Cornell University is one of only handful of academic institutions who hold some of the exquisite marine invertebrate models created by 19th century glass artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Working from drawings made in the course of ocean-faring expeditions of the day, the Blaschkas created over 10,000 intricate, life-size sculptures of marine life as it was found in oceans not yet touched by climate change and other widespread impacts of human activity. Cornell’s collection, now being carefully restored under the supervision of Cornell professor of marine biology Drew Harvell, includes over 500 Blaschka models. Mann Library’s Fall 2016 exhibition, “Exploring a Sea of Glass”, spotlights three pieces of the story behind this brilliant artistry and the field of scientific inquiry with which it is closely connected.
In the Mann Gallery, a multi-media display--including oversize photos of the glasswork, excerpts from Prof. Harvell’s book,” Sea of Glass," and a display of the award-winning documentary Fragile Legacy by filmmaker David O. Brown--gives viewers an immersive visual experience of some of the highlights of Harvell's work with Cornell's Blaschka sea life collection and her journey to track the marine life depicted by the Blaschkas over a century ago.
In the Mann lobby, "Challenging the Deep" explores the history of the 19th century Challenger expedition, the most ambitious and expensive scientific expedition mounted to that date and one which not only provided key information and visuals for the artistry of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, but laid the groundwork for the modern study of oceanography.
And finally, on Mann's first floor, "Unveiling the Wonders of the Deep Sea" provides a look at another important influence on the Blaschkas' work: The exquisite lithography by 19th century nature illustrator Philippe Henry Gosse, whose illustrations reflect both the vibrant promise of the growing enthusiasm for scientific inquiry of the time as well as the ruptures in world view and prevailing theory which this age of discovery engendered.
Further views of Blaschka artwork are available in the concurrent exhibit, Fragile Legacy, at The Corning Museum of Glass as well as at several permanent displays on the Cornell University campus.
The design, curation and production team for "Exploring a Sea of Glass" includes Karl Rozyn, Liz Brown, Jenny Leijonhufvud, Maura Thomas '17 and Eveline Ferretti. Mann Library gratefully acknowledges the help of Prof. Drew Harvell and filmmaker David O. Brown in the exhibit's preparation. "Exploring a Sea of Glass" was made possible by funding from the Mary A. Morrison Public Education Fund, the Bondareff Family Fund for Mann Library, and the Mann Library Excellence Fund.
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