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Glass Sea Creatures

Mini-exhibit of Harvard’s Blaschka glass animals, now on display at Harvard Museum of Natural History

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.

Harvard Museum of Natural History has recently mounted a small display of nineteen marine models from the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s collection of 419 Blaschka marine models. This display, now part of the museum’s Treasures of Nature and Science gallery, includes several models which were not part of the museum’s 2008 exhibition, Sea Creatures in Glass, which closed in March 2009.  The earlier exhibit featured 58 of these spectacular glass animals — many of which were on display for the first time since Harvard acquired them starting around 1878. Delicate jellyfish and anemones, tentacled squid, bizarre sea slugs or nudibranchs, and other soft-bodied sea creatures captured in glass are a sparkling testament to the Blaschka legacy.

“It’s so exciting to have these exquisite glass sculptures on public display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History,” commented Dr. James Hanken, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard. “They are not only beautiful, but anatomically precise and scientifically valuable. They could still serve as teaching models of these invertebrates, which can be so difficult to preserve and display.” 

Employing the same techniques used to create the world-famous Glass Flowers, to shape the glass animals, the Blaschkas used standard flame-working methodology, bending over a small alcohol lamp to work glass rods, tubes, and minute pieces of glass. Melted over the heat, the glass was then shaped using simple tools and re-assembled by again heating the glass to fuse the pieces.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History also displays Leopold Blaschka’s well-worn wooden lampworking table, along with his lamp, shears, tweezers, and other tools used to shape the hot glass.

Together with Harvard’s Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants, with over 3,000 glass flowers, fruits, and plant sections on display, these newly cleaned and restored glass animals now comprise the largest Blaschka collection on display anywhere in the world. These exquisite models of marine invertebrates further testify to the amazing skill and artistry of the extraordinary men who created them.

 

Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, on the Harvard campus, a 6-8 minute walk from the Harvard Square Red line T Station. More than 175,000 visitors a year make it the University’s most visited museum. The Museum is handicapped accessible. The museum is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, 361 days/year (closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 24, 25, and New Year's Day). Admission: adults $9; seniors and students, $7; ages 3-18, $6; under 3 free. For directions, changing exhibits, lectures, classes, and hours the museum is free for Massachusetts residents, see the Plan your visit page or call 617.495.3045.

For photos or more information about this exhibit or the Harvard Museum of Natural History, please contact 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