Out of the Teeming Sea

OUT OF THE TEEMING SEA: Glass Invertebrates by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka

Before Jacques Cousteau and the aqualung, before Kodachrome and underwater photography - there were the Blaschkas, father and son glassworkers who produced some of the most extraordinary glass objects that have ever been made. Their work has been described as "an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art."

Artifacts inevitably reflect the cultural values leading to their creation.
In 19th century Europe and America, an explosion of interest in science and education directly affected Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Reflecting these interests, new museums were built and opened to the public. They differed from earlier museums not only by admitting the public but also by featuring collections that illustrated science and natural history and often displayed systematic arrangements of plants and animals.
Leopold Blaschka solved a problem that challenged the curators of these new natural history museums-the display of marine invertebrates. Unlike specimens with backbones, which could be stuffed and mounted, invertebrates had to be preserved in alcohol and inevitably lost their colors and shapes. Glass proved to be the ideal material to recreate these fragile forms.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created their glass models of marine invertebrates for educational purposes. Today we see photographs, film and videos of undersea creatures in more color, detail and motion than their models could ever show. Yet looking at these artifacts now, our eyes are entranced less by their teaching function than by their marvelous craft. We have seen the vivid images of undersea life, but here we have strange objects of wonder: soft bodies rendered perfectly in a hard and brittle medium. They have been created with a breathtaking artistry and an unending devotion to mastering a difficult material. We see a virtuosic level of craft that has become priceless in our own era of global manufacturing. And perhaps in the future, might the Blaschkas' glass invertebrates once again fulfill their original educational mission? As earth's oceans are degraded, as their numbers of endangered or threatened inhabitants grows, these 19th century teaching devices could conceivably furnish exquisitely rendered records of what has been lost for students of the 22nd century.

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Influences
The Life and Work of the Blaschkas
Historic Works on Marine Invertebrates
More Information on Cornell's Blaschka Collection
Acknowledgements