Laurie Toby Edison


A Phantasmagorical Underwater Glass Menagerie

Laurie says:

I saw these remarkable 19th century glass sculptures in a New York Times article In Pursuit of an Underwater Menagerie by C. Drew Harvell.

I was particularity struck by them both as a photographer and as an artist who makes very detailed carvings in jewelry and sculpture. They exhibit the combination of vivid life and fine detail that are rarely found in the same work. If I ever speak at Cornell where the collection is housed I’ll feel very lucky. (The closest I’ve ever gotten was Vassar and that was awhile ago.)


… enchanting and impossibly rare jellyfishes of the open ocean; more common but equally beautiful octopus, squid, anemones and nudibranchs from British tide pools and Mediterranean shores.
They are the work of an extraordinary father-and-son team, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Leopold Blaschka (1822-95) was a Czech immigrant to Dresden, in what is now Germany; on a trip to America in 1853, his ship was becalmed and he was enchanted by a spectacular display of bioluminescence from a type of jellyfish called a siphonophore.
He decided to study the jellyfish more closely and create their likenesses in glass. His first works were a set of anemones for the Dresden Natural History Museum in 1863, inspired by the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse’s “British Sea-Anemones and Corals.”
Leopold’s son, Rudolf (1857-1939), was a keen natural historian in his own right, and an ardent aquarist, or aquarium keeper. He followed his father’s lead, expanding in biodiversity to reach the edges of the animal kingdom.



The marine biodiversity recreated by the Blaschkas is a phantasmagorical view of life in the oceans. For they were artists as well as keen natural historians, with an eye for the forms that would enchant in glass and that were too rare or fragile to be seen readily. They were also superb teachers, eager to share the wonders of nature with students.
Their favorite subjects were the ephemeral, translucent, bright forms of the Cnidaria (anemones, jellyfish, corals), unshelled mollusks (nudibranchs, octopus and squid) and brilliant tentacled worms. Some of their most brilliant creations are of the different species of cephalopods, like the ornate octopus.


Looking at these is making me plan to visit the coastal tidal pools here in Northern California to see the originals again.

3 Responses to “A Phantasmagorical Underwater Glass Menagerie”

  1. Geri Sullivan Says:

    The Blaschkas also created the pheonomenal Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants, aka “The Glass Flowers on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Harvard also has a few of their invertebrates.

    Let’s figure out a way to do a sidetrip to the museum next Boskone….

  2. Laurie Toby Edison Says:


    I’d love to see the flowers

  3. Nancy Cobb Says:

    If you decide to do this, you might coax Kurt and I to Boston for the side trip… Just a thought

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