The exquisite glass sea-creatures of a 19th century German glassmaker and his son are to go on show at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland. From their tiny Dresden workshop, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka crafted thousands of exquisite sea creatures for natural history museums all over the world.
"The Blaschkas’ work is a remarkable example of the fusion of design, craftsmanship and mass production at a time in the late 19th century when the boom in natural science exploration" said Ann Jones, Curator of the National Glass Centre, where the show will run from 7 July – 29 September.
Leopold Blaschka was born in Bohemia in 1822 (died 1895) and apprenticed as a goldsmith and gem cutter before joining his father’s business making decorative items and jewellery from glass and metal.
"Leopold’s passion was natural history and he soon started making glass models of orchids he had seen in books," said Ann.
In the early 1980s he was commissioned by the Royal Natural History Museum in Dresden to make his first models of sea creatures. Orders soon followed from other museums and collectors and, and Leopold, assisted by his son Rudolf (1857-1939), began adding to their repertoires, introducing glass models of the jellyfish he had seen on a trip to North America.
"Using rudimentary equipment, the Blaschkas worked by fusing or gluing clear and coloured glass," said Ann.
"Tentacles and gills were attached on fine copper wires. Their glass sea slugs and jellyfish were not only displayed in museums, but studied as specimens by students."
By the late 1880s, replicas of more than 700 sea creatures were listed in Leopold and Rudolf Blaschkas’ catalogue, and they were acquainted with leading scientists of the day.
The Glass Aquarium – a joint initiative between the Design Museum in London and the National Glass Centre and originally presented at the Design Museum – is to display the finest examples of the sea creatures with which the Blaschkas made their names as self-styled "natural history artisans" and gave 19th century museum-goers a glimpse of deep sea life.
It will be supported by an exciting programme of workshops for children and families conducted by marine biologists and artists.
"The finale of this remarkable and exquisite exhibition will include a weekend of demonstrations by maestros in lampworking techniques," said Ann.
"We feel that the exhibition will have particular resonance in Sunderland, with its historic double connection to the sea and the glassmaking industry."