Monday, October 13, 2014

Harvard Museum of Natural History: Glass Flowers are Just the Start!

A couple of weeks ago we went to Boston and went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I never tire of natural history museums, especially older ones that have the history of the institution layered on top of the specimens seen there. Though the three other Harvard Museums underwent renovations, they preserved the charm of the original displays here at the Natural History Museum.

This small museum has a few treasures, but most amazing is the glass flower collection commissioned back in 1886 by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum. Over 49 years, this collection was hand made by Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939), father and son glass artists who lived and worked in Hosterwitz, Germany, near Dresden. Every one is perfectly detailed.

There are 847 life-size models representing 780 species and varieties of plants in 164 families as well as over 3,000 models of enlarged parts. The Glass Flowers are on permanent display in the where they draw nearly 200,000 visitors each year. My husband walked by this example of his favorite weed, the great mullein, not realizing that it was made from blown glass. Once it sunk in, he looked at every specimen, stunned. These artists also made magnified replicas of the reproductive parts of each flower that are fascinating.

This artist team also made many glass examples of marine life. These were so delicate and exquisite. Here are a few pictures (that may be a little blurry) of some of the specimens. Some so odd and difficult to make out of glass!

But then we came into the great hall of mammals. I got the same feeling as when I was a child at a natural history museum, being dwarfed amongst the giants that roam the earth.  This museum is laid out like natural history museums of its era, where there is a gallery on the second floor, to view it all from above.

Their tiger collection is exceptional and they have a hanging whale skeleton that comes right into your space as you walk the second floor.

Their bird collection was impressive in range but a bit worn looking. Many of these animals were collected at least a hundred years ago - so I think tired goes with the territory, so to speak. You certainly wouldn't want new specimens collected! I did love the hand carved little stand for each display though - these were clearly made for the original displays.

This is what makes this museum so rewarding, is its own institutional history being on display for all of us to sense our place and time in the continuum. It is a museum of a museum in a sense. Our need and love to collect, categorize, and display our world can be seen in this old world gem.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

I had not made it to the Botanical Gardens this summer, so we decided to drive up on a gorgeous fall day. Thinking that most things would be past, I wasn't ready for the beauty that was still at it's best.

Supplementing all the gardens were arrangements of pumpkins, artfully adding color.

I realized that in summer I look at the plant varieties, learning new hybrids, but in the fall it is all about structure. Color and form become more apparent. The drifts of foliage in fall colors were stunning.

I love the living roofs on both the children's garden and the labyrinth hut. In fall they take on the look of hair that has been in the sun all summer!

Living roofs are being used more and more in architecture especially in urban contexts. Keeping urban places cooler by absorbing heat instead of reflecting it back into the atmosphere, they provide good insulation and absorb rainwater.

A well done display of pumpkins..this vignette by the children's garden has really matured since I last saw it. Grasses have come in around the pond and there is something for the eye in every corner.  It reminded me of Marie Antionette's Petite Trianon...a fantasy land for children and adults!

The pumpkins lead your eye along the paths.

My favorite walk though is down to the meditation garden. We always stop at the waterfall to get ideas for water features at home. There is something satisfying about these planters and the cutout granite basin.

Probably the most familiar sight is this glass sculpture on the hill providing a beautiful contrast to the woods around it. The cut glass twinkles in the understory. Perhaps most striking this time of year, this piece becomes more part of the landscape as moss grows on the bottom and roots itself into the forest floor.

The setting sun was stunning as we reached the bottom. The only people in the meditation garden, we sat for a long time enjoying the smells and sounds around us. We might have been the only relaxed entities in the forest though. All the animals were very busy- no time for meditating! We were almost run over by squirrels running around defending territories with their squawks. Birds madly flew from tree to tree eating seeds and insects. Everyone was so focused on what they were doing we could get very close. Here a little red squirrel munches on perhaps a bud for next year. All this activity made us hungry for our own into Boothbay Harbor we went. What a perfect afternoon.