Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Blaschka Glass Models of Flowers, Marine Invertebrates et al ...


As I mentioned in my previous post the glass flowers I had seen at Harvard in 1976 had always held a sway in my memory ... they were dusty ... but oh so accurate and quite quite extraordinary ... and obviously created an interest factor with you via your comments.

 
Cashew Nut - Blaschka
botanical model
So here’s a little more information about those glass botanical models ... leaves, branches, twigs, stamens, seeds, fruits, cross sections and flowers; sea-anemones, octopuses, squid, jellyfishes, radiolarians, amoebas and corals  ...


These Czech artisans, the Blaschkas, began their careers as jewellers working in Dresden, Germany ... but the family came from a long line of skilled glassmakers – originally from Venice, where they worked in the decorative glass trade, before moving to Northern Bohemia when Leopold (1822-1895) was four.



Glass Octobpuses
Artistic as a child, Leopold was apprenticed first as a goldsmith and gem-cutter, before joining the family business to make glass ornaments ... and more squeamishly glass eyes for taxidermists.



He became interested in the newly fashionable field of natural history and in the late 1850s started making glass models of the exotic flowers he found in natural history books.
 
Glass Blossom

He was commissioned to produce glass plant (orchid) models, but on seeing those the curator at the Dresden Natural History Museum changed Leopold’s direction by ordering some glass models of sea-anemones, which would be of more scientific value than the pickled creatures available.


Leopold’s models were so precise in scale, colour and form, that news of his prowess spread swiftly.  Aquaria and natural history museums were then opening all over the world ... glass sea-anemones were soon followed by snails and jellyfish, as his repertoire built ... with a major order from London’s Natural History Museum.

See the cactus spikes ... all glass

Rudolf (1857-1939) had joined his father working as a team from their workshop far from the newly fashionable city museums, where these works of art would be exhibited.


At a time when the public was entranced by the bizarre plants unearthed by explorers and by the splendidly surreal creatures discovered beneath the sea (since the invention of the submarine and deep sea diving kit in the mid-1800s) the Blaschkas’ models offered a rare glimpse into these exotic worlds.

 
c/o Harvard Museum - theglass banana plant
being admired by children
The soft bodies of marine invertebrates were particularly difficult to preserve – but the glass models more than made up for this scientific challenge of the 1800s – they also detailed the colours, which were lost in the alcohol or formalin preservation process.



The Blaschkas’ skill died with them ... though they practised techniques that were common to glassworkers of the time ... but it was their incredible skill in glassworking, dedication to the study and observation of nature, then their enthusiasm for the subject matter that made them exceptional.


A model of Leopold Blaschka at
his workbench
They practised lampworking, a glassworking technique in which glass is melted over a flame fed by air from a foot-powered bellows.  The melted glass is then shaped using tools to pinch, pull or cut and forms can be blown as well.


Coloured glass was used, as were coloured paints made from ground glass and minerals to give veracity to the models ... these were applied and then melted into the model using a lamp flame.  Copper wire armatures were used within the glass stems, when necessary.


Charles Darwin observed in 1874 the digestive process and insectivorous nature of the plant Pinguicula (Butterwort) ... which to the amazement in 1997 of the botanist Donald Schnell, on visiting the glass flowers ...

 
This is not a glass model, but
shows a butterwort leaf, with
its hairs and a caught insect
... he was astonished to see a panel showing Pinguicula and a pollinating bee: “one sculpture showed a bee entering the flower and a second showed the bee exiting, lifting the stigma apron as it did so,” precisely as Schnell had hypothesized ... which the Blaschkas had faithfully executed in glass over one hundred years earlier ...


The Blaschkas described themselves as “natural history artisans” ... and today they seem remarkably contemporary: working as they did in the late 1800/early 1900s on the cusp of design, craft, art and industry.

 
Panels upon panels of exquisite
glass botanicals at Harvard
Which now reminds me a little of the doors that were opened in Britain by the 2012 Olympics ... allowing a multitude of trades to express their wares, some seen at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, now on show in museums and design centres around the UK and worldwide.


That mix of enterprise, trying new methodologies, combining disciplines – yet practising the art of precision, dedication and perseverance ... will always be a part of human progression.


The glass models made by the Blaschkas are able to be viewed ...

·        a few marine invertebrates at the Grant Museum, see previous post
·        some at the Natural History Museum, Kensington, London
·        the majority of the glass flowers are at the Ware Collection, Harvard, USA
·        many aquaria models are held by the Corning Museum of Glass, Steuben County, New York

 
An example of a
radiolarian
Further reading can be found at Wikipedia, and at the:

Ø Design Museum – The Glass Aquarium 
Ø Natural History Museum – Blaschka Glass Models

Radiolarians were also sculpted – these are amoeboid protozoa (diameter 0.1-0.2mm) that produce intricate mineral skeletons ... the Natural History Museum video shows the Blaschka model ... magnified many times – well worth a six minute watch:



The video also shows how the NHM prepared and looked at ways to preserve and repair the 185 ‘treasured specimen models’ by the Blaschkas now on show in the Treasures Cadogan Gallery – enjoy!


Grant Museum of Zoology - my previous post

Hilary Melton-Butcher

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51 comments:

Karen Walker said...

So interesting, Hilary. Would love to see these some day.

Patsy said...

I can understand the appeal of plants as a subject for all types of artwork - they're so beautiful and varied and interesting and most people can get access to a few specimens to start off with, even if it's just fallen leaves.

There seems an obvious danger though - the chances of creating something less good than the original must be very high. Clearly that's not something anyone as talented as Leopold need worry about.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

The precise craftsmanship that most fascinates me is glass blowing. I just can't imagine how anyone can do that and create a beautiful piece of art. I could watch a person blowing glass for hours. I could literally sit down and spend a day watching them at work. Whereas looking at things behind a glass? No, I just don't appreciate it like I should.

Jo said...

Absolutely fascinating Hilary. I am surprised nobody has resurrected the talent, maybe it wouldn't be profitable in this day and age.

I love to watch glass blowing too, there is a place in Niagara Falls where they make glass and you can watch them working as well as buy their products. Not cheap mind you.

Old Kitty said...

Art and science in glorious beautiful harmony! I'm still in awe at that glass cactus! The detail! The skill! The love! Amazing! Take care
x

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, amazing specimens! I think it would be fascinating to visit that museum. Thanks for all the details and links.

Munir said...

What a good preview of the Museum and glass version of flowers and plants. Thanks for sharing.

D.G. Hudson said...

I can appreciate anything in a museum because our history and the history of our world is a collection of everything that makes us human. We should study the collections well, to see what we've lost and what we should preserve.

Museums are places of learning, and in my mind, we need to know our past to appreciate and plan our future.

Excellent info, Hilary, love the detail you include.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Wow these are very interesting and unique - especially the glass cactus and cactus spikes!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some are in the US? If I'm ever in those areas, I'll track them down.
Shame their precise skill died with them.

loverofwords said...

The patience that it takes to work with molten glass and tiny, tiny pieces of copper wire is worth admiring and bringing to our attention. I cannot think of the parallel today -- perhaps the restorers of art who take months to restore a painting or sculpture or weaving? Or weaving a rug? But with glass you cannot go back. Seeing the design in nature makes you wonder how could all this be a genetic accident?

Theresa Milstein said...

Oh, so happy to see the Harvard Museum here. We've gone to see their display many times. Cheers!

Lynn said...

Those glass pieces are a treasure! Such precision. Amazing.

Janie Junebug said...

I'm afraid that getting to Harvard would be as difficult for me as getting to England. I long to travel more.

Love,
Janie

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Karen .. well I hope you can get to one of the museums at some stage.

@ Patsy - you love plants .. so they'd always intrigue you. By the look of it the Blaschkas were just incredibly artistic and clever .. and apparently (luckily for us) they never failed .. the video is very revealing and fascinating to watch ..

@ Karen - exactly that precise craftsmanship ... and then the brain process in creating something from molten glass - I can't conceive it ...

Wouldn't it be wonderful to spend a day with them at work .. great thought ...

@ Jo - no-one can work out how the Blaschkas were able to produce their work, and thus it has been impossible to reproduce ...

The Niagara Falls glass works sounds very interesting .. good craftsmanship is never cheap thoug ..

@ Old Kitty - you're right: art and science in tandem ... it was the strawberry that caught my eye all those years ago, but the cactus does much the same .. but the video!! Do look if you can ..

@ Clarissa - if you can get to Harvard in your travels .. do give it a visit - or should you come to London .. they are here too ..

@ Munir - the Museums are near you aren't they .. one to the west of NYCity and one in Boston ..

@ DG - so true what you've said here .. there's so much to learn from past events, and past records ... while we need to preserve things .. as now, we can find DNA in dinosaurs ... who knows what we'll find we are able to do next ... and if we've destroyed it - then it's gone ..

Thanks so much - so pleased you enjoyed the detail and info ..

@ Keith - I hope you can get to visit one day ... so glass filaments are quite amazing and completely bowled me over when I saw them way back when ...

@ Alex - that's great .. you'll love looking at them and yes, pity about their skill .. but Rudolf (the son) must have been very much a lone wolf ... as it looks like he didn't marry, or have children ... great pity as they were obviously incredibly talented as a family ...

@ Tasha - apparently Leopold was the 'sculptor', while his son, Rudolf, was the painstaking artist who perfected each piece ...

It appears that you're correct - there isn't anyone today who could match them in any craft ... because they were designers and were creating these images to match their real counterparts ...

There's no genetic accident ... these flora and fauna have evolved over time - adapting to the conditions on earth at each stage of life on earth ...

The Blaschkas were just very very clever artists ...

@ Theresa - you are so lucky to live nearby - I just loved seeing the glass flowers and have remembered them ever since ... I've even got a packet of post cards and the Museum guide back from 1976 - I was that impressed with the collection. Fantastic you take the children to see the collection ... so pleased for them!!

@ Lynn - considering they're over 100 years old, they are treasures aren't they ...

@ Janie - so sorry about that .. I hope one you'll get to Harvard, or even better London and pay us a visit .. glass specimens and all!!

Cheers everyone - so pleased you're enjoying the post ...

... remember the video!! It is excellent .... Hilary

Jo said...

It seems to me though, that if someone can figure it out once, someone else must be able to do so again. One day anyway.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I have always been fascinated by glass art! Amazingly delicate and beautiful. Thanks for sharing this post with us, Hilary.

Julia Hones said...

Fascinating. Glass artwork has always intrigued me.
I find the combination of art and science fascinating.
Thanks for a beautiful post. I will come back to it for sure.

Manzanita said...

Quite the family business. That is one business where clumsy family members should take up another occupation. Don't drop your work.

Deniz Bevan said...

Wow, I learned something new today!
Funny, glass models remind me of Chihuly now. I hadn't heard of him before I went to see the exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts last week. Will blog photos soon!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Wow, what incredible skill and eye for nature those men had! Extraordinary. It's a shame their craft died with them.

L.G. Smith said...

Fascinating stuff. Incredible craftsmanship in those reproductions. Perfect melding of art and science. :)

Ciara said...

Those are beautiful. I've seen it done, but it still is magical to me.

Val Poore said...

How very beautiful, Hilary. Absolutely gorgeous craftsmanship.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo - other artisans have obviously tried to work out how the models were made but haven't been able to do so ..

@ Elizabeth - I agree with you and I too am still in awe of their work - the models are quite beautiful and intricate ..

@ Julia - it's good that disciplines are melding their work and being able to create new ideas - all the creative processes are interlinked somewhere along the way ..

@ Manzanita - the Blaschkas were obviously a close family and very small - only father and son ... even so I expect they dropped some of their work ..

@ Deniz - someone else blogged about Chilhuly and another blogger put a photo up from Austin I think ... I'd like to know what Chilhuly thinks of the Blaschkas work ...

Chilhuly exhibitions look amazing .. looking forward to seeing your photos - must have been so much fun to visit ...

@ Susan - Leopold's skill as an artist and someone who could visualise is a amazing to behold ... and I wonder if anyone had the talent to follow them .. those old skills from Venetian glass makers who had been creating since Medieval times must be very difficult to replicate ...

@ Luanne - the photos I show here are of the real models ... but the workmanship as you say is quite extraordinary ...

@ Ciara - it's great you've seen modern glass workers at work .. and it is magical isn't it ..

@ Val - Delighted you find the post so interesting .. they are just so exquisitely made.

Cheers to you all .. so pleased you enjoyed the Blaschka's work ... Hilary

deborahjbarker said...

Quite amazing Hilary. Good to know that the crafts of the 2012 Olympics are being displayed around the world. There is such a wealth of talent out there. It is sad but somehow 'right' that the Blaschka's skills died with them. Ahead of their time perhaps yet not of our time.Thank you for telling us about them. Debbie X

Gattina said...

How interesting ! These glass octopuses are gorgeous.I had the opportunity to watch glass blowers in Murano/Venice, just amazing how they create vases and animals !

Sara said...

Wow...this was an impressive post:~) When I saw the Cashew Nut, I thought no way this could be glass...it's amazing how real it looks. Then there was the cactus. That creation must have taken a lot of time!

I can't even fully imagine the beauty of the marine invertebrates with the colors included:~)

It's a shame, their wonderful skills died with the Blaschkas.

Next time I across the pond, I will definitely schedule a trip to see these wonderful creations.

Thanks for sharing your visit with us. I hope all is well with you:~)

Gary Philip Pennick said...

Hi Hilary,

Not bad, eh. Only took me two days to arrive. Who needs a clone? I do!

Anyway, this time, I must leave a rather short comment. The sheer skill involved is truly incredible. It's truly hard to believe that the cactus spikes are made out of glass.

As always, a comprehensive account, Hilary.

Thank you.

Gary

juliet said...

What impressive skills those glass artists had, and such patience too. The pieces are really beautiful. Thank you Hilary, I've never come across anything like this before.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Deborah - lots of artisans were able to come to the fore last year, but the Blaschkas obviously had something really special - they were still ahead of their time, but so so talented .. great comment thank you.

@ Gattina - I imagine the Venice glass workers are really special - and I hope one day to visit ...

@ Sara - I was glad Wikipedia showed the cashew nut ... it was the strawberry (in similar style) that fascinated me when I saw them all those years ago.

I must check out the Cadogan Gallery at the NH Museum .. it sounds as though their models will be well displayed .. the Grant Museum ones are exquisite but sit within thousands of other zoological objects ...

Glad you'll get to visit when you come over to see your daughter .. and so pleased you enjoyed this post ...

@ Gary - well done .. I'm way behind all round! I know it was the microscopic filaments on strawberries that I saw ... though I'm sure the cactus was on show at Harvard ...

@ Juliet - if I hadn't of visited Harvard all those years ago, I'd have never known anything like them either - they are so skilful ... beautiful to see too ..

Thanks everyone - lovely to have your comments .. Hilary

Paula R C Readman said...

Wow, Hilary, I love your new profile picture. Your postings are amazing. I love all the glass models. how wonderful they are and the work that must have gone into them. Somehow we have lost out on much in this world of ours, the skills that people had to make things by hand.

Bish Denham said...

Oh my. I'm speechless/wordless. Those models are amazing, beautiful.

And I'm with Paula, your new profile picture is lovely!

Frances Garrood said...

Just drifted over from Paula's blog to say how much I like your new photo!

TALON said...

So cool, Hilary. The levels of artistic talent are fascinating in all the various realms. As always, a pure delight to read. Thank you!

TALON said...

So cool, Hilary. The levels of artistic talent are fascinating in all the various realms. As always, a pure delight to read. Thank you!

cleemckenziebooks said...

Really lovely art and the models are so scientifically interesting for their accuracy.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Such talent. Really impressive. Thanks, Hilary.

Silvia Villalobos said...

I absolutely love museums, Hilary. Years ago, I worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. A different place from what you're describing here (ultra-modern, edgy stuff), but so very nice and artsy.
What nice pieces you have here. Thank you so much for sharing. And, by the way, I find your posts so very educative and refreshing.

mail4rosey said...

You write like a scholar (are you?). I always enjoy visiting because your research is as interesting as what you're talking about.

These are great. I imaging it would be difficult to be in the Czech environment and NOT create, if you had an ounce of creativity in you, because everything around you is so beautiful (at least in the areas we've seen).

Thanks for the fun/informative share.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Paula - thanks so much on both counts. Aren't the models brilliant - it's a pity their knowledge was lost with them .. but in fact I think the artisan skills are still around - just exactly as you say: we don't appreciate them so much ... til someone highlights their work, or it comes to the public fore - as in the Olympic events and displays.

@ Bish - speechless and wordless are so right for these models - quite extraordinary.

@ Thanks Bish and Frances re my photo - it looks summery!

@ Talon - if we realise what's around us .. the artistic levels are fascinating - so pleased you enjoyed the read.

@ Lee - it's that scientific accuracy, which is so incredible as you mention ... in the 1870s that sort of detail was invaluable to students and researchers ..

@ Joylene - impressive is another great word, yes I agree.

@ Silvia - I can imagine ultra-modern, edgy stuff at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art ... thanks so much for your 'thumbs up' to my postings ...

@ Rosy - no, no scholar in me at all - but perhaps a late one ... an eclectic one at that ...

I love the learning I go through via my postings - and even more so, as thankfully many of you appreciate them ... just delighted you find them informative - thanks!

Cheers to you all - have happy weekends .. Hilary



A Lady's Life said...

Such and interesting trade working in glass.Beautiful work.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Thanks, Hilary, I had thought about the library, but you pushed me in the right direction! Carole.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ A Lady's Life .. their work is extraordinarily beautiful ..

@ Carole - glad you have the book coming to your library - so you can do your research ..

Cheers to you both - Hilary

jabblog said...

What intricate work and so beautiful.

mail4rosey said...

Back today to let hubby see your post. He doesn't care much for blogs (not even mine and he married me) but he liked this post. I knew he would. :)

Happy rest of the week to ya!

Tina said...

What amazing skill and patience that must take to create something so delicate yet scientifically accurate. I am in awe. Would love to see these myself one day...
Tina @ Life is Good

Bossy Betty said...

I love going on these trips with you! Thanks!! (I'll take the Goat Cheese sandwich, please.)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Janice .. I've just loved these glass flowers and am pleased I've written up their history ..

@ Rosy - how wonderful your hubby enjoyed my post -thanks for showing it to him. Well we're all different aren't we re blogging or not, or even what we blog about!!

@ Tina - their workmanship has never been able to be recreated, and now I'm sure never will be ... so much has changed technically - we'd never go back to those ways ...

Perhaps one day you can get up to Corning, or even better Harvard and see their work there ..

@ Betty - that's wonderful you're enjoying the ride .. and you may have a Goat's cheese sandwich!!


Cheers to you all - our heatwave has gone ... but the storms and rain haven't reached down here yet. Hilary

sonia a. mascaro said...

Great post, Hilary!
I would love to visit the museum!
Many hugs!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sonia - thanks so much for coming back to read this earlier post on the Blaschkas and their glass flowers - I hope you can get up to the States and then to Harvard sometime to see these and the museum - cheers Hilary