Sunday, October 01, 2006

Crystal Creatures

The art of Leopold + Rudolf Blaschka

During the late 19th century, the Dresden studio of LEOPOLD BLASCHKA (1822-1895)and his son RUDOLF (1857-1929)produced beautifully detailed glass models of exotic plants and bizarre sea creatures for natural history museums and aquaria all over the world.

For over a century, thousands of people have peered into the cherrywood cabinets in the Botanical Museum at Harvard University to see hundreds of astonishingly life-like glass replicas of exotic flowers. Each flower was made thousands of miles away from Harvard in the German city of Dresden by the artisanal glassmaker Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf.

The Blaschkas not only supplied Harvard’s Botanical Museum with some 4,400 replica flowers, but over a period of 50 years they created thousands more remarkably realistic glass flowers and sea creatures for natural history museums as far afield as the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and India.

At a time when the public was entranced by the bizarre plants unearthed by explorers and by the splendidly surreal creatures discovered beneath the sea (since the invention of the submarine and deep sea diving kit in the mid-1800s) the Blaschkas offered a glimpse into those exotic worlds.

Today, the Blaschkas seem remarkably contemporary: working as they did on the cusp of design, craft, art and industry. In early 2001, one of their 1890 painted glass Polychate Worms from Cardiff appeared on the cover of Frieze, the British art magazine. Even in their own era, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka resisted conventional definitions and described themselves as “natural history artisans”. As for their work, it was hailed at the time as: “an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art.”

Design Museum

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The exhibition 'Crystal Creatures' in the National Museum of Ireland - Natural History, Dublin will be held from September through December 2006.


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