6/27 Harvard Natural History Museum, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and those mad-crazy Boston streets, Rhode Island, part two (but mostly in Boston, MA)
Yes sir, for our second Rhode Island day we left the state to see two museums in Boston. Admission to the Harvard Natural History Museum will get you into the Peabody so they make for a whole day of gazing at fantastic objects. I had heard tell of the wonders contained in the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants and seeing this collection became the official reason for the visit to the Harvard museums. It took a while to get to the glass flowers as the museum is full of other wonders. We were detoured for a bit by the minerals and gems; case after case of colorful, spiky, crumbly, crystally, shiny, and dazzling samples. These included some impressively large geodes full of amethyst and a giant bouquet of silvery gypsum crystals that could have served as inspiration for the planet Krypton.Then we stepped into the dimly lit Ware Collection gallery. That cactus... all glass, every last bit. The collection was intended to act as an aid to the study of botany and contains examples representing the diverse phyla of plants. Most of the displays include cross sections of stems, dissections of flowers, and reproductive parts of the plants in greatly magnified models... all in lamp work glass. The colors and fidelity to the living plants is remarkable. There are places where the models fail slightly in living sheen or color, but overall the cases appear to contain plants just unearthed with intact carefully washed root tangles, and branches of just-clipped leaves. The models were created by the glass artisans, Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolph, with 50 years of careful work beginning in 1886. Don't miss this gallery if you're in Boston and you're the sort to geek out on carefully made pretty things.
After the glass flowers we toured the wealth of taxidermied critters from birds to bandicoots, skeletons of giant mammals, and exhibits about natural selection and the head gear of horn and antler sprouting animals. The collection of jewel like beetles, above, was displayed to highlight the diversity in appearance and adaptation among individuals of a species or closely related group. It was joined by candy like snail shells and iridescent butterflies. The menagerie kept us busy for quite a while and I was reminded of many critters that I have never seen and are rarely featured on nature shows. Who thinks much about the slow lorus? or the odd scale covered pangolin? Some of the best displays contained parallel skeletons and taxidermied animals to show what the bones would carry.
Somewhere in there we took a break for a picnic lunch and some requisite jumping for the camera.
Next we had a go at the Peabody Museum. Here I got my dose of diorama glee. Above is a large diorama of a Hopi ritual dance with a wide southwest vista. Man, I love dioramas. As a kid I tried many times to make my own versions of these things, putting clay woolly mammoths in cardboard boxes with painted back drops to mimic what I had seen at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. The Peabody has much to offer beyond dioramas, so don't go thinking it's just a mess of models (though if your a model geek don't miss it). The Peabody is a museum of archaeology and ethnology so they make an effort to include the contemporary with the historical. The galleries of mesoamerican antiquities also contained a large Dia de los Muertos shrine and didactics pointing out the links between the contemporary and the ancient. Downstairs, we toured the North American Galleries to see the installation Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West, a collection of historic and contemporary Plains art displayed with nineteenth century Lakota drawings of the Little Bighorn battlefield. Super cool and quite effective at bringing the subject to life.
To round out the day we visited Harvard Square, had some cupcakes and tried like the dickens to find a place to park for a slice of pizza in Boston's North End (we knew it was a fool's errand). Never did get to park but we did see the land of capillary streets and tiny doors.