In several recent posts I’ve talked about creativity and the wide range of things that might inspire it. I included links to written and visual resources that I had collected for future use. Today I want to look in more depth at just one of my discoveries.
Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka were a father and son team of glass artists who worked from the mid-nineteenth century into the early twentieth century (Leopold died in 1895). I am using the term “artists” but they could just as easily have been called craftsmen, scientists or businessmen. They came from a long line of Venetian glassworkers who eventually relocated to Bohemia, and then Germany.
Leopold began his career working in the family business making fine jewelry and other decorative objects out of metal and glass. In the early 1850s, while recovering from the loss of his wife and father, Leopold took an ocean voyage. A lack of wind stranded the ship at sea for several weeks and he spent this time sketching exotic sealife. Returning home he began to reproduce these miraculous creatures out of glass.
We are all a product of our time and Leopold lived in a time of scientific exploration and discovery. Public museums were being established, many with a dual mission of universal access and teaching. These museums often included taxidermy animals and other specimens. But how do you preserve something as fragile and transitory as a jellyfish or sea anemone? Glass was the perfect solution, able to capture both form and color.
A business was born supplying scientific models to museums and teaching facilities around the world. Working with blown and lampworked glass, the business produced exact replicas of sealife, microscopic radiolarians, and flowers. The Blaschkas initially worked from images found in books but eventually used live specimens, going so far as to maintain an aquarium for sea specimens, and growing foreign plants.
You may ask, why in a blog connected to a book about the elements and principles of design (Design: A Beginner’s Handbook) am I discussing scientific models? Look at them and you’ll have your answer. Consider their shape, texture, sense of balance and proportion. Look at how color is used. Pattern. Visual rhythm. It’s all there. I’ll end by showing you some more of the Blaschka’s models but I suggest that when you’re done looking you click over to our Pinterest boards. See how many of the artworks show strong influences (whether intended or not) of the design found in these wonderful models.