Sea Creatures in Glass to open May 24 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

April 28, 2014

Sea Creatures in Glass to open May 24 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History Exhibit of Harvard's Blaschka glass animals includes models off display for decades. Many years before they were commissioned by Harvard University to make the “Glass Flowers,” father and son artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka meticulously shaped glass and sometimes wire into lifelike models of marine animals.

Renowned for their beauty and exacting detail, the Blaschka invertebrate models were commissioned by universities and museums throughout the world during the nineteenth century. Harvard Museum of Natural History will soon open a new permanent display of several dozen models from the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s collection of 430 Blaschka invertebrate models of both marine and terrestrial species. This display, at the far end of the museum’s Mollusks: Shelled Masters of the Marine Realm exhibition, includes some 30 models that were not part of the museum’s 2008 exhibition (also entitled Sea Creatures in Glass) which closed in March 2009.

The new exhibit will feature over 60 of these spectacular glass animals—many of which will be on public display for the first time since Harvard began acquiring them in 1878. Delicate jellyfish and anemones, octopus, tentacled squid, bizarre-looking sea slugs or nudibranchs, and other softbodied sea creatures captured in glass are a sparkling testament to the Blaschka legacy. The exhibit is the culmination of the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s near completion of an eight-year project to curate, clean, and repair all of their 430 invertebrate models. The Blaschkas’ glass work was mostly intact, but over the 125 years, many of the models suffered the failure of the original nineteenth-century animal hide glue used in their construction. These faulty contact points had to be painstakingly restored with a reversible, archival adhesive. Support for the Sea Creatures in Glass exhibit is made possible by a generous gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, Harvard AB 1952, LLB 1955.

Jane Pickering, Executive Director of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture notes that “while the Glass Flowers get much of the attention at Harvard, I think these far earlier invertebrate models are equally stunning and demonstrate the incredible skill and artistry of the Blaschkas. Thanks to this wonderful donation we are now able to mount a permanent display of these spectacular models that have been safeguarded in the collections and out-of-sight for too long,” she states. “It’s so exciting to have these exquisite glass sculptures on public display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History,” commented Dr. James Hanken, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard and Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. “They are not only beautiful, but anatomically precise and scientifically valuable. They could still serve as teaching models of these invertebrates, which can be so difficult to preserve and display.”

Employing the same techniques used a decade later to create the world-famous Glass Flowers, to shape the glass animals, the Blaschkas used the standard flame-working or lampworking methodology, bending over a small alcohol lamp to work glass rods, tubes, and minute pieces of glass. Melted over the high heat, the glass was then shaped using simple tools and reassembled by again heating the glass to fuse the pieces. The Harvard Museum of Natural History also displays Leopold Blaschka’s well-worn wooden lampworking table, along with his lamp, shears, tweezers, and other tools used to shape the hot glass. 

Together with Harvard’s Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants, with over 3,200 glass flowers, fruits, and plant sections on display, these newly cleaned and restored glass animals now comprise the largest Blaschka collection on display anywhere in the world. These exquisite models of marine invertebrates further testify to the amazing skill and artistry of the extraordinary men who created them.

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About the Harvard Museum of Natural History

One of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, on the Harvard campus, a 7-minute walk from the Harvard Square Red Line MBTA station. The museum is wheelchair accessible. The museum is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, 361 days/year (closed Thanksgiving, December 24, 25, and January 1). Admission: adults $12; seniors and students, $10; youth ages 3–18, $8; under 3 free. For directions, exhibition schedules, lectures, and classes, see the Plan Your Visit page on our website or call 617.495.3045.

Media Contact:

Blue Magruder 

Director of Public Affairs and Marketing

Harvard Museum of Natural History


Released: April 28, 2014

Cambridge, MA

See also: Press Release