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The Glass Flowers, formally The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, is a famous collection of highly-realistic glass botanical models at the Harvard Museum of Natural Historymarker at Harvard Universitymarker in Cambridge, Massachusettsmarker.

They were made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka from 1887 through 1936 at their studio in Hosterwitz, Germanymarker, near Dresdenmarker. They were commissioned by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, founder of Harvard's Botanical Museum, for the purpose of teaching botany, and financed by Goodale's former student, Mary Lee Ware and her mother, Elizabeth Ware. Over 3000 models, of 847 different plant species, were made.

The models

In an article for the Journal of American Conservation authors McNally and Buschini note that "the Glass Flowers are not made simply of glass. Many are painted (particularly models made in the years 1886–95) and varnished; some parts are glued together, and some of the models contain wire armatures within the glass stems. Coloring of the models ranges from paint to colored glass to enameling." To this day, no one has been able to duplicate the Blaschka's fine artistry.

Botanist Donald Schnell gives testimony to the astonishing accuracy of the models. He writes of a plant, Pinguicula, the details of whose pollination were unknown. By painstaking analysis of its structures, he worked out the probable mechanism of pollination. On visiting the glass flowers exhibit for the first time in 1997, he was enjoying the "enchanting and very accurate" models, when 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. "As far as I know Professor Goodale never published this information, nor did it seem to have been published by anyone back then, but the process was faithfully executed."

In the "Journal of American Conservation" authors Whitehouse and Small state that "the superiority in design and construction of the Blaschka models surpasses all modern model making to date and the skill and art of the Blaschkas rests in peace for eternity.


The flowers have suffered deterioration and are undergoing restoration. In a 1999 article about the collection in the journal ResearchPennState curatorial associate Susan Rossi-Wilcox is quoted as saying "It took a long time for the faculty here to go from thinking about the Glass Flowers as a teaching collection to thinking about them as art objects." Rossi-Wilcox went on "See the white powdery stuff on the leaves? This is glass corrosion. The majority of these models are affected. That's the great irony. The models showing plant diseases are also showing glass diseases." Others have acquired breaks or hairline cracks due to vibrations in the building. In 2000 Harvard began a restoration program, estimated to take at least six years. A Boston Globe story described the elaborate measures taken and the painstaking effort required merely to move some of the flowers one flight of stairs upward to a conservation area.

Public response

A glass model of a cactus at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

The Glass Flowers are one of the most famous attractions of the Boston area. More than 175,000 visitors view the collection annually. In 1936, when Harvard invited the public to tour the campus in honor of its tercentenary, a New York Times reporter taking the tour commented "Tercentenary or no, the chief focus of interest remains the famous glass flowers, the first of which was put on exhibition in 1893, and which with additions at intervals since, have never failed to draw exclamations of wonder or disbelief from visitors."

A visitor returning to Back Baymarker in 1951 after a ten-year absence wrote "I was told the two sights above all others that visiting salesmen from the country wish to see when in Boston are the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural Historymarker in Harvard Squaremarker and the Mapparium at the Christian Science Church building."

Marianne Moore wrote in a poem, "Silence,"
My father used to say,
"Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow's grave,
or the glass flowers at Harvard."

According to Rossi-Wilcox, the question people most often ask after seeing them is, "'Where are the glass flowers?' Because nobody can believe these are made of glass.".

Glass Invertebrates

The Blaschkas also made glass models of invertebrates. Cornell Universitymarker has some on display[214995][214996]; however, most are stored for safekeeping at the Corning Museum of Glassmarker in Corning, New York[214997].Other locations exhibiting the Blaschka invertebrates include the Boston Museum of Sciencemarker, the Harvard Museum of Natural Historymarker, and the National Museum of Ireland.

See also


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