The Glass Fleuragerie

Iced Buttercup ~ Terry Glase

Far up the mountain, at a place he calls Buttercup Ridge, Montana photographer Terry Glase searches each spring for the eponymous flower: Sagebrush Buttercup or, as the botanists would say, Ranunculus glaberrimus. Describing a visit to the ridge in 2015, Terry writes:

After about a half mile of hiking toward a trail I intended to visit today, I tired of all of the snow and ice and turned back. There were other places to go, one of which was Buttercup Ridge, where the very first wildflowers bloom every year about this time.
It’s a small area, about 50 feet by 100 feet, atop a very steep, narrow, rocky, cliffy ridge. Why buttercups bloom there nearly two months before they bloom anywhere else is a complete mystery to me.
They do though, after all, bloom in western Montana. Somewhere in their DNA they know that, and they also know that, before spring comes, they may see temperatures of -20ºF and two feet of snow, but they bloom anyway.

Apart from its early appearance, the simple flower displays other, quite delightful, characteristics. In post after post, Terry points to different faces of a flower he describes as being in turn whimsical, impetuous, shy, and private. And yet, when I discovered his photo of the little ice-covered buttercup, it reminded me of another, quite different flower.

Many years ago, my mother received a yellow glass flower as a gift. Similar to the one shown here, it bore a slight resemblance to a budding crysanthemum. The thick layer of clear glass encasing the vibrant center also evoked winter, when occasional Houston ice storms coat palms, pansies, and peach trees with heavy layers of ice.

After enjoying the memory of my mother’s flower — and briefly wondering what might have happened to it — I gave glassy flowers no more thought. Then, while browsing the pages of Steven Schwartzman’s Portraits of Wildflowers, I found a different sort of glassiness.

Neither iced by mountain weather nor coated by an artist’s hand, his pair of prickly pear cactus blossoms seemed to have been created from glass. The effect was so striking that I commented on it at the time, adding that the smooth, reflective surface reminded me of such Dale Chihuly creations as the yellow lily pads installed at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii) ~ Austin, Texas

After browsing online image collections of glass cactus flowers, I’d found no Chihuly. What I did find, fully as beautiful and perhaps more remarkable, was a much earlier replica of cactus flowers.

As compelling as their real-world counterparts, and botanically correct in every detail, they’re part of an extraordinary collection: Harvard University’s Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants. Known popularly as the Glass Flowers, they’ve been described as “an artistic marvel in the field of science, and a scientific marvel in the field of art.”

Glass prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) ~ Harvard Collection

Commissioned in 1886 by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, and financed by Boston residents Elizabeth and Mary Lee Ware, the glass flowers were meant to be used as teaching tools, and as the basis of a botanical exhibit designed to attract and educate the public. 

At the time, materials most often used for plant replicas — wax or papier mâché — resulted in crude models lacking both detail and longevity. Dried or preserved plants, even the best herbarium sheets, faded over time, and provided only a two-dimensional view of the plant. Professor Goodale wanted more: a way of exhibiting plants that would convey their beauty and vitality. According to an entry on the Corning Museum of Glass site:

Goodale was impressed by the idea of using glass after he saw the zoological models in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, which housed detailed glass models made by Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolf. This allowed members of Harvard’s faculty to use replicas of organisms to easily point out morphological features during lectures.
Goodale realized that the fragile zoological creatures were much like fresh fruits and flowers that quickly decay and could never hold up as an exhibition. He also knew that dried, pressed herbarium specimens and color plates from botanical texts had a limited appeal.
Lindheimer’s Senna (Senna lindheimeriana) ~ herbarium sheet prepared by Ferdinand Lindheimer, September, 1845, Texas

Leopold Blaschka already had solved one problem facing curators of natural history museums — the display of marine invertebrates — by recreating them in glass: accurately representing their color and shape while avoiding bottles of formaldehyde. Although Leopold and his son, Rudolf, weren’t the only makers of natural history models in the 19th century, they were the only ones working in glass, and they soon were engaged to do for flowers what they’d done for sea creatures.

Between 1887 and 1936, the Blaschkas created approximately 4,300 individual glass models, replicating entire plants as well as the smallest details of plant anatomy. In the end, the collection included 847 life-size models representing 780 species and varieties of plants in 164 families, as well as over 3,000 models of enlarged parts.

Their ability to do so was in part a result of their heritage. Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka came from a long line of glass artisans from Bohemia, a glassmaking center of Czechoslovakia. After joining his father as a glassmaker, Leopold became an extraordinarily skilled lampworker, fashioning items as intricate and delicate as the flowers from glass rods and tubes heated in a flame until they could be manipulated into shapes.

When it came to the flowers, both clear and colored glass were used, along with a combination of lampworking and glassblowing. Parts sometimes were fused, or assembled with adhesives. Occasionally, other materials such as fine copper wires helped with reinforcement, or painted paper was incorporated to represent internal structures. Sometimes, surfaces were painted with colors mixed with gum or glue.

A few examples of the Blaschkas’ art, paired with examples from nature, suggest the level of their skill.

Glass Engelman’s hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) ~ Harvard collection
Lace hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii) ~Kerr County, Texas
Glass Rudbeckia speciosa ~ Harvard Collection
Rudbeckia hirta ~ Nash Prairie, Brazoria County, Texas
Glass northern blue flag (Iris versicolor) ~ Harvard Collection
Southern blue flag (Iris virginica) ~ Roadside ditch, Brazoria County
Glass white prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora) ~ Harvard Collection
White prickly poppy  ~ Texas State Highway 35

As early as 1889, Professor Goodale passed on in a letter to the Wares some remarks made by Leopold Blaschka as he worked. Among other things, Leopold said:

Many people think that we have some secret apparatus by which we can squeeze glass suddenly into these forms, but it is not so. We have tact. My son Rudolf has more than I have, because he is my son, and tact increases in every generation.
The only way to become a glass modeler of skill, I have often said to people, is to get a good great-grandfather who loved glass; then he is to have a son with like tastes; he is to be your grandfather. He in turn will have a son who must, as your father, be passionately fond of glass. You, as his son, can then try your hand, and it is your own fault if you do not succeed.
But, if you do not have such ancestors, it is not your fault.

Given the beauty and the accuracy of the replicas Harvard received from Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, it’s hard not to believe that generation unto generation of Blaschkas before them loved glass — and with a passion. Surely, they succeeded wonderfully well.

Comments always are welcome. Photos of the glass flowers can be found in The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, as well as in The Glass Flowers at Harvard, by Richard E. Schultes and William A. Davis. Apart from the photos credited to Terry Glase and Steven Schwartzman, all other photos are mine.
For more on the Blaschkas’ collecting methods and artistic approach, this article by the Corning Museum of Glass is helpful.

110 thoughts on “The Glass Fleuragerie

  1. OMG! Thank you for giving us so much beauty with your narrative and your lovely flowers. I enjoyed your blog post immensely. It is definitely a treat for weary eyes.

    1. I’d never heard of the collection, Omar. When I found it, I was entranced. I can’t imagine how beautiful they must be in reality. If I ever make it over to Amherst to visit Emily Dickinson and Robert Francis’s homes, I’ll have to make it a point to stop by Harvard and visit the collection. It would be quite a treat.

      1. Is it possible to fit me into your luggage and make the trip with you? Knowing the homes of Emily Dickinson and the glass flowers make my heart beat faster? Omar smiles…

  2. Those flowers in glass are incredibly beautiful! I have often thought about the glass-like look of some wildflower blossoms but had never considered replicating them so and would not have thought it was possible until I saw your photos.. There is a clear connection between the way the iced buttercup appeared and a blossom made of glass. What a way to display a blossom accurately and agelessly!

    1. Now you know why I was so excited by your buttercup. Just seeing the ice coating would have been pleasurable enough, given the memories of my mother’s flower that were attached. But as one thing led to another, it became even more special.

      The only thing that crossed my mind was that, as valuable as the models may have been as a teaching tool, I’m not sure I would have wanted to be the professor responsible for using them. I’ve broken a piece or two or my antique china collection — I can’t imagine dropping one of those flowers.

      In fact, when the first examples were shipped to the US from Germany, there was breakage. The transportation problem was quite a challenge, but they managed it. When some were sent to the Cornell Museum of Glass for an exhibit, they ended up traveling by hearse, as it was the smoothest ride available!

    1. I was especially interested in the distinction between lampwork and glass blowing. I’d been vaguely aware of lampwork, but didn’t know what to call it. As soon as I read the describption, I remembered the little pieces we used to buy at carnivals or in gift shops while traveling. All of those fine strands of glass may have been drawn by hand.

      I’d be interested in what your glassworker friends think. It’s always interesting to get the perspective of someone who has hands-on experience.

  3. One of my favorite and oldest treasures is a clear glass lily about a foot long. Thank you for reminding me of how special it really is. The photos in this blog post are so beautiful! I always learn something coming here to read.

    I remember those little flowers like your mom had. I think we had some too.

    1. My first love was colored glass, thanks to parents who occasionally left me overnight at the home of a friend who was an antiques dealer. Her east-facing bay window was filled with colored glass, and creeping downstairs to watch the sun rays light it in the morning was a favorite pastime.

      Eventually, I began to appreciate clear glass, too, and I can only imagine how lovely your lily is. The funny thing about glass is that even the “flaws” — the occasional bubble, or whatever — don’t really detract from the piece. They’re just evidence of the process that created the beauty in the first place — like wavy glass windows in old homes.

  4. Speaking of floral models, Eve and I spent a whole day at the Field Museum in Chicago last month. The section of the museum that deals with botany showcases plants from around the world, except that most of them are models, because actual plants would rot and deteriorate. It took craftsmen a long time to make models so real that they fool most visitors to the museum:

    1. I’ve been to botanical gardens, and to natural history museums, but my interest in plants is so recent I’ve not visited any museum’s botanical exhibit. Certainly it makes sense that replicas would be the order of the day there, just as they are when they’re serving as background for displays showing stuffed tapirs or reconstructed dinosaurs in their “natural” environments.

      I found the photo archives from the Field Museum’s Botany Gallery, and this beautiful reconstruction of a Medinilla magnifica from the Philippines. What a wonderful day you must have had, with such treasures to explore.

        1. When I saw the T-Rex’s name written as SUE, I thought perhaps it was an acronym. Then, I learned it was named after Sue Hendrickson, who was part of the discovery team. After going on to read the history of litigation surrounding the creature, I decided it might also be a sly bit of humor.

          Speaking of science and art, I was browsing the Corning Museum of Glass videos, and found this treasure. Too bad I didn’t find it on 7/22.

          1. It never occurred to me to connect the name SUE to the litigation that followed the finding of the skeleton. What an appropriate name, alas.

            In all the years I taught math I would gladly have shown students the π divider—if only I’d know about it. When I was in high school myself I bought a second-hand slide rule that had a bunch of scales on it, including one that multiplied each value on the main scale by π. By starting with a circumference on that scale, you could read the corresponding diameter on the main scale.

  5. Where I currently work, we sell prairie senna and several WI natives. The prairie mimosa is adorable. I imagine you have that in TX.

    First time I saw a prickly (prickle) poppy was in CO. Beautiful. This glass work is exquisite. Of course, it’s impossible to look at the
    “herbarium sheet” and not think of all those lovely times I pressed flowers in-between sheets of wax paper. Those are nice memories.

    1. I’m really coming to appreciate the value of scientific names for plants. I didn’t know prairie senna or prairie mimosa. Now, I do, thanks to you — they’re alternate common names for what I know as Lindheimer’s senna and Illinois bundleflower.

      Here’s that photo of the Brazoria prairie I was telling you about. The last time I was there, the Illinois bundleflower still was producing some straggly flowers, but most had already seeded. Although I’ve never seen white prickly poppy there, I did find enough to keep me happy this year: not an easy task, since I like them so much.

      I never pressed flowers in waxed paper: only autumn leaves. Special flowers — and four-leaf clovers — went into books. There’s another reason to stick with books instead of E-readers!

      1. Prairie skies are so often incredibly dramatic. Every time I hear of a front coming thru Kansas or Nebraska panhandle/S Dakota, I want to get in my car and drive like mad to get there. Southern WI doesn’t really have too much to show, but I still like the little bits of drama we do get.

  6. I was fascinated at these glass flowers. If you’ve ever seen the Chihuly glass flower works of art, you can see what can be done in glass, so the execution of these flowers by the Czech artists for Harvard is just another incredible delight for the senses. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I tried to find a list of all the flowers made for Harvard by the Blaschkas, but I haven’t succeeded yet. As beautiful as the Opuntia is, I wondered if they had done other flowers from our areas. Can you imagine a yucca bloom in glass? That would be something to see.

      I’ve never seen Chihuly’s work in person, but if I’d known about his exhibitions at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, I would have been there. Here’s a link that has some nice photos of his work there. A couple of the pieces are a little too kitschy for me, but most range from splendid to breath-taking.

  7. Oddly as I read your post my mind went back to a vist many years ago to the glass flowers at Harvard. I was excited to see you identify the location. It was indeed a fascinating experience.

    1. I suspect one reason I bumped into the glass flowers is that the exhibit hall had been closed for renovations, and recently re-opened. All of the publicity surrounding that event seems to have flooded the web with Harvard-related entries for the Blaschka’s artistry, and I’m so glad.

      It’s wonderful that you were able to see them, Linda. With a new exhibition space that’s said to show them off even more dramatically, I’m sure visitors will enjoy them even more.

  8. Amazing skill. I loved the line about getting a great-grandfather who had the skill and passed it to succeeding generations. I’m afraid my ancestors only passed farmer skills and being a town girl I’ve never found use for that. Maybe I should get a potbelly pig and discover hidden talents!

    1. I enjoyed that little aside about generational talent, too. What’s so funny about it is that my grandfather varnished woodwork in homes for many years — and my mother helped him. She sanded; he vanished. Whether Mom had talent for it I don’t know. She certainly didn’t enjoy it. But I do have a talent for it, and often have wished my grandfather could have known his grand-daughter was following in his footsteps. He would have laughed and laughed — while Mom was grumping.

      I think a potbelly pig would be fun — at least, for a while. On the other hand, a chicken or two could help provide breakfast, as well as being fine pets. I suppose the neighborhood association wouldn’t go for that, since they’re distressed even by unmowed acreage!

    1. Isn’t that great? And if your begats haven’t begotten talent? Well, as the good Leopold said, “If you do not have such ancestors, it is not your fault.” In such a case, I think it would be enough to work well, and enjoy life.

    1. Thanks, Pete. As beautifully as the Blaschkas re-created flowers and invertebrates, I was wishing they had done a few insects, too, but then I realized that beetles and butterflies are more stable than jellyfish and poppies. Naturalists didn’t need replicas for many of those species.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  9. So perfect and beautiful. Thanks for the great joy your post gave me on this cold winter’s day in South Africa.

    1. I wish I could send you a little of our warmth, too. Still, it’s heart-warming to see such skill employed in the service of beauty and knowledge — and it certainly warms my heart that the post brought you joy.

    1. As a matter of fact, GP, I do know their blogs. The photography is splendid, and always a treat to see. There never can be too much beauty in the world, or too many portrayals of the beauty in the natural world.

      Thanks for visiting, and for your comment.

    1. There were several things in that article that caught my attention, Gallivanta. The first is a funny coincidence. Just last week, I received a set of wax carving tools that I’d ordered. I use them as scrapers when I’m removing old varnish from intricate pieces and a regular scraper won’t do.

      It was fun to see the wax model of the corpse flower, too. I had the pleasure of seeing one of those in bloom, and they are impressive, as well as foul-smelling.

      I’d complete forgotten, until today, the bowl of wax fruit on my grandmother’s sideboard. I’m not sure what was included, but I remember a banana, an apple, and some cherries. I went looking, and discovered this really nice blog entry about the popularity of the fruit, back in the day. Some of the arrangements are much fancier than Grandma’s, that’s for sure. And how interesting, to find that wax fruit was included in Egyptian tombs. From glass flowers at Harvard to wax fruit at Grandma’s — there’s a jump!

      1. You now have me wondering if the fruit in the bowl on my grandmother’s table was wax fruit. I know it was artificial. I guess I will never know the material because I don’t know where it went when her house was sold. And……the waxing tools you bought look very like a dentist’s tools. Wax flowers, glass flowers, varnishing…….there’s so much artistry in the world. :) Wax carving tools, and dentists’ tools…..remind me that I once went to a dentist who was an artist as well as a dentist. His first love was painting and his dental practice was full of his lovely artwork. And when he worked on my teeth I always felt he chose his tools and his methods as if he were creating a painting in my mouth. He was Egyptian, so that brings us back to the Pharaohs in a convoluted way. :D

        1. As a matter of fact, I started out using dental tools, but most of them tend to be too sharp. Used with a heat gun, the wax sculpting tools do the job, without the risk of gouging the wood. The woodworkers, of course, seek out good gouges for their carving. The right tool for the job is so important.

    1. When I was writing this, I suddenly realized I’d come across four spellings of Professor Goodale’s name. One error was on a Harvard site. The internet’s great, but it’s not perfect.

  10. Glass working is fascinating. I enjoy watching them create. I also notice how it makes me feel anxiety at the thoughts of failure. I would end up with so many messes. :-(

    The explanation about the g-grandfather, grandfather, etc, etc, was amusing. Also, it is very true. Certain skills need careful mentoring.

    Gorgeous photos. I can’t tell the real from the glass sometimes.

    1. Spurred by your comment, I watched some videos of people working glass. It is fascinating, whether they’re producing classic vases, millifiori beads, or replicas of My Lilttle Pony. I didn’t think about messes as much as I wondered about scars from being burned. I’ve had a few encounters with my heat gun. No matter how careful I am, every now and then I hit myself with it, and suffer for it.

      Those models are realistic, aren’t they? I’d love to see them in real life. I can only imagine how beautiful they must be with the light shining on and through them. Of the ones I posted, the cactus fascinates me most. When I first saw it, I stared and stared at those spines. What skill!

      1. In addition to all the broken glass, I would also be on my way to the burn unit at the local hospital.

        I was also amazed at the cactus. Every needle seems perfect.

    1. I believe so, too, Becca. I would love to be able to touch the cactus. I presume the spines wouldn’t embed themselves in my fingers — but I’m not sure. You’ve hit on it: the liveliness of the collection is amazing.

  11. I’ve seen some of the Blaschkas’ work at the Corning Glass Museum – I grew up about an hour from there – in a building filled with incredible works of art in glass, their creations are still standouts. They have a small display of their flowers, and now the exhibit of marine creatures. If you’re someone like me, “all thumbs & two left feet,” you feel like you should walk carefully and hold your breathe when you’re near them, amazing.

    1. I was sure that someone would have personal experience of these models. How wonderful that you’ve seen them: both the flowers and the sea creatures. You answered a question I’ve had — how they compare to other glasswork. I had suspected that they were near the top of the heap. How could they not be?

      I smiled at your comment about feeling all thumbs and left feet. I still remember going with my mother to fancy gift shops as a child. They were filled with glass shelves covered with every sort of delicate thing, and she sometimes would turn around, look at me, and say, “Don’t move!”

      On another topic entirely, I still have your posts about your walk through colonial America to read again and comment on. I’m curious: have you read Freeman Tilden’s “Interpreting Our Heritage”? Was it a part of your docent training? I recently began reading it, and thought of your experience.

      1. Glad to hear from you and I don’t think I even said, this is an excellent post!
        Corning has just a few samples of the flowers, but sometime I’d really like to see the Harvard collection, now that it’s open to the public again.
        I’ll be a very very careful bull in the china shop, promise.
        I’ve heard of Tilden, the patron saint of the Nat’l Park Service interpreters, but never read him. Each place where I’ve volunteered or worked, has custom-designed their own program and training – Jamestown, VA for example, is shared by the NPS and Preservation Virginia, and they have different approaches to telling the story, and then the state runs a recreated “living-history” village, with actors, which is a different approach still.
        Pretty impressive that Tilden’s book has been a standard reference for 50 years. I’ll definitely get a copy, right now I’m 100% focused on brushing up my Spanish for a teaching job.

  12. Looking at these beauties, it’s hard to remember that they’re glass, not real! What a gift the Blaschka family inherited — and who says we all get here the same?!?

    Linda, I so admire your ability to find a topic I know nothing about and make it readable and fascinating. That, too, is a talent, you know!

    1. For Leopold Blaschka, it really was a case of one thing leading to another. He became interested in the sea creatures while sailing to America. The ship was becalmed for two weeks, and he spent his time observing and drawing the jellyfish and such that surrounded the ship. Later, he tried making them in glass. It was his success with that which resulted in the commission to make the flowers.

      The fact is, we never know when what we’re doing today will lead to something unexpected in the future. Blaschka’s experiences are a good reminder of that.

      I laughed (with appreciation) at your comment about a talent for finding topics. Whether it’s talent or persistence, I’m not sure, but there’s a reason “bird-dogging” is a metaphor for such things. A lot of good dogs can catch the scent, but not all dogs will follow it into the weeds.

    1. Here you go, Kayti: this video’s a wonderful way to explore a bit more about Blaschka and his art. What I love most about the story is that his interest was piqued while spending two weeks becalmed. Most people would sit around fussing over the lack of wind, or whining about how bored they were. He just started looking around — and the rest, as they say, is history.

  13. A cleverly woven narrative and some superb examples of the skill of glass workers. So often we think of our generation as being the clever ones, but so often we are proved hopelessly wrong by the skills shown by previous generations – and this a case in point.

    1. We do think we’re clever, don’t we? Another example of the superiority of earlier craftsmen and materials is furniture. I have some pieces of hand-built furniture, and I have some pieces of the stuff that comes in a box with instructions in nineteen languages and plastic dowels. There’s just no comparison. The “convenience” of the contemporary pieces is no match for the quality of the old.

  14. Goodness me, what an artform! I simply can’t imagine how those glass flowers were made, or how long they took but what a collection. Another marvelous

    1. The Blaschkas made thousands of models, so they couldn’t have taken that long, Dina. It’s quite amazing, but I suppose that, if you have the talent and hone the skill that comes naturally, you can do quickly what would take someone else hours.

      Apparently botanical models were quite the thing around the turn of the century. These so-called Brendel models are in your neighborhood. They’re only partly glass, but no less beautiful.

    1. I hope you get to see the collection sooner rather than later, Melissa. I thought I’d found you a nice consolation prize at the Merwin Gallery at Illinois Wesleyan, but I just noticed that the “summer exhibition” closed yesterday. Ah, well. There’s apparently a difference between academic summer and meteorological summer. Still, they have some nice photos, too.

  15. Somewhere in childhood mother dragged us through some museum with rows and rows of glass flowers. Interesting (on the first row or so) but I did feel terribly worried I’d somehow fall into a case and break a display..which would tumble into the next, then the next from row to row.
    That a person actually made these gems is really quite remarkable

    1. Ah — the domino effect. It does pop up everywhere, doesn’t it? We often were told the cautionary tale of the bull in the china shop. It would do just as well for glass.

      When I think of the experiences of museums,historical sites, parks, and travel my parents provided for me, I’m far more grateful and touched than I ever was as a child, or even as a young adult. They so clearly wanted more for me than they’d had in their small Iowa town. What I wish I could tell them is that there were things about that small Iowa town that I cherish even more than the best museum, or the most extravagant travel. They might be surprised — but they might not.

  16. What a fantastic find, Linda! I think I remember reading about this glass collection many years ago, but had forgotten about it. Will have to check out your links to see more of the displays. The Blaschkas’ facility with glass is just phenomenal.

    1. I think many people are remembering the collection’s existence since the decision was made to renovate the gallery, adding new display cases, better lighting, and so on. The publicity surrounding the re-opened exhibit not only introduced it to people who didn’t know about it (me, for example) but probably also refreshed the memory of many others.

      The next step for many of the models will be conservation. Some of the paints are separating from the glass, for example, and those skilled in overcoming the ravages of time will have their work cut out for them as they try to preserve the Blaschkas’ work for us.

  17. When we were in Prague four years ago, we made a point to visit a number of glass artists’ studios. One of our friends here in Fremont is a glass artist (of museum quality work); she told us all about the long history in glass art that hails from (now) the Czech Republic.

    The pictures you posted of the Blacshkas’ glass renditions juxtaposed with the real flower animated your post.

    Thank you for researching and writing about this topic, of which I know nil.

    1. I think glass must always have seemed magical to people. I still have a few of the Venetian glass trade beads I brought back from West Africa. You can read the history of their industry in those beads.

      All of the flowers I’ve seen from the Harvard collection are lovely, but I found the iris and white poppy especially appealing. The white prickly poppy is one of my favorite flowers, and I searched a good while before I found one blooming. The one I’ve shown here was in that first patch — about a hundred feet of scattered plants along the highway. I’d been looking for a way to use it in a post, but I never imagined an icy Montana buttercup would provide the opportunity.

      It occurs to me you can’t say you know nil about glass botanicals now. You know at least as much as I do.

    2. I’ll see your apostrophe, and raise you one improperly capitalized letter (mine). That’s what happens when the editorial staff around here develops summer ennui.

  18. My oh my. I’ve never seen such talent. The flowers are mind boggling and made me wonder how many hours went into making these intricate wonders. The flowers are a marvelous collection. I’m so glad that you did a post about them. I always learn something new with each post. You are quite the educator, Linda.

    1. Aren’t they wonderful? I can only imagine how beautiful they’d be on display, in their cases and properly lit. For some reason, using them as actual teaching models makes me think of my mother and her reluctance to use the “good” china and crystal, except on special occasions — she was so afraid of breaking a piece. Of course, there are china replacement services that could provide an extra plate or teacup. I don’t think there’s a replacement service for these models.

      I was happy to learn about them myself, Yvonne. Sometimes, it seems as though there’s a wonderful discovery around every corner.

  19. Taking a break to check email — the level of craftsmanship on those glass flowers is just so incredibly high. An incredible amount of talent and quite a legacy to leave successive generations.

    1. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to pack them up for a move? The story of the packing and transport for their various moves is really something. After the first shipment was damaged, they came up with some methods that may have taken longer to complete than one of the flowers. But, they managed it, and we still have them — a legacy, indeed.

  20. Once again, Linda, you have introduced me to an art of which I knew almost nothing. Those glass flowers are just exquisite…the degree of artistry is off the scale.

    1. And you, lucky woman, can see some of the Blaschkas’ work! The National Museum of Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru!) has its own collection of their sea creatures, held at Cardiff.

      Here’s a page that shows some examples. Scroll down a bit, and look at the Portuguese Man-of-War. It really is spectacular — but all of them are wonderful. There are jellyfish in the collection I’ve never heard of, let alone seen. If you ever happen to visit the gallery, we want photos!

  21. Those replicas in glass are amazing. Usually it’s so easy to tell an artificial plant apart, but these seem so natural. Would have loved to have a couple of them at home, since I have had to give up having any plants with the extended time away from home I regularly have.

    1. I laughed at a comment made by one of the conservators involved with the cleaning and restoration of the plants. Apparently she took one look at the cactus and said, “I have no idea how we’re going to clean that one.”

      Travel does make some aspects of life difficult. There’s no question that having a couple of Blaschka houseplants would be a solution — not to mention an absolute delight when you’re at home. That’s one reason I tend toward cactus for outdoor plants. They’re a little more forgiving if they don’t get water for a while.

    1. What a great experience that must have been, Martha. I was sure that some readers would have seen them, or at least heard of them, and you’ve confirmed what I’ve imagined: that they truly are wonderful.

    1. Well, maybe not, Dana. But you clearly had some who were big in the fiber arts! It’s a marvel to me how many talented people there are, and how unusual some of the talents are. I have a friend who swears her primary talent is appreciating what other people do. What’s not to like about that? Every cook, musician, writer, gardener, or dog whisperer likes having someone around to say, “Wow! How do you do that?”

  22. I am a lot closer to Harvard than you, but have failed to visit even once. However, I do also live close to Harvard Forest, a property owned by the University, and have visited the pond there often. Now I have a good reason to go to Cambridge. Thanks.

    1. I think the glass flowers would be a wonderful reason to stop by Harvard, but somehow I think you’re more likely to make another visit to the Harvard Forest. I looked at their site, and wish I could make a visit there, too. I especially like the way they’ve set up the search parameters on their site. I chose “biodiversity” and the “butterfly” tag, and pulled up a lovely video.

      I do keep thinking how much fun it would be to have the Blaschkes around today to model some native plants, like your pitcher plant.
      And here’s a fun fact for you. Know what Leopold did before he got into sea creature/flower modeling? He made glass eyes! There’s nothing like a transferable skill.

  23. I’ve seen several exhibits of Chihuly’s works, Linda, and have always been fascinated with what can be done with glass. Venetians also do incredible work. This is the first time I have heard of Blaschka, however. Incredible. And I really like the grandfather, father, son story. It makes sense. –Curt

    1. I’m always tickled when I find a topic that’s new to you, Curt. As wide-ranging as your interests and your travels are, that’s not always a sure thing. Of course, glass isn’t the perfect medium for Burning Man art, or wilderness memorabilia. On the other hand, the one place it’s guaranteed to show up are the generic tourist joints along Route 66 and elsewhere. Shot glasses and glass unicorns abound in those places.

      Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to travel forward a few decades, and see what influence you’ve had on your grandkids? I suspect the evidence of your time together will have endured.

      1. I am always learning new things from you, Linda. Laughing about the glass trinkets along the road. You know one that is missing that always used to be in the tourist shops/traps? Ashtrays. Boy doesn’t that speak to a cultural change in our world. The grandfather business is something of a trip. I know what I would like to pass on: a sense of humor and a sense of wonder. –Curt

    1. I’d love to see the glass flowers in person, to see the light shining through them. I thought about what the Blaschkas could do with birds, too. There are glass birds galore, but they tend to be simple shapes. Can’t you imagine a Blaschka bird, with wings spread and the light shining through them?

  24. I’ve been having trouble just staying on your blog, my computer is a little slow. I hate to say this, but I still like the real thing. I know it must take a lot of time to make glass flowers, but people of my generation are not big on all of those do dahs (spelling?) But I love the photos of the flowers especially the buttercups. I hope it’s not too hot where you are!

    1. I will confess that the little bouquet of glass flowers like the one my mother had doesn’t appeal at all. If someone offered one to me, and it wouldn’t be polite to decline, I’d pass on that. But I do think the Blaschka models are breathtaking — far beyond anything my grandmother or mother had sitting around on their corner knick-knack shelves.

      On the other hand, you’ve hinted at one great advantage of real flowers. To see the glass flowers, it requires a trip to Boston or Corning. To see a real flower, it only takes stepping outdoors and opening our eyes. Besides, some flowers have scent, and a few even have bumblebees. What’s not to like about that?

      On the edge of August now, it’s plenty hot — and humid. But that’s summer on the Texas coast. We’re almost to August, and that means it’s only two months until October. If we manage to escape any storms, we’ll happily put up with the heat.

        1. Look at you — willing to use The Word! Superstitious sorts down here won’t even say it. We use the euphemism, “rain without a name.” As for construction season: I would love for their to be a lull in that. Sometimes I have the feeling if I don’t keep moving, someone will build a strip center right on top of me.

          1. I’ve only seen what the destruction of a hurricane can havoc on land. Like I said before I like living in the valley! Remember we get the sinkholes :)

  25. Unbelievable, Linda. And stunning. I’d not heard of this collection and I have to say it takes my breath away. I had seen the work of Chihuly and Craig Mitchell Smith, both of which impress me tremendously. But these have such intricate details. Real or glass? I suppose I’d always take the real — but then, these beautiful flowers would live forever.

    The story you tell — as always — is told to perfection.

    1. And I’d not heard of Craig Mitchell Smith. I see he’s local, and his work is appealing. Of course, both Smith and Chihuly are artists, and their work differs from the Blaschkas because of that. The glass flowers here were meant as botanical models, so exactness of detail took precedence over artistic expression. Even so, it’s a reminder that representation can be beautiful and deeply appealing: think of the difference between Pissarro and Bouguereau.

      Of course, when it comes to life imitates art imitates life, what could be better than this?

  26. Wow it would be wonderful to see those in person! Beautiful post (as always)

    All’s fine here, and probably sometime next week I’ll be able to share that the property has new owners. Most all hurdles cleared, so now it’s down to whenever the attorneys finish their parts.

    1. The Blaschkas did models of plants from around the world, so some from the Cloud Forest might well be in the collection.

      I’m glad to hear that things are moving along on the property front. That’s going to be a blessing and a bit of a sad ending for you, I suspect. Enjoy every day that you have there — what an experience it’s been. I hope all’s well for the couple you’ve been helping out, and that her health is improving, too. It would be great for everything to sort itself out in a positive way.

  27. You have brought on these wonderful flower forms and the Harvard Collection which is exquisite. Also, of course, Steve’s beautiful images fit in perfectly. I was so fortunate to finally find a Prickly pear cactus plant (Opuntia ficus-indica) this year, and I suspect there are orange flower varieties also. They bloom after heavy rains.

    Cacti are highly unpredictable, at least for me they are. So the ones I brought from Florida have grown here but have not bloomed for two years. So they probably need even more sun.

    Now I’m beginning to “feed” them with a 10-30-20 blossom booster, and I’ll let you know how that goes:

    “For promoting good fruit or flower production, look for a middle number that is higher than the first. Otherwise, your plants will be stimulated to put out lots of nice green foliage, likely at the expense of fruit or flower production. Instead, you want the energy and nutrition of the plant to go towards the desired result, flowers or fruit, so a higher middle number is a more appropriate choice.”-

    So to “feed” orchids and cacti I’m going to use fertilizers with the higher phosphate number in the middle. So 5-5-5, or 10-10-10 is just for foliage and too weak for Orchids. Mind you this is only once a week.

    What’s actually happening with me is that I’m becoming more experienced with Orchids, since P.R. is so humid, and Cacti like it a bit on the drier side.

    Beautiful post.

    1. I wish we were closer. I just gave away several large pieces of your favored prickly pear. I brought two stems home from the place up in Kerrville several years ago, and now I’m nearly overrun with them. I keep breaking off pieces to keep them pot-sized, although I’ve allowed one to grow quite large, and it is an impressive thing. It needs repotting, actually, but I suppose I’ll trim it back and give it fresh dirt.

      The good news about them is that the pieces I remove can lay around for a good while before being repotted. That means that, should a hurricane arrive, I can simply cut off pieces to take with me, and keep the line going. If you do break off pieces for repotting, be sure and let the ends dry out very well, and grow a bit “corky” before putting them back in dirt. Otherwise, you risk having them rot.

      It’s interesting that you’re going to fertilize. I’ve never fertilized any cactus. I’ve been told that fertilizing will only make them grow faster and, hence, die faster. At any rate, yours should do quite well. Heaven knows we’re humid here, and the Opuntia thrive. Somewhere I have a photo of a beautiful large one that was blooming the last time I was in the hill country. We talked to the fellow in whose yard it was growing. It was started from one his father had, and now there are “babies” all up and down his road — most of them quite impressive in size.

    1. You know better than that, Wendy. Brilliant, I’m not. But if something catches my attention, like Terry’s ice-covered buttercup, I’ll “sniff around” just like a dog on a rabbit until I see if the trail might lead somewhere. Shoot — I’ve got tidbits in my draft files that have been there for some time. Years, even. I still think some of them might turn into something — someday!

  28. I’ve not seen them in person but have seen many pictures of them. there is a new competition inspired by this collection called Lifeforms. I missed entering the first one but did the second one but my work was not selected for the exhibition. perhaps next time.

    1. Of course I thought about you when I wrote this, Ellen. And I’m so glad you told me about the Lifeforms competition and exhibit. I looked at their gallery of images, and the videos, and was so impressed. I particularly liked that it wasn’t limited to flowers.

      Even better, I’ve learned more from your blog and from my Blaschka research than I realized. At least now I can recognize the various forms of glassmaking, and know a little about the techniques. Wouldn’t it be exciting to be a part of a show like that? I hope you have the chance.

  29. I found the Iris especially fetching, but on the whole the selection was an aesthetic feast.

    As I read I remembered my earlier life in chemistry. In my training at a technical college, we learned all thing required for life in a lab, and one of those things was glass blowing. From time to time, a chemist or technician might need some glass piece for an ad hoc experiment that couldn’t be bought, and so the curriculum prepared us for this.

    The acquired skills were never needed in my jobs. Let me assure you that the skills were not easily acquired. Many burned fingers, and much broken glass were witnessed to gain even the most basic of skills. From time to time, in later years, I would bump into glass artists in malls etc, and often found that they began their glass career as chemists. I’m sure the faculty never imagined that course as an exit strategy, but for those with skill it provided an option for a career! I’ve never gone back to glass, but just might some day! Of course, if I have any skills I’m afraid I’m too late to pass them on to my offspring, but never too late to enjoy the challenge!

    1. Watching people working in glass always has fascinated me. It never had occurred to me that people in labs might be producing their own beakers and tubes — that’s as interesting as the more artistic uses for the skills. It’s fun to imagine a chemist with a whole array of glass before him, saying, “Nope. Won’t do. Have to bring in the glass blowers.” Not only is the need for unusual pieces interesting, there’s the whole problem of being able to describe it to someone so it can be made.

      When it comes to any sort of skill, it’s easy to forget those beginning stages. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to cope with more than an occasional bit of orange-peel in my varnish, or a brush stroke. I used to have them on every job, especially during the first decade. But learning the arts of solvent-adding, weather-judging, and patient preparation were “all” that was needed to develop a feel for what’s going to work. I suspect glass depends on developing that feeling for the medium to an even greater — a much greater! — degree.

      i suspect that the skills, once learned, don’t depart. It would make taking up a little glasswork easier the second time around!

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