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.

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