Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Harvard Museum of Natural History

My day off brought me to the Harvard Museum of Natural History this afternoon.  I must admit that I don't make it over the river nearly often enough, but every time I cross the bridge over to Cambridge, I'm glad I went.  The museum today was a truly unexpected surprise and I can't believe that I have lived in Boston as long as I have without having visited there.

My first stop in the museum was the glass flower exhibit.  This is really the reason why I made it there today to check it out.  A friend had told me about how amazing it was and it certainly met and exceeded expectations.  The collection represents work by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka.  They were active over a century ago in Germany and were commissioned by Harvard to create this exhibit for scholars of botany.  They worked as costume jewelery makers, and adapted their skills quite successfully to amazing lifelike representations of North American flowering plants.

The collection of glass flowers and plants is a treasure of intricately detailed models of over 800 species.  The delicacy of the work is astonishing and I found myself wondering if it was truly all made of glass.  The works are all completely handmade and painted by Leopold and son, Rudolph around the turn of the century and took nearly five decades to complete.  Some of the works are beginning to deteriorate and show evidence of paint wearing away of breakage, but the vast majority are remarkably well preserved.  It was a real treat to be able to see this amazing collection first hand this afternoon.

I found a small of exhibit of photography by Amy Stein as I wandered through the museum after seeing the glass flowers. The photographs are inspired by true events that occurred in Pennsylvania and tell the story of the relationship between man and the wild.  I found it to be a rather poignant statement on urban sprawl and an excellent transition into seeing the rest of the exhibits.

Next stop was the massive collection of fossils and skeletons.  As I wandered about the numerous rooms that traced evolutionary paths of various species, I was impressed by the variety represented.  I saw everything from dinosaurs to dodos.  There was an interesting exhibit on coloring and camouflage complete with poisonous dart frogs in a little terrarium, and a sobering exhibit on global warming.  I learned a lot as I read the placards and watched videos.

I was quite taken with the whale skeletons that were dramatically suspended from the ceiling in the one of the rooms of the museum.  There were nice photo opportunities that I will share with you below.  It was amazing to be so close to the remains of these huge creatures and made me think I should go on a whale-watching tour soon.  How could I have lived in Boston for so long without have done that yet?!?!?!

On my next visit I will plan on devoting an afternoon to the three floors that are dedicated to the artifacts of Native American cultures.  There is a also a room full of stunning rock and mineral samples and I need to spend more time in the bug room too.  My next visit will be soon, and I'm glad to know about this terrific museum so close to my home.


  1. sure - we'll go next time you come for a visit.

  2. Next time you go, also drop by the exhibit "Climate Change: Our Global Experiement." Doug was the one who put together the interactive video portion of the exhibit (and I provided the music but that's pretty minimal).

  3. oh wow! i breezed through there very quickly. i will take some time to check it out in the near future. it's a great museum, but too much to see in one afternoon.