Botanical Wonders: The Story of the Harvard Glass Flowers
Scientific marvels, drop-dead beautiful works of art, a genus onto themselves: these are just a few of the explanations given to describe the allure of a legendary, century-old bevy of exquisite glass blossoms and fruits.
In Botanical Wonders: The Story of the Harvard Glass Flowers, The Corning Museum of Glass brought to bear its unique curatorial, conservation, and glassmaking capabilities to illuminate more fully than ever before the story of the delicate glass replicas of botanical specimens known as the Glass Flowers of Harvard.
The exhibition celebrated the singular triumph of glassmakers Leopold Blaschka (1822-1895) and his son Rudolf (1857-1939), providing insight into the intellectual appetite of the late Victorians through the lens of botany as an academic discipline, and offered close-ups of the people and the craft process behind the Glass Flowers.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) lent 17 of its rarely loaned, fragile Glass Flowers for the occasion. These core works were amplified by examples of other Blaschka specimens, all sea creatures, drawn from holdings owned by Cornell University and stored and safeguarded by The Corning Museum of Glass under a long-term agreement.
The Blaschkas’ botanical drawings, robustly rendered and notated in preparation for glass working, were exhibited for the first time in Botanical Wonders. Purchased by The Corning Museum of Glass as part of a trove of family materials, and executed mostly in pencil and watercolor, these sketches have an immediacy and unpolished quality that is extraordinarily appealing today. A selection of period photographs, personal papers, and business records was drawn from the archive for the presentation.
The exhibition was curated by David Whitehouse, then executive director of The Corning Museum of Glass, and Susan Rossi-Wilcox, administrator for the Glass Flowers Collection for the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Listen: Botanical Wonders Featured on NPR's All Things Considered.
Preserving the Glass Flowers
“Conservation is complicated for these delicate works of art, some of which were constructed with glue, paint, and %%metal%% armatures as well as glass,” says one of the show’s curators, Susan Rossi-Wilcox, of the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Almost all the Glass Flowers displayed in Botanical Wonders have been newly restored for the occasion by The Corning Museum of Glass in its glass conservation laboratories, the most advanced in the world. A special section, examining the challenges faced by Museum conservators in restoring these mixed-media objects, features a videotape that follows the conservation process and a mock-up of a conservator’s work table.
“The Corning Museum has been a true partner in protecting the Glass Flowers from further decay, so that future generations may study and enjoy them, ” says Rossi-Wilcox.