Preserved In Glass: The Marine Invertebrates Of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka

At the turn of the 20th century, Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolf, developed a successful business producing glass models of soft-bodied undersea creatures – marine invertebrates. Carefully crafted in their studio in Dresden, Germany, these models were shipped to universities and museums worldwide as study models. When Cornell University acquired its teaching collection in 1885, the Blaschka models could be purchased in North America from Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York. By 1888, this father and son team offered 700 models that, according to Leopold Blaschka himself, were “universally acknowledged as being perfectly true to nature.”

Now, the exhibition Fragile Legacy presents the marine invertebrate models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka within the context of both marine life and glass conservation. The displayed glass objects tell the story of the history of the Blaschka family, the interest in marine life and dissemination of knowledge in 19th-century Europe, the techniques and methods of creating these beautiful glass models, and finally, the story of the objects themselves as an art form. Researchers at Cornell are using the collection as a time capsule for seeking out and documenting the creatures still living in our oceans today.

A Tale of Two Glassworkers and Their Marine Marvels, on Display at Corning Museum of Glass

This common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is from Cornell’s extensive collection of glass marine models fashioned by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Photo by Gary Hodges

by Julie Leibach, on May 13, 2016

According to Science Friday, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka are perhaps best known for crafting a collection of glass flowers for Harvard. But together they made their mark fashioning thousands of marine invertebrate models. The specimen is one of thousands of meticulously detailed marine invertebrate models fashioned between 1863 and 1890 by a father-son glassworking duo, for the primary purpose of research and education. Collectively, their work depicts more than 700 different species—including various anemones, squids, and sea stars—found in waters around the globe.