Opening Day: What The Mariners’ Museum looked like in the 1930s

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Today, The Mariners’ Museum and Park’s exhibition space is roughly 90,000 square feet; but when the Museum opened to the public in November 1933, there was only a little over 12,000 square feet of gallery space. Sure, this is not a “small” space. All of our houses are probably significantly smaller, but this is a far cry from the originally intended Museum – a grand, sprawling, geometric affair. 

In April 1931, Archer Huntington stated, “My idea for the museum is a structure built not by architects but by engineers, and I think we can do this in the Yard. The moment you attempt to produce an art building on the usual Greek or Roman lines, you have made something which will clash entirely with the exhibits, which are purely scientific and mathematical.” To that end, the Museum’s projected budget for 1931 included $50,000 to “start museum”. The rest of that year’s budget was allocated to the dam, roads, and property maintenance. This vision would not come to pass, though, at least not as originally intended. Instead, the idea of a new building was put on hold (thanks Great Depression), and The Mariners’ Museum exhibits were put in a “temporary” gallery space located in the Museum’s service building.    Read more

Elk…in the Park?

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In other blogs, we’ve talked about the goals of the Park as they pertained to planting. However, one of the main goals for Anna Hyatt Huntington (renowned sculptor and wife of Archer Huntington) was to have a wildlife sanctuary. She sculpted live animals, when she could, to give life and realism to her work. For several years, we had a permitted wildlife sanctuary in the Park! Of the projects from the early years of the Park, our wildlife endeavor was the longest, lasting until almost 1950.

Work on securing wildlife for the Park didn’t begin until a year after the start of a majority of the construction. The Lake was a big component of the wildlife sanctuary and accordingly, its completion was necessary before animals could come in. The first permit we applied for was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a waterfowl enclosure in August of 1931. In that first application, we asked for 35 Canada geese to put in a goose range in the Lake. Dr. Albert K. Fisher, ornithologist and President of the American Ornithologists’ Union, served as our wildlife consultant. In August of 1932, he wrote that the goose range, “will be one of the finest, if not the finest, in the United States.”   Read more

Great Plants Create a Great Park

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What is a great park without some beautiful landscaping? In the last blog, I laid out early plans for the Park. Today, we’ll focus on the plants. The early work moved at a remarkable pace. Within one month of our incorporation, we were already planning landscapes around the Park. As we’ve mentioned before, it was Archer Huntington’s early goal to see a representative of every tree and shrub in Virginia in the Park. Accordingly, that goal was a huge focus in the early stages.

In early documents from William Gatewood, Museum Project Manager, to Homer Ferguson, President of the Shipyard, he described the point of the flora in the Park. The plantings were to,   Read more

A Look at the Unknown and Hope for the Future: The Artwork of Shipyard and Museum Staff Artist Thomas C. Skinner

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CRUISER USS PORTSMOUTH AT PIER, oil on canvas 1945, by THOMAS C. SKINNER 1956.47.04

Thomas Catlett Skinner’s office was a loft overlooking the dry dock at the Newport News shipyard.  Frequently he would gather his tools and wander through the yard, stopping to observe and document the many scenes unfolding before him.  A vat of molten steel.  Red hot metal beams being bent into shape.  Yards of canvas transformed into sails.  The welcome respite of a lunch break.  The intensity of a foreman’s face.  A ship being refitted for the next voyage.  Scenes that were rarely seen by anyone outside the shipyard and activities that many people never knew existed.

Skinner’s tools were paint, pencils, canvas and paper.  His loft workspace shook with the unending pounding from riveting hammers and vibrations from heavy machinery.  And when he set up his easel beside the piers, dry docks and workers, he was surrounded by noise and dirt and exposed to the fickleness of the weather.   Yet despite the adversity, he created amazing drawings and paintings that transport the viewer back in time.  His body of work contains striking, colorful images that make it easy to imagine all the noises in the shipyard, the sound and feeling of waves acting on a ship and the harsh sounds of battle. Today, as part of our 90th Anniversary celebration, we take a look at the Mariners’ Museum staff artist, Thomas Skinner, some of his work, and its importance.   Read more

These Doors Do Heavy Metal!

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The Bronze Doors and a shipyard car and chauffeur, Mr. Fisher. The shipyard ran this car every morning and evening to the Museum and hydraulic lab to carry mail, lab, information, and passengers, July 1939. Image Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Have you ever noticed the big metal doors at the Business Entrance of The Mariners’ Museum and Park? Have you ever thought that maybe they were a little fancy for an entrance where deliveries are made and staff enters to gather our badges and trek to wherever our offices happen to be on-site? Well, those doors, made of bronze, are actually part of our Collection and used to be the Main Entrance to the Museum!

There is a bit of a story behind them. As you have probably read in a previous blog, Archer M. Huntington was the driving force behind the construction of The Mariners’ Museum and Park. It was his vision to have a stunning entrance to the Museum, something that would visually make people stop and say “WOW!”. Incidentally, this is why the original portion of the Museum has the very unusual “Huntington Squeeze” brick and mortar technique. It’s done by not scraping off the mortar as layers of bricks are added in the wall construction.   Read more