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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

No matter what time of year you visit, 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 the red maple’s fall foliage. No visit to New England is complete without exploring the remarkable collection of 3,000 models of ‘Glass Flowers’ on display 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 some 4,200 glass models, working over five decades from 1886 through 1936.

Noted glass artist Dale Chihuly, whose exhibition Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass opens in April 2011 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, considers the Harvard Glass Flowers one of his favorite glass collections. "It is an unbelievable collection," he told Art Business News (11/2008), "No one really knows how they did that, it is mind-boggling and extraordinary." 

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’, which officially opened to the public on April 17,1893, is one of seventeen galleries at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which displays some 12,000 specimens of the University’s vast collections of more than 21 million.

 About the Harvard Museum of Natural History

With a mission to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world, the Harvard Museum of Natural History presents to the public Harvard’s natural history collections and research of scientists across the University. Its historic displays include an extensive collection of minerals and meteorites; fossil, taxidermied, and jarred specimens; as well as the world-famous Blaschka "Glass Flowers". New and changing exhibitions highlight current science and address contemporary issues including climate change and new insights in evolutionary biology. The museum offers a wide array of lectures, classes, and programs for learners of all ages from school children to adults. 180,000 annual visitors make the Harvard Museum of Natural History the University's most visited museum. 

The museum is located on the campus at 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, about 100 yards from Memorial Hall and the Harvard Science Center, and a 7-8 minute walk from the Harvard Square T station. More than 180,000 visitors a year make the museum the University’s most visited attraction. Harvard Museum of Natural History is open daily: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission: $9.00; seniors and students $7.00; $6.00 ages 3-18; under 3 free. 

For more information on changing exhibits, lectures, group reservations or Glass Flowers guided tours, explore the website or call 617-495-3045.

For photos or more information about this and other exhibitions at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, contact Blue Magruder, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , 617-496-0049.

The press release is available for download in pdf format.