External Researchers Benefit Museum

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Kevin studying the builders model of the CSS Florida.

In November we had quite an influx of researchers to the Museum. I frequently heard some of my colleagues quietly grouching about having to drop what they were doing to assist them but you know what I say? BRING IT ON!

Let’s admit it, despite being one of the larger maritime museums in the United States there’s no freaking way we could employ a subject-matter expert in every single area our collection covers. With this reality in mind, about fifteen or twenty years ago the Museum began shifting from the museum-world norm of having specialist curators who oversee a particular aspect of the collection towards a smaller staff of generalists who are able to research and discuss a broad range of topics.  Despite my very long title of Director of Collections Management and Curator of Scientific Instruments if you had to guess my specialty by looking at my blog posts you’d be hard pressed to settle on just one thing.   Read more

A ‘Portable Hole in the Sea’

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Captain Charles Williamson’s “Apparatus for Submarine Work.” Patented December 1, 1903.

Hampton Roads is a pretty amazing place. Besides being one of the most important ports on the East Coast, it’s also been a cradle for innovation.  Some of the “firsts” that occurred in Hampton Roads were Eugene Ely’s first flight of an airplane off the deck of a ship (USS Birmingham) and Robert Gilruth’s (of NASA fame) designing, building and sailing of the world’s first hydrofoiling sailboat. This year I learned about another first, Hampton Roads is considered to be the birthplace of underwater photography* and it led to the first successful underwater motion pictures.

It all started when Captain Charles Williamson, a merchant mariner who was also a bit of an inventor, moved his family from England to Vermont to Norfolk.  Among Williamson’s many inventions were a folding baby carriage and a signalling system for ships. In 1903 he patented an “apparatus for submarine work” which was essentially a waterproof tube that enabled underwater repair, salvage work, commercial harvesting of items on the seafloor or even underwater tourism (in 1911 he patented a “submarine pleasure apparatus” based on the same idea).   Read more

The Show Must Go On

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Conservation Treatment Toys Ahoy! 2019
The Myriopticon before treatment. The left edge of the cardboard housing is completely split, which made handling the object difficult.

We are a little over a month out from the opening of a new exhibition entitled, “Toys Ahoy! A Maritime Childhood.” The exhibit will put a playful spin on the typical maritime history exhibit with plenty of toys, games, and books to excite both the young and the young at heart.

Here in the paper conservation lab, I helped prepare for the exhibit by completing treatments on paper-based collection materials being brought out for display. While the treatments all involved paper in some shape or fashion, it’s safe to say that the types of objects coming across my bench were a bit outside the (two-dimensional) range of what I typically work on here at the museum. Instead of the normal prints, drawings, documents, and photos I have been treating, this exhibit brought me board games, puzzles, toy ships decorated with paper, and even a pop-up book!   Read more