It's still difficult today to procure live specimens of aquatic life for students to learn about them. Pictures in books often don't do justice to the complex beauty of some of the ocean's more complicated and illustrious life-forms. Creatures with bodies so far away from the mammalian that it takes a good look at one to fully understand it are found in the sea, where the rules of what works are totally different.
In the 1860s, a father and son team of glass-blowers decided to adapt their skill to create life-like glass models of some of these creatures. So life-like in fact that trained marine biologists mistake them for the real thing when flicking through pictures, it takes a keen eye and maybe a bit of time to read the title to realise it's a model.
The Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka models can be found all over the world, at the time they were sent in their hundreds and thousands to various museums, universities, and schools. Designed to be accurate teaching models, the work that went into each piece was phenomenal. To truly replicate something in glass requires a lot of persistent effort and trial and error. Once the technique is perfected however, the family business could churn out as many as people wanted. The Blaschka's created all manner of glass specimens, from flora to fauna.
The individual glass parts were sealed together with resin glue and wire to complete the three dimensional sculpture. Extremely delicate, yet beautiful and enchanting, the scientifically designed representations of squids and such, are now extremely prized collectors items. If you have one, consider yourself extremely lucky! This is in part due to the fact that even modern glass-blower artisans struggle to replicate the unique and replicable designs crafted by the Blaschka's all those years ago.
French photography artist Guido Mocafico has spent years photographing the pieces. Travelling all over the world to their resting places in museums and other institutions of learning, each piece required special permission and assurances for the professional artist to get even close. But, once there, Mocafico was able to put them in the frame so we can all enjoy their brilliance. You can visit Guido Mocafico's website or just get a book about the Blaschka Glass creatures.
Looking to the future, we can possibly make models from other materials. Although glass is beautiful and artistic, it's also highly fragile and as many have shown, replicating the beautiful designs of the past is a tall order. We could use wood, plastic, fabric, or maybe even pixels. A true to life computer model could be programmed to behave like the real thing, maybe we could build a virtual ocean full of life for future marine biologists to learn from?
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