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    new england literary news | jan gardner

    Harvard’s glass sea creatures, comics artists, and science behind cooking

    Glass models created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka of a sea anemone (top) and an Atlantic white-spotted octopus.
    Glass models created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka of a sea anemone (top) and an Atlantic white-spotted octopus.

    Glass menagerie

    Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, the father-and-son creators of Harvard’s Glass Flowers, honed their techniques in the late 1800s by making glass models of sea creatures. Universities and museums around the world bought the works for classes and exhibits about marine life.

    Sixty of Harvard’s 430 models are featured in the new book “Sea Creatures in Glass: The Blaschka Marine Animals at Harvard” (Scala). David O. Brown’s photographs make it obvious that these creatures are not just teaching tools but works of art.

    The Blaschkas practiced lampworking, also called flameworking, which is “essentially, a miniaturization of the glassblowing process,” writes co-author Elizabeth R. Brilll, who helped restore Harvard’s collection. While a Portuguese man o’ war is made up of hundreds of glass pieces, most of the anatomically-correct models contain one or two dozen glass pieces.


    The Blaschkas ended production of the marine models in 1890 after they accepted Harvard’s commission to produce glass flowers.

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    To celebrate the publication of “Sea Creatures in Glass,” Brill, Brown, and two biologists from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology will give a talk at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History. Harvard’s collection of the glass marine invertebrates has been cleaned and repaired and many are on display at the museum.

    ‘March’ illustrator feaured at expo

    As a teenager in the early 1990s, Nate Powell self-published the comics he drew. Today his work is on national best-seller lists. Powell is the illustrator of “March” (Top Shelf), a graphic novel-memoir about civil rights leader John Lewis. The final volume in the “March” trilogy, co-written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, has been nominated for a National Book Award.

    Powell is among the featured speakers at the seventh annual Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo on Oct. 29 and 30. More than 150 graphic novelists and cartoonists will exhibit their work and many of them will give talks and workshops on the craft of creating comics. Kids will be the focus of programming on Oct. 30.

    The expo, sponsored by the Boston Comic Arts Foundation, will be held at Lesley University’s College of Art and Design in Porter Square, Cambridge. Details at

    Unlocking the flavors


    “Cook’s Science: How to Unlock Flavor in 50 of Our Favorite Ingredients” (Cook’s Illlustrated) tells you how to use chemistry, biology, and physics in the kitchen. Written by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby, the book offers tested techniques, such as the best way to chop kale to reduce bitterness and how to cook wild salmon so it doesn’t dry out. It includes more than 300 recipes.

    On Thursday, Molly Birnbaum and Dan Souza, executive editors of “Cook’s Science,” will present “Cook’s Science Live: The Burger Tour” at 8 p.m. at Somerville Theatre. Their presentation will incorporate video, music, scent, storytelling, and live experiments to explain what makes a burger taste so good. Tickets are $25.

    Coming out

    “You Will Not Have My Hate”by Antoine Leiris (Penguin)

    “The Whistler” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

    “Appetites: A Cookbook” by Anthony Bourdain and Lauri Woolever (Ecco)

    Pick of the week


    Joan Grenier of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South” by Beth Macy (Little, Brown): “In the early 20th century, albino African-American brothers are kidnapped by circus managers who not only steal their earnings from their work as freak show performers, but also tell their mother that they are dead. The mother’s heroism is at the heart of this look at the historical depths of American racism.”

    Jan Gardner can be reached at