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The Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants

The “Glass Flowers” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History are Always in Bloom  

Even in the icy cold of winter, a garden of flowers is blooming in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can find iris, water lily, cashew and coffee plants, and even the crimson leaves of fall foliage. No visit to New England is complete without exploring the remarkable collection of ‘glass flowers’ at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, MA. Officially entitled, the Ware Collection of Glass Models of plants, the collection was 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.  

The Ware Collection of ‘glass flowers’ is one of several permanent exhibitions at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, located at 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, on the Harvard campus. Gallery talks are offered most Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 3 pm. More than 150,000 visitors a year make the museum the University’s most visited attraction. For more information on exhibits, classes and events, explore or call 617.495.3045. For group reservations or guided tours, call 617.495.2341.  

See the March 2011 Glass Flowers press release for more information.


Harvard Museum of Natural History: Open Mon-Sun: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Admission: $9.00; seniors and students $7.00; $6.00 ages 3-18; under 3 free. Free for Massachusetts residents Weds. 3-5 pm and every Sunday morning, 9 am-noon

Other exhibitions at the Harvard Museum of Natural History:  

Opening March 21, 2008, Sea Creatures in Glass

Many years before they were commissioned by Harvard University to make the “Glass Flowers,” father and son artists Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, meticulously shaped glass and wire into lifelike models of marine animals. Renowned for their beauty and exacting detail, the Blaschka marine invertebrate models were commissioned by universities and museums throughout world during the 19th century. This new exhibition features 60 of these spectacular glass animals – many never before on public display – taken from Harvard’s collection of over 430 models. Delicate jellyfish and anemones, tentacled squid, bizarre sea slugs (nudibranchs), and other soft-bodied sea creatures captured in glass are a sparkling testament to the Blaschka legacy. Combined with video, real scientific specimens, a recreation of the Blaschka’s studio, and a rich assortment of memorabilia, these invertebrate models offer intriguing insights into the history, personality, and artistry of the extraordinary men who created them. (through January 4, 2009)

Opening May 8, Looking at Leaves: Photographs by Amanda Means. Dramatic black & white images of single leaves by New York photographer Amanda Means. These blow-ups, created by enlarging actual leaves on light-sensitive paper, have an eerie intensity and compelling beauty.   

Nests & Eggs: A multi-media exhibition about the myriad ways that birds nurture and protect their young, from egg to hatchling, Featuring unique specimens some on exhibit for the first time, still and video photography, original illustration, and hands-on experiences Nests & Eggs delights and engages learners of all ages. Through August 2008.

Looking at Animals: Photographs by Henry Horenstein: Haunting close-up images of creatures from both land and sea by noted Boston photographer and RISD professor. Through April 2008.

Arthropods: Creatures that Rule: Evolving over 500 million years, arthropods insects, spiders, crustaceans, and centipedes – represent 85% of all animal life and have colonized every habitat on the planet.

Climate Change: Our Global Experiment, an insider's look at the science of climate, presenting the latest research from experts at Harvard and around the world.  


The Glass Flowers press release is available for download in pdf format.