A Guide to Glass Flowers
Glass has been used in artistic fashions since around the year 2500 B.C. The first forms of artistic glass were made by setting fire to certain types of sand which contained silica. When the sand formed into glass, people began to realize that it could be used to create glass beads. These glass beads were strung onto string and made into necklaces. Over the years, glass artwork became more popular and a variety of glass art was created by many throughout history, from the Phoenicians to the Ancient Egyptians. Perhaps the most stunning use of glass as a form of art, however, occurred though the years of 1887 and 1936. In 1887, a Czech man by the name of Leopold Blaschka, along with his son Rudolf, began creating incredibly accurate models of flowers made of glass.
Leopold first created accurate glass models of exotic flowers through the use of pictures in a book. He created the glass flowers through the use of both colored and clear glass, wire support, and paint. The glass was manipulated into shape with "lampworking" glasswork techniques. With this technique, a torch or a lamp is used to heat the glass. When the glass begins to melt, it is shaped by hand and through the use of tools into the desired shape. When the glass cools, the shape is set and it can then be painted to complete the final product. Leopold and Rudolf continued to create realistic models of glass flowers using this technique for many years. Eventually, people began to take notice of their glass art and many notable people of the time period, including Prince Camille de Rohan. As word of the Blaschkas' artistic talents spread, they began receiving requests from museums and universities for models of his other works, which included glass models of invertebrates from oceans and seas.
It was because of his work with the Boston Museum of Science that Leopold was contacted by George Lincoln Goodale. Goodale was creating the Harvard Botanical Museum when he saw the Blaschkas' glasswork. Goodale pursued the Blaschkas and eventually convinced them to regularly create glass flowers for the museum. This required a lot of research on their part, as some flowers were to be shown as diseased, not fully bloomed or while being pollinated. The father and son duo created glass flowers exclusively for the Harvard Botanical Museum until Leopold's death in 1895. After his father's death, Rudolf continued working with Harvard until his retirement in 1938. Over the years, the two created over three thousand glass flowers for Harvard's museum. The Harvard Museum of Natural History features the largest and most popular collection of glass flowers to this day. Other glass flower collections exist in museums, for instance the Corning Museum of Glass, however the collections are much smaller.
Glass flowers are still created today by glass workers using the same "lampworking" technique that was used by Leopold and Rudolf, however some prefer a similar technique known as "glassblowing". Glassblowing involves hot melted glass being blown into a large bubble through the use of a tube known as a "blow tube". This technique allows larger models of glass flowers to be created more simply, although lampworking allows for more detailed and intricate work. Glass flowers, as with other glass art can be created through the use of a variety of materials. The type of glass, for instance, may vary greatly, as the best type depends on factors such as the glassworker's personal preference, the type of project being created, and the technique that is being used. Most glass workers creating glass flowers, however, will choose a glass that falls under the "hot glass" category which essentially means that the glass will be heated to a temperature of around 2000 degrees while sculpting. Brown glass is a popular choice, as is stained glass. When it comes to glass flowers, the use of colored or clear glass is a personal choice for the glassworker. Some prefer colored glass flowers without the use of other materials, while others prefer the delicate look of a crystal clear flower. Painting glass flowers to create the ideal look for a specific type of flower, as Leopold and Rudolf did, is still common practice, as well. Although glasswork is not quite as common as it once was, there are glassworkers all over the world still creating glass flower masterpieces.
To learn more about the history and techniques involved with glass flowers, explore the following links:
Harvard Museum of Natural History: The Glass Flowers Collection
Art That Imitates Life: Glass Flowers
Botanical Wonders: The Story of Harvard Glass Flowers
Glass Art Terms and Techniques
Written By Ava Rose.
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