The Blaschka Archive
In the 19th century, spurred by the Victorian fascination with cataloging the natural world, a host of newly-opened natural history museums fed the public interest with exhibitions of flora and fauna. Displays of stuffed and mounted wolves, bears, and birds posed in life-like positions were fairly easy to achieve, but exhibiting delicate specimens such as flowers or sea invertebrates posed a distinct challenge. Botanical specimens could be pressed and dried, creating a flatter, less colorful version of the original plant, but invertebrates had to be preserved in jars of alcohol, which faded the colors and caused the bodies to gradually collapse. Neither option was terribly inspiring for the public and certainly made the scholarly study of the specimens more difficult.
In 1863, a curator for the natural history museum in Dresden, Professor Ludwig Reichenbach, saw an exhibition of highly detailed, realistic glass flowers created by a Bohemian lampworker named Leopold Blaschka (1822-1895). Excited by the possibilities he could see for displaying sea creatures, Reichenbach commissioned Leopold to make several glass anemones for his museum’s collection. Eventually, Leopold’s reputation spread and he began supplying invertebrate models for natural history collections world-wide. In 1876, Leopold’s son, Rudolf (1857-1939), joined his father in the family business and, between the two talented lampworkers, they made thousands of intricately worked, carefully detailed glass models of invertebrates and botanical specimens for use as teaching aids and in exhibits, including the famous collection of glass flowers at Harvard University.
The Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka archive in the Rakow Research Library includes over 900 original art drawings of plants and invertebrate animals made as studies for the glass models. The Museum purchased the majority of these items in the 1980s, and began digitizing the collection with Harvard Museum of Natural History in 2006. In 1993, The Corning Museum of Glass and the Botanical Museum of Harvard University jointly purchased the remaining Blaschka studio materials from Gertrud Pones, Mrs. Rudolf (Frieda) Blaschka’s niece.
The archive also includes dictionaries, travel books, correspondence, pictorial works and photographs.
Note: Not all items in the Blaschka Archive are available digitally.