, tropical and temperate species may be studied, and simply enjoyed, year-round.
The unique chemical and physical properties of glass lent themselves particularly well to model-making botanical specimens. Glass was the perfect medium with which to visually capture the translucence of a petal or the brittle strength of a cactus spine. The parts were shaped after the glass was softened by heat. Some models were blown. Colored glass was used for many; others were painted with a thin wash of colored ground glass or metal oxide(s) and heated until the material fused to the model. The Blaschkas continually experimented with new techniques to perfect colors and to incorporate other materials into the models, such as internal wire supports, glue and enamels.”
For more information on the permanent exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History call: 617-495-3045 or visit their web site: http:www.hmnh.harvard.edu