Förderverein "Naturwissenschaftliche Glaskunst Blaschka-Haus e. V". (The Promotional Association "Scientific Glass Art - Blaschka-Haus e. V.")
In September 2000, an association was founded in Dresden-Hosterwitz with the aim to establish a museum-type memorial for the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka and to treasure the memory of those two glass-artists. At the same time, the memorial is meant to serve as an educational institution.
Who were those Blaschkas and where did they come from?
Asking about them in Dresden or Saxony or elsewhere in Germany one will find only few who know them or who have heard of them or know where to put them. On the Blaschkas' headstone at the cemetery in Dresden-Hosterwitz it reads "Scientific Glass-Artists". In the dead lists of the "Maria am Wasser" parish of Dresden-Hosterwitz the entry "Glass-Artist" can be found next to Leopold Blaschka and "Widow of the Scientific Modeller" behind his wife's name. Rudolf Blaschka is called a scientific artist and his wife an artist's widow. The Blaschkas initially used to be craftsmen who, owing to their specialisation, became scientists and eventually unequalled artists.
Leopold (1822 - 1895) and Rudolf (1857 - 1939) Blaschka came from North Bohemia, born in a small town called Böhmisch Aicha (today Cesky Dub) near Reichenberg (Liberec) and Turnau (Turnov). The Blaschke family came from Antoniwald in the Iser-Mountains (Blaschke being its original name whereas Leopold Blaschka latinised his family name by replacing the "e" with an "a"). The skill of processing glass, metals and gems had become a tradition over centuries in that region but first of all in that family. Leopold Blaschka had learned the trade of a goldsmith and he is said to have had outstanding skills in gem cutting. In addition, he was trained as a glass blower. He developed the so-called "glass-spinning" which made possible very fine-structured glass-works to a level of high precision. After working on metals and stones, Leopold Blaschka himself produced glass eyes as a glass blower. For health reasons he sailed to the United States in 1853. During that journey he had time and leisure to study sea-animals that the crew fished out of the sea for him. He made drawings and preparations mainly of invertebrate sea-animals that he later would use as models.
In 1857 his son Rudolf was born. To provide Rudolf with good and comprehensive education, the family moved to Dresden. Their first address was "Kleine Schmiedegasse 2" and from 1877 "Kaulbachstrasse 11", before they moved to a house with a workshop in Dresden-Hosterwitz, a place that did not belong to Dresden at that time. According to his own statements (1), Leopold Blaschka made reproductions of invertebrate animals from 1863 onwards, joined by his son Rudolf at about 1880. Those were used as models in museums, as visual aids in universities, secondary schools and other educational institutions. The specimens (2) kept by the former Royal Zoological Museum in Dresden (later Zoological Museum) were destroyed in World War II unfortunately.
Rudolf Blaschka studied the flora of Central Germany and marine creatures of the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea (3).
The production of a collection consisting of 131 glass models of sea slugs, hydroid jellyfish or craspedotes for the Museum of Natural History Society in Boston in 1880 was certainly decisive for further development. Prof. George Lincoln Goodale who was authorized to establish a botanic museum for Harvard University saw those models. Three-dimensional, coloured glass models surpassed, of course, coloured drawings, pressed herbariums, black-and-white photographs or papier-mâchè models used previously. In 1886, Prof. Goodale travelled to Dresden-Hosterwitz and managed, after difficult talks, to persuade father and son Blaschka to produce plant models for Harvard University. That collection was financed by Elizabeth C. Ware and her daughter Mary Lee Ware. At the beginning the Blaschkas made plant and animal models at the same time. The marine creature models had secured them a certain wealth; that was what they had experience in and surely a certain kind of routine. For the creation of the plant models, however, they had to take up scientific research on the objects and the material again, although 60 glass models of orchids were made for Prof. Reichenbach twenty years earlier and finally arrived at the museum of Liège where they, unfortunately, were destroyed by a fire.
In 1890 the Blaschkas decided to work exclusively for Harvard University. Until 1937 over 3000 detailed models of 164 plant families, plants in bloom, their leafs, fruits and roots were created. Some models were designed with insects pollinating them or with morbid changes of the plant.
In 1892 Rudolf Blaschka travelled to the United States for studies. A second trip followed in 1895 that was interrupted by his father's death.
In a large amount of notes and hundreds of coloured drawings of the image, the colour shades of the upper and lower side of blossoms and leaves, of stalks or hairs, Rudolf Blaschka depicted details of American plants. Such notes and drawings served as drafts for his glass models as much as natural plants from the Botanic Garden in Dresden, from the garden of Pillnitz Castle and plants in his own garden in Hosterwitz. This unique collection still today attracts scientists and interested people from all over the world to Cambridge, USA. It is fascinating that all the glass-models of plants and animals are without any morphological incorrectness, that each detail of them stands scientific examination and that the models still today are used as educational and illustrative objects.
When Rudolf Blaschka died in 1939, he left no children behind. Nobody was apprenticed to the father nor to the son. So their knowledge and skills stayed a family secret.
The workshop in Hosterwitz was hit by a bomb at the end of World War II. Rudolf Blaschka's wife died in 1947. The former housekeeper who probably was unaware of the intellectual value of the heritage became the sole heir. So the Blaschkas fell in oblivion here in Dresden. The development of a whole variety of plastics made glass a dispensable material. To our current knowledge, there are unfortunately no models, neither animals nor plants, left in Dresden. Plant models were created for Harvard University in Cambridge, USA, exclusively, animals were sold to many countries (1) on all continents, e.g. to Great Britain, Japan, India, New Zealand, Russia and Austria. Not all of them are lost or missing, as a list and summary of Chris Meechan, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (4) shows.
The association "Naturwissenschaftliche Glaskunst - Blaschka-Haus e.V." was founded on an initiative of the new owner of the Blaschka-House. Two years ago, the house was still in a dilapidated state, had not had any inhabitants and was exposed to vandalism. The new owner managed to reinstate the outer appearance of it completely and to rebuild the external parts of the workshop branch which had disappeared after World War II. We are pleased to have been able to welcome Mrs. Christa Brosche from Bochum to the inauguration conference. She is a former compatriot from Böhmisch Aicha who as the only German made efforts to keep up the memory of the Blaschkas. The chairman of the association is a friend of members of the Blaschka family who are still living in Bohemia but have not seen a possibility to stay in contact with Dresden for a long time due to the war and bad post-war events. Therefore, we kindly ask everyone who knows something about the Blaschkas and their work (even the smallest detail is important!) to inform us. We extend our thanks to "Urania Stadtverband Dresden e.V." (Dresden City Association of Urania) which made it possible to introduce the Blaschkas and their work to a wider public in the framework of its programme of events titled "Aus der Geschichte Dresdens und Sachsens" (From the History of Dresden and Saxony) and which allowed us use their Internet Forum.
Literature: - Obituary by Rudolph Zaunick in the Naturwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Isis in Dresden vol. 38/40, Dresden 1940
- Recherche von Frau Christa Brosche, Bochum; schriftlich festgehaltene Erzählungen von Herrn Leopold Blaschke (1911 - 1997), Liberec (CSR)
- (1) Katalog über Blaschkas Modelle von wirbellosen Thieren, dargestellt von Leopold Blaschka, Dresden, printed by Gustav Winter, Stolpen 1885
- (2) Führer durch das Königlich Zoologisches Museum zu Dresden, printed by B.G. Teubner, Dresden 1881, S. 102
- (3) Letters, written to Dr. Dohrn, Stazione Zoologica Napoli
- (4) Location Data for Blaschka Glass Invertebrate/Plant Model Collections, Chris Meechan, Cardiff, UK
(translation by Peter Silbernagl, Dipl. Sprachm.)
For a related page of the Harvard University click here.Pictures taken from old postcards