From a distance, the contents of Steffen Dam’s collections of glass jars and columns are unremarkable. The specimens—jellyfish and flowers, corals and fungi—would not look out of place in a natural history museum. But get a little closer and you will see that these are no ordinary organisms. The objects suspended in Dam’s glass creations are not specimens at all, but masterfully rendered abstract forms.
The Danish artist inherited his eye for detail and love of organic forms from his grandfather, an amateur biologist. Dam loved examining his grandfather’s insect collections and leafing through big books of biological illustrations, which catalogued the world’s life forms in all their diversity and strangeness.
Dam came to glasswork later in life, beginning with making simple cups and bowls. Eventually he graduated to more creative designs. He began with flat panels with a “specimen” in the center of each—a physical embodiment of the pages of his grandfather’s natural history books.
Dam learned to cast in glass, which enabled him to work in three dimensions. His creations—ghostly likenesses of simple animals like jellyfish and mollusks— began to more closely resemble the creatures collected in Victorian Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosity. As his skill as a glass caster grew, Dam learned to exploit little imperfections in the glass. Instead of ruining the look of a specimen, each scattering of stray bubbles only makes it more lifelike.