Glass Flowers of Harvard

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Travels

The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, popularly know as the Glass Flowers is in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, a fantastic, fantastic museum in Boston.

newgf-case_far_wall_0050_1_0

The exhibit has recently been cleaned and refurbished and with new cases with crystal clear glass and organized by plant family to enhance it as a teaching tool – today for museum goers, but originally for the students.

The collection was started for Professor George Lincoln Goodale, founder of the Botanical Museum, who wanted life-like representations of the plant kingdom for teaching botany. At the time, only crude papier-maché or wax models were available.

He found Czech glassworkers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka from a family of glass makers dating back to the fifteenth century, and between 1886 to 1936 they created glass models of 700 species of flowering and non- flowering plants.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Yes, they are all glass.  Every single bit of these flowers including the root balls, stems, leaves, and even dirt are made of glass. Many visitors, including this one, found it incredible, and I often heard gasps of disbelief, one person assuring his companion that much of it was silk.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Red Maple leaves (Acer rubrum) – Glass Flowers Exhibit, Harvard Museum

I won’t go into each description here – I am on vacation after all, but imagine these as teaching tools!  Each specimen has multiple parts, with details of the flowers, roots, and cross sections of flower parts.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Lupinus mutabilis – glass flower parts details

These masters of glass knew how to observe – many details magnified many times life size, such as the lupine pollen grain above, magnified 1500 times. Or my favorite, below – a  grass flower of Northern Panic-grass (Panicum boreale).

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Panicum boreale flower detail, Glass Flowers Exhibit

Next is a flower detail of Tetraneuris scaposa, Stemmy Four-nerve Daisy – all glass.

 stamen detail - Tetraneuris scaposaGlass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Stamen and Pistil detail – Tetraneuris scaposa – glass flowers

Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchid, Cypripedium calceolus:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Lady slipper orchid – Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum

Drooping She-Oak, Allocasuarina verticillata:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Drooping She-Oak, Allocasuarina verticillata

Kalmia latifolia:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Kalmia – Glass Flowers Exhibit, Harvard Museum of Natural History

Evening Primrose, Oeothera acaulis:

Oeothera caulkis, evening primrose, Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Oeothera caulis, Glass Flowers Exhibit

Display case with Bush Poppy, California native plant, Dendromecon rigida

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Glass Flowers display case Harvard Museum of Natural History

Keeping in mind that these were teaching tools, there are many glass models of insect pollinators showing bees, flies, moths, butterflies, and their adaptations to particular flowers.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Bee pollinated flowers at Glass Flowers Exhibit

Keep reminding yourself: these are glass !

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Bee on Scarlet Runner Bean – Glass Flowers Exhibit

I wonder how the glass blowers knew how this pollution process worked:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Fly pollinated flowers – Glass Flowers Exhibit

No doubt these glass artisans had taxidermy samples to work with, such as these flies:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Glass Flowers Exhibit, Harvard Museum of Natural History

Even examples of fly larva:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Insect larva, Glass Flowers Exhibit

Pardon the lights reflecting on the class case of the beautiful Scarlet Runner bean. I wanted to show the entire display.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Glass Flowers Exhibit, Harvard Museum of Natural History

The cases are generally displayed well and the overhead lights are well placed to accent each specimen, though reflections are difficult for photography.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

My only regret about the exhibit is the dim lighting that does not allow the viewer to see the translucent quality of the glass.  (For illustrating this article I have brightened many of the photos.)  I am sure the curators don’t want strong light that would deteriorate the colors over time, but I missed seeing the stained glass effect of glowing glass.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Many of the cases are mounted on the walls like the one above, so it is possible for the photographer to find occasional opportunities to shoot up into the flowers to get a glow.  Note the yellow flowering Mexican Tulip Poppy above and below:

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Mexican Tulip Flower in Glass Flowers Exhibit

I also found that I could avoid the glare and see some of the plants better by kneeling on the floor and shooting directly into the case, such as for this cactus.  I wonder when this cactus might have flowered in Boston for the Blaschkas to have worked with it ?

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Cactus in Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

It is a phenomenal exhibit and it can only be seen at Harvard’s Natural History Museum.  The flowers are too fragile to ever travel, but are marvels of glass making and wondrous teaching tools even if more than a century old.  I only wonder how many might have been damaged as they were being handled so long ago.

Glass Flowers Exhibit Harvard Museum of Natural History

Blue Pea – Lathyrus magellanicus, Glass Flowers Exhibit

The craftwork would be nearly impossible to duplicate today but the sense of art is timeless, many rivaling any botanic illustration – but these are real !

 

 

 

 

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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12 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Michelle October 11, 2016, 2:49 pm

Saxon, thank you for taking me down memory lane. i was impressed at how well you were able to capture the essense of these glass flowers and how wonderfully well the museum has done in renovating the lighting and display boxes. compliments to yourself and the restoration team.
michelle derviss

Carol Manahan October 11, 2016, 6:04 pm

I visited these flowers as a child, and Anni jensen and I visited these flowers several years ago. Truly memorable. I wonder if there are glass blowers today who could replicate the feat!

Randi Winterman October 11, 2016, 10:00 pm

We saw these glass flowers at an exhibit at the Corning Glass museum. My niece was studying botany and was amazed at the detail of flowers, diseases and insects. What a brilliant teaching tool. No one could tell which flower was real and which was glass.

Saxon Holt October 11, 2016, 10:24 pm

Michelle – the entire museum is a treasure, thanks for encouraging me to go. The new cases apparently make a huge difference, a docent kept repeating the special name of the glass, but I couldn’t find it in the exhibit descriptions. I hope you saw the link to the video

Saxon Holt October 11, 2016, 10:30 pm

The description of the glass makers technique make it seem so tedious I doubt it could be reproduced, in the way illuminated manuscripts are a lost art. If you ever get back to see them I would love to hear a comparison before the recent cleaning and new cases.

Saxon Holt October 11, 2016, 10:32 pm

The detail and accuracy make them a tool any student would love to use, but imagine trying to handle them !

Lisa at Greenbow October 12, 2016, 8:52 am

This is on my bucket list. I want to see this display so bad. I can’t imagine the talent that made these exquisite flowers.

Saxon Holt October 12, 2016, 9:45 pm

Hi Lisa – Now that the exhibit is renovated it will be there whenever you get to Boston. It sure would have been great to have had video back then to see them working.

Mandi Smith October 17, 2016, 5:11 pm

Wow! It’s amazing to me that anyone could create such detailed flowers, from glass!! I see the names of two artists — did they make all of this? Prior to the 1940’s?? Incredible, thank you for sharing this.

Saxon Holt October 18, 2016, 2:01 pm

Yea, pretty incredible. The two artists, Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939), were father and son and did make them all.

Patsi October 20, 2016, 8:59 am

This is truly amazing ! I realize this is a great teaching exhibit but the work of these artists is overwhelmingly awesome. A must see when in Boston.

Saxon Holt October 22, 2016, 8:49 pm

Thanks Patsi – Since the exhibit has just been refurbished and is part of their permanent display, it will be there no matter when you get there.

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