Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Ware Collection

With Nancy J. Farrier

Leopold, Caroline,
and Rudolf at home.
Wikemedia Commons

Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolf, became famous for their glass artistry, showcasing sea life and botanical plants. They had a family history of glassmaking behind them.


Leopold was born in 1822 in Bohemia. After an apprenticeship to a goldsmith and gem cutter, Leopold became part of the family business, producing glass ornaments and glass eyes. They incorporated a technique called “glass-spinning,” something that enabled them to make more detailed glassworks.


Cashew Twig, Harvard
Photo by alcinoe
Wikimedia Commons
Leopold’s first wife, Caroline, and son, Josef, died of cholera, and he lost his father a year later. He found comfort in the world around him, taking long walks and sketching plants in the nearby countryside. This may have been the start of his interest in detailed botanical glass works.


On route to the United States in 1853, Leopold’s ship was adrift for two weeks with no winds. During that time he was fascinated by the sea life at night. He wrote about the beauty of the creatures and their light which seemed to reflect the stars above.


In 1854, after his return to Dresden, Leopold married his second wife, also named Caroline. They had one son, Rudolf. He continued to work in the family business of ornaments and glass eyes, but in his free time he created glass models of plants he had sketched.


Jellyfish model, Photo by Lucarelli
Wikimedia Commons

These glass plants were a hobby but Prince Camille of Rohan, a natural sciences enthusiast, saw them and arranged to meet with Leopold. He commissioned 100 glass orchids to be made for his personal collection. When Prince Camille displayed his orchids, Professor Reichenbach, director of the Natural History Museum in Dresden saw them and convinced Leopold to create glass models of marine invertebrates. 


Leopold’s invertebrate models were superior to anything previously used because displaying these sea creatures was problematic. Even displayed in liquid, the invertebrates didn't last. Leopold's reputation grew and he urged his son, Rudolf, to refine his craft in glass work. They made some exquisite glass sea anemones along with other sea life.


Bouquet gifted to Wares
Bard Cadarn Photo
Wikimedia Commons

In 1886, the Blaschkas were commissioned to begin a series of botanical models for Harvard, which they would be used for teaching and put on display. Professor George Goodale believed this to be a worthy undertaking but needed more funds for the project. He approached a former student, Mary Lee Ware. Mary and her mother, Elizabeth, were already involved with supporting Harvard and they believed in the glass botanical project. Their support brought about the Ware Collection at the Harvard Museum.


The Blaschkas contracted to work for Harvard exclusively for ten years. They received 8,800 marks per year. They produced a range of plant specimens, flowers, leaves, fruits, and roots. They were detailed enough to look real and for classes to study them in great detail.


Sea Anemones, Photo by Lucarelli
Wikimedia Commons
There was opposition to the Blaschkas—complaints that they were using some strange method to produce their glass works. Leopold replied, “One cannot hurry glass. It will take its own time. If we try to hasten it beyond its limits, it resists and no longer obeys us.” Leopold also said of their artistry in glass, “Maybe 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 the touch.” He went on to say part of their expertise came from being passed down through a family who loved doing glass work.


Leopold passed away in 1895 and Rudolf was unable to keep up the pace they had set. Doing such detailed work couldn’t be hurried. He still continued to provide models for Harvard until he retired in 1938. He and his wife had no children, so he had no successor.


Marine Life Models, Photo by Federico Federighi
Wikimedia Commons
The Baschkas made about 4,400 glass botanical models for Harvard in their life time, 780 were life-sized models. Although the Ware collection is still on display in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, not all of the Blaschka’s work is on view. 


During their lifetime, the Blaschkas made approximately 10,000 glass marine invertebrate models, but the glass botanicals housed at Harvard are their most famous works. The University of Pisa has a small collection of the invertebrates. 


After studying the story and the work of the Blaschkas, I would love to see their glass work in person. Have you ever visited the Ware collection at Harvard? It is now on my list of places to visit.

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Thank you for posting today and Happy New Year to you and your family. Wow! I loved this story and those pictures! I'm sure they don't do that exquisite work justice.

  2. Just beautiful! What an interesting story, Nancy! Thank you.