If you’ve never heard of the Blaschkas, German glassworker Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf, prepare to enjoy a say what? / oh my gravy moment: using techniques no one has been able to replicate, and working in a small room with basic equipment, the Blaschkas between them created thousands of stunningly beautiful and accurate glass models of plants and marine invertebrates. Part of the reason for using glass was to preserve the colour and shape of the flora and fauna the Blaschka’s were commissioned to model; where specimens with backbones could be stuffed and mounted, invertebrates had to be preserved in alcohol and inevitably lost their form and colour at the time. Now, a Blaschka Portuguese man o’ war will be among the objects from the collection of prolific art collector George Loudon to go on display at Manchester Museum in the new major exhibition, Object Lessons.
This is the first time that Loudon’s collection, which includes over 200 artifacts, has been open to the public. Originally intent on amassing an impressive selection of contemporary art, Loudon turned his attention to science teaching objects after a visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History (where a selection of 847 beautiful, life-size models representing 780 species and varieties of plants, as well as over 3,000 models of enlarged parts, makes up the The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants), believing that these finely crafted objects – created for the purpose of better understanding the natural world – were works of art in their own right.
Set out in seven different themes at Manchester Museum, the collection includes models used to teach the bite of a rattlesnake, an Edwardian pop-up human anatomy book, early French flea photographs and a life-sized papier-mâché anatomical wild turkey. Varying from the bizarre to the beguiling, these objects brought together the world’s leading scientists and most-accomplished craftsmen, reflecting a time of rapid advancements in scientific discovery, but when technology was lacking in techniques to record findings. Straightforwardly, also, Object Lessons is an opportunity to see some of the most extraordinary, and odd, artifacts you’re likely to come across.