Harvard University museums: glass flowers & more

Harvard University, the oldest university in the U.S., was founded in 1636 as a college in New Towne (later changed to Cambridge in deference to the alma mater of a few colonists). Classes began in 1638 in a small frame house, with a single teacher and a college “yard.” In 1639, the college was renamed Harvard after the Puritan clergyman, John Harvard, who left his library and half his estate to the school. Known for its high standards and excellence in education, this once small college grew into a prestigious university. With outstanding educators in every field from medicine and law to government, business, and liberal arts, Harvard University has a long list of distinguished graduates and a superb reputation throughout the world. The Georgian, neo-Georgian, Romanesque, and Victorian architecture of this Ivy League school reflects its long and distinguished history.

There is much more to Harvard, however, than historic architecture, illustrious professors, and noted scholars. The Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH), at 26 Oxford Street and 11 Divinity Avenue, houses some remarkable collections in three separate galleries including the Museum of Comparative Zoology, with exhibits of prehistoric to present-day vertebrates and invertebrates, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum of minerals, ores, and meteorites The Botanical Museum features the unique attraction of the world-famous Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, or simply called the Glass Flowers. From 1886 to 1936, Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolph created over 3,000 glass flowers, representing more than 847 plant species, in their studio in Hosterwitz near Dresden, Germany. Currently, a special exhibit Modeling Nature at the Botanical Museum focuses on the scientific and artistic properties of glass and how they were used in the individual design and intricacy of each flower. The treasured collection of the Blaschka’s reflects their amazing ability to work with different melting temperatures with their own blast furnaces to achieve the remarkable colors in each glass flower. The exhibit also includes their workbench and tools, as well as samples of natural glass found in life forms or created by lightning and meteorites.

The HMNH Shop has a wealth of memorabilia, books, jewelry, and gifts. Family programs, gallery tours, and special lectures and events by well-known scientists, professors, curators, and naturalists are ongoing. Garage, public lots, or metered street parking. Daily visitor parking permits can be purchased online for $5 – $9 and handicapped parking can be arranged in advance at the official website HMNH@oeb.harvard.edu

In addition to the Museum of Natural History, Harvard has some of the world’s leading art museums and research centers including the Fogg Art Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum.

The Fogg Museum, at 32 Quincy Street, Harvard’s oldest art museum, opened in 1895, with galleries surrounding the Italian Renaissance courtyard. The exhibits follow the history of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present, with emphasis on Italian early Renaissance, British pre-Raphaelite, and 19th century French art. In addition to an outstanding collection of Picasso, there is the Wertheim Collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces, which was placed in the Museum in 1974 as a permanent collection. Famous paintings in this collection are by Gaugin, Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Matisse, and many others. The Fogg also houses the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, the oldest of its kind in the U.S., dedicated to the preservation of over 150,000 objects from Harvard’s Art Museums, as well as a center for research, analysis, and training for curators

The Busch-Reisinger Museum, adjoining the Fogg Museum, is the only North American museum with a specific emphasis on Central and Northern European art, primarily in Germany-speaking countries. Established in 1901, it originally contained only reproductions of German architecture and sculpture. Today, it houses numerous collections including Austrian Secession art, German expressionism, 16th century paintings and sculpture, 18th century porcelain, and post-war and contemporary German artwork, one in particular is the extensive collection by Joseph Beuys.

The Peabody Museum, connected to the HMNH, has ongoing exhibits that include a special bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis and Clerk expedition. It houses 33 Native American artifacts gathered from this trek, including such rare objects as the oldest known buffalo robe, a ceremonial peace pipe (calumet), and a recently discovered bear claw necklace. The Hall of North American Indians features 19th century objects focusing on the interrelationship between Native Americans and the European settlers throughout North America, as well as emphasis on their contemporary culture. Another gallery, exhibiting through June 2007, houses the Moche of Ancient Peru, with 100 objects from their ancient civilization. These artifacts are primarily ceramics; however, textiles, stone, metal, and murals from the Peabody’s permanent collections are included, as well. A special exhibition of the Vanished Kingdoms of Tibet, Mongolia, and China will be featured at the Museum in April 2007.

The Arthur M. Sackler, also at Harvard, has some of the world’s finest collections of Islamic, Asian, and Indian art. Exhibits include Chinese jade and bronze, Chinese and Korean ceramics, and Japanese surimono (poetical woodblock prints). The Sackler also houses calligraphy and paintings from Iran, India, and Turkey, as well as Greek and Roman sculpture, vases, and ancient coins.

The Sert Gallery, a recent addition to the three art museums, opened in 2000 with expanded space for varied media exhibitions, art, and sculpture. Recognized for its unique rectangular design, it is the only architectural monument designed by Le Corbusier in North America.

Harvard has another noteworthy attraction with an interesting history, the Widener Library, the original library for the University. The Widener was a gift from Eleanor Elkins Widener as a memorial to her son Harry, class of 1907, who perished in the sinking of the Titanic. After the Widener opened in 1915 with over 50 miles of shelves and a capacity for over three million volumes, other libraries were eventually needed. However, the Widener has continued to renovate and expand to accommodate 20th century advancements in electrical wiring, computerized cataloguing, and modern research areas.

Library Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Friday, 9:00 a.m. — 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, 9:00 a.m. — 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 12 Noon — 8:00 p.m. Open to Harvard students, faculty, staff, and visiting researchers.

Museum(s) Admission: Adults – $9.00, seniors (65+) – $7.00, non-Harvard – $6.00, and Harvard students + one guest — free. Children 3 — 18 – $6.00. Free to Massachusetts residents on Wednesdays 3 to 5 p.m., September through May, and every Sunday morning 9 to 12 Noon, year round.

Museum(s) Hours: Open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed on national holidays.

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