Various Artists, July 5 - November 17, 2013

Look closely. You may not be able to tell the difference between the real species and the glass replica in this first time exhibition opening at Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) on Friday, July 5, 2013. Coordinated by Robert Mickelsen, a Florida-based glass artist, “Lifeforms” is inspired by Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka’s glass biological models made in the 19th and 20th centuries for Harvard University’s museums. The PGC exhibition including contemporary flameworked models, cast impressions, blown renditions, and an actual fish cast in glass will be on display from July 5 to Nov. 17, 2013.

Only 50 works of art were selected for the exhibition out of 102 submissions received from the U.S., Scotland, Italy, Japan, Australia, England and Canada. An independent jury of four selected the artists based on accuracy, aesthetic beauty, presentation and originality. A list of the artists’ names is attached. All of the submissions can be viewed in the online catalog at

The artwork of three additional artists – Luke Jerram, Tim Jerman and Paul Stankard – will also be featured in the exhibition.

“I included Paul Stankard and Luke Jerram because of their stature in the arts community and because their work represents the pinnacle of contemporary representation of nature in glass. Their inclusion makes ‘Lifeforms’ a much more relevant and complete exhibition. Tim Jerman was a good friend of mine who died in 2004. He was a quadriplegic, the only one I ever knew who was also a master flameworker. His inclusion is personal, a memorial to someone who was committed to making natural forms in glass,” Mickelsen explains.

Cash awards will be given to artists selected by the jury. There will be three awards of excellence at $1,000 each, three awards of achievement at $500 each and three awards of merit at $200 each. The awards will be announced at the opening reception on Friday, July 5 at Pittsburgh Glass Center. Everyone is invited to the free opening reception from 6 to 9pm.

Being Blaschka

Robert Mickelsen conceived of the idea for the exhibition. He said that it was more than homage to the Blaschkas. It represents a logical progression from then to now, morphing biological models of the 19th century into inspired works of art of the 21st century.

“The representation of natural forms has been a tradition in glass for as long as humans have worked the material. It is a natural fit, if you will excuse the pun. But no one has ever succeeded in such accurate and realistic representation as the Blaschkas. This may be because no one has been tasked with the challenge the way the Blaschkas were – until now,” said Mickelsen.

In 1886, George Lincoln Goodale commissioned Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf to make botanical models for the Harvard Botanical Museum. He chose the Blaschkas because they worked in glass. In the late-19th century, glass was the best material for the job. 

Other models of the times were made out of papier-mâché or wax and did not stand the test of time. No other material could be molded and manipulated to render organic forms as beautifully and accurately nor relied upon to last as long as glass. Funded by Elizabeth C. Ware and her daughter Mary Lee Ware, the Blaschkas made more than 4,000 models of plants and flowers over the next several decades.

"Leopold and his son Rudolf Blaschka are recognized as consummate lampworkers. Many artists, particularly flameworkers, have been inspired by their skill since the first models were on exhibition. The original idea of the competition was paired with the Glass Art Society's conference in Boston/Cambridge where attendees could view the Blaschkas' glass models of plants and invertebrates on permanent exhibition at the Harvard Museums of Natural History. Although ‘Lifeforms’ has taken a different direction, the work on exhibition at PGC will offer that same enthusiastic love of nature that the Blaschkas held,“ said Susan Rossi-Wilcox, former curator of Harvard’s Glass Flowers.

See more photos.

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