From the Hands of the Makers investigates the lingering mysteries surrounding the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., August 3, 2022—Visitors to the Glass Flowers gallery in the Harvard Museum of Natural History often remark on the realistic nature of the models, exclaiming, “they look so real. I can’t believe they are made of glass!” From the Hands of the Makers is the most comprehensive exhibition to date about how the models were made and their conservation. The exhibition reveals closely held secrets about the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants that only modern technology can reveal.
Over the course of fifty years, father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka continually experimented with materials and methods that pushed the boundaries of glassworking. After his father’s death in 1895, Rudolf continued to refine glass formulations, experiment with pigments and varnishes, and create his own palette of colored-glass enamels. Some of the Blaschkas’ innovations introduced elements that require ongoing preservation and restoration efforts.
Jennifer Brown, manager of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, on the Blaschkas’ process: “The Blaschkas used lampworking to make the models, a technique in which glass tubes and rods are melted and softened in a flame, and then manipulated into shapes, such as leaves and petals. When the glass cooled, organic materials were applied to the surfaces of the models to mimic different textures. The results are indistinguishable from living plants.”
Visitors to the exhibit will learn about the intricacies of the Blaschkas’ construction methods and how the collection is cared for today. Scott Fulton, conservator of the collection, explains the importance of conservation efforts: “Conservation involves both preservation and restoration. Maintaining a stable environment, keeping the temperature and humidity within a safe range, and controlling the light levels, are the most effective ways to slow deterioration and preserve the Glass Flowers.”
In spite of their fragility, the Blaschkas’ models have stood the test of time and remain a favorite for museum visitors throughout the world. Conservation is critical for preserving the collection for future generations.
About the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants
One of Harvard University’s most famous treasures is the internationally acclaimed Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, better known as the “Glass Flowers.” This unique collection was made by Leopold (1822–1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857–1939), a father and son team of Czech glass artists. Over fifty years, from 1886 through 1936, the Blaschkas produced 4,300 glass models that represent 780 plant species.
The Glass Flowers gallery underwent a historic renovation in 2016. Improvements include rebuilding the original display cases, in use since the 1890s, and installing state-of-the-art lighting and climate control systems. The reconfigured gallery with updated scientific interpretation showcases the ongoing relevance of the collection and enriches the visitors’ experience of the models.
About the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture
The HMSC mission is to foster curiosity and a spirit of discovery in visitors of all ages by enhancing public understanding of and appreciation for the natural world, science, and human cultures. HMSC works in concert with Harvard faculty, museum curators, and students, as well as with members of the extended Harvard community, to provide interdisciplinary exhibitions, events and lectures, and educational programs for students, teachers, and the public. HMSC draws primarily upon the extensive collections of the member museums and the research of their faculty and curators.
The Harvard Museums of Science & Culture (HMSC) partnership was established on July 1, 2012, by former Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, to develop a strong, coordinated public face for the six research museums that are within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.
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