As our previous blog shows, the mineral collection at Harvard University is reason enough alone to plan a visit! However, the treasures don’t stop there. The museum is also home to an incredible collection of handmade glass plant models that were created for Harvard starting in the 1880s, and made for the next 4 decades. The official name of the collection is the “Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants” but is more commonly called simply “The Glass Flowers.” There are over 4000 models of more than 830 species that were created for the university by a father and son team named Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.
Prior to their commission from Harvard for the glass flowers, the Blaschkas were well known for their glass representation of invertebrates. The Natural History Museum in Dresden, Germany had commissioned them to create invertebrate models for their museum, which brought them recognition within the scientific community.
Studying plants was difficult for biologists in the 1800’s. The only preservation method for plants was to dry and press them, which left them with a 2D representation of the specimen. The other problem was preserving the color of the plants, not to mention transporting them from exotic foreign locales. Professor George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, traveled to Germany and convinced the Blaschkas to create plant models for teaching and also to create displays for the newly created botanical museum. And thus the Ware Collection was formed, named for the Ware family who had great interest in botany and became the Blaschka’s patron.
Many of the models were exotic plants from all around the world, but there were a few that I recognized from my gardens
We were quite taken with how realistic the models were, especially given the rudimentary flame working techniques of the time. Flame workers of that day literally used the flame of an oil lamp to do amazingly detailed work. The Blaschkas used a combination of glass, animal glue, watercolors and oil paint to create these true representations of plants.
After entering an exclusive 10 year contract in 1890 with Harvard University (and subsequent contract extensions), the Blaschkas only made botanical models for the university, never returning to glass invertebrate models. Or making glass eyeballs, at which they were apparently also very good
There were many things that we didn’t have time to see at the museum, so another visit is definitely in the cards for the future. We did, however, have time to visit the New England Aquarium, which is also a must-see if you’re traveling to Boston
Of course, we couldn’t leave Boston without A) taking in some of the history, and B) eating copious amounts of oysters. Enter the Union Oyster House, a tavern/restaurant in downtown Boston that’s located in a pre-Revolutionary War building which has been operating as a restaurant since 1826. It’s the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the US.
There were a lot of good choices on the menu, but we went with the good stuff – a lobster roll and Massachusetts oysters on the half shell. Good decision, or as I said “everything that I love just happened!”
Our short trip to Boston was packed with many wonderful (and delicious) adventures. We will most certainly return in the near future to explore the many stones left unturned!
For more info about our destinations, please visit these websites:
Harvard Museum of Natural History: http://hmnh.harvard.edu/home
New England Aquarium: http://www.neaq.org
Union Oyster House: http://www.unionoysterhouse.com/index.html