2016 Exhibitions at Corning Museum of Glass Explore Intersection of Science and Art

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Corning, NY—In May 2016, The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) will present the first comprehensive exhibition to explore the relationship between the exquisite works of famed 19th-century glass artists and naturalists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka and their impact on marine conservation efforts today. Titled Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, the exhibition features more than 70 exquisitely detailed glass models of marine invertebrates and dozens of the Blaschkas’ original drawings of aquatic lifeforms. Taken together, the Blaschkas’ creations serve as a time capsule of the ocean’s past, and provide a critical benchmark for 21st-century scientists trying to determine how many of these species still survive. On view at CMoG from May 14, 2016 through January 8, 2017, the exhibition will also feature footage taken by two Cornell University researchers who have set out to film living examples of the creatures captured in glass by the Blaschkas more than a century ago.

In April 2016, CMoG will also present Revealing the Invisible: The History of Glass and the Microscope. This exhibition will tell the stories of scientists’ and artists’ explorations of the microscopic world from the early 1600s until the late 1800s, and show how their work drove improvements in scientific glass and the advent of modern scientific glassmaking. Key archival materials from the Museum’s Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library will be featured in the exhibition, alongside historically significant microscopes from external lenders, including an original van Leeuwenhoek microscope—one of only a dozen left in the world. The exhibit will be on view from April 23, 2016 through March 18, 2017.

“CMoG is a center for the exploration of glass as a material, a nexus for artists experimenting and innovating with glass, and the premier place to study the history of glass,” said Dr. Karol Wight, the president and executive director of The Corning Museum of Glass. “These exhibitions grow out of the diverse range of expertise and resources at CMoG, which is unlike any other single institution in the world. Fragile Legacy and Revealing the Invisible illustrate how art and science work together to give us new insights into our world—from life in a drop of water, to life in the depths of the ocean.”

Dr. Marvin Bolt, CMoG’s curator of science and technology, added, “There is often an assumption that the sciences and the arts are worlds apart. But it is the curiosity shared by artists and scientists alike that led to advances in glass technology and to the development of the modern microscope, as we show in Revealing the Invisible. And it is the extraordinary technical and artistic skill of the Blaschkas that make their models as important for scientists today as they were in the 19th century. It’s tremendously exciting to present these exhibitions that bring the public into collaborations by artistic and scientific visionaries.”

Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library

CMoG’s 2016 exhibitions draw extensively from holdings of The Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library, the foremost library on the art and history of glass and glassmaking. The Rakow is home to the Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka Archive, the world’s largest collection of scholarship and original materials pertaining to the father-and-son team. The library’s collection has over 900 original art drawings of plants and invertebrate animals made as studies for the glass models, and also includes the Blaschkas’ notebooks, ledgers, and correspondence, as well as the preeminent collection of books, journals, and other materials for study of the Blaschkas and their work. Holdings from the Rakow on view in Revealing the Invisible will include a rare first edition of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, featuring the English scientist’s breakthrough drawings of insects and plants as observed under a microscope. Published in 1665, Micrographia captured popular imagination, inspiring widespread interest in the emerging science of microscopy.

Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka

Leopold Blaschka (1822-1895) descended from a family of glassblowers and flame workers, whose glass production can be traced back to the 15th century. Although Leopold worked for his family’s business as a costume jeweler in Bohemia, he also made glass models of plants informed by his hobby of studying, collecting, and painting botanicals. In 1853, Leopold was on a sea voyage when his ship becalmed for two weeks, and he became entranced by the jellyfish and other creatures he observed floating in the water. A decade later Leopold drew on this experience when the director of the Natural History Museum in Dresden, who was familiar with Leopold’s plant models, commissioned him to produce sea anemones for museum display.

The works attracted the attention of universities and newly founded natural history museums, each of which wanted similar models for research, teaching, and exhibition. By 1880, son Rudolf (1857-1939) had joined his father in the thriving enterprise, which eventually included 700 invertebrate models available for production upon request. The team marketed their extensive roster of models via catalogues, one of which will be on display in Fragile Legacy. They even installed their own aquarium at their workshop in Dresden, allowing them to study living animals. Leopold and Rudolph began to turn their attention to creating glass flowers after receiving a prestigious commission in 1887 from Harvard University for the now-celebrated Ware Collection, eventually leading the Blaschkas to cease production of the marine invertebrates in order to focus entirely on the flowers.

CMoG and Cornell University

In 1885, Cornell University acquired 570 of the Blaschka’s marine invertebrate models. With the advent of the aqualung and underwater photography by the mid-20th century, interest in the models waned and Cornell’s Blaschka collection fell into disuse. It lay all but forgotten until the 1960s, when it was rediscovered and sent to CMoG for preservation and display. Much of Cornell’s invertebrate collection remains on long-term loan to the Museum to this day. 

CMoG’s unparalleled Blaschka resources and longstanding relationship with Cornell will be a focus of the documentary Fragile Legacy. Dr. Drew Harvell, a marine biologist in Cornell’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the curator of the Cornell collection of Blaschka glass, has joined underwater filmmaker David O. Brown on a quest to film living examples of the inspirations for the Cornell Blaschka collection. Their award-winning film, Fragile Legacy, will have its premiere at the Museum in the spring.

About The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass is the foremost authority on the art, history, science, and design of glass. It is home to the world’s most important collection of glass, including the finest examples of glassmaking spanning 3,500 years. Live glassblowing demonstrations (offered at the Museum, on the road, and at sea on Celebrity Cruises) bring the material to life. Daily Make Your Own Glass experiences at the Museum enable visitors to create work in a state-of-the-art glassmaking studio. The campus in Corning includes a year-round glassmaking school, The Studio, and the Rakow Research Library, the world’s preeminent collection of materials on the art and history of glass. Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State, the Museum is open daily, year-round. Kids and teens, 17 and under, receive free admission.

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