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 this museum has just gone through renovations, they preserved the charm of the original displays.
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, this great mullein, not realizing that it was made from blown glass. Once it sunk in, he looked at every specimen, stunned. This artist team also made replicas of the reproductive parts of each flower magnified.
What we learned was that 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 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 I got as a child being 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 of course they have the hanging whale skeletons that everyone loves. In the gallery, the skeleton 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 it so rewarding, it becomes a museum of a museum, its own institutional history being on display for all of us to sense our place and time in the continuum. Our need and love to collect, categorize, and display our world can be seen in this gem of a museum.