If you get a chance to visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History – go. Because you’ll visit the Glass Flowers gallery. It’s worth the trip.
Granted, the gallery is a little over whelming at first, with over 3,000 glass models of over 800 different plant species. It’s a lot to try to take in. It’s hard to grasp the models are glass.
Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolph crafted the models, over a 50-year period, starting in the late 1880s. The project developed because of the vision of Professor George Goodale who was the first director of the Botanical Museum at Harvard. He wanted a better quality teaching collection for botany classes.
Goodale saw an example of marine invertebrate models made by Blaschka in Harvard’s’ Museum of Comparative Zoology. And so the connection was made to the artisans. Elizabeth Ware and her daughter Mary Lee financed the collection. The mother and daughter were interested in botany and were wealthy and – the development of the collection was born.
The father and son team were an incredibly talented pair. Their life-size models are accurate and their knowledge and study of each plant helped them create anatomically correct detailed models. The collection covers a wide range of plants – from familiar maples, pine trees and scarlet runner beans to exotic orchids and beautiful roses. But I think some of the details are even more beautiful than the plant models – many are thin, translucent and delicate – and the colour is, well, really quite difficult to describe. You really have to see them.
The day I visited, school kids were running around the wooden exhibition cabinets. Which are old and don’t seem to be that well sealed. And some visitors couldn’t help but lean on displays, although signs and security made it clear not to. It all seems a little too fragile. I’m sure looking after this collection is someone’s beautiful worry.
Here’s a little story about the father and son artisans.